Let's start with some confessions.
Yes, I used to be the person that made fun of vegetarians. Yes, I used to be the person that mocked at people who fasted. Yes, I used to the person that ate endless amounts of junk without putting on weight....but I was sick, very very sick all the time.
So this Navratri, a Hindu festival celebrated every year in Autumn over a span of 9 nights, I thought let me try fasting and see what really happens, if at all it does. My own diet and lifestyle has evolved massively in the last couple of years but there literally isn't anything that I don't eat (except humans, pets and endangered species). My wheat and rice consumption had gone down drastically and I have been eating a much wider variety of grains and pulses now than ever before, but still, I have never gone, maybe more than 3 days, without wheat and rice in some form or another.
Learning more and more about Ayurveda and Yogic lifestyle I am very intrigued about ancient ways of eating and fasting. Also, my clients come from diverse backgrounds and with a wide range of health concerns, and sometime they have to go on an Elimination diet to learn more about and manage their allergies, IBS and autoimmune conditions. I wanted to experience for myself that how would it be to simply go cold-turkey on certain foods, especially gluten.
So with these things on my mind I started my Navratri fast on 7th Oct 2021.
List of foods that I gave up
I am really not sure what all foods are allowed and which aren't allowed traditionally during Navratri fasting but I sort of created my own list from my little knowledge; here it is -
Eggs (I initially thought I would have to eat eggs but somehow I was totally able to manage without them <patting myself on the back here>)
I also made it a tiny rule for myself that I won't order in from restaurants, and I would only eat homemade food during this period...so no packaged food, no food from restaurants in addition to giving up the above list of foods.
Experience & Revelations
I started my mornings with anti-inflammatory water followed by fruits and nuts, followed by lunch which barnyard millets, yoghurt, paneer, peanuts, sweet potatoes and tapioca majorly. Dinner would include lots of vegetables like pumpkin, bottle gourd, beetroots, tomatoes, spinach, beans, carrots etc. in form of soups or millet khichdis.
Here's the major things that happened -
Energy levels - the first thing you start noticing are your energy levels improving. I have always found my energy levels rising and dipping and moving like a sine wave throughout the day, especially I would want to lie down, or just recline on a sofa, after meals. With the fast I had a constant sense of sustainable energy throughout the day.
Flexibility & Buoyancy - very surprisingly, and I don't have any scientific explanation for it yet, I found myself moving with much more grace and control during my yoga sessions while fasting. My body felt less right and the joints seemed less tight. No idea how this happened but it is an incredible feeling.
Appetite - I feel hungry a lot..like a LOT, since childhood I've had a huge appetite; and that's a good sign, but I've found myself craving more or overeating my rice and bread. A very noticeable thing that happened in the first two days itself was regulation of my appetite. I couldn't overeat even if it tried. I felt hungry thrice a day and was able to eat smaller portions as compared to those of rice and bread.
Thirst - my water consumption went up automatically, without making an effort.
Brain fog & Headaches - lastly the biggest revelation for me, which hit me on day five, was how gluten was causing me headaches all my life, which I had been blaming on my weak eyesight for decades. For those of you who know me know that I have been wearing specs since I was 11, and then I got lasik done when I was 23 I think, yet if there's one perpetual health issue which I can relate to are headaches, so I went on wearing blue light specs even after getting lasik, still the headaches remained persistent, which I eventually blamed on stress. And then..Eureka, I noticed my headaches were completely gone. I was literally complaining to my mom and my husband, the week before Navratri that I need to get my eyes checked because my head hurts a lot. And then it went to zero! I find myself more mindful with a much clearer head.
Changes that I intend to keep...
Gluten affects different people differently. Celiac is a disease that has various symptoms and can go un-noticed for decades. Allergy, insensitivity or intolerance, we are eating too much gluten and too much rice, which is the primary cause of insulin resistance, PCOD, diabetes, hormonal imbalances, Alzheimer's to name a few. I have decided to keep my wheat and rice consumption to twice a week, not two days, just twice. My pantry is stocked up with five different kinds o millets, 15 different kinds of pulses, beans, legumes and several nuts and seeds.I also intend to keep at least one meal grain free, ideally two, everyday.
We humans have a problem, we either want to do a 100 or stay at 0, that's why possibly we find it impossible to sustain anything. I feel "all in or nothing" is a very overrated phrase. It is the small little everyday changes that compound to thriving health.