A Little Word on Safe-Fasting

Tonight at Sundown, many practitioners of Judaism began partaking in the spiritual Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. For 25 hours, those observing the day will be fasting, refusing both food and water, in order to atone for sins.

Fasting is practiced in many religions, from Catholics who abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, to Muslims who refuse food, drink, and other pleasures from dawn to sunset for the month of Ramadan. Fasting is believed to enhance spiritual and religious focus, and purify the body.

Even if you have no intention of fasting for spiritual or religious purposes, a number of studies shown that brief intervals of fasting can help the body slim down, lighten up, and rid itself of harmful toxins. While simply restricting caloric intake is directly related to weight loss, fasting cannot be considered a long-term method for losing weight. However, improved cognitive function, decreased risk of cancer, and reduced severity or presence of allergies are benefits linked to fasting.

Intermittent fasting, as this  known, can be practiced in a number of ways. Try starting with 5:2, or five days of normal eating with two days of moderate fasting, consuming only 500 or 600 carefully chosen calories. Some people prefer a one day, more intense fast, usually for a thirty-six hour period. Fasting for more than three days can be dangerous, and should not be done without first consulting a certified physician.

Preparing your body for a fast is an integral part of the process. In order to avoid weakness, dehydration, or faintness while fasting, set your body up for the day[s] ahead by taking a few small changes to your regular routine.

  • Begin eating smaller, less frequent meals.
  • Decrease your intake of caffeine, salt and sugar. These ingredients are notorious for dehydrating the body, and are also linked to withdrawal-like symptoms.
  • For a last meal, try cooking a supper high in complex carbs (such as whole grains) and fiber. Recipes with these nutrients, such as Spinach-Stuffed Mushrooms with Bulgar can help your body absorb water and and digest slower. Conclude the evening with a bowl of fresh cut fruit with high water content. Navel oranges, cantaloupes and other melons are seasonal in the late summer and early fall, and have a water content of 85 percent or higher.

There are a number of important things to consider during a fast, as it is dangerous to simply stop eating and drinking with no regard for the rest of your lifestyle.

Calorie-free, hydrating, and packed with antioxidants, tea is always a wonderful alternative to high-sugar, high-caffeine beverages. During a fast, tea is a good substitute for water if you’re getting tired of the tap.

  • Drink lots of water. Unless your religion specifically forbids it, you should always remain hydrated during a fast, drinking water or tea.
  • Refrain from chewing – even the act of chewing gum can trick the body into expecting food, stimulating hunger.
  • Remain active, but stop any excessive, strenuous activity. Instead, go for a long walk or practice an hour of yoga.
  • Support a more long-term fast by drinking juiced fruits and vegetables.

Whether your interest in fasting is spiritual or physical, this widely-used practice can be a helpful step toward leading a cleaner, healthier, calmer lifestyle. In a world so overrun with excess, there’s no Fasting should never resemble starvation. More than anything, try always to be in touch with your body, and listen to signs that you need to stop.

For more information, check out some of these interesting articles and sites:

Dr. Andrew Weil takes a personal and cultural approach to discussing fasts.

A detailed breakdown by Dr. Elson M. Haas, describing nutritional plans, risks and benefits of fasting.

Another bite from Mark’s Daily Apple, the authority on all things primal.

Good luck and healthy fasting to those observing Yom Kippur, and to those of you who might give this little practice a try.

If you’re a seasoned faster, what tips and suggestions do you have for having a healthful, successful fast?

Until the next little bite,

Melanie

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