Millions of people worldwide fast due to religious reasons, while many others do so, simply to lose weight. In India, fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan, the Hindu month of Shravan, the Jain Paryushan and the Christian Lent are the most common ‘long period’ fasts observed. Extreme fasting to shed pounds fast- also known as detox and cleanse- is the kind of diet popularized by Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow and Anne Hathaway. So then, is it really healthy to fast?
Fasting is defined as a partial or total abstention from all foods, or a select abstention from prohibited foods. All types of fasts–religious or ‘health conscious’; demand caloric restriction, alternate day fasting or restricted consumption of certain foods. While Ramadan restricts food and water during the day with feasts in the evening and a light snack in the morning; folks fasting during Shravan could follow regimens as extreme as having absolutely no food or water for 24 hours to practicing vegetarianism for a month. There has to be a reason that fasting is such a strong practice throughout the world. A lot of research has shown that due to the sheer restriction on the number of calories consumed or the positive health effects of a decreased consumption of red meats and cholesterol rich foods, such fasts have beneficial health outcomes.
The logic is really simple. If a person who smokes, consumes fat rich and high cholesterol foods every day and has frequent alcohol consumption; follows a religious fast for a month that does not allow him to have meat, smoke or consume alcohol- he is going to emerge a healthier and lighter person at the end of 30 days. But one must not think fasting or ‘crash dieting’ is the easy and healthy way of losing extra weight. As the rule with body weight is simple, what goes quick comes back double quick. So while Beyonce might have been able to lose 20 pounds in 15 days by drinking only lemonade and maple syrup, she also had experts monitoring what all she was eating after she lost that weight. I doubt that is possible with people like you and me, right? So then we are back to the same question- to fast or not.
Going without food for a few hours every day does not really create any disasters. But it definitely lowers your metabolism, which means, the calories from a paratha consumed after a fast get stored in your body as fat, instead of being used as energy. Similarly, not drinking any water can cause dehydration. Some of the other risks of fasting are- heart burn, poor control of diabetes, headache, increased stress, constipation and lack of weight control.
An ideal fast would be one where you lower fat intake, eat five to six fruits and vegetables a day, drink at least three litres of water and restrict other liquids like alcohol and artificial beverages, walk 30 minutes a day, quit smoking and get more sleep. So then, is that fasting at all? Oh yes, it is. Think no red meat, no fried foods, no starchy or refined foods, no carbonated drinks or alcohol and no desserts. This is the kind of fast that should be followed at least 350 days a year. Fast enough!