Fasting is an art and science of food abstinence for a certain period of time. The word ‘Fasting’ originated from the word ‘Fasten’, which means to attach firmly or securely. Fasting not only influences the physical body but also affects the emotional and psychological aspects of our being. The true meaning of fast is an all round well being of a person.
Fasts undertaken by us during religious festivals do not mean complete fasting. During such occasions, cereals and their preparations, and meat are forbidden, but fruits of any type can be eaten. Therefore a fast of this type can only be called a semi-fast or one-meal fast. So in reality it is an incomplete fast. People fasting on such occasions often tend to increase their weight by consuming more fruits and milk, though they no doubt forsake their regular meals. There is a great difference between fasting and starving, though in both the cases we do not consume food. As described earlier fasting is an art and science, a methodology where in we can succeed in rejuvenating, making body free of disease. Where in starving one can suffer from loss of life.
It should also be understood that certain words about fasting are very misleading, for example ‘water-fasting’. It literally means not to take water, which is not true. It should mean not to take or consume any other thing except water. Similar illusions exist about fruit-juice fast or vegetables juice fast. Here too, the real meaning is to abandon all other food items except the juice and vegetables. All fasts undertaken under certain conditions – except the total abstinence from daily food – can only be termed as partial fast.
Starving does not improve health, while fasting scientifically improves health. Fasting is not meant to only loose weight, but also to regain the lost health. If you observe carefully, when animals fall sick they stop eating everything. They do not have any medical service but somehow they know the art of fasting during the disease state. They retire themselves to a secluded, silent, warm place where they are not disturbed by climatic changes or any body else. Thus they have complete rest as well as benefit from fasting. It has been observed that some birds fast during the hatching of their eggs, while some spiders do not take any food after their birth for as long as six months.
Fasting therapy is not limited only to dumb animals. Only a fool ignores the natural method of fasting during fever, pain, obstruction in stomach, and bowel movements or indigestion. For the beginners, a desire to eat something exists for the first and the second day though sometimes it may not be there. At the end of the third day, it disappears. Weakness is just not felt. I have seen people fasting for more than 100 days. Mahavir Swami Tirthanker of Jainism is well known for his fasting. It is believed that he ate hardly once a week, many a times during his life.
During long term fasting we can keep ourselves alive without food for many days but we must understand all the body processes for this. It is necessary to know how the body nourishes its vital cells and how all its processes keep going. Our body is a treasure house of nutritive substances. These nutritive substances are stored in various parts of the body. A healthy body can easily survive for about three months, without any outside food, on the strength of its stored fat, bone marrow, sugar, tissue fluids, lactic liquids minerals and vitamins. When we abstain from food, the body uses these stored substances only. When this store of substances is depleted, the weight of the body goes down. All the nutritive substances are present within the body.
Proteins, fats, sugar, minerals and vitamins are enough in our blood, bile, bone marrow, liver and muscles. As long as these substances are present in sufficient amount, we will have no difficulty whatsoever in fasting. This process is called Autolysis. The stored nutrients in the blood and bile reach the living cells which use them. Glycogen and Live Starch remain in the liver and are later transformed into sugar, which is supplied to the cells as required. These substances are completely balanced. Its proof lies in the absence of beriberi, any skin disease, rickets, scurvy etc. Even during a long term fasting, a remarkable improvement is noticed in rickets and metabolism of calcium during fasting. Red blood corpuscles are found to increase in case of anemia. The biochemical is maintained during fasting and at the same time, some elements can be stored for future use. If this is not done then fasting can be fatal.
It has been proved through many experiments on animals and humans as well, that the living cells of the body become more active during fasting. The fat cells go on declining at first. The stored food elements in the body are used up before the nutritive elements of brain, muscles, heart, and lungs are used. Then proteins, sugar, fats, minerals, and vitamins are needed. It is the function of the living cells to preserve them, reach them at proper places and to utilize them. It is a great surprise to observe the changes going on in the body during fasting. There is great co-ordination in the work of depletion and replenishment of the wear and tear of vital organs of the body is done by less important organs. Our own body is the deciding force for the duration of the fasting period, without causing any harm.
Fasting without any food is easy but without water it is dangerous. Whether the thirst is felt or not, it is necessary to drink water in all situations. Fasting repairs the wear and tear of the body. Fasting also provides rest to all parts of the body. The digestive system, the skeletal system and circulatory systems, the respiratory systems, the nervous systems etc, get sufficient rest during fasting. The more we eat, more effort is required to digest it by our organs. When we eat less, the digestive organs get some time to relax. When we do not take any food, they fully relax. When we fast, the muscles of the face, the stomach, of the intestines, liver and pancreas of heart and arteries, all are free from their routine work and they get rest. This is not difficult to understand. Excepting the fluid secreting organs, other organs have to work less to excrete the waste matter. The process of breathing slows down. The circulatory system has to work less. Thus all the organs of our body get a good opportunity to rest during fasting.
