Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 13th 2014 Contents | HEALTHY LIVING |
By Magella Moreau
With one week to go to Easter and the end of the
Lenten season --- during which time Christians fast
for 40 days, mirroring Christ's fast and temptation
in the Judaean desert --- what better time than now,
to examine this ancient practice?
FASTING FOR SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT
While fasting plays a major role for Christians during
Lent as they prepare for Easter by reflecting on
Christ's suffering and sacrifice, his life, death and res-
urrection, spiritually, the practice is also important to
every major religion, with many believing that the clar-
ity and insights gained through fasting lead to greater
faith and understanding. According to Dr Annemarie
Colbin, Founder and CEO of the Natural Gourmet In-
stitute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York City:
"Entire religions have evolved from one man's fast,
empires toppled, wars halted . . . we need look no fur-
ther than Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha, Gandhi."
FASTING FOR PHYSICAL HEALING
While fasting has traditionally been viewed as a spiri-
tual practice, there are some who use it to promote
physical healing, to fortify the body, as well as the spirit.
They argue that fasting provides a natural resting pe-
riod for our bodies, allowing cleansing and healing to
occur. According to Justin Crawford, of the Soil and
Health (electronic) Library, many animals fast during
times of stress or illness, because of the natural ten-
dency for organisms, whether human or animal, to
seek rest, balance, and conservation of energy in times
of crisis. Taking a break from food allows the body to
purge itself of toxins and waste and to rebalance, chang-
ing from normal functioning to that of cleansing, healing
and recuperation. The internal cleansing of toxins and in-
ferior materials can begin because much of the energy
used by the body for digestion is now freed up.
There have been numerous studies linking fasting
to wellbeing and wellness in the body. In their 2003
paper: "Fasting in mood disorders: neurobiology and
effectiveness. A review of the literature", the au-
thors found that fasting changed brain chemistry,
producing an antidepressant effect. Additionally, it
was found to relieve the symptoms of a wide vari-
ety of medical problems, enhancing a feeling of well-
ness and a change in consciousness.
According to Mark Carney, contributing author,
Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Text Book:
"fasting opens up a window into virtually every as-
pect of our health and humanity, . . . promoting our
wellness, extending our lives, preventing future ill-
nesses, treating existing diseases, taking a stand on
political matters . . . and creating an opportunity to
witness the great mysteries that life offers us."
An added benefit of fasting for spiritual or physical
healing is, of course, weight loss. This occurs be-
cause during a fast, the lack of carbohydrate con-
sumption --- which is what the body turns into
glucose and uses for fuel --- forces the body to turn
to fat as its alternative source of energy.
FASTING VERSUS STARVATION
Many caution, however, that fasting taken to extreme
levels can put human life at risk. A distinction must be
drawn between fasting and starvation. Fasting begins
when the body starts to support itself on its reserves,
while starvation occurs when abstinence from food
continues past the time the reserves are used up.
While in theory, a human being has substantial re-
serves that can sustain the body for many weeks, an
individual can experience a variety of crises --- from
skin ailments, headaches, nausea and the potential for
liver and kidney failure --- particularly on water fasts
which cleanse more aggressively and can send toxins
to these vital organs at such a speed that they may
be challenged to keep up. Health professionals also
suggest it is medically risky to fast if you are pregnant
or breastfeeding, diabetic, underweight or have a low-
ered immune system. A doctor's advice is therefore
usually recommended, to ensure your current state of
health can withstand fasting.
HOW LONG CAN THE BODY
BE SUSTAINED WITHOUT FOOD?
According to the American Society for Nutrition, a
healthy male can stay alive on a water fast for roughly
35--40 days, while females can potentially survive
much longer, due to their higher fat to protein ratio.
The survival time would vary, depending on genetic
makeup, body condition, age and other factors.
HOW TO END YOUR FAST
Cathy Wong, a naturopathic doctor and American
College of Nutrition-certified nutrition specialist,
recommends coming off of a fast slowly, eating
mainly vegetables, either raw or lightly steamed,
and fruit. Portion sizes should be small, with no
sugar, coffee, wheat, gluten-foods, processed
foods or dairy. The next day, include more plant
foods, like beans, brown rice or quinoa. Continue
to add back foods that you'd like to have in your
regular diet, gradually. Fasting experts warn that
while your body is in resting mode during a fast,
your stomach shrinks and your intestines become
idle, so solid food must be re-introduced very
slowly to avoid digestive distress.
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