There is a long history of fasting in the health movement. I think most people are familiar with the proposed benefits of fasting: giving the body a rest from all the energy requirements of digestion to promote immunity, improve metabolism, lose weight, cleanse and detoxify. Simply fasting is not the same as detoxifying, though many detoxes do incorporate fasting. There are some definite contraindications to fasting, and I like for my clients to be aware of these. First let’s look at fasting from a historical perspective.
Historically, fasting was likely a fairly normal state of affairs prior to the advent of food storage. Before the rise of cities and market culture, food was not nearly as accessible as it is today. Peoples’ sense of time was different, with nothing of the schedules, clocks, timesheets, structure and routine we take for granted in the modern world. Our paleolithic ancestors were likely to have gone 12-16 hours between meals on a regular basis, and might have eaten lightly or not at all for days on end when food was scarce.
So while humans have fasted since the beginning of time, and there may be some benefit in certain situations, fasting is not an appropriate strategy for everyone.
What are the specific situations in which fasting might negatively impact health? For anyone with blood sugar dysregulation, anxiety, fatigue or insomnia, fasting can further impair their blood sugar balance. When we don’t have fuel from food in our bodies, as during a fast, the adrenal glands secrete more of the hormone cortisol, which gives us an Emergency Room dose of energy, fast. Just like when we drink a cup of coffee or eat sugar, the cortisol bursts spike blood sugar levels, and then they crash. This can cause disrupted sleep patterns, nervous tension, and exhaustion. Excess cortisol production wears down the organs and functions of the body, impairs digestion, causes acid build-up and inflammation.
As a health practitioner, I see this often with my clients. Many people come in with blood sugar imbalances. For these individuals, when they choose to fast, their blood sugar levels fluctuate rapidly and they become further destabilized.
It is for this reason that I do not recommend fasting for many of my clients. Instead, I suggest that anyone who is dealing with excess stress eat small, balanced meals and snacks every 2-3 hours. This helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day, and prevents excess cortisol production. When people who have been skipping meals or fasting, and experiencing blood sugar surges begin eating this way, their energy, sleep and mood stabilize.
Eating every 2-3 hours is not necessary for everyone, and may not have been the normal from an evolutionary perspective. On the other hand, our ancient ancestors weren’t driving in traffic, worrying about how to pay for college tuition, or staying up until 2:00am on the Internet. It is important to realize that, despite what you see or read in the media, one size does not fits all when it comes to healthcare. Successful health restoration requires us to identify the underlying cause/s of imbalance before we can address them. A health care practitioner you can trust will help you identify the cause of your imbalances, and guide you in making the best choices for your health and healing, to know whether fasting is right for you.