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Fasting Frenzy!

The latest craze in dieting suggests that it is possible to eat normally most of the time and still lose weight. The catch is that you have to fast, or severely limit your calorie intake, for two days a week.

What is fasting?

Fasting traditionally has meant going without food, drink or both. Many religions use fasting as a means of demonstrating faith or as an opportunity for spiritual reflection. Certain medical procedures and tests require fasting in preparation. Nowadays, fasting is used as a means to lose weight and can range from drinking nothing but water, eating nothing but raw food or juices or restricting food intake on alternate days. Generally speaking, the newest fasting diets dramatically cut calories but do not eliminate food altogether.

Does fasting help you lose weight?

The answer is maybe. Any regime where you eat fewer calories than you need will result in temporary weight loss. Unfortunately, what you lose is mainly water and muscle, not fat. However, the real downside of fasting is the effect on your metabolism. When your body is not getting the energy it needs, it thinks it is starving and goes into survival mode. The result is your metabolism slows down to conserve energy. When you resume eating, you may gain even more weight due to your slower metabolism. The weight you gain back is mostly fat. To regain muscle, you will have to increase your activity.

When fasts last only a day or two, it is not known whether this significantly affects your metabolism for a long period of time. Whether or not you lose weight on these types of fasts depends upon how well you control what you eat on your non-fasting days. Once again, if you eat more than your body needs, you will gain weight.

Is fasting safe?

Fasting for a day or two probably will not hurt most healthy people as long as enough fluid is consumed. The risks increase with the length and severity of the fast. The fact remains that your body needs a variety of nutrients to remain healthy. When you don’t get enough of these nutrients, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, constipation, gallstones and cold intolerance. In extreme situations, people have died after prolonged fasting.

Even short-term fasting is not recommended for those with type 1 diabetes or chronic disease, the elderly or women who are pregnant or breast feeding.

Is fasting easier than following a traditional diet?

The simple answer is that we don’t know yet. To date there have only been a few scientific studies that compared an intermittent fasting regime with an energy-restricted diet. In one study, those in the intermittent-fasting group ate normally for five days and followed a calorie-reduced diet for two days, while those in the energy-restricted group followed a calorie-reduced diet for all seven days.

The results of this study and others showed both methods were equally effective for weight loss. What is interesting is that only 58% of the participants on the intermittent-fasting regime said that they would choose to continue eating this way, compared to 85% of those following the traditional calorie-restricted diet. What’s more, the intermittent-fasting group found that this regime was no easier to stick to than the traditional diet.

“Fasting diets are no more effective for weight loss than traditional calorie-reduced diets. If you are determined to fast, consult your physician, as fasts can pose serious health risks for certain people.” Lee Finell, MHSA, RD

The bottom line

The safest and most effective formula for weight loss is a balanced diet along with moderate activity. Fasts may work in the short term, but they are hard to follow and result in the loss of muscle and fluid rather than body fat. Fasts may have health consequences for certain groups of people.

For more information on fasting or other nutrition related information, contact

Ron Luciuk, Heavens Fitness Ltd. COACH

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