Benjamin Franklin said, "The best of all medicines are rest and fasting." Was he right?
Well, yes and no. Fasting does have some health benefits. A 2007 study at the University of Utah found that Mormons are less likely to suffer from heart disease because they fast once a month. Those who skipped meals monthly were 40 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with coronary artery disease than those who didn't fast regularly. And a 2009 study from the University of Illinois at Chicago found fasting every other day is an effective way to lose weight. The 16 obese participants in the study lost an average of 12 pounds after eight weeks, even though they ate whatever they wanted on their non-fasting days.
While fasting can lead to rapid weight loss, most medical professionals don't recommend it as a safe method for dropping pounds. "Fasting should be reserved for religious reasons or before certain medical tests – not as a tool to manage weight," says Dr. Catherine McKenna, a nutrition and weight management specialist and clinical assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Calgary.
Page 1 of 2 – Find out the difference between fasting and cleansing, and discover which is a healthier option for weight loss on page 2.
Dr. McKenna says fasting can lead to a host of problems, among them:
Disordered eating: Severely restricting food intake can lead to obsession with eating behaviours, which in turn, could lay the groundwork for eating disorders.
Regaining weight: Under-eating one day can lead to overeating the next.
Slowing down metabolism: Fasting can reset the metabolic rate, slowing it down to adjust to less food and forcing the body to store calories once eating is resumed.
Fatigue: Fasting causes blood sugar levels to drop, muscle breakdown to occur, and depletes important minerals such as potassium, sodium and calcium. Without proper food intake you simply don't have the necessary energy to get through they day.
Health problems: Fasting can lead to impaired brain function and compromise the liver, kidneys and heart.
Fasting for weight loss distracts people from the real message about how to lose weight, says Dr. McKenna. "I try to explain to people that weight is something they need to manage over the long term, not obliterate over the short term. They need to cut back a bit on their calories over an extended period of time and not go for the quick fix."
Try a cleanse instead
While fasting is fraught with potential pitfalls, periodically restricting food intake as a way to lose weight can be done in a more responsible way, says Dr. Joey Shulman, a chiropractor and nutritionist who operates several weight loss clinics in the Toronto area. Instead of fasting, she advises that clients consider a "light eating," five-day cleanse every season. "It's sort of in between fasting and regular eating," she says. "We know one of the greatest ways to achieve longevity is through mild caloric deprivation."
Dr. Shulman says people typically lose three to five pounds on a proper cleanse. She spells out the specifics of a cleanse in her book, The Natural Makeover Diet (Wiley, 2005). It involves:
• Eliminating coffee
• Eating lots of fruits and vegetables
• Including lean protein options such as egg whites, chicken, turkey, fish and soy at every meal and snack
• Supplementing your diet with a daily multi-vitamin, fish oil supplement and probiotic such as acidophilus
• Adding essential fats and oils such as flaxseed oil, ground flaxseeds, avocadoes, nuts and seeds
• Drinking eight glasses of water a day
Page 2 of 2 – Have you ever thought about fasting for weight loss? Find out if fasting actually works on page 1.