While what we eat is central to our health, so too is when we eat and, better still, when we don’t eat. Here’s why.
For decades health experts advised grazing, where we eat little and often to help sustain a healthy body. However, the latest expert advice is intermittent fasting. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting is very safe and incredibly effective.
There are two approaches to fasting: the first is to heal the body, and the second is to feed the soul.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, ‘The idea behind intermittent fasting is to keep insulin low enough, for long enough, to force the body to burn fat.’ In a society where obesity and diabetes are increasing, especially in our young children, maybe we need to re-educate ourselves on the body’s need for food and the many benefits of fasting.
From a spiritual perspective, fasting helps us transcend our addiction and attachment to food. As the body detoxifies, we have greater clarity of mind, and our spiritual awareness deepens.
Ancient Fasting Practices For Body And Soul
While fasting may seem like a modern trend, it is, in fact, an ancient practice. Pythagoras, an Ancient Greek philosopher and spiritual teacher, fasted regularly. His fasting experiences resulted in such an increase in clarity and physical strength that he prescribed fasting to all his pupils as it improved cognitive function. Today, scientists confirm that fasting helps increase the levels of the neurohormone norepinephrine, resulting in enhanced mental focus and an increase in memory storage and retrieval.
An Ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, was designated ‘the Father of Medicine’ because he valued natural healing methods. He prescribed fasting to restore harmony to the body and prescribed a strict fast with nothing but water, medicinal teas, or a liquid diet. Today, clinical trials reveal that intermittent fasting or simply cutting back on food for just five days a month could help prevent or treat age-related illnesses like diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular disease.
Plutarch, a Greek philosopher, was immensely popular because he explained philosophical discussions to non-philosophical readers. His advice to the sick was ‘instead of using medicine, rather fast a day.’ Fasting offers tremendous internal healing, as it helps cleanse the body and clear out old stagnant energy—especially where we’ve been backed up with our emotional past. Fasting helps us flush, clear and release toxic waste.
In Ancient Greece, athletes fasted to prepare their bodies and minds for the Olympic games. Fasting helps slow the signs of ageing. Research carried out by scientist Valter Lango at the University of Southern California shows that fasting flips a regenerative switch inside the body. This helps trigger stem cell regeneration, supporting the body in getting rid of the inefficient parts of the immune system, the parts that might be damaged or old. And in so doing helps generate a new immune system.
Christian practices in the Roman Empire varied very much from area to area. A common practice was weekly fasting on Wednesday and Friday until mid-afternoon.
The major religions believe that fasting is in some way conducive to initiating or maintaining contact with some divine power or powers. In some religious groups (for example, Christianity, Judaism and Islam), fasting gradually became a standard way of expressing devotion and worship to a specific divine being.
In Christian communities, the 40 days leading up to Easter is a period of fasting. Known as Lent, this fasting period replicates Jesus Christ’s withdrawal into the desert, where he fasted for 40 days and nights. Lent is a moveable feast (a religious feast day that does not occur on the same calendar date each year) and begins on Ash Wednesday. The day before is known as Shrove Tuesday, which is also known as Pancake Day. Traditionally, pancakes were consumed to use up rich foods such as sugar, eggs, and milk before the Lent fast.
During the month of Ramadam, another moveable feast, Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset as a way of respecting the fragility of human life. The Prophet Mohammad fasted regularly and broke his fasts with dates and a glass of water. Muslims worldwide have adopted this practice and end their fast by eating dates and drinking water. Dates are rich in nutrients, easy to digest and provide the body with sugar after a long day of fasting.
Many ancient Indian practices believe that as the body detoxes and the mind becomes clearer, we can access the stillness within. From this place of inner peace, we can achieve a certain borderline state, making the mind more susceptible to data fed into it in the form of affirmations, mantras, and prayers, opening us up to greater inner awareness and higher states of consciousness.
