The practice of taking a break from solid foods has important heath, spiritual, and mental benefits.
Taking an intentional break from eating, also known as fasting, has deep spiritual, health, and even political roots. Spiritual disciples fast as a way to release attachment to the physical realm, and Gadhi fasted as a form of resistance.
Modern takes on fasting are becoming increasingly popular from a health standpoint. Intermittent Fasting (IF) has been shown to decrease insulin levels, increase human growth hormone, alter gene expression in a beneficial way, and aid in cellular repair. Another benefit of IF is that it decreases inflammation in the body, which has profound and lasting effects on many physiological processes, including chronic pain and immune function.
There are many ways of incorporating IF into the rhythm of your week. Some people extend their non-eating times on either side of sleep, think early dinner and late breakfast. This is typically referred to as an “eating window.” There is also the variation where calories are extremely limited during two days of the week. There seems to be an endless variety of methods to incorporate this idea.
An important aspect of fasting, noted by Nicki Doane, a yoga teacher who is based on Maui, Hawaii, is that it is a discipline, “Just as yoga is a discipline, fasting requires you to willfully take on something that is not always easy.”
Our digestive system is complex, with many factors playing into how well, or poorly, we digest our food. Emotionally, physically, and spiritually, our digestion plays into how we are able to handle what is happening in our lives.
From a physical standpoint, notes Doane, “We have around 26 feet of intestine. That means the food you eat sits in your body for a long period of time, upwards of 24-48 hours. It’s a long journey.”
Doane was introduced to the concept of fasting one day a week, and has included this practice in her life for the last 18 years. She loves cooking and eating healthy, organic food, and admits, “Sometimes I enjoy it a little too much.” She has, however, remained faithful to her weekly “No Chew Mondays,” where she simply does not chew. After eating dinner on Sunday, she only drinks water, juices, and sometimes herbal teas until lunch on Tuesday.
She has found it to be an amazing practice. Some days are easy, and some days, by mid-afternoon, she is questioning “‘Why am I doing this? I don’t want to do this, I don’t have to do this.’ I watch the mental gymnastics in my head. If I have the space and time, I’ll do some late afternoon yoga practice, which always helps.” She then makes a point to go to bed early.
While Doane’s practice of No Chew Mondays is not based on the more recent trend of IF, many of the benefits likely come into play with her variation. Giving your digestion a chance to rest and an opportunity to reset offers a powerful tool physically and spiritually, as well as mentally.
Interestingly, IF shows many benefits to the brain, including brain function, and an increase in the hormone BDNF (also known as “fertilizer for the brain”). Early research also suggests there is a protective effect against Alzheimer’s.
As you might be able to relate to, one of the most noticeable aspects of stepping away from something is the renewed appreciation when you return to it. “When I wake up on Tuesday, I’m hardly ever hungry,” says Doane. “The best meal of the week is lunch on Tuesday.”
Keep reading, “3 Habits That Sabotage Your Inner Strength.”