The practice of intermittent fasting has gained a great deal of interest in recent years, considered one of the latest ‘fad’ diets. However, as more and more people give this a try, pushing the boundaries and testing limitations, how far is ‘too far’?
Intermittent fasting refers to an eating routine that alternates between set periods of fasting and eating over the course of the week. While many experts will encourage fasting up to 16 hours each day, eating only in a small window in order to experience the benefits, others will encourage a 48 to 72-hour period of fasting each week, eating normally the remaining days. Fasting has been associated with a number of great benefits including promoting weight loss, a decreased risk of diseases including cancer, regulation of blood sugar levels, and improved heart health.
While most scientists and experts will agree that there are benefits to be seen from short periods of fasting, the problem lies in how our society handles any weight loss solution. If 16 hours is good, and some experts are recommending 72 hours, then pushing yourself to go longer would be even better, no? Furthermore, the diet is being marketed by many as a quick fix without having to make any other changes in your life. Who wouldn’t love the idea of eating as much as they want of whatever they want for days on end if the only catch was not eating for 2 days each week and you would lose weight? It sounds too good to be true!
Spoiler alert: It sounds too good to be true because it IS. As with any other effort to improve our health and well-being, a well-rounded approach is required. You can’t just hit the gym and expect to lose weight, for example, if you aren’t improving the quality of the food you’re eating. In this same way, supporters of fasting explain that it’s only one part of a bigger picture.
True to form, a viral story has been making its way around social media, sharing the first-hand account of Giovanni Bartolomeo, a man who decided to engage in an extreme long-term fast. In fact, at the time of the article, he stated he had already successfully fasted for 53 days and counting. Interested in the benefits of longer-term fasting, including reports of altered states of consciousness, Bartolomeo started researching some more extreme options when he came across the Master Fast.
What is the Master Fast System? Described as an ‘extended fast’, the Master Fast System outlines a schedule of alternating dry fasting (no food or water) and juice fasting for a longer period of time. In fact, the documentation Bartolomeo located recommended doing the fast for a total of 108 days. A little intimidated by this length of time, he instead set his personal goal for 40 days which was said to be the minimum length of time necessary in order to get a full cleanse of the GI tract.
Throughout Bartolomeo’s account he shared each of his experiences, from his obsession with food and what he planned on eating when the fast is completed to the aches and pains that he read were his body healing old sport injuries (although he doe s acknowledge that he isn’t sure how to verify this claim scientifically). Reading up about the ‘breatharian’ theories stating that we actually get our energy from the air and the gases within it, not the food we’re eating, he practiced deep breathing exercises every day. Eventually, the obsession with food subsided he reported, writing “Around the 30-day mark my food addiction had subsided, and I was at peace with not eating.”
While his account is largely positive, discussing the benefits he experienced, there are risks and concerns to consider with such a long-term decision. It appears that after careful consideration, Bartolomeo felt that these also needed to be addressed, adding the following update:
“After a lot of reflection I probably would advise against this long a fast to anyone or do it this way again myself. I think shorter more frequent fasting is the way to go. A very long extreme fast may be beneficial in some cases of extreme sickness where all other options have been exhausted. This can’t replace a healthy diet and frequent fasting.”