Curejoy Responds: Fasting Vs Skipping Meals

Curejoy Responds Fasting Vs Skipping Meals
Curejoy Responds Fasting Vs Skipping Meals

One of our most read featured questions last week about skipping meals came under a lot of discussions. There was the debate between fasting and skipping meals and as some readers suggested we will try to explain the difference in this article.

The difference between ‘Fasting’ and ‘Skipping meals’ in one word is ‘Intention‘. Fasting in Ayurveda works at three levels of the body, mind, and soul.

a) Yukti vyapashraya (Rational/objectively planned) – for physical ailments including various therapeutic modalities.

b) Satvavajaya (Psychological) – for mental disturbances including meditation, yama, and niyama.

c) Daiva vyapashraya (Spiritual) – for ailments whose exact causes cannot be traced including subtle, religious, and occult methods such as homa, upavasa, and mantra.

Thus fasting is envisioned at all levels of therapies. Yogashastra adds to the above view and explains that a proper fasting can bring about a union of all three bodies: the astral body/spirit, the physical body, and the causal body with the mind and emotions, thereby optimizing the ability to reach a higher state of consciousness.

Skipping meals is more of a modern concept which is reflected in the

5:2 diet. It is tried for many health reasons but also to reduce weight. It doesn’t follow any rules about when, what and how to eat. Whereas in Ayurveda, each recommendation for fasting is based on one’s body type/dosha. 

Fasting in this sense does not mean going without food; rather it means following a light to very light but type-specific diet in reduced quantity.

In fact, fasting is not unique to Ayurveda. It has a strong presence in all the world religions. For example, spring is a time of fasting in the west, which often starts on Ash Wednesday about six weeks before Easter. Ayurveda is also similar in suggesting the fasting period from the end of February- the cold and damp period.

According to Ayurveda, the body’s self-purifying powers are kindled when the power of the sun starts to increase. By following a suitable diet at this time, one can effectively enhance the removal of fat tissue and the elimination of metabolic residues that have accumulated during winter. Fasting in this sense does not mean going without food; rather it means

following a light to very light but type-specific diet in reduced quantity.

The Ayurvedic Perspective To Fasting

Fasting is considered a good alternative to the detox treatment ‘Panchakarma’. It improves the overall functioning of the body; provides tranquility, strength, energy and vitality; increases immunity and develops the ‘inner healer’. Ayurveda prescribes fasting according to your Body-mind type, or Dosha. Different constitutional types have different needs and one rule will not fit all. We will give specific advice about Fasting for specific Dosha Types in our next article.

Ayurveda recommends regular, short-term fasting. Infrequent long term fasting vitiates doshas and may lead to imbalanced body functions. The duration of fasting and type of fasting is determined after analyzing level of toxin (ama) accumulation, digestive strength, vitiation of doshas and body constitution.

The following fasting methods are recommended in Ayurveda.

-Consuming light foods like gruel, kitchari or kanjee.
-Fasting with fruit juice or vegetable juices
-Drinking only warm water or herbal teas.
-Abstaining completely from food and water.

The Benefits of Fasting

-A feeling of lightness in the body
-Clarity in the mind
-Increased energy
-Regularize bowel movement

-Balances the doshas
-Rectifies agni (digestive fire)
-Clears shrotas (channels)
-Strengthens all dhatus (tissues)
-Eliminates ama (toxic accumulations) from body, mind and emotions, and helps to reduce excess weight and swelling.

Clean tongue and fresh breath indicate completion of detoxification process during fasting. It is very important to stay calm during fasting. Texts of Ayurveda strictly recommend avoiding physical exertion and mental stress during fasting.

Does Ayurveda Believe In Complete Fasting?

Ayurveda, in general, does not believe in complete fasting for more than a couple of days, except in rare cases. It supports regular, brief and partial fasting once a week, where one drinks plenty of salt-free liquids like fresh vegetable juice, water, yogurt mixed with water and cumin powder, or raw milk boiled with ginger. This would be followed by a single light meal at noon or early evening, of either fruits and boiled raw milk, rice and yogurt, or rice, veggies, and mung dal cooked with cumin, ginger, and black pepper. This is referred to as a ‘mono-diet cleanse’.

Why is Complete Fasting Not Recommended?

There are different types of fasting. Total

fasting on water alone is generally not recommended for more than one and a half days at a time. Very long fasting not only depletes the agni (digestive fire), but also gradually increases vata and causes it to move upwards. Extending the period of total fasting over two days should only be considered for those with a kapha constitution or for patients with fever who should fast until the temperature has returned to normal.

Another exception are patients suffering from problems such as arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes who can benefit greatly from fasting for longer periods, but only under the supervision of a doctor and only whilst taking medicines prescribed for them according to their pulse.