6 Types of Fasting: Complete Guide

Our ancestors were once hunters and gatherers who sometimes went days without meals. Our body was designed to survive famines and enjoy feasts. The eating habits of modern humans are dominated by processed food. This elevates blood sugar levels and depresses the immune system. There are different types of fasting practiced by followers of different religions to get closer to God.

The word ‘fast’ in Hebrew meant to ‘close the mouth,’ so scripturally, a fast involves not taking any food for some time. The traditional goal of fasting was intimacy with God and clarity in hearing his voice.

Biblical fasting is aimed to avoid distractions to focus on spirituality. The Jews did the partial fast and often did not eat from ‘sun up to sun down.’

The Muslims perform a month-long fast during Ramadan where they do not drink, eat or engage in any sensual activity between sunrise and sunset. The Hindus fast on special festivals such as Navratri, Maha Shivaratri, Saraswati Puja, and Karwa Chauth.

Today, fasting is used as a way of showing protest in the form of hunger strikes. This was used by Mahatma Gandhi as a non-violent method of seeking necessary changes. Thus, different types of fasting are of religious and cultural significance.

types of fasting
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1. Types of Fasting

There are different types of fasting capable of fixing cell damage. Oxidative stress 1damages our cells. Distress happens when more free radicals are produced, which are unstable molecules that carry a loosely bound extra electron. Preventing or repairing cell damage from oxidative stress can help against aging. For detailed information, refer here.

There are types of fasting that can help our cells combat damage. Fasting results in a small increase in free radical production early on during fasting. When a person fasts, the cells respond by increasing natural antioxidants to fight against future free radicals. Various types of fasting even increase the production of restorative genes.

1.1 Spontaneous Fasting

This type of fasting is the easiest to start with. In this process, you allow your body to skip meals if you don’t feel hungry or do not have time to eat. Thus, it is a gentle introduction to intermittent fasting.

You can fast for 16 hours and keep up to 8 hours for eating. You can try skipping breakfast or dinner to get similar benefits, although it is always advised to eat breakfast. Spontaneous fasting is an effective way for weight loss or to keep the body healthy.

1.2 Alternate Day Fasting

The alternate-day fasting involves fasting every other day. You can widen your fasting time and keep your eating window time restricted. There are two available methods of alternate-day fasting.

The first is to completely avoid food on your fasting days, consuming only water. The second is to eat super small meals up to 25% of your regular caloric intake based on your eating window. You must not include sugar or starch in this 25%.

Alternate-day fasting is more approachable, but it can be tough to follow as sugar and starch have to be strictly avoided.

1.3 Occasional Short Fasts

The occasional fast lasts for six, twelve, or twenty-four hours. It can be considered the most manageable. Cutting the food intake by up to 40% can increase longevity and prevent diseases like cancer, heart disease, and other late-life illnesses.

Occasional short fasts also provide metabolic benefits to people. It can reduce fatigue and weakness along with medical advantages.
Most people start with occasional short fasts.

1.4 Intermittent Fasts

Intermittent fasting is not going without food or substance for days. Skipping breakfast or waiting until lunch to eat any food counts as a form of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting has taken over other fasting methods as it is easier to do and maintain.

In this method, you need to decide on a fasting window of 12 hours, 16 hours, or 18 hours. During this time, you will be skipping meals and consuming liquids such as water or green tea. You can start with a 12-hour fasting window, where you can skip any one meal of the day. While it is easier to skip breakfast than dinner, skipping dinner is said to be more effective.

Skipping food can help you feel more energetic, recover better from exercise, burn fat, and retain muscle mass. It can also help the body from diseases such as cancer, diabetes2, and cognitive decline.

Intermittent fasting is not advised for pregnant women, those trying to get pregnant, and those on diabetes medication. Any diet is to be followed only after consulting a dietician or nutritionist.

types of fasting
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1.5 Longer Fasts

These fasts are suitable for people who cannot commit to daily fasting but are ready to do it on a weekly, monthly, or yearly schedule. You can opt to fast 2 days a week. You can follow your regular eating habits throughout the week except for the two days you restrict food.

One can also try the 24-hour fast. This calls for a 24-hour gap between each meal in your fasting window. It is usually done once or twice a week, but it can also be adopted more frequently.

The 36-hour fast is an extended version of the 24-hour fast. This type of fasting can help you boost and adapt to ketosis or push you into a deeper state of ketosis3.

1.6 Diagnostic Fast

The diagnostic fasts are usually done upon the advice of the doctor. This refers to a prolonged fast from 1 to 100 hours, depending upon the person’s age. It is conducted under observation to investigate any health complications, usually hypoglycemia4.

