Fasting : And Why You Should

Unger’s Bible Dictionary explains that the word fast in the Bible is from the Hebrew word sum, meaning “to cover” the mouth, or from the Greek word nesteuo, meaning “to abstain.” 

Throughout history, people have faced times when food was either scarce or completely unavailable, says Dr. Valter Longo, an NIH-funded longevity researcher at the University of Southern California. “So, they were forced to fast,” he says.

However, advances in technology – such as refrigeration, transportation, and electric lighting – have made food more accessible.

“This has shifted our eating patterns,” explains Dr. Vicki Catenacci, a nutrition researcher at the University of Colorado. “People now eat, on average, throughout a 14-hour period each day.”

According to scientific studies, this constant food intake may cause health problems. Researchers have begun to investigate at whether fasting can have potential benefits for some people. The majority of research has been conducted in laboratories using cells and animals. That research provided early indications of how fasting might affect the body.

In some animals, certain fasting diets seem to protect against diabetes, heart disease, and cognitive decline. Fasting has even slowed the aging process and protected against cancer in some experiments. “In mice, we’ve seen that one of the effects of fasting is to kill damaged cells, and then turn on stem cells,” explains Longo. Damaged cells can speed up aging and lead to cancer if they’re not destroyed. When stem cells are turned on, new healthy cells can replace the damaged cells.

Now, studies are starting to look at what happens in people, too. Early results have found that some types of fasting may have positive effects on aspects of health like blood sugar control, blood pressure, and inflammation.

But it also has spiritual and mental health purposes. Fasting is a means of getting our minds back on the reality that we are not self-sufficient. Fasting helps us realize just how fragile we are and how much we depend on things beyond ourselves. And it also teaches us discipline, and resilience.

We already have periods of fasting in our normal lives as a result of our daily sleeping patterns. The reason it’s called “breakfast” is because you fast while you sleep and break your fast with the first meal you eat when you wake up.

“Intermittent fasting” refers to periods of fasting followed by periods of feeding. The typical daily intermittent fasting diet – and the one that I follow – is called a 16:8, where you’re basically fasting for 16 hours of the day, and eating for only eight hours.

Most people fast for about 12 hours and eat for about 12 hours. By simply extending that fasting window by a few more hours, so that you’re fasting for 16 hours and eating only for eight, you’ll derive many of the benefits of intermittent fasting that are lacking with normal eating schedules.

Many times, we don’t fast because we’ve lost our spiritual appetite. John Piper says, “The absence of fasting is the measure of our contentment with the absence of Christ.” Piper adds, “If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because we have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

Anyone who has done a fast – whether absolute, liquid, or partial – would agree fasting is difficult. Physically, you may suffer from unpleasant side effects, such as headaches, fatigue, and intestinal discomfort, as your body attempts to adjust to the reduced caloric intake. Spiritually, attacks from the darkness of our mind increase in frequency and intensity, resulting in a barrage of frustrations that can seem overwhelming. However, the same people who would be honest about the challenges of fasting would also concur that the sacrifices are well worth the rewards. So don’t resist the suffering that accompanies fasting. Rejoice in it!

It’s okay to be hungry, but fasting shouldn’t make you starve. This is why it’s important to implement breathwork in your routine. Your breath brings oxygen into your body so that you can thrive. The power of breath is one of the most underrated aspects of wellness. Breathwork has the potential to increase your energy levels, enhance focus, improve your mood, and tame anxiety.

Deep breathing also stimulates the vagus nerve – a large, wandering nerve that travels from the brain down into most major areas of the body. The vagus nerve is largely in control of the “rest and digest” part of your nervous system and can also influence blood pressure. 

Your vagus nerve, which is also called your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), is responsible for restoring balance in the body after periods of stress. Breathwork also stimulates the hypothalamus which regulates hunger, emotions, activity levels, sleep cycles, metabolism, body temperature, and much more.

A study showed that performing a breathing exercise, which involved holding their breath for 3–4 seconds while contracting their stomach muscles, decreased feelings of hunger on an empty stomach.

“The aims of this study were to determine whether a modified Qigong breathing exercise can reduce the sense of hunger and identify possible mechanisms. This breathing exercise provides comfort in different circumstances, such as lack of regular meals, limited volume or caloric diet, and even during temporary complete absence of food in therapeutic fasting.

Although therapeutic fasting is not the subject of this article, it should be noted that most of the participants have used it after this study. Their abstinence from food, but not water lasted from 3 to 14 days. All participants noted high efficiency of the breathing exercise during all stages of fasting. It should be noted that the side effects of the breathing exercise included complete absence of gastric damage symptoms usually accompanying fasting. Namely, dense fur on the tongue, putrid breath, pain in the stomach, belching air and heartburn, poor tolerance of food in the first few days after fasting. Many patients with gastric and duodenal ulcer diseases felt better during and after fasting.”

Not only this will be good for your individual health, but you can also participate into improving the global ecological health by reducing food waste and controling your own ingestion of unnecessary comestibles.

Wasted food is an environmental issue: food is a valuable resource. Edible and inedible food also wastes the water, energy, labor, pesticides, fertilizers, and land used to produce it. When those waste goes to the landfill, nutrients in the food do not return to the soil. The wasted food rots and produces methane gas.

Fasting makes you more aware of when you consume, and how much you do. Being more conscious of your own intake of this valuable resource is not only a health matter, but an ecological one too.

So… Why should you start fasting?

  • Great for the (he)art
  • Brings you discipline
  • Teaches you to express gratitude
  • Increase cognitive functions
  • Lower stress and anxiety
  • Good for your nervous system
  • Helps reduce food waste

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