Fasting is often associated with sacrifice and religion; to submit your physical urges for a higher purpose. Most religions around the world have fasting rituals in some form or the other. Some are seasonal fasts like Ramadan in Islam, Navratri in Hinduism and Lent in Christianity, while others preach fasting on a regular basis like Ekadashi in Hinduism and even on a daily basis like Vinaya governed fasting protocol practiced by Buddhist monks who don’t eat anything after their noon meal every single day.
Whatever the culture be, there are a couple of common themes in these fasts:
- Abstinence of certain food groups (generally the most enticing ones or whatever was considered bad in the ancient cultures)
- Not eating for certain periods of time
Most people do it because of associated spiritual following and psychological benefits. From personal experience of trying out various protocols like Ekadashi, Navratri and Ramadan, it does humble you down and makes you more grounded in the way you see the world.
But those factors aside, there are many health benefits of above-mentioned 2 themes. Abstinence of certain food groups along with smoking, alcohol etc is really a no-brainer. Inclusion of more diversity in food can force you to eat a more diverse portfolio of nutrients. Also, it makes you less dependable on your favorite foods and nudges you to gradually develop a taste for ignored food groups like fruits, veggies and less common grains. Also, lesser favorite foods means lower binge eating which also means lower calorie intake
On the other hand, fasting (technically defined as not eating for certain period of time) is well researched for a myriad of health benefits. Note that fasting or intermittent fasting (as known in fitness world) is different from starvation which is usually defined as not eating for more than 2-3 days. Embraced recently as an efficient tool by Western nutrition experts, following are some studies/ meta analysis/ research surveys which prove fasting’s effect on health:
- Fasting promotes Neuronal Autophagy (therapeutic for nervous system)
- Fasting is neuro-protective during brain trauma injuries
- Improvements in Heart Disease Indicators
- Positive effect on blood lipid profile
- Better glucose regulation on fasted protocol independent of calorie intake
- Fasting induces more Growth Hormone secretion (essential for building muscles)
If you are still giving excuses, these research links are for you:
- Even hard protocols like Ramadan don’t significantly affect performance
- Fasting is easy to adapt even for overweight people
- Fasting is equal or probably more effective than calorie restriction
I personally follow a similar eating routine to that of Monks daily (eating inside a small time window and fast for rest of the day) and recommend to some of my clients too because of health benefits beyond just fitness and looking good. For those who wonder if fasting slows your metabolism down, this article is a must read for you.
However, where most people make mistakes is trying to overcompensate in their eating window.
Eating copious amounts of food at 4 am for Suhoor and feel bloated for the whole day is quite common. Also, making deep fried Kutu Aate ki Pakoris with plenty of tea cups for the day is probably the reason behind overweight housewives in India. That may have been allowed by your Panditji in vrats but kind of defeats the purpose of fasting.
The basic tenant of fasting is to eat less and within a restricted window. Follow that to reap health benefits and may be that will open a door to heaven for you in this very mortal body itself.
In Lucem Scientiam