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How to fast the ayurvedic way: Do’s and don’ts
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How to fast the ayurvedic way: Do’s and don’ts

In Ayurveda, one can fast either by not eating anything at all or eating a small portion of light food.

 

Woman following Ayurvedic way of fasting
Ayurveda describes fasting (upavasa) as abstaining from foods that are chewed, licked, gulped or even drunk. |illustration by Syalima M Das

Bengaluru-based techie Manjunath K B’s physician who is also an Ayurveda physician planned an interesting fasting schedule for him.

“This was a kind of fasting that involved eating food only if I was hungry. I was also asked not to binge or eat a heavy meal,” said Manjunath. “I shed some unwanted pounds and this helped me develop an etiquette for my food habits.”

Manjunath is only one of many others who are trying to give fasting a shot to lose weight.

Fasting is a core Indian diet tradition and is held in high esteem in Ayurveda as a drugless therapy to maintain one’s health and well-being – when done correctly.

“We physicians often see a lot of people coming [to us] with gastritis, for instance, after religious community fasting. Hence, it becomes important for people to understand the classical Ayurveda guidelines of fasting to reap its benefits,” says Dr Zankhana Buch, medical superintendent and senior physician at AyurVAID Hospital, Bengaluru.

Advised for those who have excess kapha

Ayurveda describes fasting (upavasa) as abstaining from foods that are chewed, licked, gulped or even drunk.

Dr Prasanna Kakunje, a professor at Prasanna College of Ayurveda & Hospital, Belthangady, in Dakshina Kannada, says fasting is advised for those who have excess kapha (the water element) or fluids in the body in the form of excess fat or soft tissues. “Also, fasting is used to treat obesity and conditions such as lethargy, heaviness, indigestion, diarrhea, and early stages of fever which require detoxification,” he says.

Fasting is not total abstention from food

Dr Kakunje clarifies that one can fast either by not eating anything at all or eating a small portion of light food. One can have any of these: cooked rice with rasam (a traditional South Indian spicy, peppery carminative soup made of lentils, tamarind, and with or without tomatoes); rice with daal (a thick lentil soup); only fruits (phalaahaara) or milk (ideally goat’s milk) or just water (jala upavasa).

What happens when you fast?

During the initial hours of fasting, the body uses up the glucose stored in the form of glycogen in the liver and skeletal muscles. When the body runs out of glycogen, fats get broken down into ketones to provide a new energy molecule. Protein breaks down into glucose (the process is called gluconeogenesis) and fulfils the energy requirement.

Although Ayurveda has a different view of fasting, Dr Zankhana Buch, medical superintendent and senior physician at AyurVAID Hospitals in Bengaluru, explains that as per Ayurveda, fasting purifies the body by digesting the toxins (the process is known as Ama-pachanam) which leads to improved metabolism (Agni deepanam) and helps to balance one’s doshas (predominant body element or constitution) to an optimum level, besides significantly reducing kapha. “If guidelines of fasting are not adhered to then it leads to vata aggravation and pitta elevation,” she says.

When to stop fasting

While espousing the therapeutic effect of fasting, Ayurveda says fasting should be limited to only a few hours. It does not mention a specific duration for it but says it must be followed until the appetite returns. The duration is based on an individual’s body constitution, age, and the underlying health condition. If fasting is continued even after feeling hungry, it might lead to emaciation and loss of muscle mass.

What you should do

  • Right after you break the fast, you should eat light and freshly made food that is easy to digest.
  • Gruel (ganji/kanji) – a liquid preparation of cooked rice, cereals, or pulses – is considered an excellent meal, as per Ayurveda.

And what you should not

  • Do not fast while hungry.
  • Do not binge before or after fasting. The digestive fire will undergo severe disturbances if you overeat or eat heavy food soon after fasting.
  • Do not take up strenuous activities while fasting.
  • People with nutritional deficiencies (anemia, vitamin, or mineral deficiencies) should avoid fasting.
  • Those who are emaciated, sleep-deprived or pregnant are advised not to fast.
  • A person following a specific diet regimen, for example, while undergoing panchakarma therapies, is advised not to fast.

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