Most religions use periods of fasting as a means of demonstrating faith or penitence and an opportunity for spiritual reflection. Presently, Muslims are observing Ramadan, the ninth month on the Islamic calendar. Foods and drinks are consumed before sunrise and after sunset. Many of my clients are asking me advice about how to best handle this situation.
Though it may not be the most practical — or safest — diet, some people also use fasting as a way to lose weight.
Does Fasting Help You Lose Weight?
When you fast, your body is forced to dip into energy stores to get the fuel it needs to keep going, so you will lose weight. Our bodies have been genetically programmed to combat the effects of fasting. When you eat less food, your metabolism slows down to conserve energy. When you go back to your usual diet, your lowered metabolism may cause you to store more energy, meaning that you might gain back (some) of the weight you lost, however, this also depends on what type of fasting diet you are following.
As you fast, your body will adjust by reducing your appetite, so you will initially feel less hungry. But once you have stopped fasting, your appetite hormones will kick back into gear and your appetite will increase.
Research has shown that fasting on alternate days can help people lose weight, but not for long. In one study, people who followed an alternate-day fasting diet shed weight, even when they ate all they wanted on the nonfasting days. However, they could not maintain the weight loss over time.
Could Fasting Help You Live Longer?
Studies of fasting in both rodents and humans appear to indicate a connection between calorie restriction and longevity. In one study of overweight men and women, a calorie-restricted diet improved markers of aging, such as insulin level and body temperature.
Is Fasting Safe?
Fasting for a day or two probably won’t hurt people who are generally healthy, provided they maintain an adequate fluid intake. However, fasting entirely for long periods of time can be harmful. Your body needs a variety of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from food to stay healthy. Not getting enough of these nutrients during fasting diets can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, constipation, dehydration and gallstones.
Even short-term fasting is not recommended for people with insulin dependent diabetes, because it can lead to dangerous dips or spikes in blood sugar. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or anyone with a chronic disease, should discuss this with a doctor to find out whether it is safe and appropriate for you.
What can you do to manage your health during Ramadan?
- Drink water as soon as you wake up.
- Make sure you have a healthy breakfast with protein and fruit/vegetables.
- Make sure you are taking your supplements:
- Review any medication/supplements you take regularly and ask professional advice. Many medications might be to your detriment during fasting.
- Review your exercise regime.
- Consume water and have a balanced supper shortly after sunset (protein and vegetables eg curry and rice with cooked vegetables).
- Just before bedtime (about 4 hours later), have a fruit and the replacement shake.
When fasting ends:
- Cut down on the portions at breakfast and supper.
- Introduce two to three small snacks during the day during the first five to six days (in addition to the breakfast and supper).
Thereafter, eat as usual