If there is one most powerful and natural tool for healing and prevention of disease, it is fasting. However, it is also important to fast the right way and in this article, you are going to get a complete guide on fasting.
If you are unaware of the miraculous benefits of fasting, this is the article for you.
What is fasting?
Fasting is the controlled voluntary abstinence of food for a specific period of time. You can do it for spiritual reasons, for health reasons, to detox your body or sometimes you can even do it as a political protest.
If you look back through all of recorded human history people have always fasted. We can start with Hippocrates who is considered the father of modern medicine. He famously said, “Our food should be our medicine, our medicine should be our food. To eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness.”
What is he talking about is this idea that we have a fasting instinct, that this is something that we instinctively do.
Think about when you get sick. When you have a cold or flu. The last thing you’re thinking about is eating at a big buffet.
It’s something that naturally comes to us, our bodies are designed to fast. They’re designed to store food in times of availability and during times of scarcity to release it. And that’s just what comes naturally to us and it’s not just us, but all animals have the same ability. Fasting is not something that we’re just trying to force on our bodies.
Difference between fasting and starvation
Talk about fasting and most people confuse it with starvation. Actually, fasting is completely different from starvation in one crucial way. Fasting is intentional whereas starvation is forced upon.
Starving people have no idea when and where their next meal will come from. This generally happens in times of war and famine.
Fasting on the other hand is voluntary, well-planned abstention to heal your body.
This state of mind is what makes a huge difference between the two.
Fasting has been practiced for centuries in various cultures for health and spiritual upliftment.
Muslims fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Hindus fast during Navratri. Buddhist monks abstain from eating in the afternoon.
Is fasting normal?
Well, fasting is one thing where both Ayurveda and Modern science are in line with each other. Both unanimously talk about its amazing effects and how it benefits the body at all levels.
According to Ayurveda – In the fasted state, the body clears the toxic waste ‘AMA” off the subtlest of the body channels called the ‘strotas’. The proof of this lies in signs and symptoms our body shows when we wake up after sleep which is nothing but a fasted state.
Modern science after a series of studies has confirmed that fasting detoxifies the body at the cellular level. In 2016 Nobel prize was awarded to the Japanese cell biologist named Yoshinori Ohsumi for ‘Autophagy’.
Autophagy is where the body gets rid of its sickest cells. This happens during fasting when only the healthiest of cells survive extreme conditions while cysts, tumours, and other unhealthy cells vanish.
Well, the benefits are not just restricted to chronic diseases but it has some major positive effects like
- Weight loss
- Robust digestion
- Unblemished skin
- Stronger hair
- Improved cognitive ability
Basically, it is the ultimate detox that your body craves.
Fasting is not a new concept, it has simply been forgotten.
What great people have to say about fasting
Myths about fasting
You will be amazed to know that in fact, metabolism revs up and not down during fasting. In one study four days of continuous fasting increase the basal metabolic rate.
In another study fasting, every other day for 22 days resulted in no measurable decrease in BMI. There was no starvation mode. Fat burning increased 58% from 64g/per day to 101g/day. The body started to switch over from burning sugar to burning fat, with no overall energy drop.
This is one thing that has been blown way out of proportion. Modern science today has established that your body holds onto muscles until your body fat becomes so low that the body has no choice but to burn muscle.
In a nutshell, until you are super skinny, you don’t need to worry about it.
On the contrary, fasting increases the human growth hormone hugely. One study found that 3 days into a fast HGH levels increased by over 300%. More HGH means less body fat and more muscle.
Well, the fact is that the energy goes up and not down.
In one study, a three and a half-day fast did not affect any measurements of athletic performance, including strength and endurance. We often feel sluggish after a meal and energetic on an empty stomach.
In fact, some well-known athletes like to work out in a fasted state early in the morning.
So now all the myths are out of the way.
What is the practical way of fasting?
There are many levels of fasting and you should choose the one you are most comfortable with.
Replace roti and rice with other grains for one full day.
One simple way is to replace roti and rice with other grains like millets, ragi, bajra, oats, gram flour, sabudana etc for one full day. This is not really a fast but gives some rest to the digestive system. This also improves digestion.
Abstain from eating salt for one full day.
In some diseases like hypertension and high blood pressure, even abstaining from salt for a day is a big relaxation for the body.
Consciously skip one meal, preferably dinner
Another easy fast for beginners could be consciously skipping one meal preferably dinner. You can do it quite often. Taking this further you can consciously skip two-grain meals in a day and replace them with lighter foods like soup, fruits etc. then you can fast for the whole day without eating any grains consuming fruits, soups, coconut water, lemon water etc throughout the day.
