Fasting vs. Starving: Part 1

In the last few weeks, two healthcare professionals, both bloggers, have spoken out against so-called “starvation diets.” One blatantly warned her readers to avoid “starvation diets.” For some reason, I could not help but think that she was referring to intermittent fasting (IF). I decided to let it go, since I had very recently written a post about IF not resembling starvation in the least. The second healthcare professional openly referred to IF as starvation comparing my lifestyle to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. This affront I cannot let go. Let me make one thing perfectly clear, fasting and starvation are two different concepts: the former, a subsistence lifestyle choice which promotes better health and longevity, the latter, an indeterminate lack of nutrition usually internally or externally forced upon the victim which results in great bodily harm or death. I do not advocate starvation.

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This is what starvation looks like (source: Pixabay.com)

Science has gone a long way towards stigmatizing fasting as starvation because scientists study starvation with government moneys. Admittedly, the same processes the body goes through with starvation happen during fasting, and scientists tend to interchange the words. However, people with alternative motives and lesser-knowledgeable people take the findings of science and pervert the information. Dr. Mark Mattson sums up the reasons for the corruption of this information succinctly in his TED Talk on Why Fasting Bolsters Brain Power, “There’s a lot of money involved. The food industry, are they going to make money from [people] skipping breakfast like I did today? No, they’re going to lose money. If people fast, the food industry is going to lose money. What about the pharmaceutical industries? What if people do some intermittent fasting and exercise periodically and they are very healthy? Is the pharmaceutical industry going to make any money on healthy people?” He answered the first rhetorical question; he felt no need to answer the second. The advertisers for these two industries, and the peripheral companies associated with them, have slyly convinced the general public and healthcare professionals that these misinterpretations of the truth about starvation are the truth about fasting.

Why do governments study starvation and not fasting as such? Money. The money flows for starvation research; it stagnates for fasting research. Companies make money by convincing people that fasting equals starving, and that fasting damages and kills the same as starvation. If the public knew the truth, everyone would fast.

The Definition of Fasting and Starvation

 Above, I gave my definition of fasting. Let’s look at some others.

“…the term ‘fasting’ is defined as the total absence of nutrient intake, whereas ‘starvation’ is defined as a prolonged period of inadequate food intake.” From Starvation and fasting: Biochemical Aspects (Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition 209-218). In other words the faster intentionally abstains from food, while the victim of starvation would take adequate food if available. Starvation can occur from mental illness and diseases like anorexia nervosa and bulimia; however, this definition covers that.

“Starvation commences,” according to Tobias Wang, an expert who has studied fasting and starvation, “in later stages of food deprivation” (THE COMPARATIVE PHYSIOLOGY OF FOOD DEPRIVATION: From Feast to Famine). And yet, we are led to believe that starvation commences soon after we take our last bite of food. Seemingly competent and reliable sources lead us to believe that going three days (72 hours) without food will surely and certainly result in death. “Later stages of food deprivation” refers to weeks not days.

According to Paul Pojman, “An individual begins to starve when he has lost about a third of his normal body weight. Once this loss exceeds 40%, death is almost inevitable” (as quoted in, Food Ethics 128). Have you ever known anyone who lost 30% of his or her weight after three days of going without food? My last three-day fast, I lost 1kg. I went from 66kg. to 65kg., hardly 30% of my body weight.

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This is what fasting looks like. Nine months and counting of IF. Does it look like I’m starving? (source: me)

Notice we have heard a lot about starvation, not much about fasting. Well, the information is out there. One just needs to know where to look and what to look for, as we will see from the next definition.

“Fasting is voluntarily not eating food for varying lengths of time. Fasting is used as a medical therapy for many conditions” (The Free Dictionary by Farlex: Medical Dictionary). Here is a good definition of fasting. Notice no reference to starvation, and notice the reference to medicinal purposes. These, I will discuss in this blog.

The perpetrators of the three-days-of-fasting-leads-to-certain-death myth spread lies and propaganda, sometimes unwittingly, for the food and pharmaceutical industries. In the next post, I will cover the myths and the truths about fasting and starvation.

Featured image source: Pixabay.com

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