Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1349, (15 - 21 June 2017)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1349, (15 - 21 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Fast for better health

 Fast for better health
Fast for better health

Fasting is often associated with the holy month of Ramadan. Probably because almost 1.5 billion Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk during that whole month. Yet fasting has been known to man since the beginning of time.

Long before established religions pre-historic man instinctively refrained from eating, thereby clearing the system from poisonous toxins. Even animals would naturally stay away from food when feeling ill.

Man also fasted to appease the gods, to seek pardon, to mourn the dead, etc. Its benefits extend to both body and soul.

While its origin is unknown, it seems as natural as eating, sleeping, laughing, weeping or loving. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other Eastern religious have resorted to some form of fasting for spiritual healing, purification and a closer communion to God.

However, fasting is no longer confined to a religious ritual. Scientists have now resorted to fasting for its health benefits.

The practice is a multi-dimensional experience in which total transformation occurs. Whether it is restrained to liquids, such as broth, juice, tea, water, fruit, vegetable, or total abstinence, it cleanses toxins from our bodies, producing a wide range of metabolic changes and experiences: “Our body breathes naturally and cleanses itself,” says molecular biologist Dr Christopher Huie of Harvard.

Fasting gives us a heightened sense of awareness and relaxation. All past pains are abandoned and a positive attitude towards the present and the future takes over.

It is hard to describe this union with the spirit that leaves you with a sense of peace and tranquility.

What if it also makes you healthier, free of many diseases by releasing toxins from the colon, kidney, bladder, lungs, sinuses, yes, and even successful in treating certain conditions such as the cold, flu, fever, bronchitis, fatigue, headaches, back pain, constipation, allergies, obesity, insomnia, diabetes, cancer — are you convinced?    Scientists are. 

The majority of researchers believe that calorie restriction increases longevity —now, that is the cherry on the cake. We all seek to live longer, yet kill ourselves by over-eating.

On the whole scientists agree that intermittent fasting is less gruelling and can still trigger the benefits of fasting.  Nutritionists worldwide hail the potential health benefits of fasting.

Methods are variable. They offer a one day water only during the week; a 5-2 regimen with normal five days food intake and two days cut calories to 500, among others.

One of the pioneers in Fasting research, Dr Razeem Maarouf, Oxford University, believes that the use of existing body fat for energy can help preserve muscle and reduce cholesterol levels.

Remember that exemplar lifestyle we hear about constantly — “Breakfast like a king… etc”, big breakfast was always considered your most important meal — well scientists pooh-pooh that idea believing it might create a bigger window making you eat more and therefore allowing more food storage. The small six meals a day are no longer desirable.  

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies concluded that no one meal is more important than the other. What matters is total calorie intake. Here is that word “calorie” again that tortures and torments, but it seems to be the sum of it all.   

Not eating after dark was a favourite method amongst dieters. Even that has been disclaimed by Italian researchers, who compared a big breakfast to a big dinner —no difference in weight loss. 

 In fact, late eaters lost more fat.

Stunned by that conclusion other follow-up studies came to the same conclusion. 

So go ahead, have a big dinner if that is your preference.

Researchers at the University of Oregon support the Italian study. Regardless of when you gobble up those calories it is their number that results in weight gain. It is overeating that robs us of good health. Decide on the number of calories you need daily and divide them in our old-fashioned three good meals a day, leaving you happy, satisfied and forget about snacks. Cut down those calories and live longer.

The Christian Essenes sect believed that our body is a temple that needs purification for God to reside in. Through fasting, proponents believe we can turn our energies inward, where we can use them for healing, clarity and charity. 

Consider the likes of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, the Sufis who all used fasting therapy. How about prophets like Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Jesus and Mohamed.

Penitence, purification, sacrifice and mourning are alleviated by fasting in many forms of worship. And how can we forget the most famous name that used fasting for political purposes, Mahatma Gandhi who resolved to fast until the fighting stopped between Muslims and Hindu? “By doing so, he became the spokesman for all mankind,” said Albert Einstein. Indeed. His “hunger strike” was followed by many, primary among them, Martin Luther King Jr.

Food is an allergy. It can also be an addiction. During this holy month of Ramadan, we can cure our addiction, give our stomachs a rest and concentrate on divine matters. Instead, come sundown, following a day of worship and abstinence we gorge ourselves with everything in sight, giving in to an impulse that leads to ill-health. You can almost hear the stomach and other organs cry: “Enough please, you are hurting us”. We need to break that wicked spell of eating, overeating, indulging, and give our poor over-worked system a much needed rest.

Fasting and longevity — incredible but real.

“Fasting is the truest prayer used for self — purification.”

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

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