Ayurveda believes that a day-long fast on a weekly basis is a healthy lifestyle habit. Recent research confirms this with an interesting twist.
The study shows that a 2 day fast is more effective than a week long low calorie diet. You lose more weight by fasting for 2 days, followed by 5 days of normal eating than compared to eating 7 days on a moderately calorie restricted diet*.
This makes sense from an Ayurvedic point of view. When you eat as little as possible for a day or two, your Agni (digestive enzymes) burns up Ama (undigested food residue in the gut). By removing Ama, your entire digestive system and metabolism operates more efficiently. If practiced on a regular basis, the Ama in the gut is significantly reduced. Subsequently, Agni will burn off excess tissues including fat.
However, if you fast for longer periods, or eat a calorie restricted diet for days on end, your body actually begins to rev down you entire metabolism into survival mode. Your body’s innate intelligence thinks that the consistently low-nutrient diet is due to a period of famine. As a result, your Agni actually pares down. You will become less hungry, and adapt to lower energy use. You might even become more tired or listless. You will lose weight, but slowly. Your metabolism slows down and your fat cells are slowly depleted of their content to provide you with extra calories. However, if you return to your previous diet of excess, your body will quickly rebuild your fat cells to their original store potential. The consequence is that you put back all those pounds you just lost!
Keeping Agni strong while eating a calorie restrictive diet is not easy. We have to trick the body into thinking that there is plenty of food to digest when there isn’t. When a low calorie diet is combined with moderate physical exercise, Agni is stimulated and the body’s intelligence allows fat cells to be used as fuel. Not only this, but fat cells are transformed into muscle cells, which require more energy to sustain their inherent heat thus helping to shift the body’s energy resources away from storage (fat) to heat (muscle).
Eating a restrictive diet for long periods without combined physical exercise will only cause fat cells to reduce slowly in size, whereas combining this diet with moderate exercise will permit fat cells to convert into muscle cells. So when you return to a less restrictive diet, your fat cells will fill, but there will be less of them, so you return to a healthier weight instead of rebounding back to the old heavy you.
Restrictive diets are hard to stick to for obvious reasons. Ayurveda uses regular day long fasts as a solution to the above dilemmas. Depending on your health needs, and your body type, the frequency and severity of day fasts should vary between 1 day per week to 1 day per month:
Kapha types (heavy build) and people who are overweight can opt for a 1-day-long fast on a weekly basis. This will help to stimulate Agni (digestive enzymes and catabolic metabolism), remove Ama (toxins) from the gut, and reduce excess tissue mass (water retention, excess fat tissue etc). Best is to avoid foods altogether and just consume warm liquids. Some people do well just drinking hot water, with a dash of lemon; others prefer ginger tea. If you can’t handle one day with no foods at all, try a thin vegetable soup, or soup stock.
Pitta types (medium build, tendency to heat related problem like acidity, burning, skin rashes, excess hunger and sweating) can benefit from a 1-day-long fast every two weeks. Fast on warm liquids in the winter and non-acidic fruit juices or carrot juice in the summer. This will help keep Agni strong and the gut clean from Ama build up.
Vata types (skiny build, tendency to suffer from deficiencies, coldness and dryness, nervous system problems) can fast for 1 day every month to keep their Agni strong and guts clean from Ama build up. Best to use hot water with a dash of lemon, or thin soups.
*See the full news article.