Imagine eating no food and drinking only water for days! It might seem like an impossible thing to do, especially for foodies, but water fasting is becoming a trend. Some people consider water fasting as a quick and easy way to lose weight. A recent study from the University of Illinois at Chicago that was published in Nutrition Reviews also found that water fasting might help with weight loss. But it’s not clear how long you will be able to enjoy the benefits. Researchers have also found other health benefits of water fasting, but there are side effects too!
To find out if water fasting is good for weight loss, Health Shots consulted Anju Mohan, Senior Dietitian, Department of Clinical Nutrition, Amrita Hospital, Kochi.
What is water fasting?
Mohan says that in recent times, fasting has gained a lot of attention in the field of nutrition. People are increasingly interested in various types of diets, ranging from the Mediterranean diet to the Ketogenic diet, as well as practices such as calorie restriction and water fasting. Fasting essentially means choosing not to eat or drink certain foods or abstaining from all food and beverages. The reasons can be related to health, spirituality or even personal beliefs. Water fasting particularly refers to going without food intake and only consuming water for a set number of days at a stretch.
What are the benefits of water fasting?
The most noticeable change that happens during fasting is weight loss. When you control yourself and abstain from eating for a certain period of time, you naturally consume fewer calories. This can lead to weight loss over time. The expert explains that since the body does not receive any calories from external sources, it starts utilising its stored energy reserves like glycogen (stored carbohydrates) and fat to meet its energy needs. So, this leads to weight loss during water fasting.
When the body exhausts its glycogen stores, it begins to break down fat cells through a process called lipolysis. This leads to the release of fatty acids, which are then converted into energy to fuel the body. Consequently, water fasting can contribute to weight loss as the body mostly relies on stored fat for energy during the fasting period.
Side effects of water fasting on the body
When you’re fasting, especially for extended periods, your body can become dehydrated if you don’t consume an adequate amount of water. Proper hydration is vital for the functioning of various bodily systems, including digestion, circulation, and temperature regulation. So, drink 2 to 3 litres of fluid daily. Mohan says that adequate fluid intake helps to maintain hydration levels and supports overall bodily functions. By staying well-hydrated, you might reduce the intensity of hunger sensations, making it easier to stick to your fasting regimen.
If you do just water fasting, there can be some health issues.
1. Electrolyte imbalances
Clearly, when you begin your water fasting routine, there is a reduction in the intake of essential minerals. This includes potassium and sodium, which are crucial electrolytes for various bodily functions. Prolonged fasting without proper electrolyte replacement or medical supervision can lead to electrolyte imbalances, including hyponatremia (low sodium levels) or hypokalemia (low potassium levels), says the expert.
Another concern associated with prolonged water fasting is hypovolemia. It refers to a decrease in the volume of circulating blood in the body. The reduced blood volume can impair the body’s ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and organs, leading to impaired functioning. This can make you feel dizzy and you may end up with rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, fatigue and confusion.
Tips for sustainable weight loss
While water fasting can aid in weight loss, you will have to do a lot more for long-term success and maintaining a healthy weight. Here’s what you will need to do!
1.Consume a nutritious diet
Eat a balanced diet of whole and unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. Watch portion sizes and aim for a calorie deficit, says Mohan.
2. Regular physical activities
Do exercises like walking, jogging, swimming, and strength training to burn calories and boost metabolism.
3. Change habits for weight loss
Make healthy lifestyle changes, such as mindful eating, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and addressing emotional eating. These changes will help you to lose weight and keep it off in the long run.
Different fasting methods might work better for some people than others, but you should always aim for sustainable weight loss.