There are many different motives why people choose to do fasting. Some will do it to lose weight, others to clean the body, and often it is done for religious purposes. While all of that can be achieved when done properly, many do not realize that fasting has a positive effect on our mental health and stress control.
What is Fasting?
Fasting is a routine whereby you decide not to eat food for a certain time. Several metabolic adjustments occur during fasting. Some forms of fast restrict even liquid intake, which can get detrimental to the health very quickly. A fast for health reason is often done in the form of intermittent fasting, where food intake is alternated with a few hours of fasting.
Skipping food for some hours can help increase the level of ketones in your body. They are produced when energy from carbohydrates is used up and the liver depends on breaking down fat to supply energy in form of ketones. They are not only influencing health and aging, but are also beneficial in improving brain health. However, fasting offers still some more advantages. It has a great benefit to our mental health in a way that is not well known by many people.
Common Types of Fasting
Before we go into full detail about how fasting helps mental health, it is important to state the different types of fasting. The most common types of fasting are:
16/8 fasting: 16/8 fasting is very common and is all about fasting and eating intermittently. Every day you eat within an allowed period of eight hours, after which you will fast for the next 16 hours.
5:2 Approach: The 5:2 approach is about eating regularly five days every week. For 2 days of the week (not in a row), you would then limit your food to a single very light meal of about 500-600 calories.
Alternate-Day Fasting: That is the toughest form of intermittent fasting, where you alternate between days where you eat what you want and days where you eat nothing at all. It can lead to weight loss and improved health, but it is hard to stick to this protocol for the long run.
The Dangers of Improper Fasting
Fasting is fine when done correctly, but if done in the wrong way, it can do more harm than good. If we go into long fasting periods, metabolism will slow down and make it more difficult to shed those extra pounds in the long run. Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, children and very frail people should be more cautious with fasting, and diabetics should be closely monitored to avoid complications. It is important to learn how to fast correctly in order to reap the maximum benefits.
Fasting to Help Increase Your Mental Health
Fasting can be used to increase your mental health in various ways. From improving brain function to reversing mild cognitive impairments in older people, fasting has several benefits to mental health.
Here are 6 ways fasting can improve your mental health:
Enhances mental functioning: Each time we fast, our bodies have fewer toxic materials passing through the lymphatic and blood systems. This way, we can think clearly. During fasting, the energy which the body usually uses for food digestion will then be used by the brain. Initially, you will not be able to detect any change until a few days into the fasting. This is because the body usually takes some time to adjust to the new routine. Also, when you first begin fasting, you may suffer headaches or other pains. But as soon as the body adapts to the new routine, your brain will begin functioning optimally. This will result in better memory, clearer thoughts, and enhanced functioning of other body senses.
Improves brain function among older adults: Fasting can improve specific parts of brain function as people grow older. This works especially with mild cognitive impairment, which is usually associated with seniors as this is a phase they experience before dementia. It can cause problems with thinking or memory and is reversible. Clinical studies have confirmed that mild cognitive impairment can be reversed with fasting.
Empowers the brain: Fasting can lead to a short-term restriction on calories. This can help the brain produce more anti-depressant chemicals. Since fasting causes the body to produce ketones from available fats, our brains use this as fuel. With the brain being boosted by ketones, intermittent fasting can be used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, as well as many other neurodegenerative diseases.
Helps with autophagy: Fasting is also important to mental health due to its ability to trigger autophagy. This is a necessary process whereby the brain cleanses itself from all the trash it accumulates during the day. Autophagy is a process of self-cleaning whereby the all cells of the body, including the brain are cleaning themselves and get rid of old debris and damaged cells. Autophagy is a process that happens efficiently after a fasting period of 16-20 hours, which is easily achieved with intermittent fasting. It helps the brain to create healthier and newer cells.
Improve your memory: It has been proven clinically that our memory is improved significantly when we restrict the hours we eat. Some studies have shown that intermittent fasting can help improve memory in humans.
Reduce stress and anxiety: Fasting has been proven to help improve issues of mental health, which include depression, anxiety, and stress. A recent study conducted was able to prove that people who fasted during a certain period like Ramadan showed improvements in anxiety, stress, as well as symptoms of depression. Any kind of intermittent fasting will give you this benefit. The study revealed that the depression and anxiety levels of the participants went down after intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is good for our health, increases longevity and is beneficial for our brain. When we are stressed, we should think more often about intermittent fasting as a way to deal with the challenges in a more efficient way. It is easy to implement and can give you a long-lasting benefit in your stress control. With that many benefits, what are you waiting for?
Do you need a guide to help you understand how to cope with Stress in an all inclusive approach? Learn how to combat stress, mentally, physically, emotionally and strategically in your life.
Martin Neumann was trained for Lifestyle Interventions in 1998 at Wildwood Lifestyle Center & Hospital. Since then he has lectured in different parts of the world about a healthy lifestyle and natural remedies. He is the founder of the Abundant Health website.