Obesity is an unavoidable problem in recent times. Not only has our lack of physical activity resulted in obesity but also our increasingly unhealthy lifestyle which has taken us away from healthy food and healthy living. Obesity ushers in more diseases and problems for the body in the likes of high blood pressure, diabetes, breathing problems such as sleep apnea and asthma, osteoarthritis, heart and liver diseases and stroke, to name a few.
To combat the evils of obesity, we have been adopting a plethora of measures and habits to march towards a healthier version of us. While some of them are productive to bring a change in our body and our weight through healthy and gradual weight loss, needless to say, a few other ways of losing weight include drastic steps undertaken in the effort to see quick results.
Fasting has been a known practice since the last one thousand years and is still practiced in the post-modern era majorly due to religious reasons. In the early 1900s, fasting started gaining more importance and popularity for healthy living and for keeping one’s weight in control.
The year 1940 saw the creation of the renowned liquid diet, Master Cleanse, by an alternative medicine practitioner Stanley Burrough to detoxify the body and flush out the toxins. Fasting has found such relevance even in modern times due to the attestation of religion and religious customs which have been followed and conceived of being beneficial since times immemorial. For instance, in the Hindu culture, fasting is considered to be a practice that cleanses the body and the soul of toxins and is maintained by the lunar and even the solar cycles. Even the Islamic festival of Ramadan sees Muslims practicing a month-long strict fasting regime where they are allowed to eat after the sun goes down, that is, from sunset to sunrise. This fasting practice is still very much a popular ritual among the Muslims who consider Ramadan to be a month of spiritual renewal and spiritual cleansing.
These kinds of religious connotations make fasting a relevant and healthy practice even in this day and age, often arguing that our Paleolithic ancestors too practiced fasting voraciously, ignoring food for longer periods of time. While this argument may throw some light on the practice of our ancestors, it should be kept in mind the eating practices of the Paleolithic man and the modern man do not qualify to be compared due to obvious scientific, evolutionary and lifestyle-related reasons.
Of all the fasting methods in use today which even include detox diets, water fasting is one such method to flush out toxins from the body, aid in weight loss and promulgate good health. Water fasting is a kind of fasting which restricts eating any kind of food other than water for a period of 24 hours to 72 hours. It is advised that water fasting should be exercised for more than three days without the consultation of a doctor as the gains of water fasting might then outrun the evils of the practice.
The period of water fasting generally includes no caffeine, no sugar, and no other sources of nutrition which means you deprive your body of your normal food for the concerned duration of time. Though a liquid diet, water fasting involves the sole intake of water, minus tea, coffee, zero-calorie sports drinks or beverage of any other kind. Though the process sounds pretty easy and uncomplicated, water fasting should not be considered easy by any means. The fasting period includes nothing but water as your diet and hence, you are expected to consume at least three liters of water a day, instead of the usual two liters as the scope of receiving water from food will be absent during the fasting days.
In case, if you happen to be a newbie in water fasting, you should make sure that you gradually bring down your calorie consumption, bit by bit, each day before the day of fasting. This will help your body to cope up and adopt to the deficiency in calories and nutrient consumption for the period of fasting, rather than shocking your body with a sudden drop in food consumption. This will help in preparing your body for those one to three days and prevent you from falling sick.
After the period of water fasting is over, try and feed your body little portions of food every time like having calorie-rich beverages like milk and juice and gradually consuming snacks and smaller portions of meals. This will bring your body back to the habit of having the usual portions of food roughly after three days of fasting. Though you may experience a tremendous urge of indulging in a heavy meal right away, doing so might prove to be extremely harmful for you as eating quite a hearty meal might lead to discomfort or nausea. This can be the result of the risk of exposing your body to the ‘re-feeding syndrome’ which can be seen in people who have just finished the fasting procedure and have restricted themselves from any kind of calorie intake for one to three days. This syndrome usually leads to great fatality in the likes of drastic changes in the metabolic rates in people which might cause irregularity in blood pressure and consequently, the heart. Malnourished people run the maximum risk of palpitation and uneven heart beats and therefore, should definitely consult their doctor before indulging in water fasting.
Benefits of Water Fasting:
Though there is a lack of general information on the long term effects of water fasting and most of the research has been conducted on animals with limited focus on humans, the benefits of water fasting can be quite rewarding. A few of them are:
May lead to potential weight loss:
This observance of this kind of drastic fasting leads to weight loss as the person restricts himself to only water for a period of one to three days, though this weight loss might be of the stored carbohydrates in the body and not the fat. For the actual fat loss to happen, it might take a few days for your body to initiate the burning process as the initial weight loss involves the loss in weight due to the water, the glycogen and the stored glucose content in the body.
May augment cell recycling:
Water Fasting promotes autophagy, the process that involves the death and the regeneration of cells in a body. Studies say that autophagy plays a pivotal role in the prevention of cancer, other heart diseases and Alzheimer’s disease. In spite all these propositions, most of the research in the effect of water fasting on autophagy has been conducted mostly on animals. The positive impact of water fasting on the autophagy in humans is yet to be properly studies and researched.
