Written By Dr. Jewel Alfoure, ND
Fasting is a dietary practice that has been a part of many different religions for centuries. Many see fasting as a form of spiritual purification coupled with physical detoxification of the body (1). Though fasting time is different in every religion and culture, it is generally agreed that fasting is a good way to improve overall health. A recent study found that fasting is one promising way to starve cancer cells (2). Fasting may be the reason why the population of the Middle East is the highest consumer of sugar worldwide, with the lowest incidence of cancer (3). Many people think that the practice of fasting for one month out of the year is the reason why the cancer rates are low (4).
What Constitutes A Healthy Fast?
Though fasting is great for health, many skip talking about the side effects of fasting. A fasted state significantly increases the release of stress hormones, which triggers the body to feel less comfortable, may deplete the adrenals, and may significantly fatigue the body (5). In a small study, it was found that fasting has an accumulative effect when it comes to cortisol levels. A five-day fast, for example, increases cortisol levels and shifts the peak from the morning to the afternoon (6). The pattern of sleep may make it harder to wake up refreshed in the morning. On the other hand, some fasting experiments demonstrate a significant increase in cortisol levels in as little as 2 days of fasting (7). Thus, when it comes to fasting safely, the following is important to consider:
Being mindful of an empty stomach
On an empty stomach, black coffee, green tea, and even herbal teas may be uncomfortable.
The tannic acid component of those beverages may significantly contract the gastrointestinal system and cause discomfort.
Tannins are also known to decrease nutrient absorption, which may limit nutrient uptake during the eating window.
The best way to reduce food cravings is to start by regulating hormones.
Some may not understand that blood sugar may spike in periods of fasting due to stress hormones.
Gluconeogenesis is the capacity of the body to make sugar and maybe the cause of higher blood sugar during stress.
Hormone regulation with adaptogens that protect the adrenals and regulate blood sugar may improve the fasting experience and allow for more healing to take place during fasting.
A great way to make the fasting period more comfortable is to prepare the body with food intake that is tailored to the upcoming fast.
Your last meal before initiating the fast is important.
A healthy meal provides nutrients, provides bulk, and maintains a healthy energy level.
Foods high in healthy fats paired with high protein foods may significantly curb hunger levels.
Understand that zero calories are not the goal of the fast.
Some caloric intake may not break the fasting state.
A healthy hot drink or a meal replacement with few calories may help the fast last longer and be more comfortable, especially if the meal replacement has hormone regulators that keep blood sugar under control.
The Benefits of Fasting
The holistic benefits of fasting span from improving cardiovascular risk due to a decrease in inflammation and long-term cortisol levels to improving immunity (8).
Some sources show that there is an overall reduction in oxidative stress and better hormone balance during the fasted state (9). What most people do not realize is that the mitochondria are not only the powerhouse of the cell, but they are also the producers of hormones! The Mitochondria are the sites of steroid hormone synthesis, which makes them a crucial effector when it comes to regulating almost all physiological activities (10).
Fasting triggers autophagy, which is a form of recycling where the body removes tissues that are broken down and re-builds them to produce more efficient cell components, including the mitochondria (11). Even though cortisol levels increase, intermittent fasting has been shown to improve the balance of hormones and metabolism (12).
Intermittent fasting affects hormones in the body in a few different ways. First, it decreases the levels of insulin, a hormone that promotes fat storage. Second, it increases levels of human growth hormone (HGH), which can lead to increased muscle mass and decreased body fat (13). Finally, intermittent fasting has been shown to improve mood by increasing levels of serotonin and GABA, two neurotransmitters that are linked to feelings of happiness and well-being (14).
How to Not Feel Hungry When Fasting?
When it comes to weight loss, in general, one of the main concerns people have is hunger pangs. It can be difficult to stick to a diet when you're constantly feeling hungry. When it comes to fasting, the keto diet, and even a low-carb diet, it is important to discuss how intermittent fasting can help you lose weight while avoiding hunger pangs (15). We will also talk about some of the best things to eat while fasting to keep your energy up and keep from feeling hungry.
The Length of The Fast
Intermittent fasting is an eating plan that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It does not specify which foods you should eat, but rather when you should eat them. The most common form of intermittent fasting is the 16/8 method, which entails fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8 hours. However, there are many other methods, such as the 5:2 diet, in which you eat normally for 5 days per week and fast for 2.
Thanks to the popularity of the keto diet, intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to lose weight and improve health (16). Choose a method that works best for you and that is best supported by your healthcare practitioner.
Fasts that last longer than 12 hours may have a big effect on female hormones and may not be good for women with hormonal disorders because of this (17).
