Fasting for all the right reasons

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There can be a wide range of reasons behind you might choose to fast but the basis of it all is a singular thrust on what we intend to derive out of it- wellness. In forsaking all things food- sometimes water included, for the sake of the religious to doing away with certain foods completely and persisting only with specific ones at specific points in time to shed those extra inches or in adhering to medical requirements to yielding the enormous power of it as a political tool, fasting harbours the ability to touch upon a range of life aspects pertaining to humans. But while the end goal differs so much and to such extents that renders them all mutually exclusive, fasting indeed comes with its own range of benefits as well- for the body, for the mind and for the soul as well. Incredible also is the fact that fasting, both for medical and religious purposes, predates history with evidence continuing from ancient times that sees fasting as a popular means of abstinence from the requirement as well as indulgent essence that food has come to encompass.

The science behind fasting has seen much elucidation in the modern world as catering to those who take on this practice for health matters that involve weight issues. But within the realm of the medical, fasting is far more significant a therapeutic means of healing the body. An ancient tradition that dates back to the times of the past, fasting was recommended as an effective treatment for many ailments by the Greek physician Hippocrates, widely considered the father of modern medicine. In fact not just as a prescribed way to treat illnesses, Hippocrates also advocated what can be called a process of induced fasting, as he believed that “To eat when you are sick, is to feed your illness”. The natural tendency to experience a loss of appetite when sick has therefore been understood by many physicians to be means of a natural cure for recovering from illness. Equating therefore fasting to the ‘physician within’ are also other physicians of ancient Greece as well as by popular thinkers and philosophers of that time. From Plutarch to Pluto and his disciple Aristotle, fasting was staunchly supported by such genius minds as they came to recognise its essence as a natural part of the recovery process.

In such extents of its realisation, as something that stems from within rather than being a prescribed form of alternate medication, fasting seems therefore to be an ingrained human instinct. Needless to say then that fasting has found more than a few takers in the modern times with such names as Philip Paracelsus and Benjamin Franklin rooting for the many benefits of what has today come to be nothing less than a lifestyle trend itself. Well versed in its range of benefits had been the Greeks, who advocated fasting also for its surprising impact on the cognitive. While food indeed is the fuel of life that supplies vital vitamins, minerals and nutrients to the body for its proper functioning, it is the over indulgence of the gluttony or the tendency to view food as pleasure and partaking therefore of rich, decadent plates of artificial flavour rather than the offering of nature’s bounty that which can make food also the killer of life. With such concepts as food coma gaining precedence in the decades of the recent past that which explains the feeling of lethargy or drowsiness that sets in after a heavy meal, one laden with carbs and fats and stuff, fasting perhaps has come to acquire more importance in the cognitive effect of it.

Coming therefore to the science behind this rather minimalistic way of working ourselves towards a healthier life, fasting acts in ways that can come across as peculiar but are in fact rather amazing means that helps the body to function, through its natural mechanism. In its profound effectiveness in such aspects like weight loss, improved concentration, extend life, prevent Alzheimer’s, prevent insulin resistance and even reverse the entire aging process, fasting seems to be the panacea of all ills. How fasting works with regards to multiple such problems that afflict the human body is by impacting the blood sugar levels of it. Because irrespective of what we eat, however healthy and controlled that is, it is inevitable that the insulin levels of the body sees a spike after every meal. While this spike of the insulin and the related concepts of converting the many compounds of food into energy is something the body cannot do without, sustaining low levels of insulin every once in a while is the key to holistic health- something that can logically only be possible if we refrain from consumption of all foods whatsoever occasionally.

Without an access to readily available energy in the form of glucose, fasting induces the body cells to initiate the natural process of gluconeogenesis, whereby the body produces its own sugar. With energy derived from non- carbohydrate sources burned more efficiently, fasting helps lower the heart rate and thereby blood pressure of the body. The low glucose availability also sets in motion the natural process of ketosis that sees the body resort to burning fat to derive energy, that explains the mechanism through which fasting can help aid weight loss.

