By Shubhangi Shah
People around the world follow a wide variety of religions that probably have one thing in common: abstaining from food on certain days. Buddhist texts forbid monks from eating after noon; Muslims have Ramadan, during which they fast from sunrise to sunset. Similarly, Jews practice Ta’anit, various Christian traditions have their rules of fasting, and Hindus fast several times a year. “Several religions see abstinence as a crucial aspect of physical and mental well-being,” says Dr. Unni Nilanjan, Ayurvedic Doctor at Art of Living’s Sri Sri Tattva Panchakarma. “It means renunciation of indulgences. Far from nourishing, eating often becomes a pleasure. In this regard, fasting helps a person develop an inner strength to withdraw from sensual pleasures and go deeper within,” he adds.
However, over time, fasting has evolved from a religious practice into a health phenomenon recommended by several doctors and fitness experts. So what’s the fuss about?
Fasting, more specifically intermittent fasting, is becoming increasingly popular as a way to lose weight. You eat in a time-limited window and otherwise fast. There is no food restriction. And it has proven effective.
A 2014 study showed that intermittent fasting resulted in 3-8% weight loss in 3-24 weeks. It also resulted in a reduction in waist circumference. No fewer than 40 review studies have found their positive weight loss results.
However, this is not the only advantage.
According to Sreemathy Venkatraman, a wellness nutritionist, clinical nutritionist and founder of Mitha Ahara: Eat to Live, intermittent fasting can lead to:
- Better control of blood sugar levels
- Prediabetes is cured in some cases
- Lower bad cholesterol levels
- Improved cardiovascular health
- decrease in inflammation
- Improved gut and metabolic health
- Better energy levels
“Mental health also improves because you have better self-control and you don’t graze all day,” she says. “As your weight decreases, so does your likelihood of developing chronic disease,” says Neha Pathania, chief nutritionist, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram. “They also experience improved brain health cycles. Life expectancy is also increasing,” she adds.
dr Nilanjan goes further, pointing to Japanese biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi, who received the 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on autophagy, the body’s natural cleansing mechanism to rid the body of damaged cells and regenerate new, healthier cells. “That happens when you fast,” says the Ayurveda doctor. Some research has shown that intermittent fasting and calorie restriction can cause autophagy.
However, since religious fasting is practiced for a few days, does it negate the benefits? according to dr Nilanjan the answer is no. “Fasting is like driving your car to the workshop. Doing it every now and then will ensure it runs smoothly and performs at its best for a longer period of time. The lifespan of the car is also longer if you maintain it regularly. Likewise, fasting improves quality of life when done regularly,” he explains.
Fasting has been shown to result in weight loss and other health benefits. However, healthy eating is the way forward. “So don’t overdo it on high-fat, ultra-processed, and ready-to-eat foods that trigger inflammation and lead to more fat stores. Instead, aim for a balance of all food groups, which include whole grains, healthy fats, good sources of protein, and lots and lots of fiber. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 35 grams of fiber per day for every adult, which is mainly ingested from vegetables and fruit. So include plenty of those that are in season in your diet,” recommends nutritionist Venkatraman, adding, “Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, either.”
As for religious fasting, it is not uncommon to see people breaking their fast with heavy meals consisting of fried and high-fat foods. dr Nilanjan advises against it, saying that fasting is like exercising, as both are experiences we expose the body to. “We wouldn’t just jump into a heavy workout or end it abruptly. Fasting puts the body in a certain state and therefore it is necessary to break out of it,” he says, recommending breaking the fast “with a light meal with good amounts of carbohydrates”.
On the flip side
Like anything else, fasting has its pros and cons. “If fasting is not done properly or under guidance, it can have harmful effects on the body, such as: B. wasting and malnutrition, and cause adverse conditions in the body such as ketosis and hypoglycemia,” says Dr.
“In addition, there can be an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to an increased desire for food. Therefore, overeating and binge eating are two commonly observed negative effects of intermittent fasting,” says Pathania, adding, “Because you often forget to drink water when you’re not eating, dehydration can also occasionally occur.”
That being said, if you experience any uncomfortable symptoms, including overeating and likely weight gain, and short-term physical discomfort, hormonal changes, or menstrual cycles, discontinue your fasting routine immediately or talk to your doctor, Pathania recommends.
Although fasting can aid in fat loss, there can also be concerns about losing muscle mass. “It’s important to understand that weight loss without exercise typically results in a decrease in both lean and fat mass. Anything in a person’s mass that is not fat is considered lean. It also applies to fasting. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting for several months can result in the loss of small amounts of lean mass,” says Pathania.
At the same time, nutritionist Venkatraman recommends including protein in every meal, which can be challenging for vegetarians and vegans. “So include lots of legumes and legumes in your diet. Eat rajma, chana, white-eyed peas, nuts and oilseeds. Vegetarians can have milk, yogurt, paneer, etc., while vegans can substitute tofu and vegan milks,” she says.
Ultimately, fasting can be a path to a very disciplined life. “You become aware of what you eat and it gives you the power to control your hunger,” says Venkatraman. So what is the way? “Not just embracing it as another fad and taking it slowly as the benefits materialize takes time,” she adds.
types of fasting
Intermittent fasting is an umbrella term and includes several types within its scope. Here are some of them
- Time-Restricted Eating: Fast 12 hours daily
- 16/8: This is the most popular style. Here you eat in an eight-hour window, which can be two or three meals, and fast for the rest. Ease is another benefit of 16/8. It reduces the time and money you have to spend on cooking every week
- 5:2 Diet: This is where you eat your normal amount five days a week and limit your calorie intake to 500-600 the other two days
- Alternate Day Fasting: This is one way to do intermittent fasting. On this diet, you fast every other day but eat whatever you want on the non-fasting days.
- Warrior Diet: Another popular diet is based on the eating habits of ancient warriors, who ate thin during the day and feasted at night. So you eat small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day and a large meal in the evening