There are many reasons why people do intermittent fasting. While most may do it for religious reasons, others are persuaded by the desire to lose weight or the belief that it detoxifies their bodies.
Celebrities such as Beyoncé, Hugh Jackman, Christy Turlington and Ben Affleck have admitted to doing intermittent fasting as an anti-ageing technique or as a reboot for weight loss.
Research shows fasting can have benefits, both for the body and the brain. Professor Mark Mattson, chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at The National Institute on Ageing and professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, has said that intermittent fasting can lower the risk of degenerative brain diseases.
In his research papers, Mattson shows periodic fasting protects neurons against various kinds of damaging stress in rats. He says fasting ramps up autophagy – the process in which the body cleans out debris and repairs and regenerates itself.
Fasting is believed to repair damaged molecules linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases. Fasting can also lead to metabolic changes within the body.
Taryn Rose of Cape Town says she fasts for spiritual reasons, but believes it is also beneficial to her health. She practises three types of fasting. One is a 21- or 40-day fast called the Daniel fast, when she eats only unprocessed fruit and vegetables.
“The first six days are the most challenging. You have sugar withdrawal symptoms. Your body craves sugar and unhealthy foods, but after a while it adjusts.”
With Daniel fasting, Rose says her body feels lighter, her stomach is more regular and she drinks a lot of water. The second fast she practises is a three-day dry fast. She skips her breakfast and lunch and eats only supper for three days. Afterwards she often drops her food portions as her stomach shrinks.
The third fast Rose practises from time to time is a liquid fast – where she only has liquids, such as fruit juice or water. She describes this as the most intense fast.
Dr Solly Lison, a family physician from Sea Point, says the most important thing when fasting is to drink water.
“You need two litres of liquid in your body, or it may lead to dehydration. So if anyone is fasting, water should be a top priority, because the body can survive without food for long periods but, without water, your body can take strain.”
Concerning the Daniel fast, which promotes the eating of only fruit and vegetables, Lison says the advantage with that kind of fast is that fruit has natural water and helps with hydration. The second advantage is that fruit has natural sugar which can help with energy levels.
British newspaper The Telegraph reported that fasting could be beneficial for people suffering from damaged immune systems, such as cancer patients on chemotherapy. It could also help the elderly who have weak immune systems due to ageing.
Prolonged fasting also reduced the enzyme PKA (protein kinase), which is linked to combating ageing.
Patrick Louw, a pastor who says he loves fasting, advises people to take precautions before fasting. “You have to prepare your body and not go cold turkey as it may shock your body. Before fasting you must force your body to eat healthy foods so that it may survive the fasting periods.”
He says on days when he had to go without food he relied on God’s strength as well as his mind, as it required constant motivation. He says fasting can teach you discipline, and to adopt a healthy diet.
He advises that one should take light meals before and after fasting, to help the body ease into it and then back into its normal routine. Before attempting a fast, it’s advisable to consult a registered dietitian. Visit www.adsa.org.za.