There are tons of ways of losing weight – exercise, dieting, calorie-tracking, and whatnot. Water fasting is a new method that not only promises to help you get rid of that stubborn fat but also claims to bless you with overall improved health.
But what is it and how true is that? How does water fasting work to lose weight and how does it boost our health? Can anyone use this method to get healthy? Or are there any caveats we should be aware of?
Today, we’ll answer all these questions and more in this article.
What is Water Fasting?
Water fasting is when you don’t consume food and feed only on water for 1 to 3 days.
Why 1 to 3 days? Well, because if it’s less than that, you may not get many benefits. And surviving without water for longer than that is not only tough but also unhealthy.
If you have already learned about intermittent fasting or have tried monk fasting, water fasting will be easier for you than anybody else, thanks to your prior experience.
But if you don’t have such experience, we suggest you practice water fasting after consulting your doctor.
How Does Water Fasting Work?
Water fasting works in 3 stages —
Stage 1: Prepare
If you have a habit of eating food rich in carbs, try to limit it. It’s better to follow a keto diet plan for at least one or two days before the fast.
The keto diet helps your body get into ketosis and burn fat for energy. Unlike carbs which provide instant energy, fat (ketones) energize you slowly and steadily.
When you eat only the foods allowed in the keto diet, you help prepare your mind and body by replacing regular food with low-carb, high-fat food. This preparation makes the transition from regular food to no food easier.
Consider the two days before the fast as preparatory holidays for exams when you practice mock tests. Following the keto diet is the mock test.
If the keto diet is too complicated for you, consider intermittent fasting (IF). The keto diet can be strict, but IF only asks you not to eat for 12 to 20 hours.
Stage 2: The water fast itself
This stage can be divided into 3 to 6 sub-stages depending on how long you decide to do water fasting.
- 12-hour water fasting: Your body reaches the metabolic state of ketosis. It starts burning fat due to the lack of food (carbs) consumed.
- 18-hour water fasting: By this time, your body has started forming ketones. Ketones are the byproducts of the process of burning fat. These compounds are your new source of energy – until you eat something.
- 24-hour water fasting: It’s now time for Autophagy. This is when your body starts regenerating the complete immune system by recycling your damaged cells. Not only does this help get rid of dying cells, but destroys harmful bacteria and viruses, as well. Thus, helping you fight diseases. (1)
By this point in your fast, your health has started improving. You can either stop fasting now or continue for up to 72 hours for more benefits. We’ll talk about these benefits later in the article.
Stage 3: Time to Refeed
This phase is where a lot of people make mistakes. After water fasting for multiple days (or hours), they think of rewarding themselves in the form of delicious food but end up with a punishment.
That’s because the definition of delicious food for many is junk food like pizzas and burgers, restaurant food, meat, or processed snacks like ice creams and chocolates.
The problem with these foods is that they are hard to digest.
But, your digestive system will need something easy to digest after several days without food.
It is best to break a fast with light fruit like watermelons or a drink like coconut water or a fruit smoothie. The purpose is to have your system get used to digesting again before beginning with solid foods. Reintroducing solid food 2-3 hours after having fruit is usually adequate.
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Benefits of Water Fasting
- Reduces blood pressure.
Salt and lack of water are two primary reasons behind high blood pressure. The only thing a water fast allows is water. Thus, fulfilling both criteria to help you lower blood pressure.
- Burns fat and reduces calorie intake.
The stage of ketosis and autophagy help your body burn fat and use damaged cells. Thus, providing the benefits of detoxification and weight loss.
What’s more? Water fasting also helps stop your intake of sweets, alcohol, carb-rich foods, sugary soft drinks, or trans fats as in chips or meat.
So, you burn more calories than you consume – which is the ultimate formula for weight loss.
- Lowers risk to heart health.
Studies say that water fasting reduces bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels – two serious causes of heart attacks. (2)
Dangers of Water Fasting
Drinking too much water can lead to the loss of electrolytes from the body due to excessive urination. The electrolyte imbalance can lead to hyponatremia (low sodium in the blood).
When sodium levels are low, you become fatigued and suffer from muscle spasms and cramps. The severest form of this condition can give you seizures or put you in a coma.
- Nutrient deficiencies
Water fasting indeed helps lose weight as you don’t eat anything. But it also means you don’t consume food rich in nutrients and electrolytes like calcium, potassium, and vitamin C that all organs in your body need to function properly.
To solve this particular issue you can try adding electrolyte water to your fast. But first make sure that drinking electrolytes won’t break your fast.
- A sudden drop in blood pressure levels (orthostatic hypotension)
Water fasting can leave you feeling dizzy, lightheaded, and at risk of fainting if your blood pressure drops abruptly when you stand up. The condition is called orthostatic hypotension and is a common drawback of fasting. (3)
Tips to Make Water Fasting Easier and Less Risky
- Find a fasting partner.
Just like going to the gym becomes easier when you have someone to go with, fasting too becomes easier when done with a partner. When you know someone is going through the same emotional or physical changes in the body, you stay calm and motivated.
- Don’t do any tiring tasks (mental or physical).
Take leave from work for a couple of days and avoid driving (because you may faint when fasting).
Make sure you don’t have to make crucial decisions, run around for chores, or even exercise much during water fasting.
By increasing stress or using your body excessively, you may reduce the benefits you can gain, plus your motivation to stick to the whole fast.
Also Read: Fasting Headaches & How to Prevent Them
- Keep your mind occupied.
Ever worked intensely for long hours, forgetting about lunch or dinner? If yes, you know that an occupied mind doesn’t mind an empty stomach!
This work doesn’t have to be an office job. It can be working on a personal project, cleaning, painting, gardening, reading, watching movies, or anything that soothes you.
All you need is an inspiring activity that will keep your mind occupied and help you forget you are hungry.
Bonus Tip: Keep an ORS drink near you at all times, just in case you feel excessively weak.
Who Should Not Do It?
The following people must not try water fasting unless the doctor recommends it.
- Those with any eating disorder
- Elders over 60 years
- Children under 18 years
- Those who are underweight
- Pregnant or breast-feeding mothers
- Heart patients
- Migraine patients
Water fasting has both pros and cons depending on your current health condition. Once you consult your doctor, you can try water fasting to redeem its remarkable benefits like weight loss and reduced blood pressure.
The bonus benefit is a boost of discipline and patience you get after succeeding at it.
Try to start slowly, say with 12 hours of fasting, and eventually increase to 72 over the next few months.
Slow and steady practice of water fasting will help reduce the risks and enhance the goodness it has to offer.