Have you heard of intermittent fasting? Of course, you have. Intermittent fasting is a Western concept that is gaining wide acceptance around the world. Wait, hold your horses. Intermittent fasting is a Western concept that has been shamelessly stolen from India, repackaged and branded, and is now being sold across the world. What does intermittent fasting include? The most common regime is the 16-hour fasting regime. That includes a person not consuming any food for 16 hours a day and fulfilling his/her hunger only in the remaining 8-hour window.
A person needs to decide on and adhere to at least a 12-hour fasting window every day if engaging in “intermittent fasting”. According to some researchers, fasting for 10–16 hours can cause the body to turn its fat stores into energy, which releases ketones into the bloodstream. The world is benefitting from this concept, and for many people, it is even working wonders.
However, what is unfortunate is the fact that Indians are falling for this concept as well, while not realising that intermittent fasting owes its origins to Hindu culture.
Heard of Vrata-Upwaas? That’s Intermittent Fasting
Fasting is an integral part of Hinduism. The fasting regime is very diverse among Hindus, and unlike Christians and Muslims, the consumption of water is not only permitted, but even welcomed during fasting periods. In every month of the Hindu Religion, there falls Ekadashi, Amavasya (New moon), Poornima (Full Moon), Sankashti Chaturthi and Pradosh Vrat.
Separately, every Hindu month has a Masik Shivratri and Krishna Janmasthami, and fasting can be undertaken on these days as well. On an average, in every Hindu month, there is scope for fasting for at least 10 to 15 days.
What Does Fasting Do?
Fasting increases the body’s responsiveness to a hormone called insulin. This hormone is released when humans consume food, and causes the liver, muscle and fat cells to store glucose. In a fasting state, blood glucose levels drop, which leads to a decrease in insulin production, signaling your body to start burning stored energy (carbohydrates). After 12 hours of fasting, your body runs out of stored energy and begins burning stored fat.
While intermittent fasting has been repackaged as a regime which is based on hours within a day, the Hindu thought behind fasting talks about no less than a full day of fast at the very least. That gives your body more time to burn glucose and switch to burning fat reserves. Fat serves no specific metabolic purpose, and is only a storage of energy which is to be used in times when glucose runs out.
The Hindu way of fasting is to ensure that the glucose supplies of the body run out and a good amount of fat is burnt before the body is recharged with more glucose. So, in a Hindu month, there are multiple days where strict fasting can be observed.
Major Fasting Periods
We all know about the solah-somwaar regime, don’t we? The 16 Mondays fast occurs during the holy month of Shravan, the fifth month of the year as per the Hindu calendar. Devotees fast for 16 consecutive Mondays and pray to Bhagwan Shiv.
Then comes Navratri. Many observers fast for nine whole days, surviving on water and fruits alone. Many devotees also opt for buckwheat meals, which are gluten free. The idea is to make the body learn how to survive without a constant supply of food.
Humans have never survived on a three-meal per day regime. This is a fairly new, and again, imported concept which came out of the West. Until recent history, Indians consumed two meals every day. In ancient India, one meal every day – which was large in size was considered more than sufficient to keep a person going for the eight watches of the day.
The human body is not designed to constantly be supplied with food. It is designed to combust energy. The modern way of life has made this combustion of energy very difficult. Leave alone burning fat, people now cannot manage to get their bodies rid of excess sugar as well.
That calls for fasting regimes to be taken up. Just remember, the next time you fast, nobody from the West has taught you how to do it. Fasting is an inextricable part of Indian culture, and must be recognised as such. Indians must learn to give credit where due, and stop importing appropriated ideas from the West.