To Fast or Not to Fast?

Fasting is often associated with Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, but this way of eating has now gone mainstream, largely because of the health and longevity benefits it provides. If you are considering making the switch to fasting, you may be confused as to where to start, the types of fasting, and how much is enough to achieve improvements in health. In this article, we will explain the basics of fasting, including the different types of restrictive eating and the health and longevity benefits that can be achieved.

What is fasting?

When a person fasts, they restrict how much food they consume for a certain amount of time. In other words, they only eat at certain times. Fasting has been used in ancient medicine for centuries as a treatment for acute and chronic diseases. The idea behind fasting is that it allows the body to switch from sugar to fat as its primary source of energy. It also promotes an adaptive cellular response that, in turn, reduces oxidative damage and inflammation, optimises energy metabolism and increases cellular protection.

What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?

Intermittent fasting simply involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting over a given period. There are a wide range of different time schedules, including 16/8 (16 hours fasting and 8 hours eating) and alternate day fasting (eating only every other day). It is thought that intermittent fasting gives the body a break from the process of digesting food, reducing inflammation, and boosting our natural healing processes.

There is considerable debate over which method of IF is most effective, how much we should do it for, and whether we should alternate between different amounts of fasting and non-fasting.

Fasting during Ramadan

Ramadan, one of the “Five Pillars of Islam”, involves abstaining from food, drink, and other physical needs from dawn to sunset. It is seen as an important time of self-reflection, spiritual growth, and heightened empathy for those who are less fortunate in society. Ramadan 2024 starts on 10th March and will end on 9th April with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.

What are the health benefits of fasting?

Each year, more and more research is demonstrating the efficacy of fasting and intermittent fasting on human physical and mental health. It has now been shown to have various health benefits, including weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, promotion of cellular repair, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases. This is precisely why fasting is seen as a way of improving our overall longevity. Compellingly, there are now in excess of 40 global studies that have proved that, done properly, intermittent fasting leads to significant weight loss. If you are considering embarking on a period of fasting or switching to IF as a way of eating, it is advisable to speak to your GP before doing so.

Final words

Whether you choose to fast for religious reasons or for a healthier lifestyle, fasting can lead to substantial spiritual, mental, and physical health benefits. It is important to bear in mind that adopting an intermittent fasting lifestyle can take time. Over weeks and months, your body will adjust, allowing you to fast for longer periods, potentially increasing the health benefits you can achieve.

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