Many people also fast as a part of a medical procedure or check-up. Doctors usually advise patients to fast before colonoscopy or surgery. Fasting is practiced before surgical procedures that require general anesthesia. This is done to avoid the risk of pulmonary aspiration of gastric contents after the use of anesthesia.

types of fasting
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2. Benefits of Fasting

Losing stubborn fat, curbing cravings, lowering inflammation, and improving your gut microbiome are a few benefits of different types of fasting. It is a popular technique, especially in the Keto community, as it helps to burn the stored glycogen 5quickly. Be careful about what you choose to eat, as this aids in achieving ketosis faster. You can also check out vegan intermittent fasting as an alternative fasting method for a healthier lifestyle.

  • Here are some important benefits that the types of fasting offer:
  • One can lose weight effectively through different types of fasting.
  • Fasting improves alertness, improves mood, and brings a feeling of well-being. It can also help cure depression.
  • Fasting can benefit your body physiologically through calorie restrictions without having to starve yourself.
  • When you get used to any of these types of fasting, your body naturally needs fewer calories and experiences lesser cravings.
  • Following an appropriate fasting method can improve blood sugar and insulin levels. It protects from chronic diseases and increases the life span.
  • Certain types of fasting increase the production of human growth hormone, which helps in fat loss. This can make the skin look younger and help maintain the muscles.

3. Cons of Fasting

There are a few negatives associated with different types of fasting. You need to be aware of both the pros and cons before you start following a regime.

3.1 May Affect Your Social Life

Sticking to your fast can be challenging, especially when you are in a social gathering. Most social interactions are around food and drinks. You might miss out on those late-night dinners, family suppers, birthday parties, and lunch meetings. When you are fasting, you will have to find an alternative to socialize without breaking your fast.

3.2 Long-Term Fasts Are Hard to Follow

Prolonged periods of zero-calorie consumption can be difficult to follow as one can get cravings or go low on energy. It can be tough to develop the discipline required to stick with specific time frames. A high amount of self-control is required to follow long-term fasts.

3.3 May Lead to Health Issues

People who already live an active lifestyle may suffer from hormonal imbalances. This may also lead to irregular menstrual cycles and fertility issues.

3.4 Fasting Can Be Exhaustive

When you fast, you will be low on energy and might feel dull. You may get minor physical ailments such as headaches, bad temper, or constipation.

3.5 Increased Hunger

Fasting can lead to uncomfortable hunger pangs. One may even end up binge-eating food. Practicing these types of fasting can cause you to feel more hungry and may trigger an eating disorder. This is where you need to master self-control to avoid a downward spiral.

4. The Bottom Line

There are numerous types of fasting you can opt for. Calories and food quality are very important factors that should not be neglected. People often sideline food quality and ignore the calories as they use fasting as a safety net.

Among the above types of fasting, you can find what works best for you. Consult a dietician, a nutritionist, or your general practitioner before you implement any dietary change to get expert insight.

5. FAQs

5.1 Is Fasting a Good Way to Lose Weight?

Fasting can be a useful weight-loss method, but it must be used in conjunction with a balanced diet and regular exercise. Additionally, it’s critical to fast responsibly, and safely, and to speak with your doctor before beginning any new weight-loss program.

5.2 How Long Do I Need to Fast?

Your choice of fasting style and personal health objectives will determine how long you fast. While some may persist for weeks or even months, some fasts may just last a few hours or days. It’s critical to pay attention to your body’s signals and end your fast if you feel any unfavorable effects.

5.3 How Should I Break My Fast?

To prevent gastrointestinal pain or other negative effects, it’s crucial to gradually resume eating after a fast. Begin by eating small, light meals that are simple to process, like soups, broths, or fruits and vegetables. Over a few days, gradually reintegrate complicated foods.

  1. Griendling, Kathy K., et al. “Oxidative stress and hypertension.” Circulation research 128.7 (2021): 993-1020. ↩︎
  2. Bilous, Rudy, Richard Donnelly, and Iskandar Idris. Handbook of diabetes. John Wiley & Sons, 2021. ↩︎
  3. Selvaraj, Senthil, Daniel P. Kelly, and Kenneth B. Margulies. “Implications of altered ketone metabolism and therapeutic ketosis in heart failure.” Circulation 141.22 (2020): 1800-1812. ↩︎
  4. Cryer, Philip E. “Hypoglycemia.” Endocrine emergencies: recognition and treatment (2021): 27-35. ↩︎
  5. Vigh-Larsen, Jeppe F., et al. “Muscle glycogen metabolism and high-intensity exercise performance: a narrative review.” Sports Medicine 51.9 (2021): 1855-1874. ↩︎

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Jasmine Mary Ekka

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