Fasting has been one of the most powerful tools when it comes to healing a disease, curing it or simply preventing it . Various types of fasts (aka Vrat in Hindi) have mentions in religious books and communities.
Recently intermittent fasting is gaining a lot of popularity and finding acceptance and even scientific endorsement. A lot of international celebrities like Jimmy Kimmel, Beyonce, Hugh Jackman swear by it.
Intermittent fasting is about choosing to embrace fasting and then feasting on purpose; similar to traditional practice of fasting during the month of Ramadan.
Fasting actually comes very naturally to us. A 7-8 hour sleep in the night is a period of fasting anyway. Our body automatically puts us in a state of fast to allow for detoxification. The dirt in the corners of our eyes, the morning breath and our first urine that is warm and acidic, are all signs of our body successfully detoxifying itself at night.
So How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Our digestive system uses almost 80 percent of the body’s energy to keep it ticking, leaving the rest 20 percent for other bodily functions.
Noticed how your appetite goes for a toss when you are sick? That’s our body's natural defence mechanism to protect and heal. By cutting down the appetite, our digestive system slows and eventually shuts down, thereby directing the saved energy towards healing. That’s our immunity working for us.
Fever is nothing but our body raising temperature to kill the heat sensitive pathogens. Diarrhoea is nothing but our body trying to flush out the bugs that we may have ingested via food or air. Vomiting is nothing but our body's natural mechanism to push something toxic out of our system. It's good to go through these symptoms at times because it shows our body is doing its job.
Unfortunately, we humans have become so addicted to comfort and convenience that even 15 minutes of suffering becomes unbearable. We immediately look for a quick fix, pop a pill and end up compromising immunity in the long run.
I find so many people fast on fruits, juices, nuts, sabudana and puris. Sorry, that is not a fast. Fasting is supposed to be devoid of any food for that window period. All we can have is water. No tea, coffee or even lemon water for that matter because the whole idea is to give the digestive system a complete rest.
Should You Embrace Intermittent Fasting?
Many studies have indicated that intermittent fasting plays a role in treating various ailments. Right from hair loss, breaking the weight-loss plateau, anti-aging, hormonal imbalance, boosting immunity, detoxification to reducing risk of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and kidney problems, intermittent fasting helps you feel more energetic and good inside.
For diabetics, practicing intermittent fasting under supervision is believed to improve insulin sensitivity. However, it is important to closely track sugar levels during a fast and do it only under medical supervision.
IF also helps improves spiritual health because meditation is most fruitful on an empty stomach. One can meditate best when digestive system and its communication with the brain function is given a complete rest.
In Mexico, there are fasting pods called “fast incubators,” where people are surrounded by nature and are not exposed to any smell of food, noise and one can fast for any period of time ranging from 10 – 30 days. I have seen remarkable improvements in the healing of various diseases, improvement in eyesight and the sense of hearing come back.
If you are looking to enhance the quality of your life and increase life span, you will find that calorie restriction is the way forward. This doesn’t mean starving but eating exactly what body needs and sometimes fasting to allow repair and recovery. All the regeneration of cells (including immune system) happens during fasting which is why IF is fantastic for immunity.
So How Do I Do it?
For real therapeutic benefit, an intermittent fast of 12-16 hours, for 3 days in a row, twice a month is recommended. There are two phases to IF. One is the Elimination Phase, where the body is in a state of fast and is running only on water, and the other is Building Phase, the time period that allows eating of food so as to prepare for the next day.
One may start off with a 12-hour window of fasting and gradually build up to 16 hours. For example, if dinner is by 8pm, by 8am next morning it is 12 hours. Add four hours to that and it becomes 16 hours, which means you can have your first meal at noon.
I highly recommend 3 days IF for best results .Choose to do it every Monday or Tuesday after your weekend or do it after a holiday or after a festive season, whatever seems the best fit for your lifestyle.
Most of you will experience bouts of hunger pangs on the first day and miss breakfast or morning chai on the second day but by the third day you will experience extreme happiness because it makes you realise your body’s brilliance.
Having said all of this , even though IF is fantastic for healing, it has to be customised according to an individual’s lifestyle, body type and emotional health at that particular point. Each body is different, so it has to be extremely personalised according to one’s current health situation. Before attempting IF, it’s extremely important to seek professional advice.
(Luke Coutinho is M.D. Alternative Medicine (Integrative & Lifestyle) & Holistic Nutritionist. Luke treats patients with disease and specializes in cancer with a holistic and integrative approach worldwide.)