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What Are Some Risks of Long Term Fasting?
I have been practicing intermittent fasting for the past 8 years, and I think it is something I will do for life. There are many misconceptions regarding fasting, and I want to clear the air a bit. I can attest that all those points are wrong and have been proven false by science. However, that is not to say it is all sunshine and rainbows, as there are potential risks of long-term fasting.Let’s first talk about some risks of long term fasting, and then we can also discuss the benefits.
Binge eating / eating disorder
I am completely guilty of this. When I first started fasting, I would totally go crazy on food when I broke my fast. At the beginning, I didn’t lose any weight.
In fact, I gained weight initially.
I was so hungry, that I overate and binge at when the fast broke. By the time my brain gave the signal to my mind that I was full, I was REALLY full!
Over time, this went away. But if your self control is lower, or you have any sort of eating disorder, fasting may not be the best option.
Losing muscle mass
If your goal is to build the maximum amount of muscle possible, then fasting may not be the best option. The best gains I have made in lean muscle mass when I was eating 6 meals a day. This is certainly possible when using intermittent fasting, but not ideal.
Fasting is fine for maintaining muscle but gaining new mass can be challenging due to meal frequency and timing.
One of the best ways to be successful during fasting is drinking plenty of water. Many times, the signal for being hungry and thirsty can feel the same. Give yourself enough water, and you may not actually be hungry, but just thirsty.
Another side benefit is having a stomach full of water may even make you less hungry due to the volume.
Remember you will not be getting any liquids from food while in a fasted state, so dehydration is a real possibility if you’re not careful. A good rule of thumb for water intake is to drink half your body weight in ounces every day.
Making bad choices
Let me make this clear when I say that fasting is not an excuse to eat a bunch of junk food. There are many “experts” on YouTube that would disagree, but the quality of your food is very important.
Fasting will help with burning more body fat, but it can only go so far if you’re breaking your fast with fried foods, burgers, and pizza.
Make some and healthy choices most of them time and then you can enjoy the lesser healthy foods are a treat on occasion
Diabetic or Blood Sugar issues
Fasting may not be right for you if you’re diabetic or have blood sugar issues. Your blood sugar will be much lower when you’re fasting, so that could cause so problems if you’re already at risk for these types of issues.
Remember that you should always consult your doctor or physician when making changes to your diet or fitness.
Just like trying to put on muscle, fasting may not be ideal for people who are underweight. One of the main benefits of fasting is weight loss. If you’re doing a longer 24 hour fast, you won’t be getting any calories for that amount of time.
If you’re doing intermittent fasting of 16 hours, you will only have a feeding window of 8 hours.
For underweight individuals, sticking to a more traditional meal timing may be more optimal solution
Benefits of fasting
In our opinion, the benefits of fasting far outweigh the potential risks. However, it is important to consult your physician or medical doctor before making any changes to your diet, exercise or health factors.
Here are some additional benefits of fasting that have been proven true by science:
One of the main benefits of fasting is helping weight loss. Remember when you’re not eating, your body has no choice but to use its own stored body fat for fuel. One study noted that whole day fasting could show a significant reduction in bodyfat in 3-6 months (1)
Increases Growth Hormone Levels
Growth hormone in the body is an amazing hormone that promotes weight loss, metabolism, and muscle gain. Fasting has shown to increase HGH levels naturally according to a few different studies (2)(3)
There is a limit to this, so don’t think you’re going to turn into Andre the giant just because your body is producing more HGH
Improves Blood Sugar and Insulin Resistance
Fasting can have great benefit for those with blood sugar issues. In fact, studies show that fasting decreased blood sugar levels in with people that have type 2 diabetes.(4)
Saves money by only eating 1-2 times per day
Maybe not a health benefit per se, but certainly a financial benefit. When I went from eating 3-6 meals a day down to 2, it lightened the load on my wallet. I essentially saved ⅓ of my food budget by skipping my breakfast through Intermittent fasting.
May improve brain function
Recent studies show fasting promotes the growth of nerve cells which promote brain function. And, could protect the brain too. (5)(6)
Improves heart health
A great benefit for those with potential heart issues. A study had 110 overweight adults using fasting for 3 weeks, and it decreased total cholesterol, bad LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, and blood pressure. (7)
Although not human based studies, there have been a few noting the possible benefits of delaying aging. In a study with rats, rats who fasted lived 83% longer than no fasted rats. (8).
This is yet to be determined with humans, so you may want to take that with a grain of salt.
May help prevent Cancer
One amazing potential benefit of fasting is the treatment of cancer. One study shows that fasting every other day blocked tumors from forming. (9)
Fasting may also help the effectiveness of chemotherapy. (10)
Fasting is a bit an of broad term and really needs to be broken down into subcategories to being understood properly
Different types of fasting
Intermittent fasting is breaking up your days into fasting periods and feeding periods. For example, a 16/8-hour split is a very popular example and one I followed for many years.
Here is an example eating schedule of intermittent fasting
12pm – 8pm (feeding window)
8pm – 12pm (fasting window)
Because you’re asleep for a long portion of the 16-hour period, the fasting becomes a bit more manageable versus longer 24-72-hour fasts.
Speaking of which…
24 -72-hour fasts
These are a bit on the extreme side, but many people praise these types of extended period of fasts. I feel that intermittent fasting is a better option, but it is worth noting that many people achieve great results with this style of fasting
While technically not fasting because your body is still taking in calories during that time, I would like to refer to this as detoxification, juice fasting is replacing the normal calories you ingest with fruit and vegetable juice.
Fasting comes from a significant reduction in calories.
In addition, the vitamins and minerals cause a detoxification effect which cleans the body.
Just be warned that juice fasting has been known to cause digestive issues (myself included). It may sound gross, but going out is better than staying in.
I have found the effects of other fasting to be minimal compared to juice fasting.
Your mileage may vary.
If you have had success with fasting or know of any other risks. Let us know in the comments below.