Staying Hungry is Reckless, or What is the Danger of Intentional Fasting?

Sep 26, 2019

“After I had given a birth to my second child, I decided that I needed to lose weight. I read a lot of different literature and decided to focus upon the popular method of interval fasting for weight loss. The result was that I lost 3 kg in 5 days. But on the sixth day gastritis escalated, and I had to give up this  method.”

– Irina, 36, from messages on the thematic forum

One day or even a few days of fasting is a kind of challenge, and a lot of people accept this. An individual might resort to such an experiment because of the desire to quickly solve the problem of excess weight, while also testing their willpower. Few people resort to starvation for medicinal purposes, few assess all the risks, consult with a doctor and ensure that fasting will not pose a danger to the body.

Proponents of therapeutic fasting claim that it helps to control weight, gives a feeling of levity, improves well-being, helps one to look better, and to feel their body and its possibilities in a new way. [1]

But why doesn’t it work with everyone? Is it possible to lose weight by fasting?

In this article, we will consider all the pros and cons of the idea of fasting for weight loss.

 

Contents:

  1. Types of fasting
  2. Fasting: Pros and Cons
  3. General principles of fasting
  4. Fasting stages
  5. What results can be achieved by fasting?
  6. Side effects and contraindications to fasting
  7. Symptoms in which fasting must be stopped immediately
  8. The 7Spsy behavior modification technology as an alternative way to solve the problem of excess weight

 

Types of fasting

Fasting is the condition of existence of an organism without incoming food or  its extreme deficit. There are four types – partial, incomplete, complete, and absolute fasting. The significance of each type and a summary of their effects on the body are presented in the table. [2]

Type
Reason
How does it affect the body?
Partial (quality)
Eating poor quality foods low in nutrients and vitamins.
Prevents maintaining active life, causes disease, and reduces life expectancy.
Incomplete (quantitative)
Eating food with all the nutrients the body needs, but with a shortage in calories.
Prevents maintaining active life, causes disease, and reduces life expectancy.
Full
Complete lack of a minimum amount of food needed to maintain life. It can take place without restriction or with a limit on the amount of water consumed.
Depending on the duration, condition of the body, environmental factors, and control capabilities, it can have both therapeutic and the opposite effect — up to death.
Absolute (deficit)
Complete lack of food and water.
Danger for health and life.

Two groups of causes, external and internal, are relevant for fasting.

  • Internal motives are caused by the condition of the body: malformations in children, diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, infectious processes, and anorexia.
  • The external ones are associated with the physical lack of food: lack of resources, violent obstruction, and intentional refusal.

Intentional fasting is used for medicinal purposes. Such fasting is possible only under the supervision of a doctor after a preliminary examination. There are many methods of therapeutic fasting, let’s list some of them:

  1. Standard full (water) fasting.

This excludes any food intake without limiting water consumption. It is accompanied by daily cleaning enemas and water procedures. Depending upon the experience and goals of the starving person, it can last from one to forty days.

  1. Dry fasting

This is the complete refusal of food and water. Enemas and water procedures are excluded. The duration is no more than 3-4 days. 

  1. Combined fasting 

For the first 3-4 days – dry fasting, then – standard fasting. This method reduces the overall duration of fasting. [2]

  1. Fractional fasting by G.A. Voytovich

This involves several cycles of full or combined fasting following each other (usually three). Each lasts from 17 to 20 days, with a recovering diet between them of the same period. [3]

  1. Fasting by P.Bragg

With this method, you can drink any amount of water. The fasting takes place in the following mode: one-day fasting once a week, weekly — once a quarter, and three weeks — once a year. This method excludes the use of enemas both at the start of the fasting and during the process. [4]

  1. Interval fasting

This is a food scheme when eating is allowed only at certain times. The most popular scheme is 8/16. This means that a person can eat for 8 hours, and fast for the remaining 16 hours.

