The Benefits and Risks of Water Fast

water fasting

Fasting is a popular buzz word when it comes to weight loss. But fasting has been practiced, whether for spiritual or health reasons, for centuries. When you fast, you go without food for a set period, then eat your day’s nutrients during a period called an eating window.

What Is Water Fasting

water fasting schedule

There are many patterns of fasting. A water fast is where you only consume water for 24-72 hours.  When you go without food for an extended period, it can have negative effects on your body, so it’s not recommended for everyone.

When you follow water fast, you’ll only consume water, which will keep you hydrated and help you feel less hungry. Your body can handle extended periods without food, but only a few days without water. During a water fast, you should drink between 2-3 liters (8-12 cups) of water each day.

Typically, you would use water fasting as a method of weight loss. However, you may be interested in practicing water fasting for religious or mindfulness purposes. Regardless of your reason for fasting, there are certain benefits and risks when you go without food. 

How It Works

When you go without food, your body uses stored body fat as fuel. Your body makes this switch from using food to stored fat for energy every night between your dinner and breakfast the next day. That’s why your first meal, breakfast, means to “break your fast.”

When humans were hunter-gatherers, they often went without food when there was a drought, an unsuccessful hunt, or when there was nothing to forage. Fasting was a part of life. 

Humans didn’t have steady access to food until modern-day agriculture came on the scene, but your body hasn’t had time to adapt to the constant availability of food. It’s natural for your body to experience a fasted state. You have a special metabolic system that helps your body burn fat and protect your organs and muscles in the absence of food.

Benefits of Water Fasting

The benefits of fasting are not unique to water fasting. Research has shown that many types of fasting, when done safely and correctly, may offer the following health benefits:

1. Anti-Aging

Fasting activates metabolic pathways that protect your body from oxidative damage and aging. Fasting increases autophagy, which clears out old, damaged cells and regenerates new healthy ones so your body works at an optimal level. 

2. Reduced Inflammation 

You’ll experience fewer pro-inflammatory cells in your bloodstream when you fast which will lower your overall inflammation. Fasting can lower your risk of diseases caused by chronic inflammation in the body. 

3. Weight Loss

Water fast can help you reach a healthy weight because it activates your ability to burn fat for fuel.  When you abstain from food, you see a reduction in body fat. You don’t have to follow a “diet” that restricts calories or certain food groups. When you fast occasionally, then eat regularly on your non-fasting days, you’ll become a fat-burning machine.

4. Chronic Disease Prevention

Fasting lowers your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases. Also, research reveals a link between fasting and a reduced risk of degenerative neural diseases and certain cancers. 

Water Fasting and Weight-loss

You may want to try water fasting for weight-loss, but the weight loss you experience may seem more significant than it truly is. When you step on the scale after a 24 hour fast, you may weigh up to two pounds less than when you started. A small percentage of the weight will be fat, and the rest will be water.  

When you don’t eat, your sodium level changes, which causes your body to shed excess water. When you eat and drink again, you’ll likely gain some, if not most, of the weight back. 

The most sustainable way to lose weight is to reduce calories in a sustainable way over time. Whether you choose to follow a restrictive diet, exercise more, or fast a few times a week or month, a slow and steady loss of 1-2 pounds per week is the best way to achieve a healthy weight.

It’s Not for Everyone

Water fasting can put extra stress on your body, and you should always check with a physician before beginning a fasting protocol. The risks of a prolonged fast may outweigh any potential benefits. 

The following people should avoid a prolonged fast and should speak with a healthcare provider for a diet that is more appropriate for them.

  • Children under 18
  • Pregnant Women
  • Elderly People
  • People with Diabetes, gout, or low blood pressure
  • People who have suffered from an Eating Disorder

Dangers of Water Fasting

When you go without food, you may experience undesirable side effects like dizziness, headaches, weakness, brain fog, and even fainting due to drops in blood sugar and blood pressure. 

You may also experience dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, and muscle loss can also occur, especially if you fast for too long or don’t follow a proper protocol. 

In one study, participants underwent 11-day water fast (under medical supervision) and their renal function decreased. The patients had to be on special diets once they ended their fasts to bring electrolyte levels up in a healthy way

If you want to try a water fast, choose to do it on days that you can relax and stay at home.

Water Fasting Vs Intermittent Fasting

If water fast seems too extreme for you, you can reap a plethora of benefits from a short term fast.  You don’t need to fast for more than 24 hours to reap the benefits of fasting such as disease prevention, reduced inflammation, and weight loss. 

Intermittent fasting is a form of fasting that can be done at your own pace to fit your unique goals and lifestyle. Even an overnight fast of 14-16 hours is beneficial for your health. You can also try a 5:2 style of fasting where you eat few calories (between 500-600) for 2 days of the week and eat normally the other five. 

Intermittent fasting protocols are more moderate and allow you to eat a greater variety of nutrients and foods during your eating window, making them more sustainable and easier on your body.

Is Water Fasting Right for You?

If you want to give water fasting a try, it’s crucial you learn the inherent risks involved. Before you begin a water fasting protocol, be sure to consult with your doctor. 

If you’re on the fence about water fasting, consider an intermittent fast instead. As a less intense and lower-risk option, you can experience the benefits of fasting without the fear of dehydration or fainting.

Author's bio

Grace Trumpfeller

Grace Trumpfeller

Grace is an avid health and wellness advocate with nearly a decade of experience in the diet and nutrition industry. With a vast background in journalism and creative writing, her core focus is to empower individuals to reclaim their health and vitality by providing expert advice rooted in ...