The controversy over the health benefits of fasting is still not fully resolved.
Some consider it a natural way to cure various kinds of diseases and a method of purification of the body, but some believe that on the contrary, fasting contributes to increasing toxins in the body and can lead to organ failure.
Yet almost all major religions have a special time of the year devoted to fasting in its various forms, which is supposed to purify the body and soul.
During the Christian period of Lent some people choose to limit their consumption of a food, such as meat, dairy products or any other animal products.
The ancient practice of fasting during Ramadan, which is followed by Muslims, prohibits drinking, eating and smoking from sunrise until sunset.
Some people nowadays even do a mobile phone fast.
It may not be for everyone, but fasting is a common practice in medicine; it is also believed to help alleviate symptoms of depression and strengthen the immune system.
The decision to fast, whether religious or nutritional, can be quite a painful and extraordinary experience.
Aliya Mansurova, a student and a healthy lifestyle activist, who has been practicing fasting for a while now, shared her experience with Artefact.
“I admit, at first when I heard that my friend was fasting, I thought: ‘Insane, what else will people come up with for the sake of losing weight!’,” she says.
“But my curiosity still sent me to Google, where I read that one day of fasting rejuvenates the body for three months. Some simple calculations, backed up by facts about the incredible benefits of daily fasting, and the next day I drank only pure spring water without consuming any food.”
Mansurova has started this practice less than a year ago. During her first “conditional starvation”, she claims she didn’t consume any solid food for more than 60 days.
It’s important to notice that before committing to such an experiment, Ms Mansurova has already been a vegan, so her body was prepared for the changes.
Since her first experience she tries to fast at least 36 hours every week, mostly focusing on Sundays. Besides that she does a 21-day programme of “conditional starvation” every three months.
“It’s called conditional because these three weeks you spend on consuming only a decoction of herbs with lemon juice. Nutrients are still ingested, but the food, as such, no”, she told Artefact.
Although the benefit of fasting is still being investigated both scientifically and clinically, Mansurova believes that it allows her to redirect the energy of the body from digesting the food to getting rid of toxins and processed foods.
“Even during the ancient times starvation was used to treat various diseases. Hippocrates was a supporter of this particular method,” she tells us. “There is already a lot of scientific data that reveals the mechanism of therapeutic action of fasting, which stimulates the metabolism, rejuvenates the body and boosts anti-aging.”
“And not so long ago, a Japanese scientist was awarded the Nobel Prize for research on autophagy, which proves the incredible healing power of fasting,” Aliya adds.
For people who are used to at least three meals per day, such practice might seem intolerable.
Based on her own experience, Mansurova explains: “In general, the feeling of hunger can be divided into two kinds: emotional and physical. A physical will be gone in two-to-three days. But emotional will stay with you until the end.”
“I do not have breakdowns. My desire to live to the fullest is always stronger than the desire to eat something. Without exaggeration, any mistake in the process of conditional starvation may result in serious consequences, and unfortunately, there have been several cases of death,” she warns.
“The digestive system during prolonged starvation does not work, and if suddenly solid food is consumed, as the minimum impact great discomfort is guaranteed,” she says.
“That’s why I’m holding on. My personal method to not breakdown is saying to myself: ‘You can eat the same thing tomorrow. Be patient!’. And it works,” she explains.
One of the questions that arises almost instantly is the problem of combining normal daily routine, including working out, with the lack of solid food, therefore energy in the body.
But Mansurova claims that fasting rarely affects her daily routine.
“Of course, it is easier to endure starvation at home. But as for me, I can never cancel a workout. Productivity is always different: one day of fasting you can fully exercise all your muscles; the other day it will be hard to do squats with your usual weight.
“Unfortunately, I do not understand what it depends on. One thing is definitely clear, you have much more time in one day while fasting, as you don’t waste it on eating and cooking,” she told Artefact.
The amount of extra hours in a day is also increased due to the reduction of hours of sleep. It is believed that while fasting, you need less time to sleep; usually 4-5 hours is enough.
“I love to watch my consciousness during periods of fasting. The mind becomes very calm, all the thoughts clear and precise, there is no noise in the head, confusion, negativity,” she says.
“Memory improves at times, the ability to clearly express thoughts, too. I fortunately do not have any serious health problems. Fasting led me to a couple of victories over my body,” claims Mansurova.”
“I used to suffer from an allergy to the sun. Taking into account the extent of my love for the summer and the ocean, it really was a misfortune! And now, after the first long-term fasting, my allergy left till the present moment,” she says.
“Also, I’m used to training without a warm-up before jogging or workout. As a result I started to have pains in the joints, but (hooray!) after a long fast the discomfort was gone,” affirms Mansurova.
