FOOD is an essential element of life, but is it sometimes beneficial to go without? I am sure the mere suggestion of this brings, many a person out in a cold sweat. Some even liken the thought of fasting to starvation. In the UK today, food is so abundant that overeating is now more of a problem, in terms of public health, than under-nutrition. For those of us who are lucky to have food on demand, which thankfully is most of us, why should you even consider fasting?

What is fasting?

Fasting is nothing new. It’s an ancient practice that has been used for thousands of years by many ancient civilisations for a variety of reasons. Fasts have been used to cleanse, detoxify, treat medical conditions and for religious practice. In it’s simplest form, fasting is going without food and/or drink for extended periods of time. We all do some form of fasting everyday except we don’t call it fasting, we call it sleeping. The time from your last meal at night until your first meal the next day makes up this “fasting” period. A growing number of experts claim short fasts can accelerate fat loss and make you healthier.

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So what are the real benefits of fasting?

1. Fasting radically improves metabolism. Fasting initiates hormonal changes that makes stored body fat more accessible by your body. Insulin is the number one fat storing/energy saving hormone in your body. Your body experiences a significant drop in insulin through fasting. Too much insulin and your body can go into lipogenesis, which is the creation of fat cells.

2. Fasting improves brain function. New research shows that mental sharpness increases during fasting which makes a lot of sense from an evolutionary standpoint, as it would have helped with the survival of our species when food was scarce. People always worry that fasting will dull their senses but in fact it has the opposite energising effect with mental activity increasing when hungry and decreasing with satiated. I’m sure you’ve all experience this in the form of a “food coma”, that feeling where you can't move of think straight after a particularly large meal. Neuroscientists have linked overactive synaptic activity with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease, and therefore the possibility exists that fasting may prevent the development of these diseases – but more research is needed.

3. Fasting slows down the ageing process. Fasting is the only clinically proven way to increase the production of human growth hormone. This is most likely a built-in biological adaption to make the human body more robust and strong when food is scare to aid survival. Increased HGH results in greater endurance with faster muscle repair and growth as well as a slowing of the ageing process.

4. Fasting improves the immune system. According to a study by the USC longevity institute, short-term fasting flips a regenerative switch which triggers stem cells to create brand new white blood cells, and replenishes any blood cells that have been lost, basically rebooting your immune system.

5. Insulin resistance is a big health problem these days which in practice means that normal amounts of insulin are not enough to signal for cells to take up glucose from the blood. The result of prolonged insulin resistance is diabetes. Fasting improves insulin sensitivity. This in turn helps your body handle carbohydrates a lot better and helps improve liver function.

6. Fasting improves digestion. Fasting gives your organs a rest from breaking down and absorbing food.

7. One of the added benefits of fasting is weight loss. However, calorie restriction shouldn’t be your main goal and could potentially slow down your metabolism rather than increase it. Calorie restrictive diets affect your muscle mass, whereas according to research, fasting is more effective for retaining muscle mass than calorie restrictive diets, providing you eat the right foods in the right amounts on the other end of the fast. Before starting a fast, consult with your doctor, especially if you are on any medications or have a serious health condition.

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