Fasting for Health, Wisdom, and Happiness

I recently did a 24 hour fast and for today’s post I wanted to talk about the experience. Fasting has been something that people have been doing for thousands of years for various reasons. The earliest descriptions of fasting come from religious texts, where fasting was employed as a means of either showing gratitude to religious figures as well as for obtaining a state of higher enlightenment. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, regularly practiced intentional fasting as a means of gaining power over his perception of self, believing that by failing to give into the urge of his body, that he was moving towards enlightenment and the cessation of suffering. The 3 Abrahamic religions also had their central figures practice extended fasts as a means of being closer to God. Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed all fasted for extended periods to commune with God. Today, practitioners of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism (and I would imagine many others but my knowledge is limited) practice fasts particularly during holy days or ceremonies. The hunger they experience reminds them to be grateful for the blessing of abundance in their life, and the abstinence from worldly desires of the flesh help them discover a more spiritual state.

Today, fasting is popular for more than just religious reasons. I am not qualified to recommend fasting to anyone for health purposes, nor do I have the knowledge to properly discuss the physiological principles behind it. I will however include a few sources at the end of this article if you are interested in reading more and educating yourselves. The purported health benefits of fasting are such: it can put the body in a ketonic state where it preferentially metabolizes fat and adipose tissue rather than muscle, liver, and blood born glucose. This helps people to lose weight. Additionally, if you significantly limit the hours during which you eat, you will likely consume fewer calories thus increasing your chances of losing weight. Perhaps most interestingly, there is evidence that a fast of 24-72 hours in length will force the body to destroy weak or damaged cells, along with cells that may be pre-cancerous. Thus, fasting is reported to reduce the risk of cancer. Again, I do not feel confident saying that is the definitive answer but that is what some research suggests. Whatever your goal would be, fasting may or may not be a viable option for you. As is always the case, I would urge you to do your own research and to consult a professional nutritionist, dietician, or doctor before making the decision to fast.

My experience with fasting was as follows. I did a 24 hour fast beginning at the end of my dinner on Monday night and concluding with dinner on Tuesday. During that time, I consumed nothing but water, and black coffee with a few spoons of coconut oil, less than 55g of coconut oil throughout the day. Coconut oil is allowed under most fasting guidelines as it does not take the body out of ketosis or interfere with the metabolic benefits that fasting may provide. Many people report feeling a sense of extreme focus that allows them to accomplish a great deal during their fast. Many also report entering a euphoric state around the 16-hour mark where they feel like they could maintain the fast for days. That wasn’t the case for me. I began feeling hungry around 10am, an hour or so after I typically consume breakfast. Throughout the day my hunger steadily increased coming to a climax in the evening where I was so ravenous that I nearly ate my own arm. I had difficulty focusing on work that day, finding my mind often wandering. I also felt a bit annoyed and somewhat easier than normal to fluster. This may have been because of the excess caffeine I consumed, in an attempt to curb my appetite. Nevertheless, I spent most of the day hungry. From a health standpoint I do not know that I got much out of it. I don’t struggle with carrying excess weight on my body, so weight loss is not a major concern. If anything, the lack of eating may have limited my performance as an amateur strength athlete, which is precisely why I fasted on an off day from the gym. It is possible however that my body destroyed weak, damaged, or precancerous cells, although I am not sure how I might measure that.

The best thing that came out of the fasting experience for me was the gratitude. I was grateful because by 8pm on Tuesday night I was quite hungry, to the point that I could think of little else and was able to break the fast with a very large, nutritious, and delicious meal. What I was grateful for was the fact that I chose to do a 24-hour period of not eating, while millions if not billions of people across the world will go for far longer than that without eating, and not by choice. It is easy to grow accustomed to certain comforts in life and to take for granted what others would consider a blessing. Food is perhaps one of those things we so often take for granted. When it comes to food, the questions I most often ask myself are: what am I going to eat or when am I going to eat, not: am I going to eat? The extent to which just a mere 24 hours affected my attitude and body reminds me never to take for granted the blessings I have, when it comes to the ability to nourish my body. There are far too many people out there who do not have such fortune.

It is for this very reason that I will likely make fasting a once monthly occurrence. The weight loss aspect is immaterial to me and I doubt I will see God’s face unless I break my fast with psychedelics. What I hope to get out of the experience will be a reminder that I do not NEED luxuries in my life to be happy and to live and to be grateful for the blessings in my life. That, along with the possible cancer-fighting, life-prolonging effects of a fast are enough to make it worth my while. It is precisely the reminder to be grateful that allowed my fasting experience to bring me happiness. 


Intermittent Fasting and Human Metabolic Health

Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease

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