People have been fasting for centuries, sometimes for religious or spiritual reasons, and sometimes out of necessity. However, in recent years, some fasting techniques, especially water fasting, have become popular among wellness enthusiasts as a weight-loss method.
Here’s a quick look at what water fasting is all about, why people do water fasts, and how you can practice it safely.
What is Water Fasting?
As evident from its name, people on water fasts drink water and only water, restricting themselves from consuming solid food, tea, coffee, or other beverages during the entire fasting period. A typical water fast may last from one to three days.
For health and safety reasons, avoid fasting for longer than three days without medical supervision. Health centers with water fasting programs recommend drinking only pure, distilled water while following complete abstinence from all other substances, including toiletries like toothpaste.
Popular diets such as the master cleanse or lemonade diet in which you only drink salt water and a concoction made of water, lemon or lime juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper are modeled after the water fasting method.
Why do People Water Fast?
While water fasting has several potential benefits, it lacks sufficient scientific backing at present. However, here are the most common reasons for its increasing popularity.
For weight loss: Most people go on water fasts to achieve weight loss. While water fasting may reduce weight in the short term, it’s not a sustainable method because the drop in weight is more likely due to water loss than fat loss.
To manage blood pressure: Medically-supervised water fasts have been reported to have a positive effect in managing hypertension in borderline cases. However, these results were found in patients who underwent extended water fasts in an inpatient setting for an average duration of about 13.6 days. It is unclear whether a three-day water fast would have a similar effect.
*Do not attempt to replicate these results at home. Any fast over 72 hours should be performed only under medical supervision.
For cell recycling: Research suggests that water fasts have a profound effect on autophagy in animals. Autophagy is a process in which old cells are broken down and recycled, and it is believed to play an important role in preventing diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease. More research is needed to establish the efficacy of water fasts in aiding autophagy in humans.
For overall improved health: Fasting experts believe that many of our modern illnesses, including diabetes and some autoimmune conditions, are the result of our low-nutrient, high-calorie diets. Fasting gives our body a much-needed break and eliminates dietary excess from our body.
In addition to the potential health benefits, water fasting, or any form of fasting for that matter, tests your determination and willpower. People have reported feeling more confident and self-aware after completing such challenges.
How to Go On a Water Fast
If you’re planning to go on a water fast, pick a day when you don’t have to travel or have any major appointments. Experts recommend cutting down your calorie intake in the days leading up to the fast to prepare your body. A plant-based diet that avoids meat, dairy, and processed food and includes plenty of leafy, green vegetables can be a good option.
During the fast, make sure you drink at least two to three liters of water every day. While you may be tempted to gorge on a big meal after the fast, eating a large quantity of food immediately after such a period of low-calorie intake can cause nausea and extreme gastrointestinal discomfort. In some people, it may also increase the risk of rapid metabolic changes, which can be fatal. The longer the fast, the more attention you should pay to your post-fast diet.
Ease your body gradually back to its normal rhythm by introducing low-fat, easy-to-digest foods like broth, soft-cooked vegetables, and juice in small portions. You will be able to resume your regular diet by the third day.
Is Water Fasting Risky?
As with any other fasting technique, water fasting can increase your risk for nutrient deficiencies. Since one-fifth of your daily water consumption comes from the food you eat, water fasting can also put you at risk for dehydration if you don’t drink the recommended amount of water during the fast. At the same time, drinking too much water may cause blood pressure to suddenly drop.
Water fasting may also have other side-effects such as headaches, tiredness (fatigue), and dizziness. People are thus advised to avoid intense workouts, driving or operating heavy machinery during the fasting period.
Prolonged water fasting can be dangerous for people with existing medical conditions such as diabetes, eating disorders, or malnourishment. It is also not recommended for elderly or frail individuals for the same reason. Children and pregnant or breastfeeding women should also not attempt fasting. Be prepared to stop the fast and seek immediate medical attention if you start feeling ill or disoriented.
Water fasting is one of the more difficult fasting techniques. If you are new to fasting and would prefer a safer and easier method to begin, try intermittent fasting. Always do your due diligence or talk to a qualified professional before you start any new health regimen.