The practice of fasting – willing abstention from food, drink and/or the body’s basic needs – has existed for thousands of years in many different faith-based and cultural traditions.
While fasting is also used as a diagnostic method in allopathic medicine, such as testing for blood glucose levels, the basic principle in most traditions is to use fasting as a means to cleanse and detoxify the body, mind and heart.
In general, the purpose of this cleansing is to better physical health, enhance mental clarity, gain attunement to one’s own intuition, and cultivate increased compassion for those who do not have the option to fast because they do not have access to enough nourishing food and drink in the first place.
Whether it’s a fresh-squeezed juice-only fast, gluten or sweets fast, 7-day fast, religious-based fast, or a simple experiment of willpower, from a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) perspective, there are specific safe and healthy ways to fast that can enhance the benefits of your fast multiple fold.
We are entering the first week of the month of Ramadan, the month of fasting when Muslims around the world fast from dawn to dusk every day for 30 days. Fast is broken on a daily basis at sunset and continues the following morning before dawn breaks.
The following 5 tips for safe fasting can be applied in Ramadan or for any other purpose and type of fast that one performs. A brief explanation is given for each.
1. Break fast with a warm nourishing drink that is non-caffeinated and non-carbonated, such as lemon-water, boiled goji berries, boiled dates, or boiled haw berries (or combination thereof).
Each of these types of drinks either cleanses the arteries and the intestinal system, or nourishes the energy and the blood, and requires very little dosage to make a tasty, nutritious drink. After being without any food or drink for more than 8 hours, the body immediately absorbs into the bloodstream whatever fluids you put into it, and this is what feeds the tissues.
In comparison, there is little to no nutritional value in giving your body coffee, tea, pop or juice (except homemade fresh-squeezed). For those who want a healthy energy boost to stay up through the night that also improves immunity, drink non-sugared American or Canadian ginseng tea (not Korean or Siberian ginseng).
2. For the breaking fast meal (iftar), choose healthy foods to eat that are rich in colourful vegetables and fruits, fish and meats, and less in gluten-containing foods such as bread and flour products. Gluten-containing products plug up the gastrointestinal system and fill up the shrunken stomach while having little nutritional value. Better to mainly fill up on vegetables, fish and meats, which together bring a healthier pH balance in the body because vegetables alkalize the acid-producing nature of meat.
3. In TCM, the method of cooking is as important as the selection of food eaten. Eat primarily foods that are not deep-fried, greasy, oily, BBQ-ed or grilled. And avoid excessive amounts of sweets, pastries and dairy milk, yogurt and cheese.
When beginning any fast, the body typically goes through some degree of withdrawal from gluten, sugar, caffeine and dairy, especially if your body consumes these types of foods regularly. All of these foods and methods of cooking cause greater retention of phlegm and acidity in the body, leading to toxin-filled cells, and faster-than-normal break down of blood and tissues.
4. Avoid gorging on food when you do eat and do not eat more than necessary to compensate for missed meals during the day. This defeats the purpose of fasting to cleanse and detoxify.
5. Eat slowly and chew your food well. The brain receives the signal that the stomach is full approximately 20 minutes after you’ve reached capacity, so the slower you eat, the faster you will feel full and the less tendency to unhealthily overstuff yourself. If your appetite is not satiated easily, then drink a cup of lemon-water to curb cravings.