In ancient Indian cultures, fasting was mainly used as a healing technique. Our ancestors taking cues from the animal kingdom (animals are known to avoid food and fast during sickness), encouraged fasting during illness, to help the body heal sooner. Read this post to know what is fasting, various types of it, and how to do it right.
The centuries-old practice of fasting has made a glamorous comeback in recent years with celebrities and other famous people vouching for it. It’s a ritual practised by several religions - Christians fast during Lent, Muslims during the holy month of Ramzan, Hindus on several holy days like Navratri, Ekadasi, Shivratri, Karva Chauth, Somvar Vrat and more. In India, fasting is usually done for religious and spiritual reasons.
Here, in today’s post, we focus on the health benefits of fasting, what it is, the immense benefits and how to fast the right way.
What is Fasting?
The simple definition: Fasting is going without food for a period of time.
It’s the process of providing rest to the digestive system, so the body can channel its energies on other essential tasks like nutrient assimilation and toxin elimination.
Jargon-free explanation on why you should fast:
The human body performs three major functions in tune with the Circadian rhythm – food digestion, nutrient assimilation and waste elimination.
When your body is continuously working on digestion, it doesn’t get a chance to focus on other essential tasks like assimilating nutrients, repairing old cells and waste and toxin elimination. Elimination is as important as the other two functions and hindered elimination is the start of diseases.
When you fast, you help the body divert its energies and resources from digestion on to other key tasks like healing, revitalizing, maintenance and most importantly, eliminating the toxin residues from the body.
Fasting accelerates the body’s ability to recuperate and repair.
The Many Ways of Fasting
What to Do
Tips & Guidance
During the fasting window, you sip on plain drinking water, instead of eating meals.
Make sure you rest well especially during the fasting window.
Water fast for more than 3 days should be done only under expert supervision.
Replace your meals with natural fruit or vegetable juices (free from sugar and other additives) and tender coconut. Whenever you feel hungry during the fasting window, you can sip on natural juices.
You can drink both fruit and vegetable juices during the fasting window. However, it is not recommended to mix both in one juice.
Substitute your regular meals with fruits or dry fruits. When we say dry fruits, we refer to raisins, prunes, dates and not nuts such as almonds, cashews and walnuts.
Choose a single fruit for a meal, instead of mixing fruits.
If you are combining fruits, don't mix citrus fruits such as oranges, pomegranate, pineapples, etc with sweet fruits such as banana, prunes, dates, etc. as it may hinder with digestive functions.
Intermittent Fasting (IF)
In this type of fasting, you eat during a specified window and fast for the rest of the time. The benefits of IF is that it can be done all over a lifetime. There are various types of IF such as 5:2 in which you fast for 2 days and eat for 5 days in a week, 16:8 in which you fast for 16 hours in a day and eat during the rest of the 8 hours and so on.
The usual recommended time for fasting is 8 PM in the evening to 12 PM the next day, as this is the absorption and elimination stage according to the Circadian Rhythm.
Keep yourself hydrated
Break the fast gradually starting with raw foods such as fruitsfirst before you begin to eat cooked food
Make sure you have other grain-free recipes like chillas made with besan, pulses, etc or rotis made of amaranth, ragi, etc to make the journey easier for you.
Word of Caution: If you are taking medications for existing health problems, then it’s highly recommended that you consult a naturopath, before starting fasting.
Some Important FAQs on Fasting
1) What actually happens to our body during a fast?
During fasting, your body breaks toxin-loaded cells, which in turn burns energy (the reason you lose weight by fasting). The eliminated toxins are flushed out of the body as wastes (stools, vomiting, etc.). This is the reason you may experience loose bowels, frequent motions, coughs, colds, fevers, headaches and other detox symptoms during fasting.
2) Can you carry out regular activities during a fast?
Yes and no. It depends on the fast. For instance, if you are on IF, then you can carry out regular activities without overexerting your body. On the other hand, if you are on a water fast for a complete day, you may feel tired (especially if you are new to fasting).
But, that doesn’t mean you have to spend the entire fasting window lying down. Listen to your body and take rest if needed to allow the body to do its job effectively. By rest, we mean mental rest too, take a break from mentally-taxing activities.
3) How to break a fast?
Breaking a fast the right way is as important as the fast itself. This is because, when you fast, your body gives digestion a break, focusing its energies on clearing house. So, while breaking the fast, it’s best to provide your body with light, easily digestible meals, so it can quickly get digestion back on track.
The best foods to break the fast are raw and hydrating foods like tender coconut water and other locally available seasonal fruits. And, after a few hours post the fast window, you can have a simple home cooked meal along with a raw veggie salad.
4) What are the benefits of fasting?
The benefits of fasting include both physical and mental benefits. Some of the physical benefits include better blood sugar balance, decreased food cravings, increased energy levels, lowered inflammation, better gut health, improves lung and digestive health, weight loss, and more.
Apart from the physical benefits, fasting also helps in improving your cognitive abilities, helping you attain emotional contentment and balance.
5) Can I fast when I am sick?
When you are sick with cold, cough, fever, throat pain, or stomach problems, you can notice that you experience a loss of appetite. You automatically end up fasting. It’s the body’s natural defence mechanism to slow down digestion so that it can fight against the infections.
By fasting when you are sick - taking only liquids or easily digestible foods like fruits - you accelerate the healing process, helping you bounce back to good health soon.
Approach Fasting in the Right Way
When used correctly, fasting is a powerful tool that helps you restore your body to its optimum efficiency. Don’t consider fasting as deprivation, something that you have to bear with to get better.
Instead, approach it with a positive frame of mind and consider it a holistic method to boost your health, energy and mental capabilities.
Now it’s time to bust a myth.
Myth Corner: Fasting Makes you Lose Muscles
NO. The body can store energy only in two forms – sugar and fat. And, when it comes to burning energy, the body depletes only these two sources. Protein, stored in muscles, is not used by the body for burning energy.
Hence, when you fast, your body breaks down the sugar and fat reserves and does not deplete proteins stored in muscles. The loss of muscle happens when you don’t take enough macro and micronutrients needed by your body and you don’t exercise. As long as you eat a nutrient-rich meal during your eating period, fasting will not make you lose your muscles.
Suggested Further Reading:
Intermittent Fasting Lifestyle -Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting Lifestyle, Luke Coutinho
Fasting Practices and their Importance for Patients with Diabetes- Indian journal for Endocrinology and Metabolism
Fast Track to Intermittent Fasting- Hippocrates Health Institute
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