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20 Benefits of Fasting: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual

America is getting fat.

Maybe you’ve noticed it happening gradually around you…or to you.

As a nation, we’ve fallen prey to a culture of luxury that promotes sensory overstimulation on several levels — overstimulating our eyes and ears with entertainment, overstimulating our tactile senses with pleasure, and overstimulating our taste buds with sugar and chemicals. Over time, we’ve found ourselves gaining weight, out of shape, suffering from inflammation and digestive diseases…and craving more!!

When The Answer Isn’t The Answer

On the other hand, there is a multi-billion-dollar industry that has grown in response to this health crisis, with mixed results. Ever since Jack LaLanne popularized fitness with his TV show back in the 1950s, smart people have been trying to improve upon it with new machines, new techniques, and new diets.

Some of them became household names: the grapefruit diet, the cabbage diet, negative calorie, the Detox Diet, The 3-day diet, the Tapeworm Diet (!), the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, the Vegan Diet, Nutrisystems, Weight Watchers, paleo, keto, and on and on. Each of them had their pros and cons, but not one of them worked for everybody. Some of them actually created unexpected health problems for some of the people that tried them.

Why Are You Losing Weight?

When I overhear people talking about losing weight, I like to listen for clues about their motives. Some people want to lose weight because they just want to fit into their favorite clothes again, while others want to improve their health and energy, and losing weight is a side effect.

Consistently, people in the second group get better overall results. They feel better, enjoy more robust health, and drop a dress size in the process. People who crash diet strictly to lose weight go through withdrawal symptoms, headaches, lost energy, and when they are all done, they go back to the original lifestyle and put all the weight back on.

One of the core principles at the heart of my practice is that the closer we live our lives to our bodies’ original design (The Fundamentals), the healthier we will be. This is made more difficult because we live in a culture that confuses “change” with “advancement.” Some of the biggest technological breakthroughs of the last century have actually taken us away from our original design for optimal life.

Modern Convenience Hurts Us Sometimes

Consider how conveniences like air conditioning, social media, and processed food have disrupted our lives:

  • Air conditioning moved our lives indoors, away from direct sunlight, fresh air, and direct connection with the earth (grounding).
  • Social media has distorted our social lives into a false, Photoshopped exchange of ideas through devices. It has removed physical touch, eye contact, and body language from our conversations.
  • Processed food started with the noble concept of making food last longer on the shelf and making it available to more people. The problem is that we began adding chemicals to improve the flavor and texture without testing them to make sure our bodies could handle them. The result has been a generation of people with chronic illnesses, cancers, and dementia, and an industry with blood on their hands and no-one to hold them accountable.

In short, our efforts to improve upon God’s design have come up short, across the board.

One Caveat

Now, as a caveat, I may as well throw out there that I am a scientist who believes an Intelligent Creator designed our world and our bodies. If that makes some people uncomfortable, I apologize, and I certainly understand why you believe the way you do, but I think most of us have the personal development to handle our differences and receive knowledge from each other. As one of my teachers used to say, “be as smart as an old cow: learn to eat the hay and spit out the sticks.”

Fasting Is Fundamental

As it turns out, The Creator wrote some fairly specific guidelines for fueling the bodies He gave us. (Imagine that: the Designer knows what fuel is best for his designs.) I don’t remember the first time I heard about fasting from a spiritual perspective, but I remember thinking it must be some form of punishment. I enjoy food. Willingly giving it up for an extended period of time to achieve some amorphous spiritual “benefit” seemed like a lousy exchange.

It wasn’t until I began studying it from a health and wellness perspective that I discovered there was a lot of wisdom in it.

Well, duh.

Physical Health Benefits of Fasting

There are dozens of reasons why fasting is important for wellness. Dr. Joseph Mercola listed out several of them in a recent, excellent article:

  • Upregulating autophagy and mitophagy (breaking down and recycling dead cells)
  • Increasing growth hormone by as much as 1,300 percent in women and 2,000 percent in men, thereby promoting muscle development and vitality
  • Shifting stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal
  • Preventing, slowing the progression of, and reversing Type 2 diabetes
  • Boosting mitochondrial energy efficiency and biosynthesis
  • Reproducing some of the cardiovascular benefits associated with exercise
  • Lowering inflammation
  • Improving pancreatic function
  • Improving circulating glucose and lipid levels
  • Protecting against cardiovascular disease
  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Modulating levels of dangerous visceral fat
  • Improving metabolic efficiency and body composition
  • Reducing low-density lipoprotein and total cholesterol
  • Significantly reducing body weight in obese individuals
  • Improving immune function
  • Boosting production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which stimulates creation of new brain cells and triggers brain chemicals that protect against brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

I can assure you that Moses didn’t know any of this when he was explaining the rules of fasting to the Israelites in the wilderness, but they benefitted from it anyway. The concept is that you don’t eat from sundown Friday to sunrise Sunday (which is why we call it “break-fast”), as well as not eating for at least the eight sleeping hours each night.

Mental and Spiritual Benefits

There is a mental and spiritual component to fasting that people benefit from. Fasting consistently is a discipline that gives the mental and spiritual facets of your life authority over your physical facet.

