Fasting Your Way to Better Health
It’s summer time which means it’s hot outside and the nights are long. With Ramadan just weeks away, Muslims around the country may find themselves grappling with how to bear these harsh conditions, not to mention the sometimes unbearable hunger pangs that tend to get the better of our stomachs. We are all guilty of it, but before you decide to overindulge at Iftar time, new research, although somewhat controversial shows there are bonuses associated with fasting during Ramadan (aside from spiritual), and even some health incentives to fast more regularly.
Often considered a running joke among fellow Muslims, the reality is that fasting during Ramadan for some serves as the catalyst for newly established weight loss goals. A new study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics discovered that weight loss during Ramadan is, in fact, a very realistic outcome. The study found that fasting between the hours of dawn and sunset, not only led to weight loss in more than 200 adults over the course of 20 days (out of 30), but also a reduction in overall body fat, particularly among males all of whom made very little changes to their food consumption before and during Ramadan.
Tina M. Kaufman, Ph.D., PA-C, Assistant Professor in Preventive Cardiology and the Clinical Supervisor of Cardiac Rehabilitation at Oregon Health & Science University, believes this type of study and similar research may be subject to skepticism within the medical community as fasting is not considered an ideal method of weight loss.
“A lot of people will fast for weight loss purposes,” says Kaufman. “The problem is when you fast your body goes into a state of deprivation. That’s a very poor way of losing weight because once you fast for more than 8 to 12 hours, your metabolism slows down and you’re not really burning any calories at that point and you mostly lose water.”
Fasting is typically prescribed to hospital patients prior to undergoing a medical procedure or surgery. While Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink during the fasting process, patients are allowed to drink water with no consumption of solid foods between 8 and 12 hours. Aside from this routine medical practice, Kaufman says fasting can benefit people who eat an otherwise unhealthy diet, and as a result can create a shift or positive change in the body.
“If you took someone who had a really poor diet — meaning they ate a lot of processed foods, junk foods, [and] fast foods — then fasting might be a good type of reset for their bodies, particularly if they ate a vegetarian diet,” says Kaufman. Health fasts involving juice cleanses that claim to rid the body of toxins, have always been a go-to among wellness and fitness enthusiasts and people looking to quickly shed a few extra pounds, but nowadays they are more popular than ever. Cooler Cleanse and BluePrint Cleanse are among the leading brands at the front of this increasingly, growing trend.
While evidence that definitively lays out the health benefits of fasting, aside from weight loss remains weak, “intermittent fasting,” or fasting on consecutive or alternate days (or 2 days of fasting per week), is hailed as one form proven to facilitate disease prevention. Dr. James Brown, a lead researcher at Aston University located in the United Kingdom, along with his team of researchers, recently revisited the topic of intermittent fasting as a dietary intervention in the prevention of diseases. Their findings revealed that periods of intermittent fasting assisted with weight loss, the reduction of inflammation and instances of diabetes, slowed down the progression of Type 2 diabetes, and lowered blood pressure levels even when there was little or no change in total daily calorie consumption. Despite these findings of its disease prevention capabilities, intermittent fasting should not be mistaken as cutting back on calories, otherwise known as “calorie restriction”. Previously held studies have found that restricting calories by margins of approximately 15 to 40 percent have been shown to improve cardiovascular health by reducing blood pressure and heart rate, halt the development of cancer, and dementia including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
According to Kaufman, people who intentionally lower their calorie intake, in particular by eating vegetables, tend to have less chronic diseases and as a result end up living longer.
“There is some evidence people who eat a very low calorie diet tend to live longer,” Kaufman says. “These are people who eat very healthy, predominantly vegan, and some of them raw. Not people who are eating Big Macs.”
When it comes to fasting during Ramadan, Belco Maryama Bocoum, of Harlem, NY, doesn’t enjoy feeling too full, and even admits she does not eat before dawn because it’s too difficult to go back to sleep on a full stomach, unless she eats something light. Bocoum, however, breaks her fast starting with a cup of tea prior to eating anything heavy.
“During Ramadan I definitely experience weight loss,” says Bocoum. “Some people try to stuff their stomach when they break [for] fast which is a mistake because then you get full very fast [and] can’t eat anymore.”
Whether you are fasting during Ramadan or want to try fasting intermittently, Kaufman says there is no right or wrong way of fasting as everyone has different dietary needs, however she recommends following these guidelines before and after the fast.
Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics
“Effect of fasting in Ramadan on body composition and nutritional intake: a prospective study.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23679071 (2013)
Tina M. Kaufman; Ph.D., PA-C, Assistant Professor in Preventive Cardiology and the Clinical Supervisor of Cardiac Rehabilitation at Oregon Health & Science University email@example.com; 503-494-8311