There are two ways of getting energy for daily function, one is burning the nutrients from food, the carbohydrates and sugars especially. The other is burning stored fats. When we are eating, we derive energy to serve our muscular functions from the nutrients in the food. Extra nutrients are changed into fats which can be quickly oxidised or burned to supply energy if needed. When we fast or do not eat, if the body needs the energy to function, the reserves of fat are called up to be oxidised and provide energy for activities of the body that calls for it. After a meal, fat is stored. Between meals, stored fat is slowly released, keeping body cells supplied with energy. The brain needs the immediate, easily oxidised converted sugars (glucose) from food, the bodily organs burn the energy from stored fats. When we eat, nutrition not immediately burned is stored as fats. If we eat too much, we store excess fats until we have more stored fats than the body will reasonably use.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) looks at the body in terms of balances. The function of fasting is to briefly deprive the body of body of food nutrients, and require the body to supply its needs from stored fats. By fasting, we control the balance of using up fats and collecting fats. In effect, we control the flow of fat intake and storage. When energy consumption (usually called "calorie consumption": calories are the medical measures of heat from oxidizing food or fat) is in balance, excess fat is not being stored and the body has enough stored energy to cope with periods of low food consumption like fighting infection or coping with illness until a new supply of nutrient can be added through food consumption. When we eat more calories than we need, the body gets out of balance. Fat stores build up leading to obesity with its problems caused by the imbalance.
Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates
Fat is the best form of converted nutrients for storing energy. Food is also converted into protein and carbohydrates (glycogens). Protein and glycogen use space by containing 2 grams of water per gram of nutrient stored. Protein and glycogen can only store 4 calories of energy for every gram of weight. Fat can store 9 calories of energy per gram of material. Fat has very little water in it. Protein and glycogen materials are best converted by the body into structures, like a muscle, bone, and connective tissue. Fats are best converted into energy. Thus, the benefits of semi-regular or intermittent fasting are a better nutritional balance that leads to longer-life, blood sugar regulation, better body composition (not too much fat, and better body density).
Kinds of Fasting
The benefits of fasting are debated among practitioners of TCM. Not everyone benefits from it and some people, with special health problems, should definitely not fast. However, fasting can lower certain markers for chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
There are three main kinds of fasting. One of these styles of fasting may be recommended to people with particular lifestyles.
- Time-restricted feeding: You eat only during daylight. There is no food intake in the evening and night. TCM always recognised the early meal as the most beneficial to health. If you eat only during earlier hours it gives your body more time to incorporate food and repair itself.
- Intermittent calorie restriction: You restrict food intake to 800 to 1,000 calories for two consecutive days of the week. You may, for instance, have only one big meal for two days of the week and eat a healthy balanced diet for the rest of the week.
- Period fasting: You restrict your food intake to very limited (maybe as little as a cup of soup a day) for up to three to five days. TCM does caution that this kind of fasting is not recommended for everyone. It is very extreme and can lead to serious health effects.
The Sydney Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine offers a Bachelor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (BTCM) which is accredited by TEQSA and approved by the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia (CMBA) for practitioner registration in all three divisions: Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Dispensing, and Chinese Herbal Medicine. Please contact us to learn more.