This article looks at 6 science-backed mental benefits of fasting.
Fasting has exploded in popularity in recent years. However, the truth is that people have been fasting since the dawn of our race. Food was a luxury back in the day and there were no supermarkets. People sometimes went for days without food.
While most people seek weight loss with fasting, this practice can also enhance your mental well-being. That’s correct – fasting won’t just burn off that stubborn belly fat, it also makes your brain work better. Read on to find out how…
What is Fasting?
Fasting is a practice of abstaining from food for a certain time window.
When I say abstaining from food, I mean anything that has calories. So no sugary drinks, no milk in your coffee, and certainly no snacks throughout the day. That said, there are variations of fasting where you can snack on certain fruits and vegetables, but that’s not what we’ll be covering here.
Popular Types of Fasting
There are many types of fasting. The most popular ones currently are 16/8 fasting and 24-hour fasting (eat-stop-eat method).
For example, the 16/8 fasting means you don’t eat anything for 16 hours, and after that, you have your 8-hour eating window.
The eat-stop-eat fasting is as simple as it sounds. You don’t consume any calories for 24 hours, then the next day you eat normally. Then you repeat your 24h fast again.
This is a harder method for most people because it’s more difficult for the body to adapt to this constant ‘switching’ between a fasting and non-fasting state. Whereas having an 8-hour eating window and a 16-h fasting window is much more convenient for most people.
Is Fasting Legit?
There are many rumored benefits of fasting for the body, but not all of them are proven by science. One of those that is proven is a faster metabolism. Fasting is a great addition to a weight loss plan because it can help you shed those stubborn pounds. That’s precisely the reason why most people turn to fasting in the first place.
But what about the mental benefits of fasting? It turns out they’re just as powerful as the weight loss effect, maybe even better. See for yourself:
Mental Benefits of Fasting
Increases Nerve Growth
Fasting is shown to stimulate the growth of new nerves in your brain. This process is sometimes referred to as ‘neurogenesis,’ or the birth and repair of new neurons.
One of the factors that influence this process is called BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor.
As we age, our BDNF levels go down. This protein is critical for maintaining your mood, cognition, and memory, so keeping it high is critical if you want to maintain a youthful brain as you age. Fasting can help with that.
An animal study showed that 11 months of fasting improved the subjects’ brain function as well as its structure. (1)
Protects Brain Cells
Fasting increases antioxidant activity in your brain, and it bolsters your internal defenses.
It also helps to detox your system from certain toxins. In fact, after a certain number of hours of fasting, your body triggers autophagy, a process where your body starts recycling old cells and ‘waste.’
You can think of autophagy as internal housekeeping of your brain and body.
Studies show that fasting protects your brain cells which helps them work better. (2, 3) Fasting is also shown to improve:
- Mental sharpness
Some research even suggests that fasting may protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. (4, 5)
One of many mental benefits of fasting is that it reduces inflammation which in turn improves how your brain works.
Further Reading: Does Fasting Improve Memory?
According to research published in Cell, fasting even diminishes chronic inflammation without affecting your body’s response to acute infections. (6)
Keeps Your Brain Young
Inflammation, oxidative stress, and environmental toxins are all things that can accelerate the aging of your brain and lead to neurodegenerative diseases.
Fasting improves your brain’s stress response on a cellular level, making it more resilient to the ravages of aging. Current science shows that fasting could be a powerful tool for keeping your brain young. This directly ties in with your memory, focus, motivation, and mental energy.
Enhances Mental Clarity
Fasting enhances cellular clean up and improves firing between neurons in the brain. As a result, it can help your brain cells communicate better. Fasting also increases the efficiency of your mitochondria in the brain. Mitochondria are your cell powerhouses that produce energy. (8)
What does this mean in real life? Clearer thinking and less brain fog.
One of the most powerful mental benefits of fasting is an improvement in mood.
See, when there are high levels of inflammation in the body, you start producing more cytokines and white blood cells since your body thinks it’s under attack. The problem is, when the body is creating these killer cells, it diverts its resources from making serotonin.
Serotonin is your brain’s neurotransmitter that regulates your mood. When serotonin levels get low, you might experience mood swings, anxiety, and depression, among other things.
Fasting reduces inflammation and thus promotes a healthy mood. Furthermore, it also boosts your GABA and serotonin directly, which may help with anxiety and other mental disorders. (8)
How to Start Fasting?
Before you start your fast, you’ll want to choose your fasting method first.
As we saw above, one of the most popular methods of fasting for beginners is 8/16 fast. This is also sometimes called ‘intermittent fasting.’
You can choose any time of the day to start your fast. For example, some people stop eating at 8 PM. Then they don’t eat anything until 12 PM the next day.
In fact, this is how many people naturally eat. They have their last meal in the evening. In the morning, they aren’t hungry so they simply skip eating until lunch.
But you can also do other types of fasting. If you’re up for it and have consulted with your doctor beforehand, you could try a warrior fast. This is a more extreme method of the 16/8 fast, where you only have a 4-hour eating window at any time of the day you choose. So that makes it a 20/4 fast.
Anything Else to Consider?
Firstly, remember that this article is not medical advice. If you’re unsure about fasting or have any medical condition, make sure to get a go-ahead from your doctor before taking on any new diet plan, exercise regimen, or making a lifestyle change such as fasting.
Secondly, fasting is not a fix that will magically transform your life. It’s simply a tool that will support your journey. As we’ve seen from the studies above, fasting might help you with mental clarity, focus, mood, and potentially even reduce cognitive decline. But it doesn’t mean you can start eating junk just because you’re fasting. The quality of your diet, as well as your activity levels and stress management, should be your top prioritizes when it comes to optimizing your lifestyle.
Many people think that fasting is just for losing body weight and reducing calories. But the truth is, fasting can be of great help for pushing you towards all your goals.
Mental benefits of fasting include reduced brain fog, better mood, and stronger memory.
There are many types of fasting out there. Do your research, talk with your doctor, experiment, and choose the fasting method that won’t restrict your lifestyle, but enhance and complement it.