Blessings of Fasting

 
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''Fasting is the greatest remedy - a physician within.''
- Paracelsus

Ramadan is here. It is a chance for all of us living in a Muslim country to take a break and think. It is the time of the year when everything slows down, including our own metabolism. We should take advantage of it. Many expats take this opportunity to go for a vacation as it gets too slow. Shops and restaurants are closed during the day, no eating or drinking in public, humble and modest behavior is highly appreciated. But, this is what makes this time of the year so wonderful and special. As everything slows down during the day, it slows us and our biorhythm and it gives us a chance to go inside and experience not only a spiritual boost, what really is the purpose of this Holy Month, but also reap the healthy benefits of it.

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One of the things I would like to draw attention to here is the eating habit during this time of the year. As it is known, fasting is one of Islam's five main pillars and people during Ramadan fast from dawn until sunset. It means that they refrain from eating and drinking and they break the fast with a meal called Iftar, when the sun sets. One of the beautiful things about Ramadan are iftars. All restaurants, hotels, houses are dedicating their entire days to preparation of beautiful and delicious food for iftars which is not only an opportunity to break the fast but also it is an opportunity for family to be together, friends to mingle, socialize and bond. One may think where can the challenge possibly be? Well, there wouldn't be anything unusual about this, if iftars were not as delicious as they are, with lots of sweets and processed food and very little fresh, raw vegetables to balance. Remember, it's all about the balance! ;)

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Benefits of fasting

Fasting is a great antidote for our usual over-indulgences. Have we ever thought how is it that our body functions so perfectly? How does it manage to function so well? How does it cope when we overload it with excess, heavy, greasy, unhealthy food? We are aware that our body is a system, like a machine that functions perfectly. Imagine, the heart doesn't skip a beat, the blood flows through our veins freely, everything is perfect. In order to function perfectly it does require certain rules and regulations, let's call them like that.

Imagine yourself working. Our working hours are 8-10 hours a day, and after that we supposedly go home and rest. There are cases when we work late and work 15-16 or more hours, and that seems fine. Right? We are aware that it is not really the best option but we do manage, we do cope somehow for a certain period of time... And then, we eventually break down. Sooner or later, we need a break. We need to reset, to recharge in order to continue functioning as efficiently as it is expected from us. The same rules apply to our body, which is why fasting can be beneficial for us, for so many reasons - if and when we do it properly.

  1. Gives our body a restIt is estimated that 65% of the body's energy must be directed to the digestive organs after a heavy meal. Imagine redirecting this energy into healing and recuperation. It can detox and repair cells, tissues and organs, eliminating foreign toxins as well as the natural metabolic wastes (which are also toxins) produced even by our healthy cells. We don't have to know this process, our body is smart enough and know the best what to do with itself and how to heal itself. All we need to do is create the environment for it to be able to do what it should and what it knows the best!
  2. Improves our metabolismWhen fasting our digestive system is resting, which energizes the metabolism to burn through calories more efficiently. It metabolizes food and burns fat, regulates digestion, promotes healthy bowel function.
  3. Improves insulin sensitivityInsulin becomes more effective in taking up glucose from blood allowing you to tolerate carbohydrates, that is sugar :) better than if you didn't fast.
  4. Regulates real hunger feelingLet's be honest. Are we really hungry every time we eat? The real hunger happens 12-24 hours and not really every 2-3 hours or even less. Fasting serves as a reset button as it regulates our hunger hormones. The longer we fast, the more our body can regulate itself to release the correct hormones to experience the real hunger. When hormones work properly, we get fuller quickly. It also help us regulate our eating habits and correct eating disorders.
  5. Longevity - slows down agingDid you know that the primary effect of aging is slower metabolism. The younger your body is, the faster and more efficient your metabolism is. The less you eat, the less toll it takes on your digestive system.
  6. Weight lossFasting allows the body to burn through fat cells more efficiently than regular dieting. It allows the body to use fat as it's primary source of energy instead of sugar.
  7. Improves brain functions, mental and emotional clarityWhen fasting our brain produces a protein which activates brain stem cells to convert new neurons and triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health. This protein protects brain cells from changes associated with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
  8. Improves immune systemDo you know that animals when sick, they stop eating and focus on resting? This is the primal instinct to reduce stress on internal system so that the body can fight off any infection and disease. Fasting reduces free radical damage, regulates inflammatory conditions, starves off cancer cell formation.
  9. Clears skin and releases toxinsWhen fasting our body is freed from digestion and it can focus on regenerating energies on other systems. Therefore it can function better and detox other organs, such as liver, kidneys and other parts.
  10. Connection to yourselfFasting gives us more energy and space to connect ourselves to ourselves, to God, to life, through prayer, meditation, yoga, or any other practice that helps us reconnect. It therefore helps us feel better physically, more conscious and more aware of ourselves. When fasting, it can increase our sense of gratitude for being alive, for the perfection of our body, for the abundance that we live in. It helps us eat more consciously and hopefully it makes us rethink how we feed ourselves. It is a great way of self-control, determination, discipline. Dedication. Devotion.
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How to break the fast in a healthy way  and how to resist all the delicious food that has been made for this special occasion

