Monday, August 23, 2010


A knock on my door at home any time of the day is a very usual occurrence. And standing in front of the door would be a friend; who stopped to say hello, a sister or a brother whose intention is to strain the tight family budget; sometimes its a family friend from another city who needs to attained a 3-day seminar in town or is seeking greener pasture. Hmmm!. The initial telephone call or mail before such visits is what I consider necessary, it rarely happens. My guests just ‘drop’ at my doorstep. What can I do? It’s the society that we live in.

This time, it was a friend, and it was lunch hour. In the spirit of the generous African tradition; I invited her to join the family at lunch. “Thank you, but no thanks”, she responded, and then she added,” it’s the Ramadan fasting period and I have decided this year, to join my Muslim friends”. I prodded her further and learnt that her real reason was to stay in shape. 5 minutes later, I was still processing her response, because I knew for certain she was not a Muslim. I almost yelled at her. Shouting at her would have been my reflex reaction, but the thought that my 3 year old, who was sitting next to me - would see me fault the golden rule “DO NOT TALK WHILE YOU CHEW” made me stay mute. Does she need to wait till this holy season before embarking on a weight loss fast, what about exercising and diet modulation; has she changed the reason for Ramadan fast from spiritual uplifting to weight loss?

Come to think of it, there are many types of fasting. When done properly, some types of fasting can actually offer health benefits. Some of the types of fasting that people participate in include;

Cleansing: more and more people are becoming fond of the idea of participating in a cleansing fast. This typically involves abstaining from all food and most drinks for a period of up to a week. During the fast, the user will drink a lot of water and will usually be instructed to take some sort of supplement that is supposed to help cleanse the body of impurities.

Medical: some people must fast for a day or two in order to prepare for an upcoming medical procedure, such as surgery or a diagnostic test. If you forget to keep a medical fast, it is very important to let your health care provider know that. She/he may need to reschedule the test and, if surgery is involved, there could be dangerous consequences to proceeding when you have not kept to the prescribed fast.

Religious: this is probably the most well known among types of fasting. Religious fasts can last from one day to several days. Just like the Ramadan fast.

Weight Loss: one of the types of fasting that can be very dangerous is fasting to lose weight. First of all, fasting is not an effective weight loss method if you really want to keep the weight off. Taken to the extreme, this in medical terminology is called Anorexia nervosa; which is a disease that has taken the lives of many young girls and women. If you truly want to lose weight, fasting is not the BEST way to go about it. Yes, watching what you eat is –but this must be done in a systematic and correct manner. You have to develop a healthy eating plan that includes lots of fruits, fresh vegetables and whole grains. Exercise also matters. Add some cardiac rehabilitative exercise regimes to your diet plan (at least five times a week) and you’ll lose weight at a healthy rate, and at the same time - be able to keep it off!. If you desire to loose weight, take it seriously and visit your Nutritionist or Dietician as the first step.

Fasts could be; i) Total Fast: a total fast means that the person will not eat or drink anything for the set period of time. This is the most extreme fast, and is not recommended. ii) Solid Food fast: another form of fasting where the participant drinks only fluids, but will not eat any solid food. Fluids permitted often include water and vegetable juices (they serve as fat burners and provided the needed calories). Interestingly, some people feel that this type of fast is not a true fast as many nutrients can be provided in the vegetable juices. Also, some juices have the ability to make one feel full, thus eliminating any discomfort that would come with fasting. iii)Extended Fast: some people go on an extended fast, lasting more than a week. Often, people who do this will choose to eat some type of broth once or twice a day in order to get nutrients required to stay healthy even as they fast. Extended fasts are most typically done for some religious reasons.

While fasting the digestive tract rests and this slows down the body’s metabolism. The physiological effect of fasting includes lowering of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol and lowering of the systolic blood pressure. Fasting should never be taken to an extreme. Adverse effects of total fasting (as well as of crash diets) could be fatal.No matter what types of fasting you are considering, you should bear in mind that meeting your daily nutrient intake and of course maintaining a state of health and wellness is very important. Here are some important dietary tips to remember during fasting:-

o Choose Slow-digesting foods, they are the best choice for nourishing the body throughout the day. Foods such as: barley, wheat, oats, beans, lentils, brown rice and nuts. These foods contain fiber which will help prevent constipation and stomach upset during fasting. Try to combine some of these grains with a small amount of protein.
Some examples are:
1 cup serving of a mixture of beans, brown rice and ground meat.
1 cup serving of meat and grain mixture.

o Avoid foods that are digested quickly such as: foods containing sugar, white flour or other refined carbohydrates. These foods will be burnt out quickly and leave you very hungry before the time you choose to break the days fast.

o Avoid fried foods, they may cause stomach upset during the day.

o Avoiding high sodium containing foods help to prevent increased thirst during fasting.

o Eat 1 cup of fresh fruits and drink about ( 2-3 ) 8 oz cups of water or fluid the time you have scheduled to break the fast

o Start by drinking 2 cups of non-fat milk or water, milk is a great source of protein and calcium. Before eating more dense foods, try to have 1 cup of a light soup or broth and 1 serving of whole grain bread.

o Choose foods such as whole grains, steamed or roasted vegetables and fresh fruits.

o Avoid Spicy foods; these foods stimulate gastric secretion which may cause an uncomfortable feeling after fasting. If you are accustomed to spicy foods such as Indian/Pakistani diet, then try to limit the amount spices used in cooking.

Other important tips include:
o Eat slowly and chew foods properly to ease digestion.

o Avoid carbonated drinks which have poor nutritional value and increase stomach acidity.

o Reduce caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee and dark colas which can have a diuretic effect and make you loose much needed fluid during fasting.

Remember that due to fluid and electrolyte needs it is better to exercise in the evening after you have broken your fast (if you enjoy a constant exercise routine). More so, once you are healthy, you do not need to overeat or compensate for normal daily meals, the human body has been designed to physiologically adjust to temporary periods of food deprivation.

If you are an individual with Type 1 Diabetes, consult with your Doctor before fasting. If diabetes is poorly controlled, you are at high risk for developing severe complications. Proper monitoring of blood glucose levels multiple times a day is very important.
Individuals with Type 2 diabetes on diet- controlled regimens may fast; however dietary principles must be reinforced.

Finally, let me leave you with the words of Saint Jerome (347-420). "When the stomach is full, it is easy to talk of fasting.” fasting is not a hunger strike or an excuse to bad food habit or poor nutritional status. You can be healthy and fit while you fast.

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