Taking a level further you can fast only on the water then even without water for the whole day.
No matter what fast you take up, it should never feel stressful. Fasting should be done in the right spirit with a feeling that you are giving the much-needed rest to your digestive system that works 24*7 for you.
How to Break a fast?
Just how fasting the right way is important, breaking the fast is also crucial. Break your fast with something like lemon water or with some fruit.
Then go ahead with your routine.
When should I fast?
You can fast whenever you wish however if you are looking for the easiest day to kick off your fasting journey then ‘Ekadashi’ which is the 11th lunar day (comes twice a month) is the best day to start.
It is no superstition. According to Ayurveda “Ekadashi is an ideal planetary formation that keeps hunger and does not make the body weak”. This helps you fast keep the food craving low. Not only this, the spiritual, mental and physical benefits reaped from fasting are much more when done on Ekadashi. You can simply lookup for the next Ekadashi with a quick google search.
Who should not fast?
Only if you fall in one of these categories fasting is not advisable. Otherwise, it is good to go.
- Pregnant women
- Breastfeeding women
- Children under 14 years of age
- Extremely low BP
- Chronic illness
- Elderly people
4 Tips to easily execute a fast
- Sip on warm water whenever you get hunger pangs.
- Hunger comes in waves. It’s like if you are used to eating dinner at 7 pm every day and you decide to skip it, you will feel hungry exactly at 7 PM as the hunger hormone rises. However, if you wait then by 7:30-8:00 PM, you will see that your hunger will disappear.
- Give your body one month to get aligned to your fast regime.
- Take baby steps, no need to jump the gun. Sometimes the solution to our health problems does not lie in eating something but rather abstaining from it.
Imagine going to the office 7 days a week for 365 days. Well, that’s the situation of your digestive system if you are not fasting.
It is simple, free, convenient and powerful. Just incorporate this small change in your lifestyle and you will see how your health problems will disappear.
Benefits of fasting
1. Helps in weight loss
Regular fasting helps in weight loss. Recently intermittent fasting has been everyone’s favourite. So what’s so good about it?
Intermittent fasting allows the body to use fat as its primary source of energy instead of sugar. Did you know that athletes now use fasting as means to hitting low body fat percentages for competitions?
2. Improves metabolism
When you fast your digestive system gets a rest. As a result, your digestion improves. This also facilitates healthy bowel function and thus improves your metabolic functions.
3. Promotes longevity
Will you believe me if I say that eating less will help you to live longer?
Well, studies have shown how the lifespan of people in certain cultures increased due to their diets.
4. Improves insulin sensitivity
Fasting has shown to have a positive effect on insulin sensitivity, allowing you to tolerate carbohydrates (sugar) better than if you didn’t fast. According to a study after periods of fasting, insulin becomes more effective in telling cells to take up glucose from the blood.
5. Improves hunger and eating patterns
We keep on munching on something or the other the entire day. So what happens is that the actual feeling of hunger is not sensed by our body but when we fast for 12 hrs or 24 hrs, the real feeling of hunger is felt by our body. Fasting can be a helpful practice for those who suffer from eating disorders. You must have heard people saying that whenever they feel depressed or low they tend to eat more. Fasting can help curb those cravings.
6. Improves immune system
Fasting helps to improve our immune system by reducing free radical damage, it regulates inflammatory conditions in the body and starves off cancer cell formation.
7. Improves brain function
Fasting boosts the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
This activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons and triggers other chemicals that promote brain health.
8. Prevents acne and pimples
Acne and pimples are nothing but toxins in our skin. As you know fasting detoxifies the body and so it helps you to get clearer glowing skin. According to a study during the period of caloric restriction, sebum level was found to be reduced by 40%, which influenced the degree of acne severity.
9. Helps in self-enlightenment
You must have seen saints and monks fasting quite often. It is believed that fasting allows us to feel better both consciously and physically. With a lighter body and a clearer mind, we become more aware and grateful for the things around us.
Fasting, no doubt is good for health but to reap out the most benefits of fasting, you should do it in the right spirit.
- And what’s the right spirit?
- Fast cheerfully
- Do not make it stressful
- Do not do it if you don’t want to
- Think of fasting as a way to clean your body
- Do not practice fasting as a way to lose weight
Shecontent has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations.
- Harvard Health Publishing https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156
- Universitas Gadjah Mada