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36-Hour Fast (Monk Fast): Is it Right for You?

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a plate with healthy food on it, 36-hour fast
Melissa Mitri post Reviewer Melissa Mitri post Reviewer
Verified by Melissa Mitri
MS, Registered Dietitian, Former President of CT Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Table of Contents

If you’re thinking about trying out intermittent fasting (IF), know that you’re not stuck with the classic 16:8. You can choose the one that’s right for you from the various IF types out there, such as 12:12, 16:8, and 18:6. There is also alternate-day fasting, 5:2, and the Warrior diet (or 20:4 fasting).

The basic principle behind all these approaches is the same—you fast for a certain number of hours and eat within the rest. The names are given based on the length of fasting and eating windows, respectively. 

While some prefer shorter fasting durations, some like to fast longer. This all depends on how experienced you are and how fasting fits into your lifestyle. 

Today, we are going to delve deep into a type of fast that is considered rather extreme: the 36-hour fast. What are the benefits of this 36-hour fast, and can it aid weight loss? Read on to find out the answers.

36-Hour Fast or the Monk Fast: The Basics

36-hour fast, also known as the Monk Fast, requires you to fast for 36 hours. It is, however, different from the alternate-day fast, where you fast for 36 hours on alternate days. In the monk fast, you only fast once a week. 

Like other fasts, you can only consume water or other calorie-free drinks such as tea or black coffee while you’re fasting. Anything that contains calories will break your fast. However, there are no limits to what you can eat or drink on the days you are not fasting.

So, what goes on in your body during this type of prolonged fast? 

During the first few hours of fasting, your body breaks down and digests the last meal you ate before the fast. It usually takes around 6-8 hours for food to get fully digested [1]. Your body first burns glucose from your meal, and after that, it starts utilizing the glycogen reserves (i.e., the storage form of glucose) in your liver. 

After about 24 hours of not eating, glycogen stores are used up, and the body starts to break down stocked-up fat [2]. This phase is known as ketosis, and it’s thought to be one of the drivers of intermittent fasting health benefits, including fat loss.

36-Hour Fast Benefits

There are not many studies that focus specifically on once-a-week 36-hour fasts. However, we speculated that common benefits attributed to intermittent fasting and periodic fasting would also apply to the Monk fast. 

Here we compiled a list of potential benefits of a 36-hour fast.

It Will Lower Your Heart Disease Risk

Periodic fasting has been shown to reduce the risk of diseases related to heart vessels, thus keeping your heart healthy [3]

Fasting Can Lower The Risk Of Developing Diabetes

Studies show that intermittent fasting can reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes [4] [5]. One reason for this may be that fasting once per week can improve insulin sensitivity [6]

It Can Improve Cognitive Function

Research reports that intermittent fasting shows positive outcomes in managing brain-related diseases such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease [7]. However, more research is needed to evaluate the long-term effects of fasting on these cognitive disorders. 

Fasting Can Potentially Increase Your Life Span

Studies have found that periodic fasting as well as intermittent fasting has an effect on cell aging and risk factors for certain diseases and thus can result in an increased lifespan [8].

It Can Induce Autophagy

Autophagy is the process of breaking down and recycling old cells that are highly functional. Implementing a 36-hour fast is one way of inducing autophagy [9]

If Can Help You Lose Weight

Research confirms that intermittent fasting can help you lose extra pounds [10], and these results can be translated into the 36-hour monk fast as well. 

How to Do 36-Hour Fast

Fasting for 36 hours straight is no easy feat, and you need to prepare well if you intend to accomplish it successfully. Here are a few points that might help you do it.  

Ease Into Your 36-Hour Fasting Gradually

If you try to fast for 36 hours on the first day you start intermittent fasting, you’ll probably not succeed and will interrupt your fast due to extreme hunger or other unpleasant side effects. 

The best strategy is to start with a shorter fasting duration and then slowly build up your fasting hours. That way, your body will have time to adjust, and you are more likely to sustain this extreme fast.

Choose Your Fasting Day Wisely

Since you only fast once per week, you can choose when you’re going to fast. Pick a day when you don’t have any special events planned. For instance, it wouldn’t be a good idea to plan your fast on a day you’re attending a party.

Also, make sure you don’t have to do any strenuous activities while fasting, as you might find you don’t have much energy during your fast. You can work or take the day off. While some find it hard to concentrate when they have not eaten, some find that work takes their minds off food.

Plan What You’re Going To Eat Before The Fast As Well As After The Fast

It’s great if you can eat a healthy meal rich in protein before your fast, as protein is known to fill you up for longer [11].  That way, you can stay full for a while without feeling hungry.

Also, plan ahead what to eat immediately after your 36-hour fast. It needs to be something easy to digest that gives you a quick bout of energy. Examples include a nourishing vegetable soup with lentils, overnight oats (check out this Mediterranean diet oatmeal recipe), or Greek yogurt with nuts, seeds, and fruits. 

It’s best if you can prepare your post-fast meal ahead of time so there won’t be any reason for you to make unhealthy food choices.

Drink Plenty Of Liquid

You need to keep your body hydrated, so drinking lots of water is important. Water can also make you feel full and reduces hunger [12]. You can also drink other zero-calorie beverages, such as plain tea, black coffee, and sparkling water.

Safety and Contraindications

Fasting for longer durations has been found to be safe in healthy people, except for a few minor adverse events such as fatigue, headache, and dizziness [13]

However, if you have any underlying issues such as diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, or eating disorders, it’s best to consult a doctor before starting any form of intermittent fasting. Also, fasting for longer hours is not advised if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

How Often Should You Do a 36-Hour Fast?

The frequency of your 36-hour fast depends on your requirements, experience level with fasting, and lifestyle. Some people do a type of fasting called alternate-day fasting, in which you fast for 36 hours every other day. The monk fast we described in today’s post involves a 36-hour fast once a week. You can choose a frequency between these two, as per your preference. 

However, you need to ensure that your non-fasting days cover all your nutrient requirements. Again, consulting your doctor or a certified nutritionist is recommended.

Can You Lose Weight by Doing 36-Hour Fast Once a Week?

Intermittent fasting has been shown to result in weight loss with no side effects [10], but what about a 36-hour fast once a week? Well, you can certainly lose weight by following the monk fast, but you should watch what you eat during the rest of the week.

You need to be in a calorie deficit in order to lose weight, and you can achieve this by going without food for 36 hours. However, you need to be mindful of your calorie intake on the days you don’t fast. 

You will have to calculate your daily calorie requirement to achieve your goal weight and eat within that limit during the days you eat so you don’t offset the calorie shortage created by fasting for 36 hours. 

Final Words

The 36-hour fasting method is a bit more extreme version of intermittent fasting than the regular 12:12 or 16:8 methods. However, it’s not impossible—especially if you only carry out this fast once a week. 

We assume that a 36-hour once-a-week fast gives the same benefits as the other intermittent fasting types, but take caution if you have any health issues that contraindicate with prolonged fasting. 

For best results, start with shorter fasting durations and work your way slowly up to longer fasts.  

You can lose weight by practicing a 36-hour fast once a week but you need to make sure you eat sensibly during the non-fasting days. Additionally, if you’re not losing weight even while practicing intermittent fasting, check out if you’re making one of these weight loss mistakes

Always consult with your doctor before starting any type of fasting protocol.

Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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