Are you trying to lose weight? Or perhaps you're looking for natural ways to reset your body?
Many people are catching onto the various benefits of water fasting. In general, fasting is a type of food intake restriction. The practice has taken place for thousands of years - even ancient Greeks like Hippocrates fasted!
Water fasting is a more specific form of this diet, where you don't eat any food. Instead, you only drink water.
The diet is not easy, but it has a lot of potential benefits, including weight loss. Here, we explore these benefits. We also provide the need-to-know information on water fasting, including its effects, what to expect, and how you can do a waster fasting diet safely.
Let's get started!
Water Fasting — An Overview
Water fasting is when someone doesn't eat but instead drinks nothing but water. The restricted diet means no tea, coffee, alcohol, or even zero-calorie sports drinks.
Most water fasts last for between 1-3 days without medical supervision. However, some fasts with medical care can last up to 40 days.
There are many reasons why people may try this type of fasting, such as for religious or spiritual reasons. Other reasons include detoxing, losing weight, or preparing for a medical procedure.
Water Fasting Potential Benefits
The main reason that people try this type of fasting is to improve health and wellness.
Water fasting can lead to several potential health benefits, both short-term and long-term:
- Weight loss
- Boosted metabolism
- Prolonged lifespan
- Lowered blood pressure
- Reduced risk of chronic diseases
- And more
We go over these benefits below. One thing to note is that studies on water fasting are scarce. Most of the research has been in animal studies. Also, fasting improperly can have health risks, so they aren't suitable for everyone.
Does water fasting help you lose weight?
The short answer is yes: Water fasts will help you lose weight.
Water fasting means you aren't taking in any protein, carbohydrates, or fat. It forces your body to burn what it already has for energy, such as stored carbohydrates and eventually fat.
Although it is an effective way to lose weight, water fasting comes with several risks. There are also several at-risk groups of people who should not attempt it.
Other fasts, such as intermittent or alternate-day fasts, may be more effective and beneficial than water fasting.
One of the most popular reasons for water fasting is to improve metabolism. It boosts your metabolism because of its effects on your insulin and leptin levels.
Insulin and leptin are hormones that affect metabolism. Insulin helps with the storage of nutrients, and leptin makes the body feel satiated. These two hormones are why you eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full.
Studies have shown that water fasts can make your body more sensitive to these hormones. It means that the hormones are more effective, giving you a better metabolism.
If you're more sensitive to insulin, your body is more efficiently reducing blood sugar. If you're more sensitive to leptin, you feel full faster.
The effect on your leptin levels is another reason why water fasting leads to weight loss. Since your body feels full faster, it leads you to eat less.
Water fasting has the potential to prolong your lifespan. How? It kickstarts a natural process in your body called autophagy.
Autophagy is when your old cells get broken down and recycled within your body. It helps prevent harmful cells from growing and encourages cellular renewal, prolonging their life span. With this process, you can protect your body against cancer, Alzheimer's, heart disease, and some other diseases.
The potential life extension is exciting. It may well be that the Fountain of Youth was right in front of our noses all along! However, there are not many human studies in this area, and more research is necessary to verify this information.
Lower Blood Pressure
There aren't any human studies showing that short water fasts between 2-3 days can affect blood pressure. However, research has shown that longer versions of these fasts can help lower blood pressure.
In one study, over 80% of people who stuck to their regimen for 14 days saw their blood pressure go down to healthy levels. Another study saw 90% of participants with reduced high blood pressure after fasting for 10-11 days.
The research so far is promising, and it could mean people with high blood pressure won't have to rely on various medications. But, it doesn't mean you should stop taking blood pressure medication if your doctor has prescribed it!
More studies are necessary to understand the effect of short-term water fasts on high blood pressure.
Lowers Risk of Chronic Diseases
There's evidence that water fasts can help lower your risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
One study showed that after one of these fasts for 24 hours, 100% of healthy adults had lowered cholesterol and triglycerides. These are both risk factors for heart disease.
In animals, studies have shown that water fasts may protect the heart against free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that are unstable and can damage healthy cells. They contribute to many chronic diseases. With the reduction of free radicals in the body, you can see a lowered risk of chronic disease.
Studies also have shown that in animals, these fasts might suppress genes that help cancer cells grow. It may also help reduce the adverse effects of chemotherapy and make it more effective. The studies have not gone to human trials yet, but research is ongoing.
Dangers of Water Fasting
Water fasting does have some benefits. However, there are some potential risks that you should know.
Rapid Weight Loss
This point may seem like a benefit, but losing the wrong kind of weight is a danger to your health and safety.
Water fasts severely restrict calorie intake, so you are sure to lose a lot of weight quickly. However, this weight loss (which can be up to 2lbs per day) might come from water, carbohydrates, and muscle.
The rapid weight loss may come with dizziness and weakness. Be aware of how you are feeling and contact a medical professional if you feel worried about your health.
Water fasts can make you dehydrated, as strange as that sounds.
About ¼ to ⅓ of your daily water intake comes from the foods you eat. Since you're severely restricting what you're eating, you're still losing out on fluid intake even though you're drinking nothing but water.
You'll know you're dehydrated if you feel dizzy, nauseous, have a headache, are constipated, and lethargic. If you feel this way or want to avoid dehydration, make sure to drink more water than you think you need.
Orthostatic hypotension is when your blood pressure suddenly drops when you stand. Symptoms include sudden dizziness or lightheadedness. You may even be at risk of passing out. Orthostatic hypotension is common in people who decide to water fast.
If you experience this condition, take care to avoid situations in which dizziness or fainting could be life-threatening, such as when operating machinery and driving.
Worsening of Medical Conditions
Certain risk factors indicate someone should not water fast. They include having diabetes, eating disorders, gout, and others.