As a rule, the duration of medical fasting does not exceed 21 days, since after that time the risk to the health of the starving person increases dramatically. [5]

Therapeutic fasting: Pros and Cons

“While searching for a solution to losing weight after childbirth, I came across a site about therapeutic fasting. Then I saw a slimmed-down neighbor. When I asked how she managed it, she told me about therapeutic fasting. Moreover, this happened within three days. I thought it was fate, it is time to address the question of whether it is possible to lose weight by fasting. So, I made up my mind.

I lost 9 kg in nine days. But after a month of normal nutrition, the weight came back to me with an additional five kg. I followed the diet according to the rules, without eating rolls and pies, only healthy foods. My stomach began to hurt, the menstrual cycle was lost, my nails began to break, my hair began to fall out. I didn’t get any therapeutic effect.”

– From anonymous messages on the thematic forum

In official medicine, there is such a thing as a calorie restriction diet (CRD). This involves fasting under the supervision of a doctor and is a method of effective treatment of many diseases. With a small number of contraindications, fasting helps to normalize metabolic processes, improves circulation, normalizes the immune system, helps prevent viral infections, etc. The therapeutic effect is apparent because when fasting, protective functions and natural processes of the body recovery are activated.

Sometimes these processes are triggered from within, for example a person may lose appetite during illness and severe stress. In the case of therapeutic fasting, processes are triggered from the outside, which in itself can be stressful for the body. Therefore, you should carefully and gradually accept the idea of fasting, and also gradually decease from it. Therapeutic fasting is carried out according to certain methods at in-patient mode and includes not only fasting itself, but also many accompanying procedures.

The list of diseases treated by CRD is given in the table below. [6

Group of diseases
Diseases in which CRD can be used
Cardiovascular disease
Hypertensive and mixed type neurocirculatory dystonia, hypertension in overweight individuals, atherosclerosis
Diseases of the genitourinary system; and
Prostate adenoma
Diseases of the musculoskeletal system
Osteochondrosis of the spine, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis
Respiratory diseases
Bronchial asthma, sarcoidosis of the lungs stage I – II
Digestive system diseases
Functional diseases of the digestive system (functional dyspepsia, biliary dyskinesia, intestines), chronic pancreatitis, chronic cholecystitis
Skin diseases
Eczema, psoriasis, neurodermatitis
Allergic diseases
Food and drug allergies, Quincke edema, urticarial fever
Eye diseases
Glaucoma, cataracts, conjunctivitis, keratitis
Mental illness
Neurosis, depression, sluggish schizophrenia
Metabolic diseases
Alimentary-constitutional and hypothalamic obesity

Please note that the data in the table is for reference only and cannot be the basis for making  a decision to begin fasting.

Pros of therapeutic fasting

When fasting, the internal metabolic processes are rebuilt — the body uses its energy reserves, which contributes to increased control against cellulite and excess weight.

Starvation has a beneficial effect on the appearance of the skin. Since the condition of the skin is directly related to the work of the intestines, when it is cleaned, inflammation and rashes on the skin are reduced.

Cleaning the body starts at the cellular and molecular levels. This contributes to the rejuvenation of cells and tissues of the body. Researchers have found that fasting can assist in the fight against cancer cells. [6]

Cons of therapeutic fasting

  • The cons of fasting include the complexity of the procedure. The body can react especially painfully to the lack of food for the first time when the feeling of hunger worsens. The starving of the body results in irritability, anxiety, and impoverished sleep.
  • To prevent the development of pathogenic flora in the intestines during therapeutic fasting, cleansing procedures (enemas) are performed.
  • When the fasting (the broad refusal of heavy meals) regime stops, the body gains weight again. As a result, the weight will return and often more than the previous amount.
  • Fasting can trigger acidosis, a disease that shows itself in the form of a white plaque on the tongue leading to a pronounced smell of acetone from the mouth. A lack of carbohydrates causes accelerated fat breakdown and leads to energy deficiency. As a result, a large number of pathogens begin to be produced, and intoxication occurs.
  • Fasting can lead to an exacerbation of chronic diseases. People with gastric and intestinal diseases should be especially wary of therapeutic fasting. [6]

Therapeutic fasting for weight loss at home (without first consulting a doctor) is a very dangerous practice. Before you decide to take up fasting, you need to pass a lot of tests and undergo a standard medical examination. Fasting cannot be considered merely as a quick way to lose weight.

