The Benefits of Fasting: How Occasional Hunger Can Improve Your Health and Wellbeing

Fasting, or occasionally going without food, has become an increasingly popular health and wellness trend in recent years. But the practice of fasting for health is nothing new – it has been used for centuries as part of spiritual traditions around the world.

Does occasional fasting provide a variety of benefits, from losing weight and reducing inflammation to promoting longevity and enhancing clarity and wellbeing?

The Science Behind Fasting

There are several key mechanisms through which fasting promotes health:

Autophagy – This is essentially the process by which cells clean up damaged components and recycle them. Fasting triggers increased autophagy, which is believed to enhance longevity.

Ketone production – When the body goes for periods without food, it burns stored fat for fuel and produces ketones. Ketones have anti-inflammatory effects and provide an efficient energy source for the brain and body.

Metabolic flexibility – Fasting helps transition the body from primarily burning glucose to being able to burn both glucose and ketones. This “metabolic flexibility” allows your metabolism to adapt to different fuel sources.

Gut rest – Taking a break from food gives your gut a chance to rest and reset, promoting a healthier gut microbiome.

Avoiding dietary toxins – Many everyday foods contain compounds like lectins and oxalates that can cause low-grade inflammation or digestive issues. Fasting gives your body a break from these.

Dealing with Hunger and Cravings During a Fast

The biggest obstacle for many people when it comes to fasting is dealing with feelings of hunger and cravings. But this doesn’t have to be the case – you can fast without suffering or struggling with intense hunger.

Three “fasting hacks” that can help curb hunger and cravings:

  • Consuming some healthy fats like butter or coconut oil in coffee or tea. This provides satiety without spiking insulin.
  • Taking prebiotic fiber supplements. The fiber nourishes gut bacteria, reducing hunger hormones.
  • Using activated charcoal supplements to bind toxins released from gut bacteria during a fast. This reduces inflammation and digestive discomfort.

Asprey emphasizes starting slowly with manageable fasts like 12-14 hours, and working your way up to longer fasts only when your body has adapted. This prevents intense hunger, headaches, and other symptoms of sudden fasting. Staying well hydrated is also key.

You Don’t Have to Be in “Pure” Fasting Mode to Benefit

For some purists, anything other than pure water fasting is considered “not really fasting.” But Asprey challenges this notion. He explains that consuming small amounts of certain supplements, teas, or even healthy fats won’t disrupt the benefits of fasting.

Autophagy can still occur even with a small intake of certain amino acids or fats. The key is keeping insulin low by avoiding carbohydrates/sugars, and keeping protein intake minimal (under 15g). This allows your body to maintain its “fasted” state and continue burning fat and producing ketones.

So rather than suffering through hunger pains, adding a spoonful of grass-fed butter to your morning coffee or taking prebiotic supplements can help you stick to your fasting regimen without disrupting the benefits. This more flexible approach makes fasting sustainable as a lifestyle.

Intermittent Fasting for Beginners

For those new to fasting, intermittent fasting is easier to maintain long-term rather than extended multi-day water fasts. This involves fasting for 12-16 hours per day, and eating all meals within an 8-12 hour “feeding window.”

Asprey recommends starting with 12 hours and working your way up to 16 hours over several weeks. Drink only plain water, unsweetened tea, or black coffee during the fasts. Get breaking your fast with a high protein, high fat, low carb meal is ideal.

Consistent intermittent fasting will allow your body to become “fat adapted,” meaning your cells shift to more efficiently burning fat stores for fuel in the absence of glucose. You will also build metabolic flexibility to burn both fat and carbs.

However, don’t try to maintain the same style of intermittent fast every single day. This can put chronic stress on your body. Instead, build in 1-2 “feast” days a week where you eat normally to maintain metabolic flexibility.

Extended and Spiritual Fasting

With experience intermittent fasting, some people choose to attempt longer fasts of 24+ hours or even several days. Asprey says medical oversight is recommended for extended fasts over 10 days to monitor electrolyte balance and other vitals. Hunger tends to peak in waves during the first few days but then dissipates.

Spiritual traditions have long used extended fasting as a spiritual practice. Asprey says this works for several reasons:

  • Ketones produce mental clarity, focus, and feelings of wellbeing. This allows inward reflection.
  • Withdrawing from food highlights our relationship to hunger and cravings. This builds willpower and self-awareness.
  • The lack of distraction encourages processing repressed thoughts and emotions. This can lead to insights and healing.

He emphasizes that spiritual fasting should be an occasional practice, not daily deprivation. Choosing to “face the pain” during a fast can be meaningful, but suffering unnecessarily is counterproductive.

Fasting for Health Doesn’t Have to Be About Deprivation

Asprey wants people to think of fasting as an opportunity to enhance energy, clarity, and health – not a form of deprivation. By starting gradually and avoiding hunger pains, intermittent fasting becomes sustainable long-term. Periodic extended fasts can provide even more profound benefits.

But fasting remains a personal journey. You may experiment with pure water fasts or take a more moderate approach – both can be powerful tools. Key message is to avoid suffering unnecessarily. With the right supplementation and mental approach, you can fast comfortably while drastically improving your health.

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