Intermittent Fasting - The art and science of going without food

Fasting has been part of every culture and religion since time immemorial. During the holy month of Ramzan, fasting is done between dawn and dusk for close to a month, Christians fast for forty days during the period of Lent which is just before Easter, Hindus fast during Navratras and in Hinduism, fasting one day a week is recommended. Judaism recommends six fasting days during the year where no water or food is consumed for 24 hours. Monks and nuns following Vinaya rules in Buddhism do not eat post noon. Likewise, other religions follow the practice of fasting for spiritual upliftment or as a means to cleanse one’s sins, and purify the body and look inward.

The importance of fasting has been understood by our ancestors and imparts multiple health benefits. Intermittent fasting as a trend has been catching the attention of people recently. But what is intermittent fasting? It is the term used for different types of fasting methods which alternate between periods of eating and fasting. There are many variants of this form of fasting. One could go without food for an entire 24 hour period or fast for 12 hours and consume food in the balance 12 hours. There is yet another form which talks about a 16.8 fasting which basically means that you fast for 16 hours and eat for the rest 8. In this form, typically, people eat food around between 8 pm and 9 pm and then skip breakfast the following day and break the fast by having lunch around noon. There are several variants of intermittent fasting which are followed by people around the world. Intermittent fasting has a lot of benefits but people with special needs need to be careful before treading this path and it is important to consult a healthcare practitioner before embarking on any fasting plan.

Holistic and lifestyle coach Luke Coutinho says “Our digestive system uses almost 80 % body’s energy, leaving approximately the rest 20% for other bodily functions. During an illness, we have no appetite, not just we but even animals don’t eat when they are sick. Have you ever wondered why that happens? That’s our body’s natural defense mechanism to protect and heal. By cutting down appetite, our digestive system slows and eventually shuts down, thereby directing the saved energy towards healing. That’s our immunity working for us. Diarrhea is nothing but our body trying to flush out the bugs that we may have ingested via food or water. I advocate a total fast without any food or juices, just water, in a supervised and informed way. The idea is to rest the digestive system. I see so many people fasting on fruits, juices, nuts, sabudana, and puris but fasting is supposed to be devoid of any food for that  time window. All we should have is water”. Luke advocates intermittently fasting of 12 to 14 hours for three days in a row, twice a month. He says “The “most important meal is breakfast” is the biggest myth that has been circulated. We can easily go without breakfast. As regards the fast, the first day will surely be challenging for most people but by the time they reach the third day and start reaping the benefits of the fast, they actually start loving it as the body feels light and rejuvenated. One need not start with 16 hours fasting straight away, it can start with 11 hours, 12 hours… whatever one is comfortable with in the beginning and then work up to 16 hours”. Listen to your body, its different for everyone, for some its 12 hours for some, its 14, 16, 18 or more , everyone is different.

Benefits

Many types of researches have shown the benefits of regular fasting. It gives the body’s digestive system rest and helps build the immune system, arrest aging, fight inflammation, promote better heart health, alter the mitochondrial networks inside our cells, arrest aging, weight loss, balance the hormones etc. Nutritionist Luke says that he has innumerable instances of people healing after IF or dry fasting where even water is not consumed. He says “There was this lady who was not even on my plans nor was she consulting me but was following the one-week fasting group that I created on Facebook and within three days, her arthritic pain of 20 years was gone. Research has shown how fasting helps combat inflammation. Another amazing story is that of a 14-year-old who on her own accord started fasting by watching my videos. She had chronic constipation and migraine which disappeared on the fifth day of fasting. We need to understand that our body has its own way of healing itself and works best when we do not overload it with food and allow it to repair and heal. We need to harness the body’s immunity to work with and for us to allow healing and prevention of diseases. When we fast, we allow all that energy which would otherwise go towards digestion, to heal our body”.

Who is it not for?

There are some people who should be careful when they embark on a fasting plan especially those who have diabetes or are undergoing chemotherapy or have gall bladder disease. Luke shares “Although we have hundreds of patients who use intermittent fasting to prepare their body for the upcoming chemo cycle and it works wonders to reduce the side effects and boost immunity, it has to be customized according to an individual’s lifestyle, body type and emotional health at that particular point. Take the case of cancer, though IF brings amazing results, it totally depends on the stage of cancer, kind of chemo, radiation, how a patient is placed between cycles etc. One can’t be on chemo and do IF. That’s disastrous for health. For diabetics, practicing IF under supervision improves insulin sensitivity but it is important to closely track sugar levels during the fast as hypoglycemia may set in depending on the stage of diabetes but that shouldn’t stop you from exploring IF. One can actually start healing diabetes with intermittent fasting along with other lifestyle changes. Each disease is different for each body, so it has to be personalized and done under the supervision of a practitioner, especially if there is an underlying medical condition”.

Fasting is a great method of detoxification and intermittent fasting has shown great results in researches as well. The science of going without food is clearly here to stay and is being increasingly adopted by people as part of their lifestyle. Clearly, less (food) is indeed more (health).

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