Intermittent Fasting – the term may have been coined recently, but this pattern of eating exists since ancestral times. It’s one of the most natural ways of eating and living life because it respects two phases of our human body – the elimination phase and the building phase. During the olden days the last meal of the day used to be just before sunset because of the lack of electricity and the first meal right after sunset. This automatically gave the human body a fasting of 14-16 hours. So intermittent fasting was almost like a way of living for our ancestors.

Almost all religions embrace fasting in some way or the other. It allows a complete shutdown of our digestive system. Since our digestive system utilizes almost 80% of our body energy, only 20% remains for other bodily processes like detoxification, repair, healing, growth, rejuvenation.

In intermittent fasting, one stops eating after a particular time and moves to only plain water for a specific period of time, and then slowly resumes eating. The phase in which one fast is called the elimination phase and the phase in which one feeds is called the building phase.
Fasting in some form or the other exists in all religions. Right from Hinduism, Christianity, Muslims to Jainism and Jews – fasting has its place in every tradition as a way to cleanse your body on a physical level, so you can grow emotionally, mentally and most importantly spiritually.

Is Intermittent Fasting A Fad?
Intermittent fasting was never a fad. It was a way of life. Unfortunately, it has now got a reputation of being a fad because people use it as a shortcut to lose weight. While this approach may yield results, it still fails to address the root cause of what led one to gain weight which is mostly due to faulty lifestyle habits.

We see intermittent fasting growing into a fad not only in India but also in Western countries. In fact, it’s even worse when these fads allow beverages like coffee, tea during the fasting window.

Is 16:8 The Right Way To Go About It?
We humans need to stop putting ourselves in rigid boxes of 16:8. Just because every single article on intermittent fasting talks about a 16:8 hour fast doesn’t mean it has to suit you. Why not a 14:10 or a 12:12 fast? Fasting is very personal, just like nutrition or exercise. What’s safe in terms of quantity and frequency depends on individual to individual based on their goals, lifestyle, any existing medical condition, amount of toxicity in the body, and several other factors. So, while the 16:8 hour fasting appears to be one of the most popular ways to fast on social media, it doesn’t have to work for everyone.

If one lives an overall balanced and clean lifestyle, then less is more when it comes to fasting. A simple 12-hour, sunset to sunrise fast is by far one of the most effective ways to embrace intermittent fasting based on our experience. It is in fact what one must adopt anyway because our body isn’t designed to digest late night meals and snacks according to the laws of nature (which no one can deny or argue with). So, an early dinner followed by fasting for about 12 hours (eg: 7 pm-7 am) and breaking it the next day post sunrise gives a beautiful and much deserved break to our body. This is smart and intuitive fasting because it aligns fasting with the cycles of nature. This is also called circadian rhythm fasting.

A generic advice in cases of fasting never works. An intuitive fasting is a more effective approach.

Should One Do It?
Most people are eating more than ever today and yet feel fatigued and tired all throughout the day. More food doesn’t mean more energy. In fact, the more food one eats, the more energy our body has to spend to digest, breakdown, absorb and assimilate it in every single cell of our body. Those who have embraced smart fasting or circadian rhythm fast, have more energy than ever.

Intermittent fasting benefits our body beyond weight loss. It helps our digestive system take a complete break which is not only healing to the digestive system but the entire body. It charges up our immunity- the first and last line of defense. It calms down inflammation and is thus called as a natural pain killer that works amazingly well for any arthritic pains. It helps in detoxification and the lesser toxins you hold the better are your chances of recovering from or preventing a disease. It’s anti-aging and boosts skin and hair health.

It’s also shown to play a massive role in breaking the weight loss plateau, hormonal balance, acidosis, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, kidney problems and just feeling more energetic and good inside.

Intermittent fasting also improves spiritual health because meditation is most fruitful on an empty stomach. One can meditate best when the digestive system and its communication with the brain function is given a complete rest.
You name it and fasting has its place when it comes to human health and wellness.

Who Shouldn’t Do It?
While the benefits of intermittent fasting are powerful and also recorded in medical and scientific journals, it does not have to suit everyone. Below are some cases where intermittent fasting must be avoided or followed only under medical supervision.

– Extremely weak and underweight individuals
– Pregnant and lactating moms
– Highly unstable blood sugar and blood pressure levels
– Kidney diseases (especially those on water restrictions)
– Medical treatments or medicines that need to be had during a certain time of the day.

Dos And Don’ts
1. Firstly, set the right intention when you fast. The intention is everything. Do not fast with an intention to only lose weight. Weight, rather fat loss is a pleasant side effect of intermittent fasting but that’s not why you should fast. Fast because it helps you become disciplined and align with nature. Fasting I’d not a shortcut to lose weight and it shouldn’t blind you from making lifestyle changes.

2. During intermittent fasting, drink only plain water in the fasting phase. No tea, coffee or infused water as anything other than water. There are people who modify fasting as per their convenience. They claim to be on fasting but still have tea/coffee/juices etc. Well, this is not fasting and such an approach can be detrimental to one’s health. If one wants to adopt fasting, one must do it the right way.

3. Thirdly, set the timings, eating patterns, hours of fasting according to what suits you and your lifestyle. Don’t fast for 16 hours just because everyone else is doing it. If you are a beginner, start slow and build up gradually.

4. In the building phase, make sure you really eat well. Don’t diet in the building phase, else you will only cripple your metabolism. Get your macros and micros (I don’t mean you start calculating them!), vitamins and minerals. Eat well and don’t starve. Fasting is not starvation. In fact, if one doesn’t nourish well, they might end up looking undernourished, weak, haggard.

1. Do not diet or eat skimpy meals during our building phase. Building phase is actually meant to replenish and rebuild your nutritional stores. Eat clean but a well-balanced diet during your eating window.

2. Do not compete with anyone when it comes to fasting. Fasting is not a competition or a game. Everyone is different.

3. Do not use fasting as an excuse to feast and overeat during your building phase. Respect your body’s needs.

4. Do not use fasting as a solution for weight gain. Use it to instill discipline into your lives with respect to eating, constant nibbling, respecting food and an individual’s appetite for that, listening to your body and so on.

– By Luke Coutinho, Holistic Lifestyle Coach – Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine and Founder of YouCare – All about YOU by Luke Coutinho, Founder, RESET, a holistic wellness and fitness centre.