Fasting for religious purposes is common in India. The month of Shravan has just concluded and the month of Ramzan is on – in both of which fasting is an integral part. Doctors say the practice does more than just appease the gods: it also benefits your body, if done with care. Priyanka Rohatgi, chief clinical nutritionist of the Apollo Hospital, Bangalore, believes that religious fasting is one of the best traditional practices, since it teaches one to learn to curb one’s desires and check against transgression and extravagance. “Fasting fosters a strong will, teaches patience and self-discipline, the ability to bear hardship and tolerate hunger and thirst. Medically, it’s good because it detoxifies your body and gives a break to your digestive system,” Rohatgi told IANS.
In fact, many doctors recommend fasting for the overall goodness of your health. Ritika Samaddar, head dietician of the Max Hospital, for instance, said that it’s healthy to fast once a week. “Fasting cleanses your system and boosts the good cholesterol of the body. It’s actually very healthy to fast once a week. You can have some low calorie food, like fruits and vegetables, and lots of liquid. The overall calorie consumption should be 800-1000 calories,” Samaddar told IANS. Partial fasting and a restricted diet are also recommended by dieticians for those who want to lose weight.
The problem, however, begins when fasting is not done with care. “Fasting followed by feasting is an open invitation to trouble. Unhealthy, fried, processed food after a day-long fast can cause problems like bloating, craving and lethargy,” Rohatgi warned. “A sudden supply of food after a fast can cause problems in digestion, so it’s better to break your fast with some light food, like fruits, and only after some time, eat more,” she added. It’s for the same reason that doctors do not recommend complete fasting even to lose weight.
“I personally don’t recommend complete fasting to lose weight. It disturbs the metabolic rate. Even if you look at the fast of Ramzan, it restricts you from food and water for 12 hours – from sunrise to sunset. After that, you can have your food and liquids,” said Neelanjana Singh, chief nutritionist of Heinz Nutrition Foundation India. Added Samaddar: “Your brain needs constant supply of glucose and when you fast beyond four-eight hours, your body starts breaking up its own reserve. Long term fasting – like Anna Hazare’s – therefore is not healthy, because it can cause electrolyte imbalance, muscle cramps and thinning of the hair.”
“Complete fasting to lose weight is also not a great idea because starvation leads the body to absorb all the fat and oil that you eat later. So you may actually end up putting on weight. Plus, fasting can lead to dehydration and repeated fasts can cause wrinkling of the skin. In extreme cases, it can also cause cardiac arrest,” she said. Going on fast is not recommended for pregnant women, lactating mothers and diabetics, among others.
“Fasting is not for everyone. If you’re pregnant, diabetic, severely underweight, recuperating from surgery, or have a serious medical condition, you really shouldn’t fast without close medical supervision. In fact, those with medical conditions are often exempted from the obligations of religious fasting,” Rohatgi said. Growing children and adolescents should not make fasting an oft-repeated ritual, she added.
“Ultimately, whatever be the reason you are fasting, remember not to go for too long without food, stay hydrated, avoid exercising during fasting and optimise your nutrition by eating healthy food while eating after the fast,” Samaddar added.