Fasting is a serious procedure, that occurs in several stages and does not tolerate neglect  in any of them. Even one day of incorrect fasting can cause serious harm to the body. Therapeutic fasting should be prescribed by a qualified doctor and carried out within specialized wards of a hospital or sanatorium. It is worth noting that the body of each person is different, and even with compliance with all the doctor’s recommendations, complications can arise, and the general condition of the body can possibly worsen.

Teaching proper eating behavior

General principles of fasting

As mentioned above, there are many methods of therapeutic fasting, differing in variety and timing. Despite some differences, within the practice of any method of fasting, general principles are common:

  1. Following a pre-diet

In order to the prepare the body for fasting for 24-36 hours, it is necessary to observe a moderate gentle diet of dairy products and plant food, vegetables and fruits.

  1. Water fasting

If you have not undergone any preparation of your body, it is better to start the practice of the refusal of food with short-term water fasting.

  1. Cleaning procedures

It is recommended to cleanse the intestines with enemas. The stomach will be cleaned in case of heartburn and belching, through artificially induced vomiting after taking half a liter of water.

  1. Drinking liquids

From time to time it is necessary to drink pure water (if the selected method is not dry fasting). The total volume of water drunk per day should be at least 2 liters.

  1. Water treatments

It is recommended to take a shower twice a day and regularly remove plaque from the tongue using a soft brush.

  1. Air and sunbaths

It is recommended to take walks outdoors more often and to wear clothes made of natural fabrics. It is useful to take sunbaths, since the sunlight promotes calcium metabolism which plays an important role in the absorption of phosphorus and the maintenance of physical endurance.

  1. Temperature mode

During fasting, hypothermia should be avoided. In a cold environment, the body spends additional energy trying to maintain normal body temperature. This can lead to a deterioration in overall well-being. In the cold season, it is inadvisable to practice long-term fasting.

  1. The right way out

Be sure to observe the correct way to exit from fasting, gradually increasing the number and variety of products. The preference should be given to plant food and juices. The duration of recovery from fasting should correspond to the number of days of abstinence.

Fasting stages

In the process of fasting, there are three consecutive stages: food agitation, true hunger, and exhaustion. Consider the processes that occur in the body at each stage. [2]

Stage One – Food Agitation

As the stomach is emptied, the nutrients in the intestines dissolve. The concentration of nutrients in the blood is consequently reduced. “Hungry” blood sends a signal to change its composition to the center of hunger, located in the brain. The center of hunger becomes agitated and transmits a subsequent signal to the frontal cortex, responsible for nutrition. Gradually, agitation covers other parts of the brain, dominating other requests. A person feels a strong need for food, which he/she overcomes by willpower and certain techniques (the distraction by vigorous activity, cleaning procedures, drinking lots of water, and so on). Depending on the state of the organism and the individual constitution, the stage of food agitation lasts from 1 to 4 days.

Stage Two – True Hunger

After the agitation period, the processes of the central nervous system slow down. When overcoming the onslaught of hungry signals, the cerebral cortex goes from an excited state into an inhibited one. The feeling of hunger becomes distant or completely disappears. Physiological mechanisms of consumption of energy forces from their tissues are launched. The fat reserves are burned and painfully altered tissues are broken down.

After 8-10 days of fasting, the body’s metabolism goes into the economy mode. The body temperature and pressure decreases and all processes slow down. It is somewhat reminiscent of the processes taking place in the organisms of animals when they embark upon hibernation.

By the end of the true hunger stage, the body uses all its back-up tissue, and the brain regains a state of agitation, which is manifested by a feeling of wild hunger. The body can then lose up to 25% of its weight in 40-50 days, depending on the constitution and general condition.

