Fasting has been practised by people for thousands of years for a range of reasons. Physicians as far back as the 3rd century BC recognised that some illnesses reduced people’s appetites, and so fasting was considered an important part of the healing process. Zoroastrianism is the only religion I can find which advises specifically against fasting because of its potential to cause unnecessary suffering and weaken the body, thus making it less able to fight evil.
There are many forms of fasting and calorie restriction. Many people now practise intermittent fasting where they fast on certain days or between certain hours. This has been shown to be effective in reducing weight (which may seem obvious, but a lot of people argue that they are still eating the same overall quantity of food). In general, if doing it within a day, then the advice seems to be to consume most of your food early in the day and don’t eat during the evening. Some people use the 5/2 diet where you eat what you like for five days of the week and then restrict your calories on the other 2.
Buchinger Wilhelmi fasting [developed in Germany by therapeutic fasting specialists Maria Buchinger and her husband Helmut Wilhalmi) involves consuming under 500 calories a day and living primarily on the body’s stored fat. A study done in 2019 gave participants a 600 calorie meal of rice and vegetables or fruit (according to preference) the evening before the fast began. On each day of the fast participants were given 3L of water or herbal tea with an optional 20g of honey, and 250ml of fruit or vegetable juice at lunch and 250ml of vegetable soup in the evening. Participants did light to moderate outdoor walks and group gymnastics everyday. Almost all of the 1422 participants showed significant improvement on several biomarkers, and of the 404 participants with pre-existing health complaints 341 (84.4%) reported improvements. Significant improvements in physical and mental wellbeing were reported and 93.2% of participants reported an absence of hungry feelings throughout the study. Interestingly, improvements in physical and mental wellbeing (self-reported on a 1-10 scale) were equal between those who fasted for 5, 10 15 or 20 days. Adverse effects were reported in less than 1% of the participants.
Fasting to lose weight makes sense: insulin levels drop after a period of not eating, sugar is released from where it was stored as fat cells. The sugar is then used to power the body. Ginger can also be consumed to help regulate insulin levels, and cinnamon can help lower blood sugar by increasing sensitivity to insulin, and helping to convert blood sugar to fat. To me that sounds much better than fasting, isn’t life difficult enough already? Although, there are those who say that the joy of a good meal after a period of fasting makes the fast worthwhile. So, perhaps I should try it.. Perhaps.. another day. Now for some ginger and cinnamon biscuits, yum.