All humans need food and water to survive. But what if you cut out the food and only drank water instead? If you choose to embark on a water fast, that’s essentially what your diet would look like.
Before deciding to begin a water fasting plan, it’s important to consider both the pros and cons of this protocol. While you might be after weight loss, the risks of this practice might outweigh the reward. Keep reading to decide if a water fasting schedule is right for you.
What Is Water Fasting?
You’re likely familiar with fasting, the practice of restricting food consumption for a prolonged period. During water fasting, a participant refrains from putting anything into their body except water.
A typical water fast lasts between 24 and 72 hours. Essentially, one could be going up to three days without consuming any food, including smoothies or raw vegetables. A general water fasting rule is to not fast longer than this timeframe without the supervision of a medical professional.
Why Do People Begin a Water Fasting Plan?
Similar to intermittent fasting, a majority of people begin a water fasting plan with the intention of losing weight. Though, many others choose to water fast for health benefits.
Some of the most common reasons why individuals begin a water fasting plan include:
- Health benefits
- Detoxify the body
- Shed excess weight
- Religious or spiritual reasons
- Prepare for a medical procedure or surgery
How Does Water Fasting Work?
There are two water fasting stages, during the fast and post-fast. During a water fast, you cannot eat or drink anything other than water. Participants typically consume two to three liters of water per day during the fast, which equates to more than 12 glasses of water daily.
Consuming solely water during this time can result in dizziness or weakness, which is why those adhering to a water fast are encouraged not to drive or operate heavy machinery in fear of causing an accident.
Pre-Fast Protocol for New Fasters
Those who have never water fasted before should likely follow a slightly different water fasting timeline. Before beginning the fast, it’s wise to devote 3 to 4 days to prepare yourself. This can be achieved by eating smaller portions per meal or fasting for a few hours per day. Likewise, consider limiting meat and other animal products and aim to convert the majority of your diet into raw or steamed vegetables.
Post-Fast Protocol for Safety
Understanding what to eat during the post-fast stage is especially important for those embarking on 48- or 72-hour fasts. This is because the body can experience severely uncomfortable symptoms, such as abdominal cramping, gas or even refeeding syndrome.
Refeeding syndrome is a potentially life-threatening condition during which the body undergoes accelerated changes in electrolyte and fluid levels. The post-fast phase typically only lasts a day, but those adhering to a longer fast may require a three day grace period before comfortably eating large meals.
Post-fast participants are advised to resist the urge to binge-eat or consume a large meal. Instead, consider breaking the fast with a smoothie or small portion of fruits and vegetables. As your body grows more comfortable, you can begin consuming larger meals as the day progresses.
Water Fasting and Weight Loss
If you’re water fasting for weight loss results, you might be a bit disappointed to learn that this method of weight loss isn’t the most effective. Research published by the Western Journal of Medicine found that you may lose up to 2 pounds each day of a 24- to 72-hour water fast. However, weight loss while water fasting isn’t fat loss.
Instead, it’s more likely the weight you lose is coming from excess water weight or fluids, muscle mass and even organ size. Once you break the fast, you have a high probability of immediately gaining this weight back. The muscle mass, however, will need to be regained via exercise.
Is Water Fasting Healthy?
Considering that all you’re putting into your body is water, you might be wondering, “How healthy is water fasting?”
Well, water fasting does offer a variety of health benefits, including:
- Lower blood pressure: Research has found that when supervised by a medical professional, water fasting helps decrease elevated blood pressure. In an examination of 174 people with high blood pressure, water fasting helped reach a blood pressure lower than 140/90 mmHg — the number used to diagnose hypertension.
- Promote autophagy: Autophagy is a series of actions that assists the body in decomposing and recycling old, damaged cells. This process forbids broken elements of the cell from gathering or growing, which can help ward against several types of cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
- Reduce oxidative stress: Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the body’s free radicals and antioxidants. This imbalance can cause damage to DNA proteins, blood proteins and fatty tissue. A 2018 study revealed that water fasting assists in lowering oxidative stress, protecting the body against disease.
What Are the Dangers of Water Fasting?
Though there are several health benefits of water fasting, that doesn’t necessarily mean the process is healthy. Due to the restriction of all solid or liquid food, the body begins to run low on critical electrolytes and nutrients. This can also result in a steep drop in blood pressure called orthostatic hypotension. When this occurs, you can become dizzy, lightheaded, and at risk of fainting at any moment.
Oddly enough, water fasting can also result in dehydration. The body is composed of almost 70% water, meaning we need to be consuming a large amount per day to remain in homeostasis. However, roughly 20- to 30% of our daily water input is consumed through the foods we eat. If your water intake remains the same but you refrain from eating foods, you could become dehydrated.
The side effects of water fasting-induced dehydration include:
- Low productivity
- Low blood pressure
Scientific Research Surrounding Water Fasting
Scientists have ruled that water fasting may not be safe for several groups of people, especially without medical supervision. As most of our readers tend to embark on this journey alone or with a friend, without the guidance of a doctor, it’s critical to heed these warnings for your safety.
If you have any of the following medical conditions, you should not attempt to water fast without seeking guidance from a healthcare provider:
- Diabetes: Water fasting plans can exacerbate negative side effects in type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
- Gout: Studies have historically proved that water fasting can increase uric acid production, which contributes to the risk of gout attacks.
- Eating disorders: A study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that water fasting has the possibility of promoting eating disorders like bulimia, particularly among teenagers.
Pregnant women, children, and older adults should not commit to water fasting. In addition to the above risks, water fasting can make participants susceptible to muscle loss, dehydration and changes in blood pressure which can be fatal among these populations.
Water Fasting vs. Intermittent Fasting
Like intermittent fasting, water fasting can assist in weight loss. However, water fasting results are dependent on stripping the body of all mineral, nutrient and vitamin intake. Even when following water fasting tips, participants run the risk of becoming dehydrated.
Unlike intermittent fasting, during which most protocols advise to consume raw fruits and vegetables, water fasting’s strict rule of no food can result in dizziness, headache, nausea and other more dangerous side effects.
In comparison, intermittent fasting still offers similar benefits of water fasting — weight loss, lower blood pressure, less oxidative stress, and autophagy — with less of the risk. Various intermittent fasting protocols can also be followed for an extended time since they permit healthy snacking and reduce the threat of nutrient deficiencies. In fact, intermittent fasting offers a plethora of other medically-backed benefits, including lowered insulin resistance, lower cholesterol and the ability to maintain muscle mass.
Is Water Fasting Right for You?
If you’ve been considering water fasting, it’s important to be well aware of the inherent risk. Before beginning a water fasting protocol, be sure to consult with your doctor to ensure your body can withstand the fast.
If you’re on the fence about water fasting, consider starting with intermittent fasting instead. As a less intense and lower-risk option, you can experience the benefits of fasting without the fear of dehydration or fainting.