& making the most of your fasting experience.
Ramadan is a month where Muslims worldwide observe fasting (صوم) from dusk till dawn and an eating + drinking window from sunset tp sunrise for the entire duration of the month. Fasting during Ramadan is actually one of the five pillars of Islam. Fasting times vary worldwide – depending on the sunrise and sunset times of a given region For instance – observers in Ushuaia, Argentina will only fast about 12 hours a day, while those in Murmansk, Russia will be fasting for about 18 hours a day. During these hours, you are not allowed to consume any liquid or food (unless they are exempt for valid reasons).
Fasting has recently become a prevalent trend in the fitness industry, especially intermittent fasting protocols, OMAD (One meal a Day) and the occasional 72 hour fast. It has been noted for it’s impact on weight loss, cell regeneration, immune boosts and decreasing risks of chronic diseases. Yoshinori Ohsumi was even award the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 2016 for his discoveries about autophagy (Greek for “self eating”) – a process which occurs when one’s body is in a fasted state. After a certain amount of time without the consumption of nutrients, the body starts to consume it’s own “bad cells” and creates newer and stronger ones to replace them. Often times, these bad cells are responsible for chronic diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. In other words, the process of autophagy is a form of physical self-healing which our body natural engages in.
Much of the research and focus around fasting has been focused on “wet fasting”: fasting whilst consuming fluids like coffee, tea and water. However, Muslims who are fasting during Ramadan will dry fast throughout the duration of their fast, so no liquids or food. Western medicine has touched on studying participants of Ramadan (especially athletes) but mainly to study hormone changes, performance and weight loss. Russian medicine – lead by the work of Dr. Filonov – has put forth several studies and clinical practices around dry fasting for the healing of diseases and illnesses. We are often told that dry fasting for prolonged periods of time is generally harmful. How does this effect the body? The answer is simple: Camels.
Camels can store up to 36 kg of fat (which contains fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals) in their humps– enough to sustain the camel for weeks. Thus, when a camel does not have access to nutrients for a prolonged period of their time, they begin to switch into ketosis and are able to sustain themselves off their fat. In the same way, humans (who can store much more than 36kg of fat) operate the same way. If one has excess fat and does not have access to energy (calories), they will inevitably end up ‘tapping’ into it for energy. Remember, the First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy can neither be destroyed or created, only transferred from one form to another; and fat is merely stored energy. Not only are we able to engage in this process with relative ease (after transitioning to be ‘fat-adapted’) but this process can also help with skin healing and improved immune function too.
The difference between dry fasting and wet fasting is that the effects of a dry fast are generally said to be quicker, as your body will seek water endogenously sooner than it would need to seek out energy. When you do not provide your body with water, it will tap into its own metabolic water, which is the water created inside a living organism through their metabolism. When you drink water while still fasting, your body is still engaging in some kind of physical work to process the water. However, restricting this water will both speed up the prove immune boosts of a fast and allow for fat stores to be utilized in a quicker manner. The “internet science” around this is that dry fasting is 3x more effective than a wet fast, but then again that could just be bro science. Oh, and I’m not a doctor either.
I myself have engaged in both wet and dry fasting. Truthfully, dry fasting is much more effective and surprisingly a bit easier. Whenever I undertake a 24 hour wet fast, I will typically drink water or water with sodium and potassium to ensure that my electrolyte balance isn’t totally thrown off. This ensure that my energy levels are somewhat high. Sometimes, this mini- consumption can remind you of your hunger or the ‘taste’ of food. During a 24 hour dry fast, I don’t have any such cravings as a result of complete restriction. After about 5-6 hours without food or water, I feel that I am not hungry and the feeling of thirst is mild and quite tolerable.
During a regular 24 hour wet fast, I will usually drop about 3-4 lbs on the scale. With a dry fast, I usually end up dropping 5—8 lbs; depending on what I’d been eating the day before. Whether dry or wet fasting, giving your stomach a break from the “work” of digestion allows you to fully digest and get rid of excess food in your stomach. This is great to do before starting a new meal planning protocol, or for ‘resetting’ gut health. Notable Yogi and mystic Sadghuru asserts that being able to function on an empty stomach is key. It allows for a more focused mind, helping us be more productive detach ourselves from a food addiction we may not even realize we have.
For those who are ready to fast this Ramadan, I salute you all. This is a great time to help yourself through bad habits, grow in spiritual awareness and connect with family and friends. Breathe through your nose while dry fasting (it makes it easier), and do not overdo the meals when you are in your eating window! Make sure you eat foods that are filled with electrolytes (especially sodium and potassium) because these will carry over into your fast the next day. Try not to stuff yourself, if your goal is weight loss you need to still be in your calorie deficit. I understand that iftar can have the table filled with sweets and fried foods. Try and balance your consumption of these with berries, vegetables, dates (of course!) and make sure you hydrate! Ensure that you are getting all your macronutrients and hitting your calories from both of your meals, as this will allow your metabolism to function normally during an “abnormal” eating cycle.
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Blog written by: George Zar