Fasting! Is it dangerous? Will you lose muscle? Will you go into starvation?

Continuing with the previous post on fasting we are going to dive a little deeper. I also completed a Facebook live video covering this information so if you missed it be sure to check it out https://www.facebook.com/DrSandraBuffkin/videos/1882594955373607/ 

Two weeks ago my sister and I completed a 3-day water fast. The longest fast I’ve completed is 7-days and that was back in December. I knew fasting had many health benefits and was very scriptural. Jesus and Moses fasted for 40 days. After my fast when I was researching more about the health benefits I came across Dr. Jason Fung and his book The Complete Guide To Fasting. I wanted this book. While I was sharing the information with the other doctors at work one actually had his book! So that has been my reading this week and his book is awesome! I highly highly recommend everyone should read it!

Dr. Fung is a nephrologist who has treated many diabetic patients. In all his years of formal medical training, he reports only having 4 hours of lectures on nutrition. So when he started learning about nutrition he was starting from ground zero. The Atkins diet was popular then and he thought, like most physicians, that everyone on Atkins would clog up their arteries and eventually pay the price. However, when research started coming out in prestigious medical journals that Randomized control trials were all showing the same results; the low-carb diet was significantly better for weight loss than the low-fat diet. It also showed that important risk factors for cardiovascular disease- including cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure were also improving. This is where Dr. Fung started looking into diet and now has a clinic that focuses on nutrition and fasting with obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes.

A constant increase in insulin can cause insulin resistance. It is just like alcohol, the more you drink the more you increase your tolerance and need more. Excessive insulin causes weight gain leading to obesity. How can we address this problem naturally? Through diet and fasting! A diet lower in carbohydrates, specifically refined carbohydrates, helps reduce insulin levels.

Jimmy Moore is featured in this book. Jimmy weighed 410lbs and has lost 180lbs. He has come off his prescription medication for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and respiratory problems by addressing his diet and fasting. He is hilarious in this book as he describes his success and failures with fasting. He eventually completed a 17-day fast and his total cholesterol dropped 100 points! His risk factor to developing cardiovascular disease went from being extremely high to normal.

Jimmy later completed a one month fast. This time he had a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry or DXA scan completed before so he could monitor if he lost any muscle mass during this fast. At the end of the fast, he had another DXA scan that showed he lost 10 lbs of body fat and 10 lbs of lean tissue. Dr. Fung believes the lean tissue lost was not muscle but rather fat around the organs, so a really good thing! He actually gained muscles in his arms and legs.

So what happens when we eat? The short version is that the increase in energy (food) triggers insulin, so we get an increase in insulin levels. Insulin has two functions

  1. Allows the body to immediately start using food as energy
  2. Helps store excess energy
    1. Excess energy is first stored in the liver as glycogen
    2. Once glycogen stores are full then it will store as fat

When we fast insulin decreases. This signals the body to burn stored energy. Glycogen stored in the liver will be broke down first. This will give energy for approximately 24 hours. Then the body starts breaking down stored body fat for energy.

During days 2-3 of a fast, you are in ketosis. This means instead of using glucose (sugar) as a fuel source you are now using fat for energy-producing ketones.

A 4-day fast actually increases resting energy expenditure by 12%, meaning it increases your metabolism.

During day 5 growth hormone increases. Growth hormone helps maintain muscle mass and lean tissue.

Research shows that while fasting electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, all remain stable.

Why is an increase in Growth Hormone a big deal?

Growth hormone is made by the pituitary gland. It helps in the normal development of children and adolescence. Growth hormone starts to decline after puberty. A decrease in growth hormone leads to an increase in body fat, a decrease in muscle mass, and a decrease in bone density (osteopenia). Growth hormone also has major anti-aging benefits!

So why can you not just take growth hormone instead of fasting? Exogenous growth hormone (meaning your body doesn’t make it) has actually shown to increase blood sugar levels, increase blood pressure, and possibly lead to an increase in heart problems. So fasting to reap the benefits is a much safer way to increase growth hormone levels naturally.

When we continuously eat, growth hormone gets suppressed. So eating three meals a day means you produce almost no growth hormone. Overeating suppresses growth hormone production by 80%.

By fasting for 5-days growth hormone more than doubles! Researchers found that a 40-day fast had a 1,250% increase in growth hormone. This is great for everyone but particularly beneficial for athletes. This increase in growth hormone will help them maintain lean muscle mass and improve recovery time from intense workouts.

Dr. Seyfried recommends completing a 7-10 day water fast annually as a tool to prevent cancer.

There are no side effects to fasting but so many benefits including; decreased glucose levels, decreased blood pressure, decreased the risk of cancer, anti-aging benefits, decrease in inflammation. Fasting does not make you tired it actually has the opposite effect and gives a boost of energy. Fasting does not burn muscle but it does burn fat!

It is important to maintain a balanced nutritionally rich diet after fasting. Fasting is awesome and I think everyone should incorporate it into their health regimen but you have to continue after the fast with a healthy diet. What does that mean?

  • Avoid processed foods (isle of the grocery store)
  • Avoid sugar (isle of the grocery store)
  • Avoid refined grains  (isle of the grocery store— are you starting to see a pattern?)
  • Add natural fats
  • Balance feeding with fasting.

I’ve been intermittent fasting for over a year now. I try to stop eating around 7pm each night. In the mornings I have my bulletproof coffee and don’t eat until lunch sometime between 1-3pm. This gives my digestive tract a break from constantly digesting food and the benefits of intermittent fasting. The last fast I completed I had lemon water all day, 1 cup of green tea, and bone broth when I felt hungry. I generally add a kombucha in there however, I went without it this time. There is no wrong way to fast. I challenge you to complete a fast. If you have tried a fast before let me know how it went for you!

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