Dr. Pran Rangan

 

Fasting has some great significance in our life. All religions of the world advocate fasting for varying periods of days and months on various occasions for their followers.

Fasting is a spiritual practice to be found in all religions. The great founders of various faiths practiced quite rigorous fasting as a preliminary to attaining their first experience of spiritual enlightenment and communion with God.

Most believe fasting as a way to subdue them in order to strengthen themselves spiritually. It intensifies the consciousness of God in our hearts, resulting in a higher spiritual experience. Many consider that fasting is an efficient brake to the demanding senses and sublimates one's desires to mellow the mind.

 

The Hebrew word for fast is tsowm, and literally means to cover or close the mouth. By implication its meaning is not to eat. In the Greek the word is nesteuo, which again literally means not to eat. 

 

The fasting is a voluntary act of self affliction by denying themselves food or/and drink. The purpose of this denial is to demonstrate to God that by fasting God might deem one worthy of His Grace and Mercy.

 

Hindus believe that by the word 'Upavaasaa' which would mean fasting in Sanskrit, the term 'Upa' would mean 'near and 'Vaasaa' would mean 'stay'. It would ideally mean to stay near God or attain the mental proximity with God while observing a fast. In India, some kinds of fasts require voluntary distribution of food and clothes among hungry and needy people by the person who undertakes the fast.

 

In Islam, fasting does not just consist of refraining from eating and drinking, but from every kind of selfish desire and wrong-doing. The fast is not merely of the body, but essentially that of the spirit as well. The physical fast is a symbol and outward expression of the real, inner fast.

 

Medically, the benefits of fasting commence within the first twelve hours of the fast. During a fast, the carbohydrate stores in the body begin to be used as an energy source. The fast should continue as long as fat and carbohydrate stores are used for energy, as opposed to protein stores. The fast should be discontinued once protein stores begin to be depleted for energy, resulting in loss of muscle mass. This is due to the starvation which may be harmful to the body.

 

It has been shown in many studies that fasting has many health benefits.

 

A different Perspective-

 

There is another perspective of fasting too. Can we fast everyday? The answer is in affirmative. It is not necessary to fast for hours or days continuously. We can restrict the quantity of what we eat daily. We can restrict the quantity of food at dinner, which is preferable to than at other major meals. This can be done daily. Alternatively, we can eat only some fruits or fresh fruit juices in dinner or throughout on some days of the week on a regular basis, while on other days normal meals of restricted calories. Fruits and fresh fruit juices will provide real health benefits. This is also a kind of fasting. This will help us to learn self-discipline by limiting the consumption of food. It has been conclusively proven that if we take a light and wholesome meal 2-3 hours before going to bed, we will get good and sound sleep.

 

Some studies show that calorie restriction (CR) in humans protects against heart aging, slows immune-system aging, reduces inflammation, reduces DNA damage and enhances DNA repair. It also slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in old people. In general, it improves our longevity and health.

 

A calorie restriction (CR) diet aims to reduce the intake of calories to a level 20-40% lower than is typical, while still obtaining all the necessary nutrients and vitamins. CR is also known as CRON which stands for calorie restriction with optimal nutrition. The term optimal nutrition can be defined as eating the right amounts of nutrients on a proper schedule to achieve the best performance. One should avoid or minimize the consumption of junk food. People suffering from some chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and hypertension should take the help of a dietitian to chart out the diets with calorie restriction. 

 

Many religions and faiths also advocate that one should eat slightly less than one’s actual hunger; this should too be done mindfully so that one doesn’t overeat and thus practice calorie restriction.

 

In fact, this kind fasting is a wonderful way to stay healthy-  spiritually, physically and mentally.