Fasting, although talked about as a method of weight-loss, is a long-standing tradition in many religious faiths and has been practised safely for centuries. Fasting can be done in several ways, as a complete fast, abstaining from all food or drink for a short time or a full day, up to a maximum time of 72 hours without medical supervision. Alternatively, fasting can be as a water fast, where the individual only drinks water for between 24-72 hours. 72 hours should be considered the maximum time for a fast unless under medical guidance as withholding nutrients from the body for too long can cause irreversible damage.
For Muslims, fasting in Islam takes place during the month of Ramadan and is considered a day fast, where nothing is eaten or drunk during the time between sunrise and sunset. It’s also considered a time for fasting from all vices and temptations and is one of the Five Pillars of Islam alongside Zakat, the giving of charity. Supportive programmes, known as dawah, our available to help new Muslims with understanding the Islamic faith and other advice including how to stay healthy during their first Ramadan fast.
What Happens When You Fast?
Normally, our bodies use an energy source known as glucose which we get from carbohydrates in our diet. When fasting, after approximately 8-12 hours the body runs out of all the glucose it has stored and moves into a state known as gluconeogenesis. During this phase, the body starts to burn a greater number of calories and moves into producing its own glucose by burning fat.
Once the body has burned through the reserve glucose it has made it then moves into starvation mode and instead begins to burn muscle tissue for energy, which should be avoided.
Can Fasting Help With Weight Loss?
There are many studies that have been carried out on fasting and its effects on weight loss and although studies were unable to prove conclusively that fasting can benefit weight loss, there are individuals it can work effectively for.
As fasting moves the body into a state where it is burning stored fat, it can be more effective for obese individuals but shouldn’t be undertaken without speaking to your doctor or a medical professional.
What Are The Benefits of Fasting?
Fasting is a way of improving control over blood sugar and can be effective for diabetics. In particular, intermittent fasting and alternate-day fasting have both been shown to be as effective at reducing insulin resistance as following a calorie limited diet. Although the effects can vary between men and women so shouldn’t be relied upon as a guaranteed method of blood sugar control.
Animal studies have also shown the benefits intermittent fasting can have on the brain, including improved brain function and the potential to protect the brain from a build-up in amyloid proteins. However, this is yet to be determined in human studies.
How To Safely Break a Fast?
Breaking a fast, especially a long fast should be done carefully without overdoing it which can lead to stomach pain and digestive issues. Make sure to drink water if you’ve been abstaining from both food and water, although not in huge amounts and start with something small and nutritious. Dates are a popular sweet fruit for breaking a fast, or a small plate of cooked vegetables which are easier to digest than raw.
The first meal you break your fast with should be small and manageable, with a protein amount that is equal in size to the palm of your hand. Make sure to thoroughly chew your food and avoid trying new foods or ingredients which could make you feel ill.
Fasting can be good for your health but in summary, should only be considered long-term with guidance and can be more beneficial and easier to maintain when taking part in alternate-day or intermittent fasting and remaining well hydrated during your fast.