Fasting: benefits & advisable methods

                                                                         BY DR.SUMIT DASGUPTA, M.B.B.S.

Introduction

Due to the advent of social media and easy access to internet connection and smartphones , windows have opened in to let in a breeze of knowledge and science into our daily lives which was earlier restricted to literate and regular readers of print media. Thus , now we can access a world wide repository of knowledge and especially information pertaining to our daily lives and healthy living.

However, this has also created a flurry of misinformation  from ill-formed sources. This was evident during the tide of misinformation during the pandemic of 2020 with every layman giving out tips on social media. So , similarly , there is a lot of confusion and  misinformation when it comes to following a diet for weight loss like keto diet , 8 hour diet etc.

While some may be harmless and render your efforts ineffective leading to loss of motivation for dieting, others have potential to cause serious harm to organs .

Thus , to ease things out for you , I will use my medical knowledge to throw some light on the topic of Fasting as a dietary method.

The fasting benefits research has revealed so far are as follows:

  • Thinking and memory: Studies discovered that intermittent fasting boosts working memory in animals and verbal memory in adult humans.
  • Heart health: Intermittent fasting improved blood pressure and resting heart rates as well as other heart-related measurements.
  • Physical performance: Young men who fasted for 16 hours showed fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. Mice who were fed on alternate days showed better endurance in running.
  • Diabetes and obesity: In animal studies, intermittent fasting prevented obesity. And in six brief studies, obese adult humans lost weight through intermittent fasting.
  • Tissue health: In animals, intermittent fasting reduced tissue damage in surgery and improved results.

How does it work ?

Basically , the body finds the episodes of fasting as a short term challenge which causes it to go into the backup mechanisms to provide energy to the brain and body. It is similar to exercise because fasting induces secretion of Growth Hormone and decreases Insulin secretion. Growth hormone causes the body to break down fats along with some more hormones to maintain glucose level in the body.  Besides that , the liver enzymes for digestion are not highly secreted during fasting , thus giving rest to the constantly working Liver and Gallbladder. Similarly Islet cells of Pancreas responsible for secretion of Insulin, get some rest and are not burnt out (a potential cause of diabetes mellitus).

It’s important to check with your doctor before starting fasting. Not everyone can fast, in fact,  fasting could be harmful for those having certain medical conditions.

Examples of medical conditions where caution is advisable if one

  1. Pregnancy

2.  Diabetes Mellitus patients on medications or insulin therapy.

3. Persons working in areas where sharp focus is needed like Airline Pilot , Surgeon scheduled for performing surgery, workers operating heavy machinery etc

Acute effects of fasting

Those that are fasting for the first time can experience a range of symptoms like brain fogging, dizziness, fatigue and generalised weakness, poor concentration, memory dysfunction, etc.

All these are temporary issues for an unaccustomed body physiology, which slowly subsides as the body adjusts with the schedule of fasting plan .

These are an effect of temporary lack of calories which results in low blood sugar. However, for a healthy human body, backup mechanisms kick in involving a cascade of hormones and enzymes which maintain the optimal blood sugar by utilising energy stored in liver and muscles and later on in fat tissues.

It is akin to feeling hungry as the tiffin break approaches and on realising that your Mom forgot to pack the tiffin box in your bag today , your mind temporarily goes haywire! But if this happens more than once a week, you slowly adapt and make alternate plans to fill your tummy by sharing the tiffin box of your school mate or best friend! I am sure everyone can relate to this nostalgic example...

16/8 fasting:

More commonly known as Intermittent Fasting. This involves eating for eight hours and fasting for 16 hours. Though very popular, too many people complain about the after effects such as gastritis. Most of my patients find it difficult to sustain the 16:8 method. An alternative approach such as 14:10( fasting 14 hours, can eat for 10 hours) or 12:12 (12 hours each for fasting and eating) is suitable  and sustainable in the long term.

5:2 approach

This involves eating regularly for  five days a week but for the other two days,  limit yourself to one 500–600 calorie meal. this does not mean complete abstinence of food for the rest of the time. One can consume fresh fruits, juices as the remaining meals. An example would be if you chose to eat normally on every day of the week except Mondays and Thursdays, which would be your one-meal days. Or as our grandparents would fast! A rehash of past isn't it!

Keto diet plan

It involves fasting with low intake of carbohydrates, but moderate - high intake of fats and proteins. This causes the body to start producing ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are produced when your body has run out of carbohydrate as the main source of energy. Basically it is akin to starvation. Longer periods without food, such as 24, 36, 48 and 72-hour fasting periods, are not necessarily better for you and may be dangerous. Going too long without eating carbs might actually encourage your body to start storing more fat in response to starvation.

It is pragmatic to keep in mind that low blood sugar, also known as Hypoglycemia, could be more dangerous to the brain tissue than excess calorie intake! Signs of hypoglycemia are dizziness, sweating, palpitations, confusion and fainting. Such cases may even lead to acute brain damage if undetected.
Tip the scale in your favour


FINAL  TAKEAWAY POINT:

  1. Consult with your doctor if fasting is okay for you as a regular diet plan .
  2. Team up with a dietician/nutritionist/a fitness instructor qualified in nutritional sciences on what fasting plan to follow .
  3. Begin in small steps to achieve your dieting goals. Avoid drastic weight loss. Weight loss of 2-3 kg per month is sustainable in the long run.
  4. There will be cravings during the initial days of starting a diet plan. This can be managed by consuming roasted makhana/dry coconut/ roasted puffed rice/fruits etc.
  5. Make sure you stay well hydrated. Fasting does not mean giving up water.
  6. Reward yourself once a week with a full course meal (no it is not the same as a Cheat Day where you eat unhealthy food!)
  7. Motivate others if you notice some good changes. It boosts your own will power to continue.
One important point that cant be overlooked is that micronutrient deficiency can be an unintended consequence of fad diets or excessive fasting. No matter which schedule suits you and you prefer to follow long term; ensure consumption of wholesome diet that supplies all the essential food groups.


The A - B and C,D,E of diet; non-negotiable to consume wholesome and fresh foods. 

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