Gout is a form of arthritis that leads to severe pain and tenderness in the joints. The condition is due to excess uric acid crystallizing in the joints. Water fasts may increase the production of uric acid, which can increase the risk of a gout attack.
Diabetes 1 and 2 side effects may get worse with water fasts. Diabetes puts you at risk of dehydration, which makes blood sugar challenging to manage. Even if your fast goes smoothly and there are no issues, you may be at risk of developing high blood sugar levels once you break your fast.
Eating disorders may worsen with fasting. There is also evidence that doing fasts while at a young age may encourage eating disorders as well.
Some people are at a higher risk of medical complications, including people:
- Eating disorders
- Pregnant women
- Those under 18 years of age
If you fall under this category, contact a medical professional before starting this or any fasting regimen.
Water Fasting at Home
As long as you are aware of the risks and the warning signs, you should be able to safely start water fasting, whether at home or a clinic. Follow the tips below to start this regimen at home!
Before You Fast
Before you begin your fast, you should take a few days to get your body used to a lack of food. You can restrict your diet to small portions or avoid eating for a certain number of hours per day.
During Your Fast
These types of fasts are simple: All you must do is drink only water for two to three days. The amount varies, but most people will drink 2-3L (0.5-1Gal) of water each day of their fast.
You may feel weak or dizzy during this fast. These symptoms are signs that your body is trying to get used to only taking in water without food to supplement it.
If you plan your fast around your activities, try to avoid operating heavy machinery or doing anything physically dangerous during this time.
After Your Fast
Post-fast, it is normal to feel ravenous. However, it would be best if you avoided the urge to eat a huge meal as soon as your fast is over. If you do, you may encounter unpleasant symptoms such as uncomfortable fullness, nausea, and vomiting.
One of the more severe conditions of overeating post-fast is refeeding syndrome (more on this later), which could be fatal.
Water Fasting in a Clinic
Some alternative medicine clinics offer supervised water fasts.
Most of the people who do supervised versions of these fasts have a doctor's referral. These people often receive certain medical benefits from the water fast, as their doctor or healthcare provider has “prescribed” the fast.
Water fasts in clinical settings are much like sleep studies. Patients conduct their everyday lives but under supervision.
Supervision is necessary to ensure patients do not exhibit any signs of distress while they are fasting. These symptoms can include pain, rashes, headaches, irritability, nausea, and vomiting. Fasting patients also receive regular blood and urine tests as a safety net.
In clinical settings, patients also learn about the refeeding process. A certified nutritionist will educate the patients on how to start eating again without the risk of refeeding syndrome.
Tips and Tricks for Water Fasting
Water fasting is challenging, even for seasoned pros. Here are some extra tips and tricks to get through it.
- Avoid environments that encourage you to eat unhealthy food or induce food cravings.
- Keep a busy schedule, most notably on the first few days of a fast. It will ensure that you don't break your fast because you're bored.
- Rest when you're tired. Fasting can make you lethargic at first, and you don't want to pass out somewhere.
- Do light exercise (resistance activity is best) during your fast. It will encourage your body to burn fat for fuel and help your body maintain muscle mass.
- Stay hydrated and drink more water than you think you'll need.
- Take supplements like iron, calcium, and vitamin B-12 to prevent deficiencies.
- Break your fast with a small meal or snack, such as fruit. Take it easy with the calories and don't go overboard on heavy meals, caffeine, or alcohol.
Beyond the above tips, there is one essential tip: Stop fasting if you feel unwell.
Water fasts will make you tired and hungry, but you shouldn't feel sick or nauseous. Stop your fast immediately if you feel ill and contact a healthcare professional.
FAQs for Water Fasting
Water fasting can be challenging if you've never before attempted it. Here are a few questions and answers that can help you through the process.
How can I make water fasting easier?
Going straight from eating three times per day to water fasting can wreck your motivation and keep you from sticking to your plan. It's much easier to start with a different kind of fast, such as an intermittent fast or an alternate-day fast.
If you want to stick to mostly liquids, but you're not sure you can make it with just water, try doing a liquid diet instead:
- Flavor your water with lime or fruit infusions
- Drink coffee or tea in addition to water
- Consume bone broth or other broths to supplement your diet
- Take multivitamins to keep up nutrient levels
Will water fasting make me lose muscle?
The human body is good at preserving muscle mass during a fast. It is unlikely that you will lose any muscle mass during a 3-day home water fast. However, it's more likely that you'll lose vital body mass during a longer fast.
To avoid this, most clinicians do not recommend doing an extended water fast at home. If you want to do the longer fasts, you should do so at a clinic where they can monitor you for signs of distress.
Do I still need to brush my teeth while water fasting?
Yes. Your mouth has a microbiome that will still build up bacteria, even if all you're consuming is water.
How long should I fast?
Fasting is different for everyone. Most clinicians recommend that if you're new to water fasting, you should aim for 24-48 hours the first time. From there, you can judge how your body reacts to the fast and go for more extended periods.
However, you should never exceed three days of water fasting unless you're under the direct supervision of a doctor or healthcare expert.
What should I expect when doing a water fast?
If you've never had a day without food, you might be surprised at what your body does during this time. Here are a few things to expect when fasting.
- You'll have a lot of extra time on your hands since you're not cooking or eating.
- You won't feel (or look) bloated.
- You'll be the most hungry after you exercise.
- You'll appreciate food more when you return to your regular diet.
There's no denying that water fasting is an effective way to lose weight quickly. It also has several potential health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and increasing metabolism. However, it's not a solution for everyone.
We strongly recommend limiting your water fast to 48-72 hours to avoid any potential health risks. Also, you should contact a medical health professional if you want to do a water fast that will be longer than three days.
If you'd like to learn more about water fasting, contact us today.