Fasting has been used as one of the ways to manage weight for thousands of years. Fasting, in simple words, means restriction of food or certain kinds of foods for some time.
Water fasting is a new health trend that people are taking up to lose weight faster. Some studies have shown that water fasting can indeed be helpful for the human body.
However, the confusion about water fast and how one should go about it while staying healthy is pretty common. Water fasting, although very popular in the health and wellness world, should be followed with caution.
So, let us discuss the pros and cons of water fasting and the right way to do it.
What is Water Fasting?
Water fasting or water-only fast (WF) is a practice of eating nothing and only drinking water for a limited period.
There are many reasons people take on water fasting: religious reasons, medical reasons, and losing weight. Though there is limited research, water fasting has shown some promising results. However, if not done right, it can also be harmful to the body. Water fasting by many people is used as a way to cleanse one’s body, normalize blood pressure, and speed up weight loss considerably.
Researchers suggest that fasting for prolonged periods can help scale up the fat loss of those who are stuck at a plateau. So, giving up on foods for longer periods will make you shed those extra pounds.
How to Water Fast?
There is no distinctive guide on ‘how to do a water fast?’. There are no stepwise instructions for water fasting. However, there are a few things that, if followed, will make the water fast more efficient.
Most people fast for 24-72 hours which can equate to 3 days at a stretch. But fasting longer than this should be done under the observation of a specialized dietitian or a doctor.
Here are some steps you should follow for water fasting;
Step 1: 24-48 Hours Before Water Fast
You should prepare your body before you start your water fast. This step is not mandatory, but if done will give you better results.
You should avoid eating any processed foods for at least 48 hours before you begin your fasting. Take calories and energy according to your recommended dietary allowance but shift your eating habits to ‘clean eating.’ This means only eating fruits, vegetables, and whole foods rather than refined foods.
Step 2: 1st to 72 Hours During Water Fasting
When you start fasting, you will not be allowed to consume anything except water. If you have done clean intermittent fasting, water fasting can just be an extension of that.
For the first 12 hours, your body will enter ketosis and use all the energy from the existing foods you have taken. Now it will start burning fat to continue the metabolic functions. Till 18 hours, your body will consistently burn fat, which is usually where the benefits begin to kick in.
Also, during the 10-24 hour mark, your body will carry out autophagy. Autophagy is when the cells recycle the dead and useless cells out of the body along with other unusable components such as misfolded proteins and much more.
By the time you reach 48 hours, the growth hormone (GH) from the pituitary gland increases and promotes faster fat burning. It is perfect for people who are trying to build muscles. Also, during the 72 hours of the water fast, your body becomes more sensitive to insulin. People with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes will see better insulin sensitivity in their bodies.
Step 3: After Water Fast 24- 72 hours
Finishing off a 72 hour fast is no joke. Once you have finished this fast, you need to approach food with caution.
Breaking water fast the wrong way can lead to various side effects. Now, when you end your fast, your digestive system needs something that can be quickly processed. Remember that you have not taken food for several days. Hence, introducing a heavy meal will cause diarrhoea or indigestion.
Give your digestive system a good 2-3 hours to adjust to the new food. It is advisable to start with liquids such as juice and coconut water or even milkshakes. You can take a complete liquid diet, including soups and stocks.
Once you have given your system some time to get used to the liquids, you can start with solid foods. Remember, even when you introduce solid foods to your system, eating a huge meal can still cause stomach discomfort. So, to avoid this, build your tolerance throughout the day.
Also, you should mostly stick to non-processed, non-fried foods so that you can easily digest them. In the next three days, you will be able to get back to your regular eating pattern.
Many people emphasize the fasting period and its steps, but they don’t realize that the post-fast period is equally important. This is because once a fast is over, you are prone to developing the refeeding syndrome. It can cause shifts in the electrolyte balance of the body. This can be possibly fatal. The symptoms of refeeding syndrome include weakness, breathlessness, fatigue, seizure, heart attacks, coma, high blood pressure, and even death in some cases. By eating the wrong way after ending a fast, the body can develop hypokalemia, hypomagnesemia, change in nutrient metabolism and low sodium levels.
Again, the people who fast for three days will not be experiencing symptoms as severe as other people who have been fasting for five days or more or are anorexic, but there is still a need to be cautious. Hence in conclusion, after the fast ends, you should slowly introduce foods into your system for at least 24 hours but if you experience unusual symptoms, then eat light foods and soft foods for 48 hours.
Water Fasting Benefits
Now let us discuss some benefits of water fasting. Before we list out all the potential benefits of water fasting, it is essential to understand that there is not much research done in this field. Hence, whatever benefits have been concluded are not 100% proven.
A few benefits that you may see from water fasting are:
One of the most commonly known and the most apparent benefits that you will see from water fasting is fat loss. Since your body has not been given food for an extended period, the ketosis and the faster fat-burning mechanism will kick in and make you drop some kilos in the process.
Improved Insulin Sensitivity
Fasting for a prolonged duration shows improvement in insulin sensitivity. People who suffer from insulin resistance or have type 2 diabetes experience better blood sugar levels after continuous fasting for 48-72 hours.
Autophagy, as explained, is a process through which the cells in the body start consuming the unusable parts or damaged parts to produce energy. This can also be considered as internal cleansing. Long-term water fasting is supposed to increase autophagy in the body.
Lowering of Blood Pressure
People who fast for longer durations might also experience a lowering in their blood pressure levels if they suffer from hypertension. Research shows that borderline hypertension can be treated with medically supervised water fasting. However, most of the research available is on fasting for over ten days.
May Lower The Risk Of Cancer
Now, since we have seen that water only fast improves autophagy in the body, there is also a chance for it to lower the risk of cancer by slowing down the process of cancer cell growth. Animal research has shown that water fasting may help suppress the cancer cells and might also help improve the effects of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.
Improve Brain Function
Fasting has been related to more attentiveness and sharper memory. Research also shows that fasting reduces the risk of neurodegenerative disorders, which can cause diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Are There any Side Effects?
Now that we have seen the benefits let us also look at some of the side effects that water fasting can cause if not done correctly or under supervision.
Water fasting includes staying hungry for an extended period. Hence it is not recommended unless a health professional clears you. This is specifically important for people who have some chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disorder, chronic liver disease, etc.
Water fasting can be harmful to some situations, such as eating disorders and gout. Also, other people who should refrain from fasting are underweight, pregnant and breastfeeding, undergoing dialysis or blood transfusion, or on a certain medication that needs them to intake food. Again, this is why it is advised to get permission and suggestion from a doctor or a dietitian before you start fasting.
Otherwise, healthy people might experience side effects such as hunger pangs and lack of energy. Since you are not introducing carbohydrates into your diet, you will feel more drained out. Hence, it is always better if you fast on days when you do not have to do heavy work and work that uses body and brain power too much. Also, if you have high metabolic demand in case of fever, cough, cold, or any flu, you should avoid fasting.
If you are fasting for weight loss, it can be very tempting to also engage in demanding workouts to amplify the process of fat burning. You can engage in activities such as brisk walking or light weight training. However, you should be cautious with high-intensity workouts.
If you want to fast and have some kind of limitation due to medical conditions, you can always try intermittent fasting, where you restrict the hours when you can and cannot consume food.
Water fasting comes with its own benefits and side effects. On the one hand, we can see that it has many benefits on a person’s body by improving fat loss, autophagy, and insulin resistance.
It is also obvious that it can lead to a lot of problems if not done correctly. So, if you want to include water fasting in your regime, we suggest you first consult a doctor and if you are a healthy individual, always break your fast with caution.