By Nadeem Badshah
FASTING regularly could boost a person’s health and religious faith, according to experts.
Intermittent fasting has become trendy mainly in January when Britons take up the diet to lose weight after feasting on food and drinks over Christmas.
US researchers have found that limiting eating to a fixed number of hours or days cuts blood pressure, cholesterol and resting heart rates, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
It can also reduce other risk factors linked to obesity and diabetes, the study in December said. Outside the month of Ramadan, some Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset on Mondays and Thursdays to follow a tradition started by Prophet Muhammad.
Some Hindus fast on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for spiritual reasons as well during festivals such as Navratri, Shivratri, Janmashtami, Diwali, Karwa Chauth, and Chhath Poojan.
Rajnish Kashyap, general secretary of Hindu Council UK, told Eastern Eye: “Fasting is frequently heralded as the ‘miracle weight loss’ for those who have tried all else without success.
“However, while fasting certainly has great health benefits, to define it merely as a type of diet is to undermine one of the oldest and most sacred spiritual practices.
“Fasting has been used for millennia by the saints and sages to purify their bodies, minds and souls and to bring their bodies into connection with the divine.
“A fast also is one of the best ways of controlling our mind and senses. They allow us to withdraw our senses from the outside world and become refocused on our own divine nature and our connection to God.
“Additionally, during this period of sadhana, of austerity, of restraint, one realises that one is truly the master of one’s body, not vice versa.”
Intermittent fasting diets often fall into two categories – the 16:8, where food is consumed within an eight-hour window; or the 5:2, where people eat 25 per cent of their recommended calorie total on two days a week, while following a healthy diet on the other five.
*Farooq, 30, started intermittent fasting last year “to lose weight and become more spiritual”.
The media officer said: “I’ve lost weight and my cravings for sugar have gone down. I’m more disciplined with my diet.
“Being Muslim is a lifestyle too and diet plays a big part. Because intermittent fasting and the 5:2 diet are so similar, I decided to combine the two, so I’m killing two birds with one stone.
“I’m reaping the spiritual benefits of following the tradition of Prophet Muhammad while also losing weight on the 5:2 method.
“Religious fasting in Islam has one major difference when compared to intermittent fasting – you can’t eat or drink anything during the fasting hours, so I face a tougher time than people who are on the 5:2 diet.
“I find it easier to practise fasting during the winter as the days are shorter. While you are fasting, you think about food more often, so it teaches you restraint . It’s also a great time to meditate and clear my thoughts, which makes me more focused during work.”
Doctors have urged anyone with health issues to speak to their GP before starting a regular fasting regime.
Recent studies have suggested intermittent fasting could hold the key to combating Alzheimer’s disease.
A trial at the University of Toronto last year found 220 healthy, non-obese adults who maintained a calorie-restricted diet for two years showed signs of improved memory.
Professor Kamlesh Khunti is professor of primary care diabetes and vascular medicine at the University of Leicester. He told Eastern Eye: “Some small studies have shown benefits of intermittent fasting on a number of areas such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancers. However, the reasons for the benefits are not clearly understood.
“The other major limitation is that most of these are short-term studies. We do not know if the benefits, or indeed compliance with intermittent fasting, will be maintained in the longer term.”
* Name has been changed.