It sounds like just another modern diet fad. But water fasting has a millennia-long tradition with proponents ranging from Plato all the way to Hugh Jackman.
More than that, modern science has highlighted the health benefits of consuming no food or drink except water for extended periods of time.
In an interview with the New York Times, Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging, explains why: “From an evolutionary perspective, it’s pretty clear that our ancestors did not eat three meals a day plus snacks.”
Access to food was limited until recently in human evolution. Our bodies are still programmed to store carbs as quickly accessible glycogen and to bunker fat as long-term energy reserves.
Fasting imitates the lean conditions our bodies evolved to cope with. As a result, it boosts our health.
How Does Water Fasting Work?
In its purest form, water fasting means consuming no food or drink except water for extended periods of time. In some practices, people also drink tea or broth. The only exception to the fast is salts. These are crucial to keeping your electrolyte balance in check.
Typical water fasts last between 24 hours and 7 days, although some people claim to have fasted for up to 30 days. Medical advice suggests that you shouldn’t fast for longer than 3 days at a time, though.
During this period, the body shifts into famine mode. It registers environmental stress and starts tapping into energy reserves of the body. In a process called autophagy, our body begins to recycle old cell material. This is beneficial since these aging cells are otherwise prone to mutations.
Generally, people report feeling hungry for the first one or two days of their fast. Afterward, they experience a general sense of bodily fatigue but mental clarity. Some people even report an energy high on their fourth or fifth day of fasting.
What are The Benefits of Water Fasting?
Studies in mice at the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California have shown that a monthly fast of two to five days significantly reduced diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
Apart from lowering the risk of these diseases, water fasting can improve chronic conditions such as autoimmune disease and allergies. It has also been shown to reduce high blood pressure and to increase insulin sensitivity.
What’s more, water fasting is also a fast-track to detoxing your body, with inherent benefits for your mental and physical wellness.
Another benefit is clearer skin. Skin impurities are often caused by low-level inflammatory processes, aggravated by substances in our diets – from caffeine to certain carbohydrates. Water fasting can help battle acne by dialing down these inflammatory processes.
For many people, the potential for weight loss is the main reason for a water fast. You might drop as much as 10 pounds during a 3-day fast. Note, though, that much of that loss is a result of tissue dehydration, so you may regain some afterward.
Water Fasting Isn’t for Everyone
While the benefits are extensive, several groups of people should avoid going on water fasts. If you:
- are pregnant or breastfeeding
- are underweight
- have an eating disorder
- have heart problems
- have type 1 diabetes
water fasting is not for you.
Getting Started With Water Fasting
Fasting is an ancient practice with countless benefits for your mental and physical health.
It’s also a practice that requires careful preparation and planning.
Schedule your fast for a time when you can take it easy. No stringent work requirements or stressful private obligations. Just time for you to listen to your body and serve its needs.
Many professionals recommend easing your body into a fast, instead of going cold turkey from a high-calorie diet. Reduce your portion sizes in the days leading up to the fast. Alternatively, start fasting for short periods before attempting a multi-day fast. It’ll get your body used to switch into fasting mode.
Finally, it’s also important to plan your transition back to food ahead of time. While you may spend much of your fast fantasizing about your first (multi-course) meal, it’s crucial that you start with small portions of easily digestible and healthy foods.
Done right, water fasting has amazing benefits for your health. From clearer skin and a slimmer waistline to reduced allergy symptoms and lower blood pressure. So plan it out, fill your glass, and get healthy.