Fasting, Is it Good or Bad for You? Part 2
People from various cultures who practice a variety of religions, all have different attitudes when it comes to fasting. Depending on the religion, it is either mandatory, voluntary, or required. The truth of the matter is a lot more complex, and the differing practices could affect your health for the better or for the worse. So, what are some encouraged fasting practices that are common worldwide? Does it help or does it hurt your health?
The best way for me to reach a conclusion is to contrast the most common forms of fasting with the resulting health rate of the population who practice it. And since the most easily recorded populace that involves fasting come from religious groups, that is what I will be focused on for data collecting reasons.
Aside: I will do my best to be objective as possible since religion is a very touchy topic for a lot of people. I am writing about dietary habits, nutrition, and health. There will be no preferential treatment or disparagement of one religious practice over another.
So, let’s get to figuring out if fasting can be helpful or harmful to your health.
Christianity: Feast Days and Fasting
Different denominations of Christianity have existed for hundreds over 1000 years and will continue to split into different factions to this day. For the sake of simplicity, I am going to stick with the oldest established form of Christianity, in which I know there is fasting and feasting involved: The Roman Catholic Church.
Traditionally, there are two mandatory days of fasting: Ash Wednesday and Lent.
Ash Wednesday is the Wednesday before Lent, a period of 40 days of fasting and repentance leading up to Easter. The rules for fasting, however, are surprisingly different in comparison to Judaism and Islam.
In this case, fasting means avoiding all forms of meat that come from the land. Fish and broth do not count.
- Every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.
- Depending on financial means, or health reasons, a typical day of fasting for Catholics involve one large meal in the middle of the day and two small snacks, one in the morning and one in the evening.
- Every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on all other Fridays of the year unless he or she substitutes some other form of penance for abstinence.
The more strict observation of fasting that is not necessarily required but certainly not frowned upon would be fasting 40 days in a row. However, the only required fasting by the church lasts for two days, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Does it help with weight regulation? Maybe.
Lower Obesity Rate in Predominantly Catholic Countries
While the evidence may be circumstantial at best, three of the countries with the major religion being Catholicism, Italy, Brazil, and the Philippines boast a lower rate of obesity in comparison to the United States of America.
With the exception of Mexico, (which still boasted a lower obesity rate in comparison to the United States at its highest rate), Countries with a predominately Catholic population had a lower obesity rate.
This could probably be due to the fact that they are mostly cutting back animal fats and red meat from their diet, giving them a heart-healthy advantage in comparison to others fasts.
Hinduism: Fasting Depending on Diety
While there are strict rules and regulations regarding fasts on monotheistic religions, the practice of polytheistic religions means that there is less standardization in regard to religious rules and regulations.
Fasting is not specifically a requirement across the board in Hindu religion. The only reason it would be considered mandatory is that either someone is performing a specific Vedic ritual, or someone is paying penance.
Even then the types of fasting vary depending on what the diety requires. It ranges from something as mild as abstaining from meat to something as extreme as forgoing food and water for days on end.
According to someone who is a practitioner of Hindu, “Fasting is a very common and ancient way for followers to resolve and express their gratitude. The gods in your body are not pleased if you starve yourself for too long. Therefore, when you fast, you have to keep your body’s wellbeing in mind.”
So, with there being so many extremes and requirements that differ from one another, there is no conclusive data about how it works for or against someone’s health.
At the end of the day, to each his/her own. Everyone has their own spiritual beliefs and practices. If they feel a strong need to do what is spiritually right for them then far be it from me to stop anyone.
Physically speaking, if you are wanting to fast for your health you might want to talk to a doctor first. And maybe cut some red meat and fats from your diet.