Fasting means abstaining or not doing something, typically eating and drinking. People around the world fast for many reasons, with the most common being for health or religion. Most major religions involve fasting in some way, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, and Taoism.
In fact, May 6, 2019 is the first day of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. In Islam, Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunup to sundown. With over 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, that’s a lot of people fasting for religion this month. If you read What is Ramadan? you will know that in some parts of the world daylight hours can be 16 hours or more.
That’s essentially intermittent fasting, except that most people who fast for health reasons do not eliminate calorie-free beverages while they abstain from food. A common schedule for intermittent fasting is 16:8, which means a 16-hour fasting timeframe and an 8-hour window of eating. That sounds like a lot, but most intermittent fasters begin their fast after dinner, which means that many of their fasting hours are spent asleep.
Whether fasting for health or religion, here are 7 common myths about fasting.
I’ll never adapt to a new schedule
Your body becomes regulated by your eating schedule and, like Pavlov’s dogs, will become hungry at your usually eating time. If your schedule adapts, your hormones will adapt. Meaning, the longer you stick to a schedule like 16:8, the more your body will become accustomed to, and therefore less hungry during the 16-hour fast.
In the beginning you will experience hunger, but the longer you stick to the new schedule, the more adjusted your body will become.
Fasting makes your body think you are starving
Starvation is not the same as fasting. Starvation happens when your body is limited in calories for an extended period of time. Basically, you are never eating enough calories to fuel your body.
Intermittent fasting is built on the principle that you will consume your regular dietary intake during a specific window of time. Your calories might reduce a little, but not enough to create true starvation. On a 16:8 schedule, you will fast for 16 hours and then, during the 8-hour eating window, consume a well-balanced diet.
Fasting is bad for your health
When you eat, insulin goes up. That’s good because insulin helps you absorb and store nutrients. Some foods, like fats, have low levels of insulin. Others, like carbohydrates, have high levels. The problems begin when you have high levels of insulin which can cause your body store more fat.
Four to six hours after your last food, insulin levels go down and your hormones help your body pull energy from your fat stores. Even if you don’t plan to fast for a long period of time, it is important to provide your body with breaks between eating.
Eating frequently reduces hunger
If you eat many small meals a day, your body hormones might not change enough to burn fat. Remember that insulin goes up when you eat? Higher insulin increases your appetite. Basically, eating more often makes you want to eat more often. That’s a vicious cycle.
When you take longer breaks between eating, your hunger actually goes down. It sounds counter-intuitive, but while your body will get hungry at its normal time, the hunger will go back down even if you don’t eat. And your body will primarily burn fat and enter a state of ketosis.
When I’m done fasting, I can binge
That kind of thinking will do your body a lot of harm. Binge anything means indulging to excess and is usually bad. Any type of fasting doesn’t mean you overindulge and then fast (or fast then overindulge.) You should consume the same number of calories in your eating window as you normally would.
After a 16-hour fast, it doesn’t take much to fill your belly. Your ideal diet should be high in good fat, high in fiber, high in micronutrients, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrates.
If I fast, I will be hungry the whole time
Hunger will no doubt hit you hard in the beginning. Your body is used to eating and wants to eat. It needs time to adjust to your new schedule. Your body needs time for your hormones to suppress your appetite.
Many of us eat because of social or habitual cues. We don’t always pay attention to if we are hungry. Think about a buffet or social gathering with food. How often do you eat foods as part of the social cue rather than because you are hungry?
Mindfulness is a great way to tune in to your body and pay attention to your true hunger cues.
Anyone Can Fast
While that is technically true, it is not safe for certain people to fast: pregnant or breastfeeding women, sick or elderly, and young children. In those groups, fasting would do more harm than good. People who take medications at specific times must make sure their health needs would be met before considering fasting. Anyone with concerns about fasting should check with their healthcare provider before undertaking any new dietary change.
Believe it or not, a major part of fasting is your mindset or intention. If you believe you will feel hungry all day, guess what you will feel? If you have doubts in your will or abilities, you will already undermine your results.
If you state your intention, your mind will be ready to accept that intention. Mindfulness will also help you refrain from binge eating or snacking during your eating window. Consciously choosing healthier foods will keep you from mindlessly filling your belly with snacks and sweet treats.
Whether considering intermittent fasting or undertaking a religious fast, there are many benefits. Knowing the facts can help you have a successful fast.