Fasting as Preventive Health Care

Food is central to our lives socially, personally, environmentally, economically and even spiritually.   In the new year, one of my family’s goals was to actively become healthier and food is the easiest place to start. Many people are choosing to make healthier changes this year, so I wanted to share our recent experience. 

My husband and I had a plan for the month of February.  We abstained from alcohol, practiced intermittent fasting and completed an herbal liver cleanse.  Using February as a return to a healthier life, we will continue to fast for four days of every week.  Intermittent fasting is popular these days because it is easier and perhaps safer for people than the absence of all calories for longer periods of time.  It is a set schedule of feeding times and fasting times, something like 6-8 hours feeding and 16-18 hours of fasting, but there are many variations and if you are interested, you should research what would be best for your lifestyle.  Water, coffee and tea are allowed during fasting times.  I prefer to skip breakfast, but my husband prefers to skip dinner, it just depends on what works for you and your family.

Why do people do this?  There are many reasons.  First, by limiting the amount of hours you eat, you reduce calorie intake and the number of eating times, and therefore can lose weight.  Your body processes the calories you consume and when that source is exhausted, your metabolism burns stored energy such as fat.  The article “Effects of intermittent fasting on health, aging, and disease”, New England Journal of Medicine (2019) stated fasting is evolutionarily embedded within our physiology, triggering several essential cellular functions. The researchers went through dozens of animal and human studies to explain how simple fasting improves metabolism, lowering blood sugar; lessens inflammation, which improves a range of health issues from arthritic pain to asthma; and even helps clear out toxins and damaged cells, which lowers risk for cancer and enhances brain function. 

Other benefits include getting a sense of control over your eating and drinking habits.  Personally, my appetite decreases and I am more mindful of healthy choices and portion sizes.  Eating fruits, vegetables and well-chosen proteins and fats, such as following a Mediteranean diet, adds to the benefits of fasting.  People also often sleep better, tend to have more energy, drink less alcohol, and choose to exercise more than before when they are making conscious decisions with their daily food intake.

Humans have fasted for thousands of years throughout history and cultures.  Most religions have a fasting ritual, Christianity practices lent, for example.  During the change in seasons is also a popular time to add fasting to your life.  As people age, intermittent fasting becomes more beneficial as older bodies need less calories and more cellular repair.  

To get started, research types of intermittent fasting, choose a plan based on what is right for you, and talk to a medical professional if you feel you may have health issues that would be compromised.  People with advanced diabetes or who are on medications for diabetes, people with a history of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not attempt intermittent fasting unless under the close supervision of a physician.

If it is something you would like to try, set a date, get healthy food in the kitchen, and go for it.  The first week may seem challenging, but it quickly seems natural.  Keeping a journal during this time is helpful too, to track progress, and document different experiences.  It might just change your life.

Robyn Wilson has degrees in Sustainable Communities, Bilingual/Multicultural Education and International Business.  Her family returned to Fraser to manage Grandma Miller’s cabin community.