Additionally, the time of the fast also matters. Following our natural circadian rhythms is one of the best ways to improve our fasting experience. Fasting during stressful hours of work may increase fatigue and stress the adrenal glands (18). Choosing to fast during the hours of sleep may significantly improve the experience and result in side benefits that are felt as soon as the next day after fasting.
Our bodies are naturally programmed to sleep on an empty stomach. Sleeping with a full stomach results in a higher tendency toward health issues and weight gain (18). Using sleep time to extend the fasting window cuts down on the amount of time you have to fight the feeling of hunger by a lot (19).
Dietary Preparation For Fasting
So how can you make sure you don't get hungry and feel good when fasting? There are a few things you can do. First, make sure you're eating enough protein. Protein is necessary for muscle mass maintenance and feeling full (20). Sprouted proteins are especially good because they're easier to digest and absorb. Second, include healthy fats in your diet. Fats help slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, which can help keep your energy levels stable and prevent hunger pangs (21). Healthy fats also promote weight loss by increasing metabolism and reducing fat storage. Finally, make sure you're staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water and electrolyte-rich fluids. This will help keep your energy levels up and prevent hunger discomfort (22).
When intermittent fasting, it is important to pay attention to the types of foods you are eating. Consuming adequate amounts of protein and healthy fats will help to minimize hunger and maintain hormone regulation.
Protein helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and promote satiety, while healthy fats such as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) can help to increase energy levels and reduce hunger (23).
In addition, consuming protein and MCTs during intermittent fasting can help to boost growth hormone levels.
Ghrelin and leptin are two hormones that play a role in hunger and satiety, and research has shown that consuming protein and MCTs can help to regulate these hormones. So, adding proteins and MCTs to your diet while you're intermittently fasting can make the experience better and help your hormones stay in balance (24).
The Source of Hunger
One important thing to consider is the source of true hunger. Hunger is regulated by a tight hormonal interplay between ghrelin levels and leptin levels. The hormone ghrelin is the hunger hormone that makes us want to eat. On the other hand, fat cells produce the hormone leptin, which gives the satiety signal. In periods of stress, ghrelin levels increase. This can also be a pattern to understand emotional hunger, where the body consumes the right amount of food and never feels quite satisfied. In this case, calorie restriction may exacerbate the problem (25).
The interplay between hormones is fascinating and ensuring that you evaluate your hours of fasting with a healthcare practitioner is important (26). Restrictive diets like the keto diet may be great for helping improve weight and regulate hormones, but did you know that there are some women out there who gain weight even on a clean keto diet? (27)
Mushrooms for Fasting Support
Mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. More recently, they have been gaining popularity as a dietary supplement due to their many health benefits. One of the most promising areas of research is their potential to help with weight loss and hunger management (28).
Preliminary research suggests that medicinal mushrooms may help to reduce hunger and make intermittent fasting more manageable. Mushrooms contain compounds that can help to regulate hunger hormones, improve mood and cognitive function, and boost energy levels. This makes them an ideal supplement for people following an intermittent fasting diet. So if you're struggling to stick to your fast, try adding some medicinal mushrooms to your diet/ supplements. They just might help you get over the hump (29).
Lower blood sugar levels.
Lion's mane (31)
It enhances the brain-building effect of fasting with neurotrophic growth factor proteins.
It improves energy production.
It keeps blood sugar balanced without the insulin spike.
It energizes and balances the adrenals.
It decreases physical fatigue.
It improves oxygen levels.
Electrolytes and Greens
When you are fasting, your body goes through a lot of changes. Your hunger hormones increase, which can lead to feelings of irritability and fatigue. You may also find it difficult to concentrate or focus on tasks. Greens and electrolytes can help to combat these symptoms by providing your body with the nutrients it needs (33). The greens will help to boost your energy levels, and electrolytes will help to regulate your hunger hormones. This can help to improve your mood and mind and reduce feelings of hunger and fatigue (34). Also, the electrolytes will help keep you from getting dehydrated, which can make you feel even more tired.
Intermittent fasting is an ancient practice that is supported by science. Science shows that there are many health benefits to fasting, including improved hormone function, weight loss, and enhanced brain function. However, some people may not feel comfortable fasting due to the stress it puts on their bodies. To have a good fasting experience and get the most benefits, it is important to tailor the fast to your own needs and physiology. A night fast may be more suitable for those who must perform physical labor in the morning. On the other hand, a morning fast can be supported by preparing a healthy meal, utilizing medicinal mushrooms, and ensuring nutrients with greens. You can get the most health benefits from this old practice if you make your fast fit your own needs.