I am in the middle of a 3 day water-only fast. It is not all that hard. I did it last year. You start to burn your own fat, so you are not all that hungry, especially as it goes on. There are lots of health benefits, as is discussed here. I don’t have type 2 diabetes, but it is especially good for those who do. I believe it also jump starts your immune system.
The Complete Guide to Fasting: A Special Interview With Dr. Jason Fung
By Joseph Mercola
The Clinical Use of Fasting
Fung went on to implement fasting in his practice, and the results, he says, have been “unbelievable.” He’s been able to take many patients off all medications; they’re losing weight, report increased energy, and their diabetes is reversed.
“This is why we go into medicine: To make people better. For the first time, this was what was happening. Before, for 10 years, all I did was watch people get worse until I put them on dialysis. That was really not the way to go,” he says.
When he first sought to implement this program clinically, there was no formal guide to follow, which is what inspired him to write “The Complete Guide to Fasting.” Using his own clinical experience, he created a guide that anyone can use to their benefit.
“When people start, they’re super skeptical. They think it’s [a] terrible [idea]. But then they come back and they’re total converts. They’re like, ‘This is the best thing.’
Because they’re losing weight, they’re seeing that their medications are going down, their sugars are going down. It’s obvious to them that they’re actually getting much, much healthier,” he says.
“This is all without medications. We’re trying to take away medications. It’s an all-natural solution. You’re really letting your body just clean itself out from all of that excess sugar and fat.
There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s free. It’s available. All we have to do is give people the knowledge and they can make themselves better, which is incredible.”
If you’re obese, nutritional ketosis is another excellent dietary protocol. I recently interviewed Dr. Jeanne Drisko, head of the University of Kansas Integrative Medical Center, who has used a ketogenic protocol in a clinical setting for many years now.
The challenge is implementation and compliance. Nutritional ketosis is more complicated than fasting. Fasting can also be a more rapid process. Rather than waiting weeks or months for your body to upregulate and be able to effectively metabolize fat again, fasting really jumpstarts this process.
Breaking Down Myths About Fasting
Fung’s book is so helpful because it provides easy-to-follow basic guidelines for fasting, and reviews some of the most common myths and fears that keep many from implementing a fasting regimen.
One common myth is that fasting will lead to loss of muscle mass. The book clearly describes the process of protein catabolism, explaining how your body actually downregulates protein catabolism and upregulates growth hormones in response to fasting.
“If you follow the biochemistry, your body stores energy as glycogen in the liver, which is links or chains of sugar, and then it stores [it as] body fat.
During fasting, you start by burning off all the glycogen in the liver, which is all the sugar. There’s a point there where some of the excess amino acids in your body need to get burnt as well.
That’s where people say, ‘That’s where you’re burning muscle.’ That’s not actually what happens. The body never upregulates its protein catabolism. Never is it burning muscle; there’s a normal turnover that goes on.
There is a certain amount of protein that you need for a regular turnover. When you start fasting, that starts to go down and then fat oxidation goes way up. In essence, what you’ve done is you switched over from burning sugar to burning fat. Once you start burning fat, there’s almost an unlimited amount of calories there. You could go for days and days.
What’s interesting is that if you take a pound of fat, that’s roughly 3,500 calories. If you eat somewhere around 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day, it takes two full days of fasting to burn a single pound of fat, which is very surprising to people.
If you’re trying to lose 100 pounds, you could theoretically go 200 days of fasting just to burn all that fat … People worry about fasting for 24 hours. I’m like, ‘You could go 200 days.’ Then it’s like, ‘OK. Maybe it’s OK to go 24 hours without eating.'”
The ‘Starvation Mode’ Myth
Another common fear is that fasting equals starvation, which is not true. First of all, starvation is a forced situation that you have no control over whereas fasting is optional. You have complete control. Many also believe they cannot or should not fast because it will send their body into “starvation mode” — a situation where the body starts holding on to fat rather than burning it off.
“What they’re talking about is where the body’s metabolism starts to slow down so significantly that instead of burning 2,000 calories a day, your body might burn 1,000 calories a day.
In that case, even if you’re eating only 1,500 calories a day, for example, you’re going to gain your weight back. That’s actually what happens when you reduce your calories. We know that … as you cut your calorie intake, your calorie expenditure goes down as well.
Starvation mode actually is guaranteed if you just try and cut your calories. But what’s interesting is that fasting doesn’t do that. What happens during fasting is that … after four days of fasting, the basal metabolic rate is actually 10 percent higher than when you started.
The body has not shut down at all. In fact, what it’s done is it switched fuel sources. It switched from burning food to burning [body] fat. Once it’s burning [body] fat, it’s like, ‘Hey, there’s plenty of this stuff. Let’s burn our 2,000 calories’…”
This is also why fasting tends to increase energy opposed to leaving you feeling drained. If you’re overweight and lethargic, fasting helps unlock all that energy already lodged in your body that you previously had no access to. Fasting forces your body to start accessing those stores of energy, and once that happens, your body suddenly has a near unlimited supply of energy!
Fasting also helps improve other biochemical systems in your body. There’s interplay of hormonal systems like the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), AMPK, leptin and IGF-1 — all of which are optimized in the right direction when fasting. It also improves your mitochondrial function, allowing your mitochondria to regenerate. So it’s not just simply turning on an enzyme switch to burn fat; it’s a very complex process that upregulates in the direction of health.
Understanding the Role of Insulin
Insulin is the primary hormone that tells your body whether to store energy or burn it. When you eat, you’re taking calories in and insulin goes up. Higher levels of insulin signal your body to store energy. When insulin falls, it tells your body to release energy. When you develop insulin resistance, your insulin levels remain chronically elevated, hence your body is in constant fat-storing mode.
