part 1 - Intermittent Fasting
Humans have been practicing some sort of fasting for time immemorial. Most of the time, it was done out of necessity rather than voluntarily – ancient hunter-gatherers had an inconsistent food supply, with regular droughts and famines which caused temporary shortages in food. However, in the 21st century we are blessed with a consistent food supply, and naturally many of us overeat from this 'unnatural' abundance, causing many preventable ailments.
Fasting has been an important part of the Indian culture for a long time, and is emphasised for those on the spiritual path. Still many Hindus choose to fast on specific days, such as Ekadashi (the 11th lunar day) for Vishnu, Chaturti (4th lunar day) for Ganesh, or Monday for Shiva. Fasting is known to bring a sort of 'purification to the body'. But is there more to it?
Fasting as a practice can be broken down into two main types: intermittent (shorter duration) fasting, and extended (longer duration) fasting.
This article will cover intermittent fasting.
The general premise of intermittent fasting is to eat within a specific window of time. For example, eating from 10 am to 6 pm, which is an 8 hour window.
During the designated eating window, continue to consume normal and healthy food. It's not a good idea to overeat to prepare for the fasting window, as you will feel more uncomfortable and the effects will be diminished too. You may likely find it easier if you consume two meals during your fasting window instead of three meals, such as a meal at 11 am, and the next meal at 6pm.
During the fasting period, which is the rest of the time, the goal is to not ingest any calories. This means that you can, and should, consume water and simple beverages like plain tea, black coffee, or lemon juice. However, you must not consume anything with calories in it, such as milk, sugar, or honey.
Many people find having a cup of black coffee during the fast helps keep the appetite down, and this is true. Coffee has been shown to briefly suppress appetite.
Alternatively, chewing gum can help too, and it has been shown to control appetite as well
Over the last 5 or so years, scientific research has been published showing the wide range of benefits of intermittent fasting:
Prevent diabetes (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/07/190702152749.htm)
Improve long-term memory (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/05/210524215527.htm)
Reduce blood pressure (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/04/210429123340.htm)
If you have any major medical condition, it's a good idea to do your research first, and ease yourself into it.
Forms of Intermittent Fasting
There are many different forms of intermittent fasting:
16:8 (16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating per day)
18:6 (18 hours of fasting and 6 hours of eating per day)
20:4 (20 hours of fasting and 4 hours of eating per day)
OMAD (one meal a day)
Alternate day fasting
One of the most popular forms is taking a number of hours during the day to eat, such as 8, and fasting for the rest of the hours. For example, I may choose to eat food only from 10 am to 6pm, which is an 8 hour window of eating. This means i'll have a 16 hour window of fasting. Most of the time people choose to eat two meals a day during the process.
One important point that I recommend is not to eat after 7pm, whether you are doing some sort of structured fasting or not. There is a huge amount of evidence showing that consuming food after the sunset is not good for our health. Eating at night is one of the biggest triggers for:
- weight gain (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170602143816.htm),
- high blood sugar and diabetes (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/06/200611094138.htm),
- and whole-body wellbeing (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090903110800.htm).
After all, fasting is something that should be customised to you. If you are unfamiliar with fasting and eat during a wide range of hours, perhaps first shift your eating window to 10 hours, such as eating only between 9 am and 7 pm. Then, you can shorten it as your body gets stronger.
Want to learn more?