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To know what fasting is, know stress

Stress makes us frown. But our body as it happens welcomes stress. An irony.

Consider exercising. We all know the health benefits exercising brings. Exercising works when a sufficiently high level of stress is applied, which causes your body to seek to adapt, thereby improving your endurance, muscle fitness and cardiovascular health altogether.

But consider a 2-min run or a 5-min walk. Surely most of us would agree it is not stressing. While that is still better than a sedentary lifestyle, little benefits would come out of it. We only reap the rewards of exercising when the stress is high enough.

When stress is sufficiently high, our body seeks to and indeed needs to adapt. It is only when our body makes an adaptive change does it confer a benefit. Stress is key.

Fasting works the same way. Fasting is a stressor as our body is not used to the greatly reduced food intake. This stress requires our body to respond by switching its mode of operations, and it is this switch that confers the many health benefits we experience in fasting.

So what is the takeaway for you in fasting?

Stress is crucial and too little won’t work

Fasting for 2 hours is not a stressor at all and unlikely offers many benefits. A 24-hour fast however is good. It is “stressful” because we are not used to it. But what is even better, as shown by research, is a 48-hour or more fast – showing significantly and indeed disproportionately more benefits.

But too much would also backfire

A more subtle yet equally important message though is that “over-stressing”, like “under-stressing”, is unhelpful too. Fasting too often for too long is recommended against. It tilts the “normal” perceived by your body, turning the unfamiliar into familiar. Your body will likely experience a plateau. Stress is only stressful when it’s occasional.


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