For centuries, the Native American Indians have carried out fasting traditions as a way of ‘cleansing and healing the whole person’. They approach fasting with a purpose in mind. Historically, the Elders of a community would take the young people out to fast in order to help them find their direction in life and help them interpret their dreams, visions and gifts that may have become apparent during the fasting period. Such fasts are ended by drinking spring water or cedar water and berries. Traditional times for fasting are in the spring and autumn (fall). It is believed that fasting in the autumn will remove any negative energy within us. While fasting in the spring will help us replenish ourselves with pure, new energy.
When fasting from a spiritual perspective, fasting should be accompanied by cleansing the auric field and also our surroundings. Smudging is an excellent way of doing this.
It’s also important that a ritual of intention be carried out, where we purposefully set an intention of the desired outcome of our fast. For example: ‘Under The Laws of Cosmic Light, of All That Is and All That I AM, I set the intention that I abstain from food (for however many days) so that my body be cleansed and purified. And that I may rest and restore my digestive system to support my immune system. So that I may regenerate myself on every level of my being, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, I intend to raise my energy vibration to its highest level so that I may achieve greater inner awareness and insight. And I do this for my greatest and highest good’.
In order to support us in our fasting, it’s a good idea to source pure water; Shungite water is a powerful cleanser and healer and is a beautiful way to keep hydrated during the fasting period. Research shows that Shungite possesses the ability to kill pathogenic bacteria, remove pesticides, and absorb various organic and inorganic substances, as well as heavy metals from water.
As understood by the major religions and the ancient spiritual teachings, when fasting, we’re more susceptible to influences from our environment; it’s therefore recommended that we are more mindful of the company we keep, the conversations we have, the programmes we watch, the books we read. It’s also a good idea to spend more time in quiet solitude, where we have fewer interruptions and influences from external sources. Instead, it’s helpful if we can practise gratitude, mindfulness, mudras and mantras, and positive self-talk through the use of powerful affirmations. As these help raise our energy vibrations.
Intermittent fasting is a recommended way of maintaining a healthy approach to fasting. When done rationally and not carried into extremes, fasting provides much-needed rest to the digestive organs and boosts the immune system. As a result, it helps with the regeneration of the physical body promoting good health and general well-being.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
While there are numerous ways of fasting, by fasting, I mean the abstinence from all or certain foods or drinks for a set period of time, the most common types of fasts are performed over a 24-to-72-hour period. On the other hand, intermittent fasting involves limited periods of eating and extended periods of fasting, ranging from a few hours to a few days at a time, depending on your needs and preferences.
How does this work?
A cycle of 16:8 is the most recommended type of intermittent fasting. This is where we don’t eat for 16 hours but then eat two hearty and healthy meals within an 8-hour window of time. For example, if we were to have our last meal at 7 pm, we’d fast for 16 hours and then eat breakfast any time after 11 am and eat dinner any time before 7 pm with no snacking in between. How often we repeat this cycle is up to us, we can do it daily, or just once or twice a week. Some celebrities have reported maintaining the 16:8 ratio five days a week and incorporating a weekend total fast.
Another well-known fasting programme is the 5:2 fast, where you eat as you would normally for five days a week. On each of the other two days, you restrict yourself to 500 to 600 calories, which is about one-fourth of the average daily calory intake. Cutting your calory intake shows reductions in blood pressure, body fat, and waist size.
What are the health benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
Besides a healthier immune system, there are also numerous other health benefits to intermittent fasting. Such as,
· Improved mental clarity and concentration
· Lower blood insulin and sugar levels
· Lower blood cholesterol
· Improved fat-burning abilities leading to weight loss
· Increased growth hormone and improved body repair
· Reduced inflammation
· Cellular cleansing by autophagy to help your body regenerate cells
· Boosting regeneration of the digestive tract
· Improved overall health.
Breaking The Loop of Emotional Eating
However, there is one downside to fasting: we’re more at risk of overindulgence when we break the fast. It’s as if we use food to reward ourselves for all our hard work; this defeats the purpose.
It may help if we consider intermittent fasting as a new way of eating, one where the functioning of our body, our mind, our heart, our core are all held in greater awareness and food is no longer used as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness.
Instead, it helps if we can set a new intention that our intermittent fasting practice helps break the loop of emotional eating and helps us heal our bodies, ease our minds and achieve greater self-awareness and inner peace.