The concept of fasting

What is fasting?

At its most basic, going on a fast means not eating anything at all for a given period. In some cases, this will also mean foregoing liquid intake, but this is a more unusual form that can lead to severe health implications. In some religions, fasting is an important part of faith, especially when it is related to spiritual enlightenment. There again, some fasts are a requirement of certain medical procedures so your doctor may ask you to abstain from food intake for 12 hours or so before being examined or having your blood taken. In some cases, people will go on a fast that only involves certain foods while they carry on with the consumption of others. Fasting has also been used as a form of political protest, notably by Gandhi, among others.

 Why is fasting important in some religions?

Not eating – and, in some cases, drinking – is part of certain religious practices. In the Bahai faith, no food or drink is normally consumed during daylight hours for nineteen days. During Ramadan, Muslims will observe a similar practice although exemptions are allowed for in certain cases, such as nursing mothers, small children, or where a serious condition may prevent it. Some Hindus observe fast several days each month. In southern parts of India, Tuesdays are common fasting days. In most cases, fasting appears to be an act of faith, but the relationship between hunger and spirituality means that the reasons people fast may go far beyond mere acts of devotion.

Can fasting help you lose weight?

Lowering your calorie intake by fasting will inevitably lead to your body using its reserves of fat. Reducing your food intake while exercising more is considered by many healthcare professionals to be a more sustainable means of weight loss than fasting, which may leave you feeling lethargic, thereby lowering your calorie burn. That said, so-called intermittent fasting has been shown in some studies to lead to sustained weight loss in obese people.

What does medical science say about fasting?

Scientists know that prolonged fasts can lead to problems with the body, some of which will not necessarily recover when the fast is over. Nevertheless, some proponents of alternative medicine have recommended fasting for its supposed health benefits. Nearly all have been disproved, and people have ended up with severe cramps, arthritis and even dying as a result of fasting too much.

Can fasting get out of hand?

When fasting is so severe that it leads to starvation, it has obviously gone too far. Nevertheless, there are certain mental health conditions that are associated with abstaining from food which can mean that people suffer for years. Anorexia mirabilis and anorexia nervosa are just two eating disorders that can develop if you choose to fast and don't stick to a reasonable level of calorie intake.

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