Fasting has always been considered good for the body. It helps detoxify and declutter the system, and is often used as a fitness jumpstart. Ramadan, however, is a lot different with people going 14 to 18 hours without food or water for a whole month.
This routine is very similar to intermittent-fasting. You eat healthy meals to get your calories in during 8 hours of the day while you go without food for the rest of the day (16:8). In this method, you are allowed to have fluids like water, black coffee or tea and green tea. You can also slowly work your way to this ratio by starting at 12 to 14 hours of fasting.
People who fast during Ramadan do talk about some weight loss in the first two weeks but most have lower energy levels or eat too much at iftar. Science proves that this may just be a mental thing – where you feel starved and tend to gorge on food, when you actually aren’t deprived. Mind over matter can help you make the most of this month health-wise. Ramadan in the UAE might be the best month for non-Muslim expats to try fasting owing to the lack of tempting store displays for most parts of the day.
Here’s why this month of fasting could do wonders for you, mentally and physically.
1. Fat stores start burning
In the usual calorie-counting method, the focus is on burning calories consumed per day and per week to see results in losing weight. In intermittent fasting, the burning goes beyond just calories consumed. In a fast of at least eight hours a day, sugar and carbs consumed on that day gets burnt up completely, after which the body turns to its fat stores for energy. However, it is essential to remember that the meals that you do have should have a healthy mix of proteins, fats and limited carbs to ensure muscle-retention.
2. Human Growth Hormone
At the 2011 annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans, research showed that intermittent fasting triggered a 1300 per cent rise of human growth hormone (HGH) in women, and 2000 per cent rise in men. Why is this important? HGH helps you lose weight without losing muscle, and helps maintain longevity and regulate metabolism. High intensity interval training is another way to increase HGH in a normal exercise regimen.
3. Brain booster
Intermittent fasting pushes the body to a state of mild stress prompting increased production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF. This protein helps in rejuvenation and regeneration of brain stem cells, and boosts memory and motor function. According to Mark Mattson, a neuroscience investigator at the National Institute of Ageing (United States), intermittent fasting could even delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
4. Triglyceride, cholesterol and insulin resistance
Intermittent fasting has been proven to reduce blood pressure, regulate triglycerides and bad cholesterol, and tackle insulin resistance. These are risk factors for heart disease, which is one of the most common reasons for untimely deaths in humans. Insulin resistance increases the risk of Type-2 diabetes and healthy fasting helps regulate sugar levels and insulin levels.
5. Reverse aging and diseases
Oxidative stress can result in a lot of age-related neurodegenerative conditions or other diseases from damage to bio-molecules in the body. These include chronic ones like cancer, diabetes, arthritis, stroke, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s among others. Long term inflammation is also negative for the body and signal conditions such as Crohn’s disease, arthritis, obesity, asthma and cancer. Intermittent fasting can help reverse these factors to an extent by detoxifying the body and producing anti-inflammatory compounds, without risk of malnutrition.
In conclusion, intermittent fasting is amazing for the body if done right. As always, this is an informative guide only. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist before starting this if you're not used to such kind of fasting. If you're looking at weightloss, exercise right before iftar, on an emoty stomach but with the prospect of fueling up later. Break your fast on healthy balanced meals, and work on detoxifying your body and mind.