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Sure, fasting will help you lose weight. But you’ll gain it back -- and maybe even more.

In 1996, 13 students participating in a hunger strike at California’s Sonoma State University gave physicians at the university’s health center a chance to see how starvation affects the body.

Eight of the protesters consented to testing, seven of them women. Their hunger strikes ranged from five to 11 days, during which they drank only liquids: water, sports drinks, and fruit juices. Some also drank broth and milk, and most took vitamins. For some, the fast was a sort of mystical experience. Five of the students claimed that they gained spiritual insight through the trial. Several reported feelings of exhilaration, bursts of energy, and clarity of thought.

However, enlightenment wasn’t the only result. Seven of the eight experienced an increased need for sleep. Six had fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Three suffered mild depression, which, for one student, continued after the strike ended. Two reported having difficulty driving a car.

But for women who are considering fasting, either at a spa or at home, one finding in the Sonoma State study stands out: While all of the students lost 5 to 8 pounds during the fast, six months later, all but one had gained back more than they had lost. This could be the result of a drop in metabolic rate that causes people on prolonged fasts to lose muscle tissue. Although this small study was preliminary, it should give prospective fasters reason to explore other more healthful and effective options.

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