The Fasting Spectrum: Various Approaches to Health and Detoxification
Fasting, a practice that dates back centuries, has recently gained popularity in the wellness sphere. This ancient tradition, now backed by modern science, is increasingly becoming recognized for its numerous health benefits. From weight loss to improved cognitive function, fasting has been praised as a powerful tool for overall wellness (1).
Intermittent fasting has become a regular feature in my wellness toolkit. While I don’t believe it is beneficial for everyone at every stage, I do believe wholeheartedly in the power of fasting and will recommend it when it is appropriate for my clients.
There are several methods of fasting, each offering unique benefits.
Intermittent fasting involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting. The most popular method within this category is the 16:8 method, which entails fasting for 16 hours and eating within an 8-hour window. Studies have shown that IF can lead to weight loss, improved metabolic health, and even a reduction in the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease (2). Studies show IF can also help reduce inflammation, manage blood sugar levels, and promote autophagy - the process by which cells remove damaged components (3).
Time-Restricted Eating, a subset of IF, involves eating all meals within a specific time window each day. Typically, this window ranges from 6 to 12 hours. In TRE, the focus is on the specific hours during the day when you eat, as opposed to the duration of fasting. For instance, you might eat only during a 12-hour window each day, such as from 7 am to 7 pm, and then fast outside of that period. This method can be beneficial for those who find it easier to follow a schedule based on eating times rather than fasting durations. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, TRE can synchronize with your body's circadian rhythms, leading to improved gut health and reduced risk of obesity (4).
The 5:2 diet involves eating normally for five days of the week and reducing calorie intake to 500-600 for the other two days. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that this method can lead to significant weight loss and improvement in blood sugar control (5). It's a flexible approach that allows individuals to reap the benefits of fasting without altering their daily routine drastically.
Juice fasting, another popular method, involves consuming only cold-pressed vegetable and fruit juices for a certain duration, such as 3-5 days. This approach, often used for detoxification and weight loss, can provide the body with phytonutrients and antioxidants while allowing the digestive system to rest. However, juice fasts are not as effective for autophagy as Intermittent Fasting due to the sugars from fruit.
Monodiets focus on consuming just one easily digestible food such as bone broth, watermelon, or grapefruit for a 24-48 hour period, accompanied by herbal tea and water to stay hydrated. This allows your gut a brief respite from variability while delivering concentrated nourishment from whole foods. Monodiets help align digestion and support metabolic rejuvenation similarly to short fasts.
Each fasting method offers unique benefits and challenges. If you’re considering a fast, think about which method might align best with your lifestyle, health goals, and of course, your medical history. Regardless of the method, approach all fasts respectfully by listening to your body and starting slow. And as always, consulting with a healthcare professional before embarking on a fasting regimen is advisable to ensure safety and effectiveness, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.
Periodic fasting supports wellness by allowing deep cellular recovery and empowering a more intuitive relationship with food. And for many, it’s a helpful step on the journey of nourishment and self-care.
Cho Y, Hong N, Kim KW, et al. The effectiveness of intermittent fasting to reduce body mass index and glucose metabolism: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Med. 2019;8(10):1645. doi:10.3390/jcm8101645
Ravussin E, Beyl RA, Poggiogalle E, et al. Effects of Time-Restricted Eating on Weight Loss and Other Metabolic Parameters in Women and Men With Overweight and Obesity: The TREAT Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2020;180(11):1491-1499. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.4153
Moro T, Tinsley G, Bianco A, et al. Intermittent Fasting: The Choice for a Healthier Lifestyle. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2019;4(1):1-23. doi:10.3390/jfmk4010001
Ravi Allada, M.D., and Joseph Bass, M.D., Ph.D. “Circadian Mechanisms in Medicine.” The New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 384, no. 6, 2021, pp. 550-61. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1802337.
Gardner, C. D., Trepanowski, J. F., Del Gobbo, L. C., Hauser, M. E., Rigdon, J., Ioannidis, J. P. A., … & King, A. C. (2018). Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion: The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Internal Medicine, 178(8), 112-120. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.8040.