Your Body Yells

You may never have paid attention to it, but your body has a voice. It speaks to you through hunger, fatigue, anger, sexual urges, and other drivers that communicate through your neurotransmitters (serotonin, melatonin, testosterone, adrenaline, etc.). For many of us, our body acts like an animal or a three-year-old, demanding what it wants whenever it wants it. Your body doesn’t care what is moral, what is fair, what is healthy, or what is reasonable. It just wants what it wants.

Your Mind Speaks

Your mind can learn and process information, morals, and values; and it can tell you that certain behavior is undesirable and will have negative consequences. It may tell you to limit your sex life to one partner in a committed relationship, or it may tell you to keep your mouth shut when you want to scream. It may tell you to keep working when your body wants to go to bed so that you can keep your job and enjoy the benefits of income. And it might tell you to avoid certain foods because they will harm your body’s health.

Fasting sits in between those two areas. It is a decision your mind makes that affects your body directly. In that way, it gives your mind authority over your body. I have experienced myself — and several of my friends who are high-performing executives, writers, and athletes have testified to this as well — that fasting gives you a mental clarity that you can’t achieve any other way. It’s like all the clouds roll out of your thinking and you experience this moment of revelation when things become clear and your productivity shoots through the roof.

Your Spirit Whispers

My friends who have an active spiritual life have shared the same thing: when they fast, they experience breakthroughs of awareness and clarity in spiritual matters. I think it’s the same basic deal: as the excess proteins and glucose begin to filter out of their cells, their brain synapses fire more clearly. As much as the spirit is separate from the mind, we process it through our minds, so any clarity (or lack thereof) in our mental capacity affects our connection to the spiritual.

The Power of Intermittent Fasting

In a previous article, I shared about the benefits of intermittent fasting. In short, intermittent fasting is when you break the day into two parts – 8 hours when all your eating for the day takes place, and 16 hours when no eating takes place.

Now, of course, that doesn’t mean you eat for 8 solid hours every day. It just sets limits on what hours eating is allowed. During the fasting hours, your body goes into an accelerated process of cleaning out dead cells, unused proteins, excess glucose, and free radicals that are bouncing around your bloodstream, damaging other cells.

Clearing Up A Misconception

While intermittent fasting is growing in popularity, especially among athletes and body-builders, there is an element of it that I want to address, and it’s pretty important.

People talk a lot about counting calories. Last I checked, most healthcare professionals agree that a diet of 2,000 calories per day is a good target for men, while 1,500 calories per day is a good target for women. But not all calories are the same. You can get the same number of a calories from a head of broccoli and a piece of cake, but those calories do not have the same benefit to your body (obviously).

And for those of you who aren’t sure, the broccoli has more benefit than the cake. Even chocolate cake. Don’t fight me on this. Your mind knows it’s true, even if your body thinks it’s a disgusting lie. I can hear you fighting with me about this.

So, it’s not enough to go 16 hours without eating. It’s just as important to eat right during the 8 hours you do choose to eat.

Sorry to burst your bubble. I’m really not trying to take away all your joy.

Some Guidelines For Maximizing The Value of Fasting

Next week, I’m going to start a series on ketogenic eating — the pros and the cons — because it is a powerful way to train your body to burn fat for fuel instead of sugar. For now, let’s just agree that the eating plan I’m going to introduce next week is a powerful partner for an intermittent fasting plan because it emphasizes healthy fats, eliminates harmful fats and sugars, and provides a great balance of proteins and fiber. I really think you’re going to like it.

For now, let me give you some guidelines for how to get the most out of an intermittent fasting plan:

  • Be consistent about it. Pick a daily schedule and stick to it. There are variations, like 5 days on and 2 days off, but that’s not every for everyone. Here’s a plan that works for a large number of people: eat between 11am and 7pm. That gives you a good brunch and a good dinner. Breakfast is not your friend. I will be talking about that, too.
  • Emphasize green, yellow, and orange vegetables. Lay off the potatoes and starches. Limit your fruits, especially fruits that are high in fructose.
  • Emphasize good fats – avocado, omega-3 fatty fish, butter, raw nuts, seeds, coconut oil, and olive oil. Avoid all trans-fats and polyunsaturated fats. They promote inflammation.
  • Reduce your carb intake. Get the sugar out of your life and you will start seeing health problems vanish from your body. You will be shocked. You will think more clearly, and you will lose weight without trying. Then, wean yourself off of breads, pastas, and other grains. Over the next few weeks, we’ll put some of them back gradually, but you’ll need to understand why.
  • Eat meat. LEAN meat. And NOT a ton of it. Your meat portion for the day should be smaller than a bar of soap.

Again, if you choose to pursue intermittent fasting to enjoy the health benefits I listed above, be careful to make good choices when you do eat, so you don’t wipe out all the benefits of fasting, or you will be depriving yourself for no reason.

More To Say

There is so much more we could say here, but I’ll come back to it in our discussion of Ketogenic eating over the next few weeks. Give it a try for yourself and enjoy the benefits of physical, mental, and spiritual clarity that come from fasting. Don’t be shocked if your body talks nasty to you for the first few days, but after you get that breakthrough, you will never want to go back to the way you had been eating before.

I look forward to continuing this topic with you next week. In the meantime, bring your questions to the comments section of this post on our Facebook page, I’ll do my best to answer them. I’d really love to see you embrace fasting and get all the benefits from it, so let’s talk about it.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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