Fasting to cleanse your body system
MALAYSIA - At the close of Ramadan, I'm sure many Muslim friends bade farewell to the month-long fasting with mixed feelings.
The holy month of Ramadhan is considered to be not just a time of cleansing for the body, but also for the mind and soul.
Individuals who have truly internalised the intricacies of fasting appreciate it so much that many continue to fast in the following month of Syawal, one day after the Eid celebrations, and on specific weekdays for the rest of the year.
People who are practising a fast usually appear more tired and listless than usual, and for a good reason: the body is actually working harder than usual to sustain itself.
When one is fasting, the body system is suddenly faced with various new challenges.
For starters, the digestive system is suddenly relieved of most of its "duties" for the month. To cope with the extra energy, the body uses it for other purposes, such as removing accumulated toxins and producing new body cells, particularly the immune system.
The body goes into a "repair mode", detoxifying the liver, colon, kidneys, lungs, lymph glands and skin. The digestive system actually undergoes spring-cleaning - cleaning the stomach lining and intestines, resulting in better digestion and absorption of nutrients.
As the body is deprived of its regular energy source from food, it resorts to the glycogen in the fat cells. This results in weight loss, which makes fasting the best way to lose weight naturally and effectively.
In fact, numerous studies prove that regular fasting reduces the risks of high cholesterol and insulin.
Not only that, fasting cuts off the food supply to abnormal growths in any part of the body, setting off an auto-healing process. The reduction of metabolism in a fasting individual is transferred into enhanced immunity and protein production.
As a result, one usually experiences a sense of rejuvenation when the fasting period is over. The production of new cells also offsets the release of anti-ageing hormones.
Good fasting routine
Although researchers recommend fasting to regulate blood glucose levels, people with diabetes need to practise extra caution when fasting to ensure that their glucose levels do not drop to dangerous levels - a condition known as hypoglycaemia.
Hypoglycaemia, characterised by intense sweating, shaking, irritability, weakness and fainting, can be dangerous, especially in the elderly who are often alone at home. Prolonged hypoglycaemia can lead to neurological damage, or even death, if left untreated.
As such, diabetics need to check with their doctors before beginning a fast. Most diabetics can fast successfully with the right dosage of medications and food control when breaking fast.
A common pitfall during the fasting month is the excessive intake of food when breaking fast. The sudden spike in energy sends mixed messages to the body system, apart from overloading the digestive system and reversing all the benefits reaped from the earlier fasting.
A better option would be to consume normal amounts of food in one meal during the breaking of fast, with smaller meals or snacks later on. This will help the body adjust better to the fasting and non-fasting periods.
As the Muslim fast prohibits the intake of liquids, dehydration and reduced blood sugar levels may become a problem.
Rather than taking huge amounts of water when breaking fast, it is advisable to take smaller amounts of liquids at regular intervals when not fasting, to compensate for the water loss.
Fibre intake from fibrous fruits and vegetables ought to be increased to help bowel movement. Opt for fresh, uncooked vegetables such as ulam-ulam to enjoy the increased nutrition that might otherwise be lost as a result of cooking.
Fasting around the world
Although fasting is most commonly associated with Ramadan, fasting or abstaining from food for religious reasons is actually practised around the world by other religions. Just like the Islamic fast, these other religious fasts also focus equal importance upon spiritual, as well as physical healing.
An example is the Greek Orthodox Christian fast, which lasts for 180-200 days throughout a year. The main fasting periods are 40 days before Christmas (Nativity fast), 48 days before Easter (Lent), and 15 days in August (Assumption).
The Nativity fast involves abstinence from dairy products, eggs, meat and fish; whereas the Lent fast means abstaining from dairy products, eggs and meat. Some people may also choose to give up a personal habit during Lent, such as smoking, alcohol, junk food or movies, as a form of repentance.
These dietary restrictions result in heavier dependence upon bread, fruits, nuts, vegetables, seafood and legumes, which is almost vegetarian in nature.
Medically speaking, the Greek Orthodox Christian fast is shown to reduce body mass, protein and total fats. The increased fibre intake has a beneficial impact upon serum lipid levels.
Another popular fast is the Daniel fast, which takes place for either 10, 21 or 40 days. Basically, the fast involves abstaining from animal products, refined carbohydrates, food additives, preservatives, sweeteners, flavourings, caffeine and alcohol.
Food choices are restricted to fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and oil. As the dietary restrictions result in a mostly vegan diet, this fast has been shown to reduce blood pressure, blood lipids, oxidative stress and increase insulin sensitivity.
In conclusion, fasting is a good way to stress the body system back into shape after a year of daily feasts.
It is important that the dietary restrictions are accompanied by increased introspection, mindful prayer and thoughtfulness, which will make a fast holistic and complete.
So try fasting for self discipline and better health.