Afast me hearties
March 21, 2012 6:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm curious about trying regular fasting for general health (not weight loss nor spiritual reasons) but I'm finding a lot of woo.

Can someone point me in the direction of some non-health nut information about fasting, what are recommended kinds of fasts and the recommended frequency of regular fasts for healthy, 'normal' weight people? I don't want to do anything punishing or a multi-day"cleanse"; I was thinking more like a once a week, one or two day water fast (but I base that on nothing.) Bonus: Is this a terrible idea for someone who generally has fairly low blood sugar (though only occasionally in the hypoglycemic range)? And, of course, your personal tales of fasting.
posted by Katine to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure if this is considered "health-nut" but my go to site for alot of diet realted questions is It is primal/paleo site but he does alot of research and backs up alot of his ideas with common sense etc. He talks about intermittent fasting and how it should be done.
posted by Busmick at 6:58 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Actually the current post on the front page of the website is about fasting right now ...weird.
posted by Busmick at 7:00 AM on March 21, 2012

There was an article in Harper's recently by a guy who fasted for a long time. It might have some sources of info in it.
posted by lulu68 at 7:01 AM on March 21, 2012

I really think that, given your medical condition, this is a question you have to ask your doctor. None of us can tell you whether fasting will be dangerous given your blood sugar issues. You need to ask someone who understands your blood sugar issues.
posted by decathecting at 7:02 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Or you could try PubMed with the search term 'intermittent fasting'.
posted by lulu68 at 7:02 AM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

What kind of "general health" outcomes are you trying to achieve? What aspects of your health are in need of improvement?

Unfortunately, woo is what you're going to find because Western science-based medicine does not have a long tradition of recommending fasting for health, so there won't be much in the way of good-quality blinded controlled experiments. That leaves you with either speculative pseudoscience ("Fasting may contribute to blah by regulating your bloo," i.e., if it sounds plausible, hey, it might be true!), or statistical surveys of populations where fasting is part of the tradition.

The latter is fraught with confounding factors - for instance, if fasting during Ramadan is shown to reduce the occurrence of X among Indonesian Muslims (that's the sort of thing a study might show), that population might have all kinds of other health habits which contribute to the outcome which should have been controlled. Like, they don't drink alcohol, or they don't eat pork, etc. The finding of that study probably won't be relevant for you.

And the former set of claims (speculative) are even worse. You can always find Dr. Fast who is full of testimonials of how his Patented Fasting Success Plan® cured hundreds of patients of their vague symptoms. But then there's also Dr. Donteat who has her FastProtocol® system and a whole set of other people who will swear up and down that it cured them of scabies or gave them more energy. That won't answer your question either, because none of those things has been properly tested in a controlled setting. It gets even worse because Dr. Fast and Dr. Donteat both have "published papers" in the "peer-reviewed" journal Fasting, in which the peers are credulous or have an interest in the scientific legitimization of their theories.

I'm not intending to be cynical. But in the absence of good-quality scientific research, which is expensive and usually only gets done in matters of serious illnesses, there is no good way for a layman to know which health information is true. Even with the best literature, it's rarely applicable to people on an individual basis ("Science says we should all eat 5 grapes per day"). I apologize for the snarky tone, but this subject frustrates the hell out of me because there are no satisfying answers.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:06 AM on March 21, 2012 [13 favorites]

Maybe one of the few times a link to Cracked is appropriate in AskMe. Scroll down to the entry on fasting. Not a lot of information on its own, but it does link to other sources.
posted by logicpunk at 7:06 AM on March 21, 2012

I second Mark's Daily Apple for this; he posted several times on different aspects of IF (Intermittent Fasting).

Here's a "how to" post to get you started, but just go to his site and do a site search for "intermittent fasting".
posted by Ender's Friend at 7:15 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agreed with lulu68, try searching for "Intermittent fasting" or even "eat stop eat."

If you have low or high blood sugar, consider juicing days instead.

During Lent last year, I did fasting every Friday. It was very interesting -- it helped me learn which times of day I was most hungry and least hungry. I also learned a lot about my appetite. I wasn't hungry all day, more like mildly from 9-10, then seriously 1-2, then it completely dropped off after 7 or 8PM.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 7:16 AM on March 21, 2012

You may find information on fasting from a christian perspective has more practical "how-to" about it. Emphasis on may. Celebration of Discipline has a chapter on fasting and goes through the warm-up and lead-in to a day long fast (and more into multi-day fasts).
posted by k5.user at 7:28 AM on March 21, 2012

Seconding Eat Stop Eat. I've practiced this on & off for a year or two. Not eating for 24 hours once a week helped me lose 2 lbs per week +/- pretty consistently. It also helped me truly appreciate food & flavor, & to be more present when I started eating again.

