Advice & Guides

Is Fasting a Fad?

Fasting is defined as a partial or total abstention from all foods, or a select abstention from prohibited foods. Fasting played an important role in the lives of our ancestors and in many cultures, and has benefits for many of us today.
by
Miranda Weintraub
updated
February 25, 2022
3
references

What is Fasting?

Fasting is defined as a partial or total abstention from all foods, or a select abstention from prohibited foods.  Fasting or food restriction played an important part in the lifestyle, health, and culture of our ancestors, who evolved during times of famine and plenty. Climate change had a major role in what foods were available. 

History of Fasting

Around 12,000 years ago, before agriculture, grasses, seeds, nuts, fish, wild plants, fruits, and animals were the nutritional foundations of the human diet. When food was scarce, humans would often go without eating for days, weeks, and sometimes months. To prevent starvation, many cultures intentionally abstained from eating too much, rationing their intake of food, and practicing what Western science now calls “calorie restriction”, only eating when truly hungry.

In the modern world, fasting has been integral to numerous cultural and religious practices for thousands of years, including:

  • Buddhism
  • Judaism
  • Christianity
  • Islam
  • Taoism
  • Hinduism
  • Zoroastrianism 

Although the duration, practice, and purpose of fasting differs among cultures and belief systems, all fasting practices have the similar goals of showing sacrifice, humility, and cleansing the body, mind, and spirit.1

Why Fast Today?

Traditional Western eating patterns involve snacking between meals, large portion sizes, eating before bedtime, and consuming a diet high in processed foods. These dietary patterns contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other adverse cardiometabolic outcomes.2 Commonly, instead of changing our dietary patterns, we are offered medications, or even medical interventions such as stomach stapling, to improve our metabolic health. Unfortunately, as these options do not address the root cause of our metabolic dysfunction, our disease state often continues to progress. 

Fasting, coupled with healthy dietary and lifestyle choices, such as consuming a whole-food plant-based diet, provides an alternative or complementary approach to slowing or even reversing metabolic dysfunction and achieving metabolic and cardiovascular health.3

Takeaway

Fasting, an age-old practice, has become one of the most popular health and dietary interventions in industrialized societies. Much of the interest is due to an increasing number of chronic diseases arising from cultures that promote unhealthy lifestyle choices, including lack of physical activity, and easy access to low quality, processed foods.

People used to die of infectious diseases, due to lack of good hygiene and clean water. Now, with modern agriculture and the exponential rise in the consumption of processed foods and sugar, we are dying of chronic conditions including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Fasting is not only an important part of human history, but of contemporary practice. Consider fasting. It may be a way for you to reconnect with your body, heal from chronic disease, and live a healthier and longer life. 

References

  1. Trepanowski JF, Bloomer RJ. The impact of religious fasting on human health. Nutr J. 2010;9(1):57. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-57
  2. St-Onge MP, Ard J, Baskin ML, et al. Meal timing and frequency: implications for cardiovascular disease prevention: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2017;135(9):e96-e121.
  3. Malinowski B, Zalewska K, Węsierska A, et al. Intermittent fasting in cardiovascular disorders—an overview. Nutrients. 2019;11(3):673.
About the author
Miranda Weintraub
Miranda is an epidemiological researcher at Kaiser Permanente, as well as a clinical researcher at Mora Medical. Miranda is our go to resource for everything and anything related to epidemiological research.

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