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Want to Fast? Here’s What You Need to Know

By Martha Michael

The Benefits of Fasting

It seems counterintuitive that the removal of something can result in a net gain, but that’s what occurs when you engage in a fasting program. A popular choice for dieters, an intermittent fast goes beyond weight loss -- it can benefit you both physically and mentally.

Reasons for Fasting

Though the purpose of fasting may be different from person to person, wellness experts say there are some universal health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that choosing a fasting method for your diet program is akin to lowering your calorie intake. And, in the process of slimming down, you also stave off obesity-related diseases ranging from diabetes to some types of cancer.

One of the features of intermittent fasting is that it reduces inflammation, which means it may improve symptoms associated with:

  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Intermittent fasting can also brighten your mood and improve your memory, says an article on the American Clinics website. A study in the Journal of Nutrition Health & Aging shows a decrease in anger, confusion, and tension after three months of intermittent fasting. Other studies support the research and tout increases in emotional well-being and drops in reports of depression.

Managing your weight and paying attention to the health of your body and mind is always a good idea. But not everyone is a good candidate for fasting as a method of weight loss. Individuals who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not skip meals, and if you have medical problems such as kidney stones or gastroesophageal reflux, you need to consult your doctor before signing on to an intermittent fasting program.

Fasting Methods

An article in Everyday Health lays out the differences between various forms of intermittent fasting.

Choose-Your-Day fasting - You get wide latitude with your schedule when choosing this dietary plan. It’s ideal for someone who needs flexibility, but without a more structured plan you may get less dramatic results as well.

Eat Stop Eat - Another flexible choice, the Eat Stop Eat fast seems more like a simple break from food than a formal diet program. By completing a couple of 24-hour fasts per week and taking part in a resistance training program, founder Brad Pilon projects that greater fat loss will result.

Overnight fasting - Perhaps the simplest of the programs, overnight fasting is something you do every day, but you don’t have to skip meals. By leaving a 12-hour window for fasting, you enter a phase called autophagy, which boosts fat cell metabolism, says nutrition expert Lori Shemek, PhD, author of Fight FATflammation.

5:2 fasting - This became popular with the release of the book “The Fast Diet” which explains the approach. You eat a typical diet for five days; on the other two days, women reduce their calorie intake to 500 and men to 600 calories. You can choose which days of the week for fasting. The advantage of the 5:2 approach is that you sacrifice for brief periods in-between days when you can eat normally.

Observing #FastingFebruary

Fasting February began in 2019 as an alternative practice to calorie restriction for chronic disease prevention and lifespan expansion. The website article recommends fasting for no more than 16 hours at a time, and cautions that individuals who are pregnant or diagnosed with type 1 diabetes should check with a physician before participating.

The National Day Calendar website has suggestions for participating in Fasting February. You can begin by downloading the LIFE Fasting Tracker app so you can watch your progress. It also provides an opportunity to form a support system by joining a “fasting circle,” which is a public social system for participants. Once you get started you can post photos of your experience so your social media followers and friends become aware of your results.

You can double down in February by using a fast to celebrate National Heart Month as well. By turning your attention to your diet, you can choose a fasting program and make gains in your cardiovascular health with new nutritional habits. Both Fasting February and Heart Month have similar goals -- to bring an awareness to the tools available to improve wellness.

More than just a window without food, eating a healthy diet is also recommended regardless of the program, including balanced meals with lots of fruits and vegetables. After all, when it comes to your health, what you include is as important as what you remove from your lifestyle choices.

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