What is a fast? The connotation of a fast would vary with the culture, native place and even age of a person. For an American, avoiding non vegetarian food would imply a fast, whereas in India many people are vegetarians throughout their lives. Does this mean they are fasting lifelong? The deviation and contradiction in the connotation is not restricted to countries alone.

In India, within the same religion, a few people consider themselves to fast when they have only fruits and liquids, some others take the liberty of consuming semi solids to if they are without onions and garlic, some other devotees are rigid enough to consume only water when they are fasting. How do we comprehend a single word in different connotations?

Medically, a person is fasting when he consumes only water and nothing else, not even salt for at least 24 hours. Perhaps, this is what is expected when you go for a sugar test, though instead of a days fast you take a 12 hours fast. It is during this time that the bodies metabolic activities undergo a change and the fats and carbohydrates stored within the body are utilized to release energy. It is because of this that many youngsters fast as a fad to lose weight and gain their dream figure. But incomplete knowledge is very dangerous. When the fast is prolonged to such an extent that the fats and carbohydrate stores are exhausted, the proteins are reduced to liberate energy. This is an unfavorable situation as the proteins are obtained from the muscles of the body and the resultant weak musculature would be a heavy penalty to be paid for the dream waist line. A weak musculature could result in poor stamina, poor performance and many other symptoms in the body. Hence the benefits of fasting turn into the drawbacks when the proteins are utilized. It is then that fasting turns into starving!!

A typical strategy to lose weight today is to starve and not to fast though both terms are wrongly used colloquially. Sacrificing meals in form of a balanced diet and never do good for the body, specially not for more than a day. However, there have been some studies which encourage fasting for a day to boost immunity , promoting protein synthesis, reducing metabolic rate, energizing and revitalizing the mind and so on. On the other hand some other reports propagate the idea “ The body needs fuel to work. So why run it empty and add stress to it?”

These researchers believe that the efficiency and overall performance of a body including his mind reduces drastically when fasting as the body s under stress.

So there are two sides of the “fast coin” too! Both the points of view are now before you. Whatever suits you, convinces you. That’s why some prefer to eat right at the right time, whereas some others go on long fasts after gorging on cakes, pastries, ice creams and biryanis! However, don’t eat wrong on the pretext of fasting. This is a ridiculous trend in India. During Navratras (A Hindu Festival) and many more festivities, the balanced diet comprising of rotis, vegetables and pulses is sacrificed for the deity and “prashad” (The ceremonial sweet or food, after blessings of the god, and consumed after ceremonial service/prayers) in form of fats, milk, bananas, dry fruits and sweets along with sabudana and potatoes are consumed. To top it all, the mode of preparation of most dishes is frying to add the fatty content and calorific value. While a balanced diet would typically liberate 500 calories, this special “prashad” liberates not less than 1200 calories. This is no fast, but a treat!

Whatever be ones beliefs and values, it is important to be true to oneself and understand the consequences of what one is doing. Fasting on fatty items and fasting continuously for more than a day are both wrong for the body. What is more important is to have balanced diets in divided portions throughout the day. That’s why it is taught right from schools to eat right at the right time.

So eat healthy, and if you desire to reduce weight, remove fats from your diet and retain some carbohydrates. Add much more fibre to the diet in form of salads, whole grains etc. Consume as many fruits as possible, try replacing fast food and mid meals munches with fruits, specially citrus ones like oranges. Drink loads of water and start your day with fresh lime juice. Monitor your daily calorie intake instead of fasting!!

– Gunjan.