Fasting removes the waste matter from the body. In regular routine life our body eliminates waste matter through perspiration, urination, phlegm, stools etc. During fasting, all the toxic matters are removed from the body without adding to it for a desired period. This brings about a rejuvenation of the body and makes the body absolutely toxin free. It is concluded by many scientists that just three days of complete fasting helps remove so much toxins from the body, which otherwise could not have happened even after consuming 100 bottles of blood purifying medicines. It is very usual that in the beginning of fasting one feels heaviness in tongue, breathing etc., but there is nothing to fear from such symptoms. It’s just an indication that the cleansing process has started in the body and all the waste matters are being thrown out. Sometimes uneasiness, nausea, or vomiting is experienced in the first initial days of fasting. It is because body has been used to produce bile continuously until now, and during fasting also, for the first initial days, it keeps on forming in the stomach which produces nausea and vomiting. After the initial period the process slows down and one feels lighter. If the symptoms do not stop in a short while then fasting should be terminated and a doctor’s advice should be taken.
The fasting person also feels hunger cramps for the first few days, this is because the stomach is very empty now. One has to have a strong will power to overcome this. This is usually false hunger. Real hunger is felt after many days of fasting. If the food is taken, before the real hunger is felt, then all the benefits of real fasting are lost. Those who fast at home need a stronger will power as there is constant exposure to delicious food in the house and pressure from family to break fasting. Care should be taken to avoid drinking cold water. Preferably normal temperature water is good. For obese patients 3 litres of water should be taken, to which half a spoon of dry ginger powder is added and then boiled till it reduces to one liter. This water is to be consumed in one day with extra water which will be needed throughout the day. This ginger water is taken for 3-5 days continuously during fasting which helps to break down mucus faster. Thin patients should not exceed 3 days of fasting, if at all doing it, to remove excess mucus as in certain diseases.
It is very essential to know the methodology of breaking fast, which if not done properly will be harmful to the body. Due to continuous fasting, body gets acclimatized with no food intake and all of a sudden on one fine day if you take in a large amount of food to break your fast, then it may lead to accumulation of phlegm and more mucus. Fast should be broken step wise. If the fast is longer, say more than 20 days, then for the first three days of breaking fast, one must consume only Moong (Split Green Gram) water in small amounts every 2 hours. This then should be followed by consumption of smashed boiled Moong (Split Green-Gram) for next 2 days at period of 4 hours. This is followed by very soft food for other 2 days at the period of 6 hours, say Khichadi (Porridge) and then solid food. One should not forget to add dry ginger, lime and black pepper to all the above said procedures. On the second last day of fasting one must take small amount of laxative, so as to remove any stool which has been left inside. I usually prefer giving laxative for the first 2 days of fasting so that the whole gastrointestinal system is clear and all the complications of stool getting converted to stone are avoided as a preventive measure. Isabghul, 4-5 spoons usually suffice as safe laxative for most of the patients. If laxative does not work during the end of fasting then Enema is given in rare cases.
There are a few things that have to be taken care of during fasting.
1. One should prefer to stay in a silent place.
2. One should not talk much.
3. Should not exercise vigorously.
4. Should not consume cold water.
5. Should not use artificial coolers, like air conditioners.
6. Wear loose clothing.
7. Take sufficient sleep.
8. Avoid watching television which will make you more unstable otherwise.
9. Should not forget to take laxative, either on first 2 days of fasting or last day of breaking fast.
10. Should be very particular in breaking the fast in step wise manner starting from liquid to semi-solid and then to a regular diet. One should not be hasty in breaking fast.
11. One should avoid smoking during fasting which will otherwise reduce the benefits of fasting.
12. Diabetics should not take up long fasting. Three to five days are enough with blood sugar monitoring twice to thrice a day. They should adjust their medicine dose according to blood sugar levels. If any fainting episode occurs in such patient’s, immediate sugar water should be given and fasting should be discontinued and done only under the supervision of an experienced doctor.
13. People suffering from hypertension should take only half dose on first 2 days of fasting and one fourth on 3rd and 4th day of fasting after which it should be stopped. The reason behind slowly stopping is to avoid a sudden bounce in blood pressure. Fasting also reduces blood pressure. Blood pressure should be checked at least once a day during fasting.
14. Asthmatics, Arthritis patients should consume ginger water as described above for 5 days minimum. All medicines should be stopped from day 1 of fasting.
15. People with cardiac diseases should take only half dose of nitrates for first 3 days and then stop it. Aspirin should be avoided from day one of fasting. Any chest discomfort should not be ignored. Such patients should avoid long fasting. Blood pressure should be checked at least once a day during fasting.
16. One should not fast during pregnancy and lactation period.
– Dr.Hiren Parekh.