Saturday, November 28, 2009

My take on fasting

Before I start my post about fasting (a request from a reader), I want to direct everyone to an excellent post by Dr. Harris at PaNu about the "paleolithic principle" I earlier discussed. He makes some excellent points about not jumping off the deep end of fringe lunacy and noble savage theory that I hope everyone will keep in mind when making decisions about their health and wellness.

So to begin talking about my opinions and experiences with fasting, why not stick with Dr. Harris and post one more link to his wonderful blog that I just found? Basically, in his post about Intermittent Fasting and Infrequent Meals, Dr. Harris points out the metabolic benefits of fasting (the short, but true version, not the prolonged "cleansing" version), along with how easy it actually is for those of us who have kicked the sugar addiction that our society so blatantly promotes.

Speaking of fringe lunatics, I have to say that the proponents of prolonged cleansing fasts where you consume juice (or cayenne peppers and maple syrup or whatever) always come off as pseudoscientists and wingnuts to me.

I have some experience with 24-36 hour true fasts. The Gracie Diet encourages occasional day-long fasts, and I have heard/read many good arguments for the health benefits of a regular fast. I have to say I enjoyed my weekly fasts for the short period I was able to do them (my work and training schedule eventually ceased to accomodate them with that frequenct). I always felt refreshed and renewed afterwards, and once the 2 p.m.-or-so moderate feeling of hunger passed, I felt extremely calm and relaxed.

I have seen/heard many arguments that giving your liver and other digestive organs a break is good not only for them, but for your body's other systems (i.e. immune) to have a chance to utilize metabolic resources typically spoken-for by the intensive obligation of processing our meals. Injuries are supposed to heal quicker, free radicals are supposed to be lined up and executed, weight is supposed to fall off, and your taste buds are supposed to get a re-boot, making food that had become mundane explode with flavor.

My experience definitely includes more "awake" taste buds, but no weight loss, as I felt I was compensating for the fast on the days before and after. I'm told (and I believe) that had I stuck with the regular fasts, I would have gotten over this (We can go 3 weeks or so without eating. Skipping a day is only a big deal if you're addicted to carbs and the resulting blood sugar spikes), and probably seen a weight-loss benefit. On the other hand, I'm not a person who is currently pursuing weight loss, and I think I could safely fast without danger of becoming unhealthily lean.

I definitely would support giving a try to Intermittent Fasting to an obese person interested in making great changes to their size and shape. I can totally envision it working wonders, but I worry that it may be too extreme for those who already have suspect levels of willpower...

I absolutely advocate allowing one meal to fully digest before eating another (as opposed to the conventional wisdom-advocated "bovinesque grazing" concept). I totally advocate a weekly or otherwise regular (or occasional, like I'm planning on doing now) true fast, based on the fact that I actually enjoyed these when I was doing them, and there is at least a preponderance of evidence suggesting some of the benefits I mentioned above.

As far as long-term "cleansing" and other false fasts, I remain unconvinced. If there's any peer-reviewed journal-published articles demonstrating any of the outrageous claims associated with "cleansing" "fasts," I would appreciate someone pointing me in their direction.

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