The science of a hunger strike

Fasting once a week, every week is a something I have grown up with. Initially, it was mum and dad who did it, and then some how ,I got into the practice, like almost genetically inheriting it. Despite having sound religious and habitual reasons to do so, I was pretty often bowled over when asked about it. The more my mind fell in love with science, the more I questioned about my fasting habits. And yet, I didn’t stop it. It was like subconsciously, I was hooked on to it. In those early days, I remember asking mum about it, getting a standard ‘its good for you’ answer. And as always, mum wasn’t far away from truth – it is indeed good for you.

For quite some time now, scientists have known calorie restriction to be sure shot way to prolong age, not just quantitatively, but also qualitatively. Generation of free radical – the extremely harmful molecular bullets that can cause serious harm to organs at the molecular and even genetic level – is the most critical disadvantage of food and energy metabolism. The effect of these molecular bullets is so profound that the body is constantly undertaking varied processes to eliminate these little devils, thus leading to its own wear and tear, which may in turn generate more free radicals. It’s a cycle that needs a break and fasting just provides that.

Try fasting on a fruit salad

Try fasting on a fruit salad

In fact, over the recent years, scientists have brought to light the many benefits of fasting. Known medical benefits include increased glucose sensitivity, a more active blood lipid profile, cardiovascular benefits, neuro-protection, autophagy, immune strength and last but not the least, mental well being.

Based on the results of several studies, intermittent fasting is recommended over extreme foodless and waterless fasting. The key lies in taking qualitative nutrition rather than quantitative nutrition. Nibbling on fruits for an entire day is perfect, especially if they provide detoxifying antioxidants. Adding in a natural liver cleanser like green tea, fresh ginger ale or fresh lemon juice further adds to the advantage. Complimenting it with a handful of nuts also helps getting though the hunger bouts while increasing the ‘good fats’ in the body. With the body having to not concentrate on digesting complex food, it grabs the opportunity to pick up vital nutrients in these health promoting foods to cleanse itself.

In contrast to popular belief, there is no need to avoid exercise or any other energy consuming activity while fasting. In fact, adhering to your daily routine will only add another advantage to the practice. Due to the hunger stress, the body will metabolise and mobilise its stored energy, i.e., body fats, for various tasks. Since there is intermittent supply of qualitative nutrition via fruits, the process of utilising body fats remains regulated, without the production of harmful ketone bodies that are produced in cases of extreme hunger stress.

Coming from India, it is not possible for me to ignore the holistic advantage of fasting. It definitely does put you to test your cravings and your control over them. However, translating this scientifically takes fasting to a whole new level. Hunger is a basic need of the body. Evolutionarily, we are designed to be overpowered maximally by this basic most primal need. Therefore, effective hunger management literally allows the mind to rise above its primal needs and take a more rational approach to its needs. Various studies have proved that intermittent fasting therefore does promote a more rational school of thoughts in the brain.

Now, that’s quite a few perks to try out a new diet. I am smiling…I am glad that I stuck on to the habit…my reasons may be different, but I still get the same perks!