Can Fasting be Good for Your Health?

Today, fasting--or denying yourself food for a time--is something that seems alien to modern society. How can anyone go hungry with so many fast food chains, supermarkets, and convenience stores in every neighborhood?

However, many people fast out of their own free will. In some religions, believers are called upon to fast for a given period of time as a sign of faith, usually in observance of sacred events like Lent, Ramadan, and Yom Kippur. Patients going in for surgery or certain medical tests are also required to fast before the procedure can take place, which puts their metabolism in a more stable level. Finally, some people will promote a political cause by fasting; this is usually known as a "hunger strike" and has been adopted by such activists as Mahatma Gandhi and Cesar Chavez.

Recent studies have also shown that fasting in moderation can be good for your health, especially when it comes to battling obesity. A study by the National Institute on Aging found that fasting can put stress on our body's cells, which can build up their ability to handle more stress and improve their overall function. Conversely, overeating and a lack of physical activity creates an excess of raw material that our cells are unable to process, resulting in weight gain. Besides losing weight, moderate fasting can also lead to an increased sensitivity to insulin and an increase in one's life span.

Whether you're fasting for religious, political, medical, or personal reasons, it's important to be effective and safe while doing so. Keep these tips in mind.

1. Always drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated and to clean out your body of any impurities.

2. Physically prepare yourself for the fast, such as weaning yourself off less healthy foods that contain fat and sugar, as well as any drugs or alcohol.

3. Consult with a doctor or nutritionist before beginning your fast.

4. When beginning your fast, commit yourself to a short, predetermined period of time, like an 8-hour stretch on a weekday, or from sunrise to sunset.

5. Keep up your determination with a positive attitude, whether it's based on a religious perspective, a political motivation, or a health-conscious decision.

6. Stop immediately if you begin to feel sick, dizzy, or lightheaded. Drink water and eat something light to keep yourself balanced. You can always start fasting again once your body is back under control.

7. Breaking the fast should be done with a light meal, ideally with vegetables and a good source of protein that your stomach can handle.

If you stay committed to being responsible with your eating habits, you'll find that a moderate degree of fasting can result in more energy during the day, a better mood, and greater self-control in your diet.

Image by Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, S.J. on Flickr

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