Stage three — Exhaustion

If a person ignores the body’s signals concerning the need to get out of the state of hunger and continues to fast, then the “recycling” of vital tissues and organs takes place. This leads to irreversible pathological changes in the body, and death from exhaustion. Weight loss reaches 40-45%.

It follows from the above consequences that only the first and partly the second stage of fasting are suitable for therapeutic fasting. Starvation for 21-25 days leads to loss of 12-15 % weight. These indicators are some way from a critical trait on average. However, they can pose serious threats to human health and life.

What results can be achieved with fasting?

“I began to fast for 16 hours a day. At first, it was difficult for I was dumb at work, I did not have enough strength for training, and I was constantly dizzy. But after two weeks everything was normal. To achieve the result faster, I gradually reduced the time when I could eat and reached 22 hours of hunger per day. Routine things helped me not to run wild: checking school notebooks, taking a walk with my child, cleaning the apartment, and cooking.

I stayed on periodic fasting from July to mid-September. During this time, I managed to lose 6 kilograms that did not return. I also began to get sick less often and solved my problem with hormones. Before, the therapist could not feel my thyroid gland, but now it is visible. I go to the endocrinologist once a month and take tests. The doctor didn’t like my diet at first, but after looking at my tests, he said I could continue with it. Just in case, the endocrinologist advised me to drink vitamins. I don’t plan to stop. I live apart from my parents, so they don’t know what I’m eating. At home, my husband is okay with it. Only my colleagues wonder how it is possible that I do not go to the dining room?”

– Svetlana, 24, from the materials of the poster Afisha. Daily website [1]

Disputes in the medical community about the dangers and benefits of fasting are ongoing. Studies are regularly conducted proving and refuting the therapeutic effect of hunger and its positive effect in the fight against excess weight. According to statistics, 19% of those who lose weight on diets can maintain the lower weight, 34% get fatter after dietary restrictions, and 47% are not affected in any way. At the same time, the number of people willing to lose weight due to fasting does not decrease. [5]

In 2018, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology proved that fasting for 24 hours accelerates the metabolism and increases weight loss. According to them, this method turns the “metabolic switch” by causing a swifter burning of calories and excess fat. As a result of daily fasting, the regeneration of the bowel stem cells is enhanced. These cells are responsible for updating the bowel epithelium. The more young cells present, the more intensive the organ itself works, by digesting food and burning calories faster. The authors of the study argue that short-term fasting rejuvenates not only the intestines but the entire body in case of regular “nutritional strikes”.

If you want to permanently lose weight, 16-hour (or daily – taking into account 8-hour sleep) fasting once every 2 weeks or a month can be effective. 

However, even such a gentle regimen may have contraindications. This is especially true for people with diabetes or metabolic diseases. Therefore, before starting to fast, you should always consult a doctor. [7]

Side effects and contraindications to fasting

The list of contraindications for therapeutic fasting is quite large. Please read it very carefully:

  1. Expressed body weight deficit (more than 15% of the proper values).
  2. Malignant tumors.
  3. Active tuberculosis of the lungs and other organs.
  4. Bronchiectatic disease.
  5. Systemic blood diseases.
  6. Diabetes
  7. Thyrotoxicosis
  8. Violations of the heart rhythm
  9. Condition after a major focal myocardial infarction.
  10. Heart failure.
  11. Chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis.
  12. Chronic renal failure of any genesis.
  13. thrombophlebitis
  14. Coronary heart disease with rhythm disturbances.
  15. Severe arterial hypotension.
  16. Cholelithiasis
  17. Urolithiasis
  18. Peptic ulcer of the stomach and duodenum.
  19. Chronic venous insufficiency.
  20. Gout.
  21. Febrile conditions.
  22. Pregnancy and lactation.
  23. Juvenile and senile age of patients. [6]

Keep in mind that a lack of a confirmed diagnosis or symptoms or conditions noted on the above list is not a reason to make a self-decision about fasting. Fasting can be started only after consultation with a doctor.

