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If you’ve heard of fasting before, then you know that many people do it to lose weight.
But, does fasting reduce stress and anxiety? Believe it or not, the answer is not so straightforward. It depends on your background, your health, lifestyle, and many other factors.
For some people, fasting might actually exaggerate their stress and panic. This is because fasting makes your blood sugar levels drop, which can lead to mood swings. However, once your body gets used to fasting, you’ll typically notice only mood & mental benefits from it.
Be sure to follow along with us in this article, as we’ll explain what exactly fasting does to your brain, and why it might be helpful for relieving anxiety & stress.
What is Fasting?
Before delving deep into the question “does fasting reduce stress and anxiety,” let’s quickly go over what fasting is for those unfamiliar with it.
Intermittent fasting is simply a term for not eating food, or any calories for that matter, for a certain amount of time.
So yes, technically you could say you’re fasting while sleeping. However, a ‘real’ fast is typically at least 16 hours long and brings additional health benefits. Including:
- Weight loss
- Cognitive function improvement
- Reduced inflammation markers
- Better mood
Some of the benefits of fasting are still under research though. What we know for sure is that fasting can help you lose weight and boost metabolism. (4)
A growing number of papers also show that fasting can give you mental clarity and other cognitive benefits. I’ll touch on this later in the article, be sure to read on.
Further Reading: 12 Proven Ways to Reduce Stress Without Drugs
Before You Start Fasting
Before beginning a fast, you should always be sure you’re healthy to start with. If you do suffer or suspect any kind of medical condition, don’t fast before you get a go-ahead from your doc.
Prolonged fasting might also be hard on your adrenals, especially if you already suffer from adrenal fatigue. So as you can see, it’s not all butter and milk with fasting.
Disclaimers aside, let’s now get down to brass tacks of this article. Let’s say you decided to fast. How do you start?
It’s quite simple; you choose a fasting method you like and then you begin. There are various fasting methods out there, so you’ll have to experiment a little before you find your favorite one. Here are a couple of popular fasting methods for starters:
- 16/8 – Just like it sounds. You don’t eat anything for 16 hours, then have your 8-hour eating window. When doing this method, many people like to start their fast at 8 PM and then not eat anything until 12 PM the next day.
- Alternate Day Fasting – With this method, you don’t eat anything one entire day, then you eat normally the next day. This one can take some time getting used to.
- 5/2 Fasting – Now, this is a less hardcore one. Here you eat normally five days out of the week, followed by two days where you eat up to 500 calories coming only from raw fruits and veggies. This isn’t a true fast since you’re consuming calories, but it can be a great starting point for beginners who want to ease their way into fasting.
- Warrior Fasting – Same as 16/8, except it’s more extreme. Instead of having an 8-hour eating window, warrior fasting restricts it to only 4 hours. This means your fasting window is 20 hours long.
There are many more methods out there, so be sure to do your research and find one that you fancy the most!
Does Fasting Reduce Stress and Anxiety?
So, can fasting actually help your mood? For most people the answer will be yes.
See, fasting releases endorphins in your brain, which are feel-good chemicals. Some people report feeling a mild ‘high’ from fasting, although the experiences vary. (4)
However, it’s also possible that you’ll feel worse from fasting at first. Now why is that the case?
Simply because the body is getting used to something new. During this period of ‘adaptation,’ you might be more anxious and irritable. Ironically.
One of the reasons why this happens is due to blood sugar which fasting affects. When you fast, your insulin levels get low, and so does your blood glucose – which can give you the symptoms you’re trying to avoid in the first place! But again, this only lasts a short while in most cases.
Fasting Raises Serotonin, the Happy Brain Molecule
Endorphins aren’t the only chemicals that get released when you fast.
Studies show that fasting increases the number of different brain chemicals responsible for good mood, memory, and general well-being. (1) These include:
NGF or nerve growth factor is just what the name suggests – it boosts the growth of nerve cells. BDNF, on the other hand, is a protein that stimulates neurogenesis, which is the birth of new neurons in your brain.
This neuronal birth occurs mostly in the hippocampus, which is the brain area that regulates your mood and other cognitive processes.
So by regulating nerve growth, plus boosting serotonin directly, fasting deals a one-two punch to anxiety & stress and improves your overall mood along the way. Our serotonin and stress article goes in-depth about this topic if you want to know more.
Another study found that fasting also increases dopamine. Which you probably know as the ‘reward’ molecule, one that gets you up in the morning and makes you pursue your goals. It’s also what gives you pleasure when you listen to music, have sex, or eat delicious food. (2)
BOTTOM LINE: According to current research, the answer to “does fasting reduce stress and anxiety” is yes for most people. Since fasting increases your brain’s happy chemicals, you’ll naturally feel less stress and anxiety. Fasting also stimulates the growth and repair of new neurons in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that regulates your mood. Though it might take you a few fasting sessions to get used to it.
Safety of Intermittent Fasting
Is intermittent fasting safe? Is fasting bad for you?
The truth is, fasting side effects are the same as those you’d have from not eating in any scenario. The fact is, you will experience some side effects from not consuming food.
For most people, these side effects will be mild and only last while your body adapts to fasting. For example, this can include:
- Stomach cramps
If you have adrenal fatigue, we’d suggest avoiding fasting until you talk to a health professional. That’s because prolonged hunger can put stress on your adrenals.
If you become irritable or anxious while fasting, know that this can affect your social interactions too. Tacking your mood and knowing how you react to hunger can help you not get into an unnecessary conflict with others.
Other than that though. Most people will find that fasting is safe and without any side effects once they get used to it.
Give Intermittent Fasting a Shot – Why You Should Go For it
Okay, now that we know the answer to the question “does fasting reduce stress and anxiety,” let’s look at why you might want to give intermittent fasting a try.
If you’re a healthy person who wants to give your metabolism & brainpower a boost, then fasting can be a great way to do so.
Plenty of research suggests that fasting indeed helps with a variety of health-related things, activating our body’s cellular processes that are linked to longevity, decreased inflammation, and a more resilient brain.
- Another reason why you’d want to give IF a try is due to convenience. You save a lot of time on not having to prepare and eat a meal every few hours.
Plus, fasting can serve you as a foundation upon which you can build new positive habits. For example, when you start doing fasting, you’ll naturally gravitate towards healthy diet choices. Chances are you won’t binge on unhealthy food as much once you start fasting.
It’s important to know that fasting is only one part of the bigger picture. Depending on your lifestyle and other factors, regular exercise, good sleep, and a nutrient-dense diet should be your basis for health optimization. Then you can sprinkle in fasting and other lifestyle hacks on top of that.
Conclusion on Does Fasting Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Fasting is something people have done since ancient times. Before, it was due to the scarcity of food. Today, it’s the opposite.
With so much processed foods available, and weight gain becoming a more common issue, more and more people turn to fasting to maintain a healthier body and mind.
So, does fasting reduce stress and anxiety?
It does, but usually not right away. The adaptation to fasting can come with its side effects, which are often mild and don’t last long. Once you’re on the other side though, you should only notice the benefits of fasting – including mental clarity, reduced stress, and a tighter waist.
You May Also Like: Can Stress Make Your Brain Shut Down?
References and Papers on Does Fasting Reduce Stress And Anxiety
- The Effects of Fasting During Ramadan on the Concentration of Serotonin, Dopamine, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and Nerve Growth Factor. (source)
- Acute fasting increases somatodendritic dopamine release in the ventral tegmental area. (source)
- Effects of intermittent fasting on body composition and clinical health markers in humans. (source)
- Plasma beta-endorphin during fasting in man. (source)