Fasting, Is it Good or Bad for You?

Fasting, Is it Good or Bad for You?

People from various cultures who practice a variety of religions, all have different attitudes when it comes to fasting. Either it is something that is mandatory, encouraged from time to time, or just something that is old-fashioned nonsense. 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 a religious practice over another.

So, let’s get to figuring out if fasting can be helpful or harmful to your health.

Judaism: Fasting on Holidays and Kosher Dietary Restrictions

The best explanation behind fasting for Judaism came from, who stated that ” Judaism has several holidays that involve fasting, some of which are more observed than others. Traditional Judaism involves six fasting days during the year, and this means no eating or drinking from sunset to the following sunset (24 hours). On Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, one may also not wash oneself, wear leather uses, use perfume, or have sex – the other four days do not have these restrictions. Beyond that, the decision to fast is largely personal.”

kosher, fastingDietary restrictions for Judaism include:

  • Animals that do not have a cloven hoof or does not chew its own cud is forbidden. Fish with fins and scales are permitted, but no shellfish or crawfish or scallops.
  • Locusts are forbidden.
  • The animals must not suffer when killed for food.
  • All blood must be drained from meat and poultry or broiled out of it before it is eaten.
  • Fat surrounding organs like the liver and the sciatic nerve are not permitted.
  • Fruits and vegetables are permitted but must be inspected for bugs (which cannot be eaten)
  • Meat (the flesh of birds and mammals) cannot be eaten with dairy. Fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and grains can be eaten with either meat or dairy. (According to some views, fish may not be eaten with meat).
  • Utensils (including pots and pans and other cooking surfaces) that have come into contact with meat may not be used with dairy, and vice versa.
  • Utensils that have come into contact with non-kosher food may not be used with kosher food.
  • Grape products made by non-Jews may not be eaten.

So, do all of these dietary restrictions and the occasional fast work out in the favor of someone trying to live a healthy lifestyle?

The Isreali Paradox

The area with the highest concentration of people who practice Judaism is Isreal. Isreal currently has a pretty low obesity rate in comparison to the United States, and a higher exercise rate in comparison to America or Saudi Arabia. So, it would stand to reason they would suffer less from things like heart disease.

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

While Israelis have a lower body weight, from a lower access to trans fats, they have a high diet in plant based omega 6’s. This leads to some serious complications, as Susan Allport explained in her book ,”The Queen Of Fats: Why Omega-3s Were Removed From The Western Diet And What We Can Do To Replace Them”, “Israelis eat less animal fat and cholesterol and fewer calories than Americans, but they have comparable rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and many cancers. They have an ideal diet, as far as the American food pyramid is concerned, but far from ideal health.”

So, if that was a bust, what about another Middle Eastern Religion that has dietary restrictions and fasting?


Islam: Muslim Dietary Restrictions and The Ramadan Fast

ramadan, fastingIslam, along with Judaism has a combination list of dietary restrictions and time period dedicated to fasting. The dietary restrictions for those who practice the Muslim faith include:

  • Intoxicants and alcoholic beverages
  • Carcasses of animals that died on their own
  • Lizards, insects, rats, and birds with talons
  • Animals domesticated for another purpose, like (dogs or horses)
  • Blood
  • Pork
  • Any food dedicated to another God
  • An animal that has been strangled, beaten (to death), killed by a fall, gored (to death), or savaged by a beast of prey 

These dietary practices are certainly reasonable and are most likely for the purposes of just plain disease prevention and health preservation.

The fast of Ramadan happens on the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. It is a period in which those who practice the faith do not eat, drink, have sex, smoke tobacco, or ingest caffeine during the daylight hours of the entire month. Children before puberty are excused from this practice, though they are encouraged to go through mini-fasts to prepare. The elderly, pregnant women, and the sick are also allowed to opt out, for health reasons.

So, does it work? Does it help people lose weight or at least maintain a healthier body? The short-term answer is yes,  the long-term answer, is no.


Starvation leads to Binging and Lack of Exercise Leads to Obesity

“The appeal is that [fasting] is quick, but it is quick fluid loss, not substantial weight loss,” says Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., CNS, founder, and director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Weight Loss Management Center.

“If it’s easy off, it will come back quickly” — as soon as you start eating normally again, she says.

And it makes sense. People who go through any period of starvation, short or long term are much more likely to binge on fatty foods when that time of fasting is up compared to than the people who eat healthy foods on a regular basis with no starvation period. And there is data to back it up.

The country of Saudi Arabia, an entire population of Muslim people, have a 70% obesity rate for the entire country. That is about as bad as the US.

They are in no better shape than we are when it comes to skipping food and binging on fatty substances later.


Next Week

Next Week, there will be more comparisons to religious dietary restrictions, against their initial results. If you want to read more about diets around the world, check this one out. If you want to set up an appointment with Bekah, click on the pop up at the home page.