Without the signal to burn energy, you end up feeling tired and sluggish. You have plenty of fuel available, but it’s all “locked away” in your fat cells, and it will remain unavailable until your body receives the appropriate signal — a drop in insulin. This is also why it’s so difficult to lose weight when you are insulin resistant.
The key to breaking this cycle is to have sustained low insulin for periods of time, and this is why fasting can be so tremendously beneficial. Fasting lowers insulin more powerfully than any other strategy, which then allows the stored energy (body fat) to be used again.
“That’s why you start to use up some of your fat stores and you’re not hungry, because you’re, in essence, eating your own fat. That’s the other thing that people are always surprised about. When they come back, they say, ‘Hey, I’m not actually that hungry.’ I’m like, ‘That’s no surprise, because your body is burning fat. If it’s burning [body] fat, it doesn’t need to eat,” Fung explains.
“We talk a lot about what you should eat and what you shouldn’t eat. But people never talk about meal timing — making sure you have long periods where you’re not eating. Look at the word “breakfast” in English. That’s break fast. That’s the meal that breaks your fast. That implies two things: One, fasting is a part of everyday life. We’ve forgotten that. We think it’s some sort of Herculean effort, but it’s not. We should be fasting every day.
If you balance your periods of feeding and fasting, you will stay in balance. If you are always in feeding phase, then you’re not going to be in balance and you’re going to gain weight. The second thing it means is that you can break your fast at any time. It doesn’t have to be 8:00 in the morning. You can break your fast at any time of the day or you can eat two days later.
It’s not that important … People, even when they’re not hungry, are forcing themselves to eat something … Forcing yourself to eat when you’re not hungry is not a winning strategy for weight loss. Logically, it doesn’t make sense. But these sort of illogical thoughts get propagated and then it becomes conventional dietary advice.”
Variations of Fasting
There are many ways to do an extended fast. Following are some of the most common variations:
•Water fasting — This is exactly what it sounds like: You don’t eat; you only drink water, for several days in a row (typically no less than 24 hours).
•Water plus non-caloric beverages — A slight variation on the water fast is to include other non-caloric beverages, such as herbal tea and coffee (without milk, sugar or other sweetener, including artificial non-caloric sweeteners).
•Bone broth variation — Another variation Fung often recommends for longer fasts is to allow the use of bone broth. In addition to healthy fats, bone broth also contains lots of protein, so it’s not really a true fast.
Still, in his clinical experience, many who take bone broth in addition to water, tea and coffee experience good results. “If you’re getting the results you want and it’s making it easier for you to stick to the program, then you should do it,” he says. “If you start getting bad results with fat fasting or bone broth fasting, you can go to classic water-only fast.”
•Fat fasting — Here, you allow healthy fats during the fast in addition to water and/or non-caloric beverages. While you probably would not eat a stick of butter, you could have bulletproof coffee (black coffee with butter, coconut oil or MCT oil), for example. Alternatively, you could add the fat to your tea.
Dietary fat produces a very minor insulin response, and since you’re keeping your insulin levels low, you’re still getting most of the benefits of fasting even though you’re consuming plenty of calories. Adding healthy fats such as butter, coconut oil, MCT oil and avocado can make the fasting experience a lot easier. “Lots of people have done very well with this sort of fat fast,” Fung notes, adding “Anything that increases your probability of success I’m all for.”
I’m personally quite intrigued with the fat fast. I recommended water fasting to my landscaper, but after three days she felt really fatigued. While this is a normal response in the initial stages, I made her a “fat-bomb drink,” which perked her right back up. I use Pau d’arco tea as the base.
It contains beta-lapachone, which upregulates NAD+, an important electron transfer mechanism and mitochondrial signaling molecule. To that, I add some coconut oil, MCT C8 oil, butter and a little stevia. It contains about 400 or 500 calories per cup.
Part of the key is to avoid protein to inhibit mTOR. While the level of protein at which you’ll counteract the benefits of fasting is individual, Fung believes you’ll likely see results as long as you stay below 10 or 20 grams of protein per day. As a reminder, protein raises your insulin, although not to the same degree as net carbs do. Excess protein is likely more damaging metabolically than excess carbs.
“I was looking at some data recently where they graphed where your blood sugars are in relation to where your ketones are. Ketones start to go up as your blood glucose falls [but] that slope changes in different people,” Fung says. “If you look at, for instance, type 2 diabetics, they have a very steep slope. That is their blood glucose — even as it falls — ketones don’t go up.
That’s probably why they feel like crap, because they’re not getting the ketones. The blood glucose is going down, which it should, but the body should be producing ketones for their fuel for the brain, but it’s not.
In those cases, some of the fat bombs, some of the exogenous ketones, may actually make it a lot easier for people to get through that. As your body becomes [fat] adapted, which can take two weeks to a month, that shouldn’t happen anymore …
If you have never fasted and you do a three-day fast, you may feel pretty lousy. We tell people to expect that. You can either continue or you can take a break and let your body become more adapted to it.”
The same applies to hunger pangs, which tend to kick in the hardest on the second day of a fast. By the fifth or sixth day, however, hunger practically disappears.
While 80 percent of the population would likely benefit from water fasting, there are several absolute contraindications. If any of the following apply to you, you should NOT do extended types of fasting:
Underweight, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 or less.
Malnourished (in which case you need to eat healthier, more nutritious food).
Children should not fast for longer than 24 hours, as they need nutrients for continued growth. If your child needs to lose weight, a far safer and more appropriate approach is to cut out refined sugars and grains. Fasting is risky for children as it cuts out ALL nutrients, including those they need a steady supply of.
Pregnant and/or breastfeeding women. The mother needs a steady supply of nutrients in order to assure the baby’s healthy growth and development, so fasting during pregnancy or while breastfeeding is simply too risky for the child.