Without a doubt it is hard to live and fast in the society which idolises food. To endure such practice, one should have a strong willpower at least. Mansurova confirms that it is not always easy. The pressure from the society might get too hard and the impact will lead to a breakdown.
She had to miss a couple of great events. Not for the reason of inability to fast, but because of the critique and comments about the harm of starvation, once it is noticed that she doesn’t eat.
“Paul Bragg, an author of books about medical starvation, advise not to tell anyone about your experiments, otherwise, you will be surrounded by people who will argue that you will perish after two missed meals. There is some truth in that statement,” says Mansurova.
She believes that in the process of self-purification it is very important to have a positive attitude and work with your thoughts. She recommends adding spiritual practices such as meditation, or simply yoga.
“Do not look at other people; this practice is quite delicate, and you need to listen, first of all, to your body. Be sure that you are giving your body a priceless gift in the form of cleansing and healing. Record feelings in a diary. And enjoy the ease,” she advises.
Based on her experience, Mansurova’s conclusion is that fasting is an undoubtedly powerful healing tool, but it will only work correctly with a reasonable approach.
“I’m not superman and not a robot, I have my weakness, but the food – definitely not one of them.”
She affirms that you need to take a responsible approach to the selection of the most suitable fasting for you: For general health and purification, starvation on water. In case of problems with hormones, dry fasting. To cleanse the bowel, starvation on the decoction of herbs.
She also notes that it is necessary to constantly monitor changes in the body and react promptly to any improvements or deteriorations. “By no means do not act “heroically”! Fasting is not a goal but a tool that should benefit, not harm,” she says.
Mansurova also rides a motorcycle, does skydiving and other sports. She says her days, months and even the entire life span are already planned ahead, so she wants to make the most of her time.
“Spending time on the lethargy and apathy is a very expensive fee for enjoying the minute of a delicious but heavy meal. Activity, body lightness and clarity of mind, that is the purpose for which I practice fasting. I’m not superman and not a robot, I have my weaknesses, but the food, definitely not one of them.”
From a doctor’s point of view.
Opinions about fasting still vary among doctors and therapists. There seems to be no common agreement on whether fasting is actually completely healthy for the body.
Artefact spoke to specialists, in order to find out whether fasting practices are safe.
First of all, there is evidence that intermittent fasting has been developed by scientists in order to help people reduce the risk of developing diabetes, dementia and cancer.
And while fasting for a day or two a week, as advised by special programmes put together by experts, is rarely a problem, many doctors believe that it can be quite dangerous if the practitioner hasn’t previously been on a healthy diet or has liver, kidney or any other health problems.
Most doctors and advisers agree that intermittent fasting is a powerful tool of improving health, however it is more difficult to predict the effects of longer-term fasting.
Fasts of more than a few weeks put a huge stress on the heart and lead to the loss of minerals vital for cardiac function, like magnesium and potassium.
It is believed that after a few days without food body switches from burning energy to burning fat, but researchers have discovered that muscle can also be converted into energy, and this increases later on, causing the weakening of the muscles including the ones in the heart which leads to a risk of heart failure.
Fasting lowers blood pressure, so feelings of weakness and dizziness are experienced by some. It is important to understand that long-term fasting is very risky and requires specific preparation.
There even have been some lethal cases throughout the practice. A woman from Florida has died in 2010 after locking herself in her bedroom for a 21 day, water-only fast.
But some of the doctors support and promote long fasting. Marva Oganyan, a Russian naturopathic physician and a biochemist with 45 years of experience of the medical and laboratory work, says long fasting is a safe natural way of preventing allergies, hypertensions and other modern pathologies. This study also inspired Aliya Mansurova to practice long-term fasting.
Despite the disagreement about the benefits of long-term fasting, some doctors agree that intermittent conditional fasting is a good way to detox the body. It allows most effectively to get rid of waste products, stored as fats.
Doctors explain that, after a day or two of fasting our bodies run out of carbohydrates and switch from burning energy, to burning fat, thus getting rid of the toxins, which is absolutely safe and beneficial for the body.
Nowadays, such practices are commonly used for weight control, but some specialists told us that fasting only slows the metabolism rate, which brings the danger of making the diet after a fasting period even more fattening than before.
Dr Mike Roussell told Shape: “Intermittent fasting has been around for a long time but isn’t for everyone. I would recommend it only for people who have a good grasp on healthy eating and are looking to break a fat-loss plateau.”
Other specialists add that fasting will only work if it’s framed with good nutrition before and after.
It is important to take these experiments responsibly and consider researching the field before making decision to commit to any type of fasting.
Although fasting has been practiced for thousands of years, it is still a subject of an intense medical debate.
Featured image by Jean Fortunet via Wikimedia Commons.