You’re walking past the kitchen when you see a warm chocolate chip cookie on the counter. What do you instinctively do?
If you’re like me, you grab that cookie and take a bite. Maybe you pour yourself a glass of cold milk while you’re at it.
But what if you were fasting?
You’d be forced by your own will to reject that perfectly inviting chocolate chip cookie.
Think about that for a second.
When you reject the cookie, you are giving your mind a message. You are telling yourself you’re in control. You are getting a positive affirmation of self-control, discipline, and willpower.
Fasting is no new concept. It’s been practiced in many religions and cultures throughout history. But recently, the concept of intermittent fasting has become quite trendy, sparking the interest of scientists and athletes, alike. Fasting is now said to boost brain power and lower the risk of disease.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
There are so many approaches to intermittent fasting but a really popular one is known as 16/8 which is where one fasts for 16 hours (including the time they sleep) and then eats all the calories for the day in an 8 hour window. Other methods include eat-stop-eat where once or twice a week one would fast from dinner of one day to dinner of the next day (resulting in a 24 hour fast), and the 5:2 diet where twice a week one consumes about 500-600 calories. During the fasting time, only beverages like water, tea and coffee are consumed.
As a Muslim, I always thought of fasting as a spiritual exercise. But this buzz around fasting has deepened my interest in understanding the effects of it on my mind, body, and spirit. It has nudged me to reflect on the benefits I’ve experienced year after year during Ramadan.
5 Reasons I Would Fast Even If I Wasn’t Muslim
- Fasting teaches mindfulness
Fasting provides insight into the workings of the mind. We often eat to fill emotional needs. We snack to calm down anxiety or to cure boredom. We fill inner emptiness by filling our stomach. As my initial example illustrates, sometimes we eat a chocolate chip cookie just because we see it.
When you seal off all these avenues, you have to deal with your emotions. You are able to tap into any voids. You are your source of comfort, not food or drink.
Essentially, fasting forces you to undermine your physical needs and focus on your spiritual needs.
- Fasting helps you eat less
In practically every culture, and now through science, it’s been advised to eat less.
Intermittent fasting is similar to caloric restriction, which has been proven to increase lifespan in laboratory animals. Not only that, it has shown to lower risk factors for chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer!
Similarly, a study from the University of California, Berkeley compared the benefits of caloric restriction with those of alternate-day fasting. The study found that alternate-day fasting may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease in both animals and humans and help to prevent diabetes in animals.
I think fasting is the easiest way to experience the benefits of eating less.
- Fasting increases empathy and gratitude
How often do we get to experience true hunger? Most of us in first world countries are in a constant state of satiety. This makes it really hard for us to empathize with the millions who aren’t.
That thirst I feel during the day raises my empathy for every thirsty person who doesn’t have access to clean water. That pang of hunger I feel reminds me that there are people out there who can’t look forward to a meal at “Iftar.” When you fast, you are much more connected to the suffering of those experiencing involuntary hunger or thirst.
On the other side of empathy is gratitude. When you fast, you are reminded that every morsel of food is valuable. It raises your awareness of food wastage and makes you think twice before throwing away leftovers. And when you do eat, you are more mindful of what a blessing food is.
- Fasting saves time and energy
I don’t know about you, but admittedly, too much of my life revolves around food. Think about how much time is spent in food preparation, serving, consumption, cleanup, etc.
When you fast, you’re eliminating at least one meal and probably a few snacks. This actually clears up the time to accomplish more and (possibly) focus on other things besides your next meal.
Fasting is also a way to save energy. Digestion is a pretty energy-intensive process for the body. Fasting gives your digestive system a rest, freeing up energy for your body to focus on other things, like healing.
- Fasting helps regulate weight
Fasting allows your body to tap into its fat stores for energy. This may make it easier to lose weight. There have been studies indicating that fasting is an effective weight loss method.
Also, when you’re only eating twice a day, you have much more control over what you’re intaking. This makes it much easier to be careful about what you eat. Not only that, but you tend to eat less overall compared to when you’re not fasting.
Personally, fasting has always been beneficial to me. Gaining knowledge about it has further convinced me of its positive effects. Though I fast as a part of my religion, it is something I’d practice even if it weren’t.