Beyond such well understood processes of how fasting helps with a healthy body is associated also another extraordinary aspect of its working and that is by stressing out the body cells mildly. While stress might not sound like the most efficient agent of stimulation, the stress exerted by fasting makes our cells adapt by enhancing their ability to cope which is quite a way to boost the rest and recovery of the body and thereby its immunity. Fasting also is a potent stimuli to the secretion of the growth hormone that which is one of the body’s most vital resources for repairs. On the whole therefore, fasting is the natural way to detoxify our body as well as ensure its efficient and optimal functioning by prodding into action even otherwise dormant or less active parts of it.

Also touted to help improve mood and with feelings of depressions, the psychological effects of fasting are more ambiguous with also experiences to the contrary. However, in the extent of benefits it leads to in the long run in regards to increased well being of the body, fasting might eventually end up landing us in an elevated state of mind as well. Fasting, intermittent fasting particularly, has also been shown to better the circadian rhythm meaning that you sleep better. Additionally, while inhibiting the levels of insulin in the body, fasting increases the production of the sleep hormone melatonin thereby acting in another way to help you with a good night’s sleep. And sleep being such a mood booster, fasting does indeed seem to be a good way to work up the mind as well.

How fasting ends up impacting mood can also be as physical a process in essence as it is psychological. As a process of abstaining from any kinds of food whatsoever, a sufficiently prolonged period of going without meals make us appreciate the flavours and tastes of it all the more. Specifically when you break your fast with a healthy, nutritious plate, it works wonders because you discover the deliciousness in such foods that never would have hold much appeal to you otherwise. While we all crave addictive, rich foods that come laced with a lot of artificial flavours, fasting helps also in earning the earthy, robust flavours of healthy food a fan following on its own. And given how the sugary, sickly stuff makes us sickly in the mind and how the naturally healthy ones make us all the more vibrant and has us feeling good, fasting should bring about a change in mood, ironically through food as well.

The benefits of fasting extends also to such aspects within the purview of the medical that sees an abstinence from food a recommendation that must be adhered to in such treatments that require surgery. Even certain other medical procedures that require the administration of general anesthesia requires the patient to undergo some sort of fasting because of the risk of pulmonary aspiration of gastric contents after induction of it. Additionally, certain medical tests also call for predetermined periods of fasting for more accurate diagnosis of health conditions, specifically those that include monitoring blood sugar or cholesterol levels of the body.

Fasting for reasons pertaining to the realms of religion and the spiritual might sound diversive an exercise in restraint due to the notion of obligatoriness that is believed to be associated with it. But much like the exertion of fasting for medical basis that which ultimately seeks to discipline the lifestyle for a more healthy life, religious fasting also works towards achieving a similar end. With fasting being primarily an exercise that restricts the frivolities of the physicality, many beliefs of the religious and the spiritual see fasting as a way to cultivate mental discipline, intertwining it with such exercises of prayer or meditation to make it more revered and hence more adhered to by the devouts. This is the reason that almost every religion in the world mandates fasting on certain days of the year, even when it might not be very rigorous a rigid stance in practice. Fasting within the domain of the otherworldy can be seen as the harnessing of spiritual energy, as a deep devotion to the supernatural, as an adherence to tradition or a means to obtain ultimate bliss not pertaining to the affairs of the world.

Related to this belief of the spiritual but dwelling instead in the conviction of science is also the associated notion of the refusal of food and drink or hence fasting as the prelude to death. As something that goes by the term Patient Refusal of Nutrition and Hydration (PRNH), this is a phenomenon of the medical that sometimes sees people who feel their end is near consciously refuse food and water. And while this might manifest as a sign of suffering, studies have found elaborations to the contrary, at least in more than a few cases. Equally palpable has been the ‘suffering’ element linked to fasting when adopted as a non violent but determined form of rebellion. With terms such as hunger strike and fast unto death regularly encountered as a means of social protest, the benefits, or otherwise of fasting might reveal themselves as more ambiguous to be enumerated in distinct pointers. Even then though, the significance of fasting refuses to fade away; as something that is an able instinctive trait in humans, fasting would continue to be as fastidious it is, in its rigorous but routine occurrence throughout the world.


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