There are several mechanisms that are intrinsic to fasting that make it potentially useful in the treatment of food addiction. For one, fasting has a detoxifying effect that may help clear the brain of neurochemical imbalances created from certain foods. Additionally, fasting has the potential to reframe the patient’s unhealthy attachment to food.
Every human being has an attachment to food because we need to eat for survival. The degree of attachment differs for each person, as does the representation of food and the act of eating. At minimum, our attachment to food is a primal instinct, but when we are abused or neglected as children, food becomes an object that represents relief and escape. When we feel deeply dissatisfied with certain aspects of ourselves, we run the risk of seeking inappropriate satiation.
By using fasting as an adjunct to other therapies, it could help patients to examine their long-standing problems with their attachments. Richard J. Foster in his book on spiritual disciplines said, “Our human cravings and desires are like rivers that tend to overflow their banks; fasting helps keep them in their proper channels.”
Experts in the field of addiction believe that the most effective treatment for addiction is spirituality. Health practitioners, historic figures, and spiritual leaders have testified to the transformative power of fasting. In this manner, fasting may cause the food addict to undergo the type of massive paradigm shift needed in order to create change. According to Richard J. Foster, “Fasting can bring breakthroughs in the spiritual realm that will never happen in any other way.”
In developing a model for using fasting as a treatment for food addiction, it could be useful to consider the medical practice of very low calorie diets (VLCD). Although VLCD is not fasting, it has important implications as a treatment model for using fasting as a therapy for food addiction. VLCD is a modified diet that is monitored by a physician who is experienced in VLCD protocols. There have been a number of studies that have found that VLCD can reduce food cravings. This research has found that VLCD, sometimes performed in conjunction with psychotherapy, can reduce cravings and increase or maintain weight loss.