Fasting - Religious or intermittent, myth or truth?
I will start by saying that anything that intuitively feels unnatural or requires effort - be it a food, a diet, a job or even a relationship, should not be a part of your life!
Intermittent Fasting is the one diet form that I get asked about the most by basically everyone under the sun these days. Hence, I am writing this piece mostly for myself, so the next time I can just share the link, while also addressing it to those of you who have ever considered or are still considering IF to lose weight.
I am now going to attempt to state unbiased facts and help break down for you what is fasting, its types and effects on our bodies and who should and who shouldn't fast, so read on...
What is Intermittent Fasting?
It is a style of eating rather than a diet in the conventional sense; wherein a person cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It does not specify what foods one should eat but just emphasises on the window within which one must eat.
There are three popular methods -
1) The 16/8 : where you eat within a window of 8 hours and fast for the remaining 16 hours everyday.
2) The 5:2 : where you eat less than 500/600 kcal two days a week, non-consecutively.
3) The eat-stop-eat : where you do not eat anything at all for 24 hours once or twice a week.
The argument here is that reducing calorie intake should cause weight loss and the easiest way seemingly (for the inventor of the diet) to get people to do that is by reducing the number the hours or days that they can eat.
Bringing balance and harmony to your diet, exercise, sleep, spirituality, relationships and career is the only sustainable long term model to stay healthy and happy.
Concept of Religious Fasting
Across the globe and in every religion we can find the significance of fasting - be it Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism or Jainism. Religious Fasting is often associated with certain seasons, influenced by the movement of stars or the lunar calendar, or specific to days of the week dedicated to the god ruling that planet. While the mythology, stories and reasons might differ but the goal of fasting under every religion is very similar - of offering sacrifice and cleansing oneself.
Fasting has been around for centuries and will continue to exist in many cultures for centuries to come. Studies show the benefits that religious fasting has had on reducing the glycemic load, cholesterol, body weight and oxidative stress parameters in masses.
Effects of Fasting on Cells & Hormones
With every new way of eating or different foods that we eat, our bodies undergo changes at the cellular and molecular level, eventually affecting our gene expression. Now specific to fasting, our hormones the changes that occur in our bodies are -
Hormone levels get adjusted to make stored fat more accessible
The Growth Hormones shoot up
Cellular repair process initiates
Insulin levels drop and insulin sensitivity improves
Body goes into conservation mode eventually and you lose calories more slowly
Loss of muscle mass and not just of fat reserves
Deficiencies of essential nutrients might develop
My take on fasting - what works best, who should & who shouldn't do it
Fasting has its own benefits and side effects. Talking about the three popular methods of Intermittent fasting, they work great for healthy young men and has several benefits when done right. I will again emphasise that it is very important to know what to eat during IF, so get professional advice or do your research well.
For women, studies have shown that IF worsened blood sugar control instead of improving insulin sensitivity. Another thing that happens due to changes in hormones for women is the change in menstrual cycle. There are several cases of women whose menstrual period stopped or got delayed when they started doing IF. One should immediately stop IF in such cases of amenorrhea.
Men and Women should always follow separate guidelines when it comes to food, and must always get professional help if they notice anything different, before the condition worsens.
Next, coming to children and teenagers, my personal suggestion is an absolute NO. Definitely should not get on the IF bandwagon.
For people over the age of 50, reducing the hours they eat by delaying breakfast by an hour and preponing dinner by an hour has shown great improvement in cholesterol and blood sugar levels, specially in high-risk cases of pre-diabetics and those on the onset of cardiovascular diseases. However, the elderly should not go on drastic calorie reduction or 24 hour fasts ever.
I have found that religious fasting works the best, again, when done the traditional way, because there is tons of ancient wisdom that has gone into it of which we might not have written records or research papers. As a Hindu, observing fasts once a week, wherein I eat just raw fruits, salads and plain yoghurt has helped me cleanse and detox, while also clearing my headspace through developing a spiritual practice, in addition to providing my vital energy.
I will end by saying the exact same thing what I started with - anything that intuitively feels unnatural or requires effort - be it a food, a diet, a job or even a relationship, should not be a part of your life!
Let food nourish you and allow your body to heal itself.
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