Prolonged Fasting and Ketosis: a Winning Combination for Weight Loss?

Prolonged fasting is taking the health and fitness world by storm. One of the main reasons why is because some believe that its autophagic and ketogenic weight loss benefits are superior to all other methods of dieting. But how effective is prolonged fasting, really? Are there better ways to achieve ketosis without fasting? And most importantly: is there a dark side to fasting that most people don't want you to know about? If you want answers to these questions and more, then you've come to the right place. Keep reading to learn more about what fasting-induced ketosis can do for you.

The Pros and Cons of Fasting

There are two different ways to get your body into ketosis: either through a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet, or through prolonged fasting. For the purposes of this discussion, we will mainly be talking about prolonged water fasting, i.e., abstaining from solid food and only ingesting liquids which do not trigger a metabolic response for at least 24 but no more than 168 hours (7 days). Competent medical experts agree that water fasting for any longer than one week can be very dangerous and strongly discourage it. And now that we have a specific definition, let's delve into the pros and cons.

Fasting Is Simpler, but the Ketogenic Diet Is Easier

Fasting is simple, but not easy. Conversely, the ketogenic diet it's easier, but it's not simple. If your only rule is "don't eat for a certain amount of time", that's a pretty simple diet. But most people are so accustomed to a high-carbohydrate standard american diet which encourages frequent feeding that this 180-degree turn is a dramatic upset to their system. This makes fasting a very difficult program for most people to stick to.

Eating a low-carb ketogenic diet, on the other hand, is much easier because you aren't dealing with the food cravings that run rampant at the beginning of a fast. You can eat all the delicious food you want as long as you maintain some semblance of a calorie deficit and stick to your macros. But you will still have to meticulously count every calorie and every macronutrient. This leaves plenty of room for human error and can lead to frequent, stubborn plateaus.

Fasting Has More Health Benefits

Fasting and nutritional ketosis

Fasting has some very dramatic and very powerful health benefits as long as you do it safely and use some common sense. Let's start by talking about protein and muscles. There's a common and pervasive myth that your body immediately starts eating your muscles and holding onto its body fat when you enter a fasted state. But recent scientific studies have shown that the exact opposite is true during a short-term fast. For the first few fasted days, your body burns glycogen and flushes a lot of water out of your muscle cells. But just because your muscles weigh less doesn't mean that you are losing muscle tissue. It's just like letting the air out of a balloon. The balloon will weigh less because it is no longer full of air (which has mass), but the rubber itself which makes up the balloon will still be present and intact.

This is all thanks to the wonderful fact that your body isn't stupid. It knows it needs healthy, strong muscle tissue to move around and get to where the food is. As long as you have plenty of adipose tissue to burn, your body will get the amino acids it needs from loose skin or from the smooth muscle of your GI tract. It's not until your body becomes dangerously lean that it starts to eat it's own muscle for sustenance. Additionally, some light weight training while fasted triggers massive Human Growth Hormone release, which in turn encourages both muscle sparing and even some muscle growth, even while fasted.

On a similar note, fasting triggers autophagy, which is the process by which your body recycles old, damaged, unnecessary cells and uses those spare parts to build up newer, healthier, more robust cells. The longer you fast, the stronger and more profound the autophagic response. Yes, it's possible to trigger some light autophagy while eating a ketogenic diet - but doing so requires at least some form of daily intermittent fasting.

Lastly, fasting does something that no other diet plan is capable of: it hits the reset button on your metabolism. Not only does it boost your metabolism in the short-term, but it enhances your basal metabolic rate (BMR) for an extended period of time even after you start eating solid food again. This extended period of time will vary based on age and overall metabolic health/damage. The younger you are and the healthier your metabolism, the longer you can go between fasts before you have to hit that reset button again. Fasting also resets your leptin and ghrelin levels so that you feel fuller after a good meal and have fewer, less intense food cravings between meals. This can help you develop a healthier relationship with food.

A Quick Note on Safety

The strongest opposition to fasting has to do with safety concerns. If you're going to do a prolonged water fast, there are three very important rules you need to remember in order to do it as safely as possible:

  • Consult your doctor first - if you have a serious medical condition, fasting can be more dangerous for you than the average overweight person and you should only do it under the strict supervision of the medical expert
  • Keep your electrolytes balanced - make sure you drink plenty of water and calorie-free electrolyte water. Your best bet is to make your own recipe because store-bought electrolyte beverages can contain artificial, zero-calorie sweeteners which will ruin your fast
  • Listen to your body and keep your fast short - do not, under any circumstances, fast for longer than 7 days. Likewise, if you're replenishing your electrolytes but you still feel like something is very, very wrong, then stop. It's not worth the risk.

Supplements for Nutritional Ketosis

Whether you decide to fast or whether you decide that nutritional ketosis is better for you, there is one important tool that you need to include in your weight loss tool box: an exogenous ketone supplement. Regardless of whether you're fasting or feeding, the ketone salts in the formula will help you balance your electrolytes and avoid those unpleasant "keto flu" symptoms. It'll also give your body the energy it needs while it is learning how to switch from glucose to ketones for energy. There's absolutely no downside to using an exogenous ketone supplement, no matter how you decide to try and burn that fat.

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