Clarifying Misconceptions About Fasting
By Aris Akavan, ACE CPT, BS MIS
When most people hear the world fasting they probably associate it with Muslims in the Middle East or a skinny person with a long white beards in the Far East, but rarely with an American or a European. As a follower of the Baha’i teachings, I will be fasting in the month of March and I want to explain its many benefits and show you that it is not about deprivation but rather about restoration of health.
The Baha’i fast is from March 2nd to March 20th of every year and those between ages 15-70 abstain from food and drink each day from sunrise to sunset. Exemption is granted to the sick, pregnant and menstruating women, nursing mothers and those engaged in heavy labor or traveling. I personally started fasting at age 16 as I didn’t feel ready at 15 and nobody has permission to enforce it, it is my sole responsibility. Every year I dread fasting and wonder how I will be able to do it but once I start it is not that bad, and I like its purpose of “spiritual recuperation”. We get so caught up in the material world that it is good to “be forced” to stop and meditate, pray and strive to make readjustments in our inner lives. Fasting, or not eating, is symbolic, it is a reminder to abstain from selfish desires by concentrating on the important things of life instead of the material ones that as a society we value so much.
Dr. Benjamin Horne, PhD, MPH, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute found that fasting lowers the risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes, and causes significant changes in cholesterol levels. Under normal conditions, the body produces appropriate levels of fats and cholesterol, but when deprived of food for a short time, it shuts down the production and storage of fat and cholesterol and starts using stored fats as the primary source of energy. Dr Horne says “Fasting causes hunger or stress. In response, the body releases more cholesterol, allowing it to utilize fat as a source of fuel, instead of glucose. This decreases the number of fat cells in the body. This is important because the fewer fat cells a body has, the less likely it will experience insulin resistance, or diabetes.” Dr. Horne believes that fasting could one day be prescribed as a treatment for preventing diabetes and coronary heart disease. That makes sense as other studies have suggested that fasting induces significant anti-inflammatory actions in the body, improves the immune system, has beneficial effects on the brain and provides better blood circulation.
Mark Mattson, a scientist with the National Institute on Aging, says that when we convert food into energy, our bodies create a lot of byproducts we could do without. During the fast the energy normally used for digesting is used to clean the body of accumulated toxins. The body starts consuming anything that is not essential to bodily function such as bacteria, viruses, waste products in the blood, build up around the joints and stored fat. Fasting allows the body to rest, detoxify and to heal in the same manner sleep does.
From Deprivation to Restoration
I read once an analogy between a body and a car that applies well to fasting. The more you use the car, the sooner it will break down, and it is the same with our body. The overindulgence of food and our living habits cause the body to work harder, but a 12 hour fast allows the organs to take a break and the body to be cleansed of toxins. During fasting I do have to make changes as I can’t train for any races, work out intensely or meet friends over food but in the end I am always very happy I did it as I feel if I can fast I can take on anything . Please note that I am not suggesting that you fast but wanted to clarify then many misconceptions about fasting.
About the Author
Aris Akavan, ACE certified Personal Trainer & Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach, is owner of Body Fitness by Aris. Her mission is to assist others in leading a healthier lifestyle by balancing exercise and proper eating habits to achieve the ultimate body & mind wellness. Aris leads by example as she practices what she preaches. She leads an alcohol free and smoke free lifestyle and has worked out while following proper nutrition practices for over 10 years. In the last few years she also started participating in 5k races, adventure runs and triathlons. You can visit Aris at any of her following:
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