There is a lot of scientific discussion & myth busting discussion by Eat Stop Eat's founder Brad Pilon, on his blog.
posted by yoga at 8:08 AM on March 21, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all, good information. I'll definitely look at that those blogs and take a look through pub-med. overeducated_aligator: your post is great. I couldn't find any real data about fasting and was wondering if maybe it just didn't exist. For my reasons, I'm not particularly tied to hard and fast data or fasting studies (probably not much money around for studies on fasting). I'm not hoping for a cure or anything. I also don't think a mild fast will result in irreparable damage. I'm curious about how it'll make me feel and go about it, just have no idea where to start and am looking for at least scientifically-reasoned guides.

Reasons: I had a stomach flu a few weeks ago and even after the 24-hour active grossness subsided, I couldn't eat properly and wound up accidentally water/gatorade fasting for three days. And I felt great for those days and for days after! I wasn't constantly hungry, craving and light headed like usual. Though I realize the benefit may have been an accidental elimination diet, or some other factor, it got me thinking about doing a planned fast to see the results.
posted by Katine at 8:20 AM on March 21, 2012

i just introduced intermittent fasting about a month ago, and it's been interesting. the longest i've gone is 24 hours, but tend to average around 20 (keep in mind i've actually only done four -- one a week for a month. i'm no expert, just a curious paleo-eating gal).

2nding Mark's Daily Apple to read about IF. it's a great resource on this particular topic.

i find it's had an impact if not on my *actual* hunger the other days, than the perception of my hunger. it's not as urgent or something. i haven't been tracking weight, so i'm not sure if it's had an impact there.

eating post-fast is just next-level glorious. what's funny, i always tell myself that i'm going to have a treat of some kind afterward (for me would *usually* be an ice cream/pizza combo of some kind, haha), but end up with the most intense cravings for steak, lamb, avocado, yams, dates & bacon.

good luck! feel free to msg me if you want more details.
posted by crawfo at 8:26 AM on March 21, 2012

3rding MDA for intermittent fasting.

Since you did ask for personal experience, I experimented with an "eating window" approach (only eating 1 meal a day, so water fasting for the rest of the day) which can be similar in effect to IF, as well as the "eating every other day" approach that has apparently been helpful in keeping mice healthy. I found both hard to stick to, but then, I also found primal eating hard to stick to when many others have no problem with it, so YMMV. I also have a family history of hypoglycemia and blood sugar issues, which may have been a factor for me. When I was trying to fast, I wouldn't necessarily be hungry to the point of insanity, but when life would throw me some kind of curveball like stress at work or a flat tire, I would totally lose my shit and realize that I needed to eat something.

One of my friends would regularly engage in 1-7 day fasts, not for weight loss. He was a semi-retired layabout hermit, so it helped that he didn't have to go to work or anything when he was fasting. For the first 1 or 2 days he would have a lot of energy and go for runs, but by the 4th day or so, he was just zonked out all the time and couldn't imagine doing any physical labor.
posted by permiechickie at 9:15 AM on March 21, 2012

I just started doing a once a week fast a couple of months ago. I was having the same problem you are finding information. I can’t tell you my sources because there was a lot of digging around, but I settled on a regular one day fast.

It’s much easier than I would have imagined, and feels great. I have a little concentrating sometimes, but mostly I keep forgetting I’m fasting, every 20 minutes I think "I’m hungry, I should eat something". Occasionally I get up and eat breakfast before I remember it’s a fast day.

Mainly I like that it sort of resets my hunger level. I can crave snacks a lot, but after fasting it seems much less urgent.

eating post-fast is just next-level glorious.
I don’t have that reaction, I actually lose a little interest in food in general. I’m not a big foodie though.
posted by bongo_x at 9:49 AM on March 21, 2012

For whatever reason, I've eaten like an intermittent faster for most of my life - I just don't really get hungry until late in the day. I never eat breakfast and I rarely eat lunch. This has worked well for me in a lot of ways, especially for weight loss, but I have recently started having gallbladder trouble that my doctor assures me is likely a result of my gallbladder not emptying very often due to my infrequent eating habits. Apparently when it doesn't empty, bile builds up in there and gets super-concentrated and some of the salts and cholesterols precipitate out to form gallstones. Then, when you do eat, your gallbladder can go into spasms trying to push all of the bile out at once. It hurts A LOT and the pain can go on for hours.

Anyway, just something to watch out for - I hardly ever see gallbladder issues mentioned in IF discussions for some reason. Fasting occasionally, or even once a week, probably won't give you this problem. But I probably wouldn't intermittent-fast every single day like some people recommend. When you do start eating in the evening, make sure to ramp up slowly and don't dump a bunch of fat into your system all at once because it could lead to an extremely painful and alarming gallbladder attack.
posted by dialetheia at 12:32 PM on March 21, 2012

Just piling on a bit with Eat Stop Eat - I've been a lifelong fan of fasting (gives me more energy, seems to help with general health and immune system etc) but I didn't have a system until I read the Eat Stop Eat pdf. (It's quite simple: once or twice a week, do not eat for 24 hours.)

And the document itself does contain some details to back it up and it's not particularly woo.

I am not in the game to lose weight, by the way (in anything, quite the opposite).
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 1:11 PM on March 21, 2012

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