Intermittent fasting is fasting controlled within a set of hours. It doesn't have to be Ramadan fasting, it can be fasting that you wish to do on any other day, as the same rules apply. During Ramadan, we also fast during a certain set hours, from dawn to sunset.

During a fast, the body undergoes several biological changes. The production of enzymes by the digestive system have ceased or have been diminished greatly, depending on the type of fast performed, so introducing food slowly allows the body time to re-establish this enzyme production. Also, the protective mucus lining of the stomach may be temporarily diminished as well, making the stomach walls more vulnerable to irritation until it also returns to normal. Gentle reintroduction of foods, beginning with the simplest and easiest-to-digest foods, supports this process. These are important biological changes, therefore your system needs time to readjust back to normal digestion and assimilation slowly and carefully. So go easy on yourself. Not taking the proper measures can result in stomach cramping, nausea, and even vomiting.

How to break a fast?

To break the fast start with the food that is nutritious and easy-to-digest, gradually adding more complex and diverse food.

  1. Raw, fresh or cooked vegetables (or vegetable juice)
  2. Raw, fresh or dried fruits (or fruit juice)
  3. Water
  4. Herbal teas
  5. Broths
  6. Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, millet), beans, pulses
  7. Nuts & seeds - moderate amount
  8. Healthy fats (avocado, coconut)
  9. Fish or high quality animal products (meat or dairy) - gradually introduced
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Tips to follow when breaking a fast:

  1. Drink plenty of water - stay hydrated
  2. Chew thoroughly
  3. Eat slowly and mindfully
  4. Start with something light and easy-to-digest
  5. Size matters - manage your portions
  6. Eat only when hungry
  7. Plan ahead, plan your healthy meals
  8. Create a support network - get your friends and family to support you in your healthy revolution
  9. Set a goal - Have a clear idea what you wish to accomplish with your healthy fasting? What are your goals and why are you doing it? Focusing on your goal will take your mind off any craving, discomfort or temptation.
  10. Learn your responses and reactions to food. You may discover hidden food intolerance.
  11. Keep a food journal
  12. Keep bowels moving by eating or juicing grapes, cherries or plums
  13. Eat fruit alone one to two hours before the meal
  14. Keep your meals simple and properly combined.Complicated recipes with many ingredients will be too much for the system to handle at this time, and may undo all of your cleansing efforts. Stick to light smaller meals or mono-meals, combining only one or two types of foods at a time
  15. Add kefir, probiotics, spirulina, chlorella, and psyllium husk fiber, into your daily diet to promote good habits
  16. Listen to your body - consume what it can handle not what you are craving

What to avoid:

  1. Caffeine
  2. Processed sugar and artificial sweeteners
  3. Red meat and animal protein
  4. Dairy products and eggs
  5. Soda and soft drinks
  6. Wheat and gluten food
  7. Boxed, processed, bagged food
  8. Deep fried and heavily processed foods
  9. Overeating
  10. Eating quickly

Other than the religious aspect of fasting, this is also a nice opportunity to reconnect with yourself, to give your body an opportunity to cleanse and reboot your system in a healthier way, as your body will be grateful to you in the long run.

Embrace this opportunity and become a happier & healthier you!

"The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison."
-Ann Wigmore

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Source: http://www.lifehack.org http://www.allaboutfasting.com/benefit-of-fasting.html