When it comes to regulating food intake, the word “fasting” can mean a variety of things. Many of us are familiar with traditional fasting, where there is no food intake for several days in a row, and intermittent fasting, where food intake is allocated to specific hours of a day, but few are familiar with dry fasting.
What is dry fasting?
Dry fasting is a practice that not only controls the amount of food consumed, but it also restricts the amount of fluid intake, including water. Dry fasting intermittently has been practiced by different cultures and civilizations for thousands of years, but it is not typically recommended because it's generally not considered to be a safe practice.
Why do people dry fast?
Outside of the temporary water weight-loss, benefits of dry fasting have yet to be proven, although we are learning more about it every day. Let’s delve a bit deeper into this practice and see if there are any dry fasting benefits - or dangers - long term.
History and Short-term Effects of Dry Fasting on the Body
If you are familiar with dry fasting, it could be due to the new trend of social media influencers testing it out, but the roots go back much further than that. During Ramadan, a holy month for Islam, there is no eating or drinking from sunup to sundown. A study published in 2013 concluded that dry fasting resulted in overall weight and fat loss for those that followed the 20-day, sunrise-to-sunset fast. Ramadan aside, limiting liquid intake can take on a variety of forms depending on the results you want and how committed you are to the fast.
What are the types of dry fasting?
"Hard" Dry Fasting
With traditional dry fasting, there is no liquid or food consumption for approximately three to seven days. A recovery time of double the amount of days spent dry fasting, is recommended. With this type of fasting, no water should be consumed in any way and it should not touch the body.
So, during a hard, dry fast, participants can not shower, swim, brush teeth, wash hands, or do anything else that would involve water accidentally being ingested or touched by the skin. You'd better carry an umbrella in case there's a rainstorm!
"Soft" Dry Fasting
Hygiene is a necessity for most people during a dry fast, so a "soft" dry fast would be preferred. During this type of fasting, a person can perform routine daily tasks to take care of their body and other activities where the body comes into contact with water, such as washing dishes, swimming, or getting a pedicure.
The main thing with both hard and soft dry fasting is not to consume water by mouth. If you swallow a tiny bit while brushing your teeth or swimming, that is ok with soft, dry fasting. But water is to be avoided at all costs with a hard, dry fast.
Fruitarian Dry Fasting
This article says it best when it states, “There are many different interpretations of fruitarianism.” Fruitarians mainly concentrate on eating the fruits of plants, which are anything that either contains seeds or are actual seeds (and nuts) themselves.
There is a segment of fruitarians that participate in a type of modified dry fasting, which involves omitting water altogether. The fruitarian way of dry fasting doesn’t require eliminating food, but every drop of liquid comes from fruit, juices, or “waters” such as coconut water. Fruitarian dry fasting isn’t quite a technical term, and it describes a lifestyle more so than a multi-day fast.
Some people pride themselves on the fact that they haven’t had plain water for years, but it can take quite a bit of fruit to hydrate the body. Watermelon, celery, and cucumber lead the ranks in being over 90% water, but consuming enough fruit and juice to hydrate can cause a spike in unnecessary calories because that alternative, plain water, is calorie-free.
Dangers and Controversy of Dry Fasting
For those looking for more information on dry fasting, it’s necessary to mention the controversy surrounding influencers who promote dry fasting. Most influencers rely on arousing curiosity combined with the novelty of presenting something new, such as a new lifestyle habit. Many of them try to “influence” their following (hence their name) by touting dry fasting benefits. However, many social media influencers promoting dry fasting are not medical experts, so it's important to rely on information provided by medical professionals and scientific research.
Much discussion has surrounded dry fasting and the dangers of such a routine, and the debates are heated. Many medical professionals and nutritionists believe that dry fasting is merely a fad that could cost you your health in the long run. Here are some of the harmful effects of eliminating hydration from your body.
What are some dangerous side effects of dry fasting?
Dehydration is an obvious drawback. It has always been recommended to consume an adequate amount of water, based on your body weight, daily. When you are thirsty and need to hydrate your body, the first thing we tend to grab is water, especially after exercise. Kidney stones and bladder infections are also often attributed to not drinking enough water, as fluids help to flush out solid material from our urinary tract. Other side effects of dehydration are included in the list below.
- Dark urine due to the lack of a diluting fluid.
- Inability to sweat because your body can’t afford to lose liquid.
- Muscle cramps caused by a lack of water to the muscles.
- Dry, rough, wrinkly skin from decreased hydration.
- Headaches, which could include nausea or disorientation.
- A sticky mouth or dry eyes from a lack of fluids.
- Increased thirst because your body is searching for liquids.
- Risk of fainting due to dehydration and low blood sugar levels.
Unknown Long Term Effects
Since dry fasting is a relatively new concept, its long-term impact has yet to be determined. Neglecting to hydrate the body’s cells can hinder the functions of the brain, kidneys, liver, and muscles. It can also lessen the body’s ability to transport essential nutrients throughout the bloodstream, which can prove dangerous.
Potential Mental Impact
If your body isn’t functioning correctly or if it is trying to make up for lost nutrients or fluids, it can take a toll on your mind. Besides feeling thirsty, the body can also compensate by trying to gain liquids through food, so a side effect is hunger. Other potential pitfalls include irritability, fatigue, and lack of focus.
Are there any benefits to dry fasting?
Based on current research, the short answer is no, dry fasting doesn't present any proven benefits over traditional fasting. Given the professional opinions above, it’s hard to say that there are any actual, proven benefits from eliminating water from your diet either temporarily or long-term. In fact, most people who advocate for dry fasting, do so for religious reasons. Weight loss, decreased body fat, lowered blood pressure, and reduced inflammation were experienced by the subjects studied during Ramadan. However, even though these differences were present, they were marginal at best, and not necessarily beneficial long-term.
Those who support dry fasting claim that depriving the body of water causes a reaction that breaks apart fat cells. This reaction releases the water molecules inside of the fat, therefore increasing metabolism and obliterating fat within the body. Besides fat reduction, here are some of the other positives claimed by supporters of dry fasting, which again, are yet to be proven.
- Lowers inflammation.
- Releases a chemical in the brain that causes brain cell growth.
- Lessens the chance of osteoporosis.
- Increases stem cell production.
- Fights aging.
- Heals wounds and regenerates cells.
- Aids in balancing cholesterol levels when combined with a high-fat, low carb diet (such as the ketogenic diet).
- Regulates blood sugar.
- Helps heal the gut.
None of the claimed benefits of dry fasting are supported by long-term studies, and most were claimed based on evidence from a small group of religious fasters.
Final Thoughts on Dry Fasting
When in doubt, don’t. Many health experts say it is dangerous and a “ridiculous” way to monitor weight. One dietician even went on to say that influencers telling people not to drink water is irresponsible. Another dietician stated that they were not aware of any potential benefits to depriving the body of fluids.
In short, there are a lot of ways to lose weight and get healthier. Limit your caloric intake, make healthier food choices, become more active. In addition, traditional intermittent fasting with no-calorie beverages has countless proven benefits. There are plenty of other ways that you can get fit without endangering your organs and psyche short or long term. Drinking more water - rather than less - helps to increase the body’s functions and rid the bloodstream of toxins.
A balanced, and well-hydrated diet, is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Also, proper hydration and nutrients is necessary to sustain a successful fasting period. With scientifically unproven results, it’s better to choose another route when deciding to get fit. Intermittent fasting as a time-restricted eating pattern has proven benefits, but keep water as a staple part of your diet.
In short - drink up!