May bring down the blood pressure:
Water fasting helps to bring down the salt consumption and increase the water consumption by the body which, in turn, leads to the lowering of blood pressure. Thus, water fasting helps to keep your blood pressure in check which is even proven by medical experts and doctors that any kind of fasting helps to bring down the blood pressure levels in people with the slightest levels of hypertension.
May help in decreasing the probability of diseases:
As already mentioned, tentative studies indicate that water fasting aids in autophagy which, in turn, helps to keep off diseases like cancer, heart diseases and Alzheimer’s disease. In a research conducted on 30 relatively healthy people who kept water fast for one whole day, the results showed that the volunteers had lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, the two biggest agents of heart diseases.
In other studies conducted on animals, it is observed that water fasting help in the protection of those animals from a drastic damage to their hearts. In addition to this, the results show that water fasting could also lead to the ceasing in the growth of the tumors in the animals and can also predict the effect of chemotherapy on them.
Lastly, water fasting keeps diabetes at bay:
It is known that fasting of any kind yields in the improvement of insulin sensitivity. Short water fasts have the capacity to improve insulin sensitivity and bring down the risk of diabetes.
Hazards of Water Fasting:
There are quite a few potential benefits to water fasting, but one should keep in mind that the scientific research on water fasting in humans is limited. The potential risks have the chances of outweighing the benefits, leading to hazardous results, a few of which are listed down below:
Deficiency in essential nutrients:
A fasting regime is known to put people at the risk of experiencing a dearth in the intake of nutrition. By keeping your calorie intake in check during the fasting period, you are also exposing your body to extreme risks by avoiding consuming essential nutrients like vitamins, fatty acids, amino acids, minerals and even electrolytes – all of which are required by the body to perform the daily functions and tasks properly.
Running the risk of being dehydrated:
Even though water fasting involves the intake of nothing but water, you also run the risk of being dehydrated as 20% of our water consumption comes from the consumption of food. During water fasting, we at times forget about increasing our water intake to make up for the dearth of water that we generally consume from foods and therefore, end up having way less water than the acceptable limit.
Drinking too much water:
Water fasting involves the other risk too, of consuming more water than the required quantity. This leads to hypotension, a condition which sees lower blood pressure levels in a fasting person. Continuous and rigorous water fasting regimes lead to orthostatic hypotension where a person experiences dizziness and light-headedness as they go through sudden changes in blood pressure while standing up.
This condition is very innate to water fasting which sees the recovery of the lost salt and water – lost through sweat from the body – by the sole intake of water. Since you are majorly restricting your body from the consumption of any kind of nutrient, you should avoid any kind of grueling physical activity including workouts and exercises to help the body retain the salt content. This way the salt content in the body will be retained throughout the fasting period until it gets replenished by eating food or by drinking energy supplements.
Since dieting and fasting restricts having the usual amounts of food, we often indulge in drastic compulsive eating or binge eating after the water fast to make up for the calories and the food that we avoid eating. This leads to a sudden shock experienced by the body which is known as the re-feeding syndrome. Besides, water fasting makes it extremely difficult to concentrate on work or on studies during the fasting period as your body will struggle to make do with the limited intake of food and calories and fasts of this kind often lead to headaches.
Frequent and periodic fasting, can lead to a disruption of proper functioning of the body due to recurring malnourishment and abnormal curbing on food and calories.
Light-headedeness and tiredness:
As already mentioned, water fasting causes a loss in the energy of a person and affects his/ her enthusiasm during the period of fasting. This leads to a terrible loss of interest in doing things and focusing on work and studies, ultimately leading to bad and severe headaches.
Might worsen the medical situation in a person:
If you are someone who is braving a serious medical condition, a water fast for a duration of 24 to 72 hours have all the makings of worsening your situation further.
Patients with the following ailments should, at all times, avoid attempting water fasting to keep their health in check:
– Heartburn diseases or gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) as even during water fasting, your body will continue to secrete acid in your stomach which gets worsened in the deficiency of proper food.
– Diabetic patients as any kind of fasting increase a diabetic person’s risk of getting ketoacidosis and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
– Chronic kidney ailments get worsened by prolonged period of fasting.
– Digestive issues. People with digestive issues should never participate in long-term fasting practices as other than putting oneself at the risk of not giving ample nutrition to the body, water fasting also inculcates the habits of binge eating and irregular eating practices which brings forth more digestive problems.
Although studies in the discipline of water fasting are quite limited, dietitians believe that water fasting is not such an effective fasting method to keep your diseases and extra pounds at bay. Water fasting does lead to an immediate loss in weight which mainly comprises the stored carbohydrates (glycogen) and water instead of burning the accumulated fat in the body. This erroneous process of weight loss might endanger your well-being and put your health at risk.
Normally, a body takes several days to initiate the process of burning body fat which can be only achieved through a sustainable weight loss program, rather than adopting drastic measures such as water fasting. Bodies are more responsive to other fasting methods such as intermittent fasting and alternate-day fasting along with other detox diets which aid in cleansing your body from the toxins and help you to maintain an overall well-being of the body.
There are a number of detox diets in practice which can be adopted to retain the right quantity of fluids in the body.
If you are still interested to try out water fasting, you should only undertake it after having a strict counseling session with your doctor to weigh out the benefits and the hazards of water fasting prior to you attempting it and to know whether your body will respond to water fasting positively without aggravating the existing medical conditions in your body.