When fasting for more than sixteen hours, manifestations of asthenic syndrome are possible, such as a feeling of physical weakness and only superficial sleep. These side effects with their weak severity can be eliminated with the help of auto-training and meditation.

On 3rd and 4th days, with a sudden change in body position from horizontal to vertical (more often – after waking up, in the morning), dizziness may occur with a darkening in the eyes. The occurrence of heartburn, belching, slight nausea, and a feeling of discomfort in the stomach are also possible. Sometimes convulsions can occur in the hands, feet, calves, and neck (more often in the early morning and at night). [6]

In specialized clinics, in order to mitigate these side effects, pharmacotherapy is used. This is the reason why it is necessary to fast under supervision.

Symptoms to immediately stop fasting

“I don’t advise you to fast. My friend and I decided to fast, before. We read the scheme somewhere: drinking only water during the day, and just eating an apple and a small snack for breakfast. We both could barely walk, we had to prop up each other. It all failed and within a week, my friend began to faint. Of course, we both became nervous, quick-tempered, and tearful … Then I got used to food again and recovered. Now I understand and think that any doctor will say that it is harmful to the body. I read that people used to be treated for all diseases after fasting. Sometimes it ended in death. “

– Anna, 23, from messages on the thematic forum

It is not surprising the fact that the experiments undertaken by Anna and her friend on their bodies were unsuccessful. Here the approach was wrong as neither of the girls consulted with the doctor and began to fast “for company.”

Fasting, even under the supervision of specialists, very rarely passes without  complications. If they are mild (dizziness, nausea, weakness, and rapid fatigue), fasting can be continued. If it becomes difficult for a starving person to endure a long refusal of food, it is reasonable to stop fasting.

Fasting should be stopped immediately if one or more of the following symptoms occur:

  • severe headache;
  • severe dizziness;
  • cramps;
  • a sharp increase in body temperature;
  • fever, severe chills;
  • sharp unpleasant odor of the body and urine;
  • pain in the muscles and aches in the joints;
  • acute colic in the liver and kidneys;
  • persistent heart rhythm disturbances;
  • severe heartburn;
  • frequent vomiting
  • fainting;
  • loss of more than 15% of the initial weight. [6]

If you decide to fast for weight loss at home, be sure to inform your relatives of the decision and the possible risks. Be mindful of any signals your body emits. Be sure to consult a doctor if your condition is worrying. Do not neglect disturbing symptoms — they can be life-threatening.

The 7Spsy behavior modification technique is an alternative way to solve the problem of excess weight

In follows from the above that losing weight through fasting is not appropriate for everyone. If you choose periodic fasting for weight loss, be prepared for risks. Many select it without assessing all the possible consequences. Not everyone can turn to specialized clinics with the proper level of inpatient conditions. Many do not realize the danger. In many ways such treatment is quite expensive.

The risk of negative consequences of fasting increases if the patient has eaten incorrectly for many years. People whose eating behavior is consistent with healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle are more likely to benefit from therapeutic fasting.

The right way to achieve weight loss and stabilization begins with the formation of healthy eating habits. The way you are used to eating depends upon your internal psychological attitudes. Think, what is the problem with excess weight? Perhaps it is an established habit of “stress-eating”, addiction to fast food, or irregularly timed meals You are less likely to come to the desired figure on the scales, realize the root of the problem and understand it,  if you start to fast without proper training and medical participation.

The 7Spsy behavior modification technique is one of the most effective methods of working on the mindset of improper eating behavior. This is a unique modern technique, the principles of which are based on behavioral theories of I.P. Pavlov, A.A. Ukhtomskiy, B.F. Skinner. The technology encourages the formation and strengthening of positive attitudes towards the diet schedule and the choosing of healthy food. It will help you to give up fast food, and help you to solve psychological problems directly, instead of becoming an emotional eater.

The program is designed for a period of 2 to 6 weeks – you can start training immediately after diagnostic testing. The course process is supervised by a behavioral psychologist. He/she will be in touch with you by phone, messenger or e-mail.

Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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