Dear Readers, before you read this article, raise your hand if you have never heard about fasting before? I am sure most of you have heard about fasting or at least have seen someone on their Fast. It is a universal practice, which is followed by many cultures across the globe.
In everyday life, our body uses 80% of its energy in digestion and the rest of the energy is used in healing. So, when we fast it works the opposite; our body uses less energy for digestion, and it uses more for repair and healing.
My first fasting experience was when I had just turned eighteen and I was on a weight loss spree. Guess what I did – I ate only fruit and vegetables for a month! By the end of the month nothing much happened to me other than getting admitted to a local hospital for two or three days. Now I realize, what I was doing in the name of weight loss, was a just following a fad. Eating only fruit and vegetables for a month didn’t work for me at all. And I am sure I am not alone in this.
Have you also experienced yo-yo dieting before? Where you worked really hard – literally starved yourself to lose weight, exercised enough and after few months of following it, you gave up and gained all the weight back on or if not a bit more than you lost? Often, I meet individuals who have resigned themselves to the belief that weight loss is somehow impossible for them. They think they are made differently in some way, and their weight just won’t come off no matter what they do.
It could be because they followed a severe dietary restriction regime and then gave up because it wasn’t sustainable and didn’t suit their lifestyle. The hard truth about weight loss is – It takes a minimum of seven years to make weight loss permanent. Can you restrict yourself or follow a yo- yo dieting regime for seven years long? Of course not, you are bound to rebound!
I initially thought Fasting was practiced only in India but to my surprise when I moved to Australia, I discovered that my Greek, Persian, Catholic and many other friends and colleagues from different parts of the globe follow a set of non-eating and drinking regime.
Let me tell you the difference between fasting and calorie restriction? Fasting is a practice of abstaining from all food for a period, while calorie restriction is a dietary regimen that simply reduces calorie intake on an everyday basis. Unfortunately, many practitioners have given Fasting a bad name and have advocated severe calories restrictions and dietary regimes for weight loss.
Many of us have heard about different fasts with different regimes and at different times of the year. I initially thought Fasting was practiced only in India but to my surprise when I moved to Australia, I discovered that my Greek, Persian, Catholic and many other friends and colleagues from different parts of the globe follow a set of non-eating and drinking regime.
Bringing up the question – does fasting do any good to us or is it just a religious belief? In everyday life, our body uses 80% of its energy in digestion and the rest of the energy is used in healing. So, when we fast it works the opposite; our body uses less energy for dige stion, and it uses more for repair and healing. Even Benjamin Franklin once said that the best medicine is “resting and fasting.”
When we hear about fasting it isn’t something new. It is practiced in most households, we hear about Ekadashi, Navratri, Ramadan, Great Lent and many more… our ancient philosophers knew it all.
Consuming three meals a day is a novel behavior for our species. For millennia, our ancestors may have consumed only one large meal a day or even gone several days at a time without food.
Fasting has been branded “the next big weight loss fad’ but it also has a long history. Fasting of the body is food for the soul and the Intermittent Fasting (IF) regime tops my list. I read about IF in 2009 and thought it was some new fad. Surprisingly, this fasting regime dates back to the 1800’s when Mark Twain author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin suggested “little starvation, can really do more for the average sick man than can the best medicines and best doctors”.
Intermittent Fasting isn’t about a restricted diet and it isn’t about abstention from food, it is about a proper diet regime. To me a fasting regime like an Intermittent Fast- which is flexible, doesn’t cut calories and allows me to eat what I like within a few hours of the day sounds sweet. It is sustainable!
Intermittent Fasting is a way of stressing our bodies in a good way. Consuming three meals a day is a novel behavior for our species. For millennia, our ancestors may have consumed only one large meal a day or even gone several days at a time without food. It works on a principle of “hormesis” which can be thought as “which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” principle.
As a clinician I tell my clients, we want to curate a sustainable program and Intermittent Fasting is a way to go. I like it because it is flexible. During the Covid 19 lockdown, I advised most of my clients to follow this regime. Rather than cutting calories day in and day out, they were advised to eat as they wanted within a few hours of the day or were allowed to fast 2 days a week or an entire week of a lockdown month.
These are some common examples of Intermittent Fasting regimes. During periodic intermittent fasting, you may follow a periodic fast where you eat during a certain window of the day like 8 hours of the day and the rest for the remaining 16 hours. But if that doesn’t work for you, you can follow an alternate day or an alternate week fast.
During the fasted state which is a non-eating window of 16 hours, one is allowed to drink plain water, herbal teas like chamomile tea, rose tea, ginger tea, black teas etc. without honey, sugar or jaggery. During the 16 hours of the fasted state, one is not allowed to have calorie containing foods or snacks including vegetables and fruits. As long as you are hydrated and eat a nutritious and well-balanced meal plan in your eating window, you do not have any side effect.
There is scientific evidence which proves that Intermittent Fasting:
- Helps in weight reduction,
- Assists in reducing ageing,
- Improves cardiovascular health,
- Improves brain function,
- Increases the life span of an individual,
- Reduces inflammation in the body,
- Improves insulin resistance,
- Controls blood sugars in type 2 diabetes and
- Prevents many lifestyle related health issues.
Fasting works because it gives us a break from food. It gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the role food is playing in our lives. As we consider taking short mental breaks from work or go on a staycation and vacation, we also need to give our gut short breaks!
A Novel Physician in 1732 rightly said “He that eats till he is sick must fast till he is well…”
I am sure I have convinced you enough!
(Editor’s Note: This weekly column,”Slow Diet with Dr. Swati Bathwal” is a part of our Slow Foods initiative. To become part of it, contact us at email@example.com or @slowfoodsindia on Twitter and instagram)
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