One of the most popular diet plans in the news today involves intermittent fasting. Interest in the approach was sparked by a BBC2 documentary called “Eat, Fast and Live Longer”. Since its initial airing in 2012, books on fasting have popped up on bestseller lists in Europe and the US. The basic idea is that a lower caloric intake leads to a longer and healthier life.
Intrigued by the concept, I started investigating Ayurveda’s view on the wisdom of such an approach. As with most aspects of Ayurveda, the answer depends on who is asking the question, because according to Ayurveda, every individual is unique.
For certain body types, fasting can increase lightness, improve appetite and revitalize digestion. During a fast, the body uses energy that is normally spent processing food to eliminate impurities and repair the system. In this way, fasting helps clear the srotas (channels or pathways of the body) and improve resistance to disease. (These same mechanics are behind the specially designed diet that one receives while going through Panchakarma, the detoxification programs of Ayurveda.)
According to Ayurveda those with Kapha constitutions often benefit from taking a “liquid day” one day a week. This helps increase energy and well being for Kapha types who tend to have heavier builds, slower digestion and weaker appetites. (It is good to note that Ayurveda does not recommend prolonged fasts, even for those with Kapha physiologies.)
Although most people feel better if the skip one evening meal a week, for those with Vata or Pitta constitutions, fasting could actually decrease well-being. Someone with a Vata body type, for example, will tend to be lighter, more easily excitable and quicker. For them fasting might aggravate insomnia, anxiety or other symptoms of Vata imbalance.
Similarly, the strong appetites of Pitta types may cause irritability or other symptoms of Pitta imbalance during a fast. Because even people with Kapha constitutions could have Pitta or Vata imbalances, it is recommended that you consult with an Ayurvedic expert before deciding to follow an intermittent fasting diet.
Can you reduce caloric intake without fasting? Ayurveda has, in fact, always recommended the light intake of food. Traditionally it is said that at each meal one should eat only the amount of food that can fit in your cupped hands. In order to promote ideal digestion, at the end of a meal half your stomach should be filled with solid food, a quarter with liquids and a quarter should be left empty in order to give enough room for the stomach acids and enzymes to do their job. This means leaving the table satisfied, but not full.
According to Ayurveda, over-eating leads to an accumulation of ama. Ama is the debris of partially digested matter. When allowed to accumulate in the body, this turns into a sludge of toxic metabolic waste-products which blocks circulation through the tiny channels of the body and thus becomes a breeding ground for disorders. Ama also interferes with the proper absorption of food and can lead to a constant craving for food, even after you’ve just eaten.
For many people, fasting offers an opportunity to give the digestive system a rest. This helps to revitalize and re-ignite the digestive fire, thereby improving overall health. It also gives a chance for the body’s internal “fire” to burn up existing toxins, or ama. Check with an Ayurvedic expert and find out if this approach is right for your body type. If Vata or Pitta imbalances prohibit fasting, an intermediate plan can be worked out to accomplish a lower calorie approach without aggravating imbalances and creating health problems.
For more information on consultations with an Ayurveda expert, visit the website for The Raj, Ayurveda Health Spa:
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