These days, “intermittent fasting” is wildly popular. It’s taken off in a big way, possibly because of its high personalization based on one’s eating preferences and lifestyle. Compared to traditional ways of counting calories, intermittent fasting allows one to eat normally, during an 8/10-hour window each day, without much restriction.
Despite the current popularity of intermittent fasting, few people are aware of the true concept of fasting, as traditionally known in most of the religions across the world. In practices like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, fasting is still common. Even today, it’s not unusual for Hindus to voluntarily fast on all major festivals, and to eat just one meal a day.
Ayurveda: Ancient Indian Science of Life
Fasting in Hinduism has its roots in Ayurveda, which in Sanskrit means “the science of life.” For a happy life, it recommends a balance between the body, its senses, mind, and soul. Fasting is mentioned as one of the ways to achieve this balance, as it combines the physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being of a person.
Ayurveda doesn’t endorse a one-size-fits-all approach to fasting. Based on specific constitutions and qualities (called “doshas” in Sanskrit), three different body types — and their combinations — form the basis of all cures and preventive measures. It states that for food to have its desired impact, a balance between all the energies is vital.
Energy imbalance leads to a decrease in digestive power, which over a period may cause toxic build-up in the body. If left unchecked, it can cause serious health complications.
Fasting is like upkeep for the body. It’s not centered on starvation, but rather on giving the digestive system a break. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, fasting has benefits including stress resistance, increased longevity, and decreased incidence of disease. However, consulting a doctor is always recommended before going on a fast, particularly for the first time.
Fasting and Spirituality
Control over the Mind
We all want to succeed in life, but a lack of focus, procrastination, and self-doubt can get in the way of answering our true calling. Learning to accept and manage the small discomforts of life, without losing our focus, is worth the effort. Fasting helps to train the mind to become stronger every time that one overcomes the temptation to eat.
Fasting, like any other diet change, incites both physical and emotional responses. Realizing just how much we depend on sensory and external factors for our happiness can be a life-changing experience. During fasting, we cut down on our “non-negotiable” cups of morning coffee or scoops of ice cream, only to realize we can function normally without them. Fasting brings forth an awareness that nothing in life is indispensable which in itself is a liberating experience.
Getting Closer to the Inner Being
Most of us eat mindlessly several times during the day. Is it really hunger or the mind looking for distractions? During a fast, when eating is not an option, the mind is forced to dig deeper. This helps us connect better with our inner self, to understand what it truly desires.
Making Fasting Sustainable
Not another Diet Plan
Approaching fasting as a lifestyle change or a therapy, instead of a “diet plan,” goes a long way towards making the experience successful. When initiated just as a weight loss plan, any initial physical discomfort will quickly lead the mind to get restless, obsessing over the end-results. The process of fasting is supposed to instill a sense of calm and control in the mind.
Ayurveda doesn’t emphasize fasting for long periods. It recommends short–term fasting based on one’s body type, the level of toxins, personal immunity, and strength. Our body needs time to adapt to new changes. Rushing into a complete lifestyle overhaul at once will only throw the body out of gear.
Eliminating snacking between meals is a good (and easy) start to make. Treat this as an induction plan for the mind and body. Steadily shift from having “junk” snacks to healthy ones, replace caffeine with hot water/green tea, or sodas with naturally flavored water. Gradually restrict the number of food intakes between meals.
“Break Fast,” the Right Way
During fasting, the digestive system gets to rest. It’s therefore essential to know how to properly reintroduce food into the system. Wolfing down a big meal, right after fasting, will most certainly upset the stomach. A smart way to go about it is to eat food that’s light and easy to digest, such as fruit or simple grains (like oatmeal).
Fasting has so many benefits beyond weight loss. Think of it as a form of “nourishment” for the spiritually-starved. A balanced approach to fasting (or intermittent fasting) is the key to its true success.