You might think that because there is a fasting for weight loss forum, there must be something in fasting for weight loss. But does it work? Is it a permanent solution? If there are people out there that have lost weight through fasting and kept it off, speak up now!
My Fasting Story
I was 260 pounds and Body Mass Index over 42 back in November 2007. I had tried dieting, but that was torture, lettuce and tomatoes for a month, lose two pounds, go eat a curry and put four pounds back on. I ballooned after I gave up smoking in 1995, and my years as a mature student were not without alcohol. I liked bread, cheese, milk, meat, processed food, potato crisps, wine, beer, I don't think there was anything I didn't like. I loved food, it was delicious. I was happy and confident, and didn't think I had any heart or health problems even though my cholesterol was high.
Then I had some knee problems. I began to realise that I was getting into trouble, and a friend said "you need to starve yourself, and lose half your weight". At first I though she was joking, but I realised that in her country they do practice fasting under medical supervision.
I found the water fasting support forum and I started my first thread there on 22nd November 2007. I remember being amazed that my body could fast like this, and I felt great after my first fast. I was cautious, I had 10 in 1 urine test strips, a blood pressure meter, a thermometer (your temperature drops on a fast as your metabolism slows down) and I even bought a stethoscope on ebay!
I listened to the advice, which was to expect to do a series of fasts, I read up on it, got as much info as possible and started.
I remember that one of the best experiences I had when fasting was that my taste buds were reset. Instead of craving crisps I began to crave apples and oranges - especially Cripps Pink and Braeburn apples. This was strange for me, people remarked "my god you are eating an apple" - that's how rare it was. Here's an old post of mine that mentions the change in taste. Here's a summary of things in October 2008.
So the process went on... generally 7 - 10 day fasts with generous gaps between fasts, The weight went down and down. By the middle of 2008 I was delighted because I had lost enough weight to get a diving medical, which helped get me fit. At this point I encountered a new problem, loose skin, so I decided to ease off for a while to allow my body to catch up. Here's my live weight loss graph (it will be updated each time I add a reading):
I did a long one in late 2008, then put lots back on when I over ate over Christmas due to some emotional stress.
I'll keep it brief, at one point lots of people were telling me "you can do it" and I joined the "you can do it" brigade for a while, but I noticed, or rather it was pointed out to me, that the water fasting forum has "repeat customers". I looked back, and it's true. Some have been here for 5 years, with their weight yo-yoing all over the place. You don't know this until you click on their screen name to see their older posts.
I recalled that Hopinso had once remarked to me that fasting was not the best way to lose weight. I can't find the exact post but here is one such message along those lines.
I looked more closely and saw a scarier side to the repeat customers. Many were fasting without thought for their health. Their primary aim was to lose weight regardless of the cost to their health. This was completely different to what I did. I changed my approach drastically and stopped cheering people on who I didn't know and couldn't see.
The History of the Fasting For Weight Loss Support Forum
It appears that there were often arguments in Water Fasting Support based around the fact that some people wanted to lose weight regardless and others were saying "that's not safe". Eventually someone called Ashley (anonymous user #33315) wrote to the webmaster after she had a few head ons with the more cautious and experienced advisers who founded the water fasting forum. Personally I don't think her message to the webmaster really represented what went on in water fasting, but either way the fasting for weight loss forum was created. That is how it came to be.
Is Water Fasting an Effective Way to Lose Weight? My Story Continues...
After my overeating at Christmas 2008 I decided I did not want to become one of these "regular customers" to water fasting, so I looked for alternative ways to lose weight. I was motivated by the fact that I felt healthier because my eating habits had changed, and I wanted to get fit now to shape up a little. When fasting I did not seem to have the motivation or the energy to exercise, so I figured healthy eating was the best way forward.
To cut a long story short I discovered "Nutritarianism" and gave it a try. It worked. Now look at this...
The blue line is steeper than the red line, indicating that Nutritarianism is a more efficient method of weight loss than fasting, for me anyway.
Take a closer look. The fasts are the deep Vs, the right side is the weight gain post fast. Although there is an overall drop, the drop is no different to the projected red line across the top of the "valleys", as it were. In other words the net weight loss during a fast is no more than I would have had if I was eating the healthy diet that I had been on since the end of my first fast. That means I could probably have achieved the same results without fasting. In other words, apart from getting me eating healthily in the first place, fasting did nothing extra to promote my weight loss. Perhaps by slowing my metabolism, it even slowed down my overall weight loss when eating?
On the right side the blue line is steeper, remember this is a nutritarian diet which is different. The first month was without any exercise, the last month I have taken daily exercise, but the drop is more or less the same.
Clearly I am losing weight at a quicker rate now than when I was fasting.
Conclusions - and I am open to debate on this
I think that water fasting is not an effective method of weigh loss. The only thing it did for me was to break my food addictions and teach me how to eat healthily. I need only have done just one fast to get where I am now, and I would have gotten here quicker if I had learnt about nutritarianism a year ago. That is what I think from looking at my graph.
I think the downsides of fasting for weight loss are:
You can only work with what you have to start with. Ideally your body needs to be well nourished at the start of a fast.
It slows down your metabolism, making weight loss slower. This seems to be so even after the fast has ended (edit: - see what Hopinso says about that in this message)
Your body will go to great lengths to minimise energy requirements during fasting, and major work such as altering bone structure may not happen because it needs lots of energy to do that. On a fast, you don't get any new energy.
If you don't change your eating habits, you will put it all back on. Worse still, you will probably get fatter, then you will fast again putting your body and some internal organs under quite high levels of stress, not to mention extra emotional stress. This can develop into a vicious circle very easily.
I will say though that fasting is a very empowering thing to do from a well nourished and obese starting point. You get to learn that your body can do this, you see the weight come off quickly (even though it will go back on later), and fasting heals many things too. For example, atherosclerosis. But did you know that nutritarianism can also heal cancer, reverse chronic and acute heart disease, prevent Alzheimers, strokes, and all sorts of things. So after fasting and healing, why go back to a diet that causes all these things? It's crazy.
As CandidaInContext just said in the thread immediately before this, she sees lots of fasting here but no healing. It's because people are usually fasting for weight loss these days, but the only way you are going to lose weight and keep it off is by eating good food and taking regular exercise. The reason that it is so hard is because we are bombarded with junk food and advertising, we don't know what good food is anymore. If we don't choose the right foods we will need to eat more of it, to get the micronutrients that our bodies crave. The solution is to tackle the problem at source rather than treat the symptom, namely look more closely at what you eat.