Eat less food and you’ll get more done.
Your body and mind need to recover from food. If not daily, you might want to consider fasting from food for at least 18–24 hours every now and then, perhaps even on a weekly basis.
When you fast, or ‘recover’ from food, your body is given the opportunity to repair and rebuild itself, rather than constantly being focused on the energy intensive task of digestion. Although it might feel a little incongruent, there are numerous benefits to regular fasting.
It is always important to have time alone to think, rest and find your center.
Medically, fasting has been found to rapidly dissipate the craving for nicotine , alcohol, caffeine and other drugs. Neuro-chemically, fasting increases levels of neurotransmitters (your brain hormones) and catecholamines—such as dopamine—which elevates your happiness and confidence, while reducing your anxiety. Fasting actually increases your number of brain cells.
Here is a short list of some of the scientifically backed cognitive benefits of fasting:
- Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy (simply this is ‘self-eating,’), which is how cells recycle waste material, down regulate wasteful processes, and repair themselves.
- Brain health is dependent on neuronal autophagy. Another study shows that interference of neuronal autophagy prompts neuro-degeneration. Simply put, without the process of autophagy, brains neither develop properly nor function optimally.
- Fasting increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that interacts with neurons in the hippocampus, cortex, and basal forebrain (the parts of the brain that regulate memory, learning, and higher cognitive function—uniquely human stuff). BDNF helps existing neurons survive, while stimulating the growth of new neurons and the development of neuro-synaptic connectivity. Low levels of BDNF are linked to Alzheimer’s, memory loss, and cognitive impairment.
- Evidence suggests that low BDNF is related to depression. Indeed, antidepressants increase BDNF levels. Thus, many doctors believe fasting can reduce depression.
- Fasting reduces the likelihood of having a stroke.
- Fasting reduces the oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and cognitive decline that normally results from brain trauma. Research has found that a 24-hour (but not a 48 hour) fast was neuro-protective against trauma to the brain like a concussion.
- Fasting reduces cognitive stressors that bring about aging, cognitive decline, and chronic diseases.
- Fasting reduces your risk of cancer.
- Fasting increases your longevity and lifespan.
- Fasting enhances learning and memory.
- Fasting elevates your ability to focus and concentrate.
- Fasting has been proven to increase our learning ability, among other things.
If you’ve fasted before, you can attest to the radical mental benefits of fasting. If you have not tried it yet, you could attempt a regular practice of fasting. Over a period of time, you will most likely be startled by the cognitive results.
Even more scientifically backed health benefits of fasting include:
- Fasting can reverse binge eating disorders, and help those who find it difficult to establish a correct eating pattern due to work and other priorities.
- Fasting can clear your skin from acne, allowing you to have a healthy vibrant glow.
- Fasting ‘reboots’ your immune system from free radical damage, regulating inflammatory conditions in the body and killing-off cancer cell formation.
- Fasting improves blood pressure levels.
- Fasting improves cholesterol levels.
- Type 2 diabetes has become commonplace in our unhealthy culture. Fasting has been shown to strongly support insulin resistance and lead to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels.
- Similarly, blood levels of insulin drop significantly, which facilitates fat burning.
- The blood levels of growth hormone may increase as much as five times. Higher levels of growth hormone assist fat burning and muscle gain, and have numerous other benefits.
Not only will your body functioning improve as you fast, but you may find your decision-making, regarding your health and fitness, will improve too. Research has found that age-related declines in cognitive and motor abilities (such as physical balance) can be reduced by fasting. Research has found that a 16-hour fast can reset your sleep cycle. Other research has found that fasting can improve the overall quality of your sleep. Interesting research at Yale has found that being on an empty stomach helps you think and focus better. Hence, many people, purposefully skip breakfast so they can better focus on their creative work.
Fasting also works to stabilize your emotions. This happens by detaching from the emotional dependence on food, in addition to removing over-stimulating foods like caffeine, processed sugars, recreational drugs, tobacco and trans-fatty acids. All of these, along with personal and bio-individual nutrition nuances (like food allergies) negatively affect your emotions. Research confirms that being in a fasted state improves focus, memory, and ability to comprehend information. Put most simply, fasting improves brain efficiency and effectiveness.
How to Fast
Try eating an early dinner or late breakfast. It may be difficult at first, as you likely have an emotional, not physical, dependency on food. The idea is to eat within a six–ten-hour window each day, and allow yourself the rest of the day to recover. When choosing to eat, focus on whole, real foods and naturally sourced fats for maximum benefit. If you eat meals high in protein and healthy fats, you will feel satiated, or full, for several more hours than if you are eating meals high in starchy carbohydrates; particularly sugary and processed carbohydrates. If a daily fast does not make sense to you or work with your body or lifestyle, try a weekly fast, or a monthly fast, where you fast for 18–24 hours on a particular day.
Functional Nutrition Coach, Beautycounter Consultant