In a world that has taught us to eat 6-7 meals in a day, fasting will definitely sound like a crime. However, if you look back at the eating patterns of our ancestors you will notice that, 2-3 meals in a day was all that was consumed and that too with an active physical lifestyle. With modern life being what it is, we hardly have physically active lifestyles. When we do move, its to reach for a bag of chips or the remote control or a beer. With the world gearing towards more automation, the scenario as far as physical activity goes is only going to deteriorate further.
Also if you look at the history of many cultures across the globe, fasting has always been a big part of their lifestyles. Be it for religious reasons or as a detox it has been ingrained into many different cultures. But slowly somewhere along the way, being fed with information that the body constantly needs food and having an abundance of food available to us, we have imbibed a practice of constantly feeding ourselves. This has led us to become a global population with an ever increasing incidence and prevalence of obesity and diabetes. So, is fasting the magic bullet? In many ways, yes!
What exactly is fasting?
Fasting is not starving. Starvation is when food is not available for you to eat over a period of time and you are not sure if and when you will get food. Fasting is when you set yourself a particular time frame of not consuming food and have the free will to break the fast whenever you feel necessary. The benefits of fasting are many.
- Lowers blood sugar levels
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Lowers blood cholesterol
- Aids in weight and fat loss
- Slows down the aging process
- Extended fasts have also shown to have a beneficial effect on the treatment of certain types of cancers.
Myths about fasting abound. One of the myths is that fasting will result in the body burning muscle. When you fast, the body first utilises all the glucose and glycogen stores which is in the body. Once this is exhausted it will start to use body fat as a fuel. Only when body fat percentages drop quite low does the body use muscle. Having such low body fat percentages for an average individual is next to impossible so there is no cause for worry. Rest assured, when you fast the body will end up utilising circulating glucose, stored glycogen and body fat in that order.
Types of fasts
Fasts can be of short duration or long duration. Short duration fasts can be carried out everyday like Intermittent Fasting (IF). The concept of Intermittent fasting (IF) is that you fast everyday for a given number of hours and you have a particular eating window. You can read about the protocol that has worked for us here. You could also do an alternate day fast, wherein you will be eating your required amount of calories for one day. After this you will fast for a period of 24 hours. For example if you had your last meal tonight at 7 pm then your next meal will be at 7 pm the next day. There are also 36 hour and 42 hour fasts. Fasts of longer duration need to be supervised by a medical professional.
What can you eat when on a fast?
To achieve all the benefits of a fast, a typical fast should include only water. You may also include black coffee or tea if you wish. These should be consumed without any sweeteners like sugar, honey, agave syrup, jaggery or molasses etc. Whether or not you can use artificial sweeteners during a fast is a matter of personal choice. Personally I would avoid any artificial or chemical substances during a fast to reap the full benefits of the fast. Other than this all other types of fasts that allow you to consume fruit or vegetable juices will still not achieve the complete benefit of a water fast. In essence, these fasts are just reduced calorie days where in your calories are coming from fruits and vegetables.
Who should not fast?
- Pregnant and lactating women
- Children below the age of 18 years
- Severely underweight individuals
- Individuals with certain medical conditions like diabetes and others on certain medications should not take up any sort of fast without the supervision of a medical professional.