Sometimes less is more!
Caveat: This may not work for all, but it will for some. It certainly worked for me!
This is a companion or continuation to the post “Enjoying Good Food and Deep Sleep” (along with the comments section):
Before starting any fast, it is implicitly assumed that one is already eating well on a regular basis, for fasting occasionally is not equivalent to starvation! The phrase “optimal health” conveys Physical along with Mental well-being.
One of the salient features of a Hindu Diet is to observe a fast one day every fortnight, called the Ekadashi Vrata. The word “Ekadashi” literally means “Eleventh”, which corresponds to the 11th day of the lunar phase (e.g. today, 23rd January 2017), occurring about twice a month. On this day, a person takes a vow (“Vrata”) to fast without eating anything. However, if it’s difficult to go on a full fast, one is advised to not consume starchy foods (rice, beans, etc.), but is permitted to have limited portions of these items:
- Vegetables (Soup).
- Salted and diluted buttermilk – such as Chaas.
Along with the physical fast, one also typically undergoes a “Mental Fast”, where one abstains from ruminating on worldly pleasures or temptations. Similar fasts can be found in other religions too.
Here’s a modern view of dietary fasting that appeared in TIME Magazine (March 30, 2016):
You Asked: Should I Try a Fasting Diet?
It’s sometimes called the 5-2 diet—meaning five days of normal eating followed by two days of severe calorie restriction—though it’s more commonly referred to as intermittent fasting. No matter what you call it, avoiding food for hours or even days at a time appears to be more popular than ever.
The plan’s benefits may extend far beyond weight loss, says Mattson. “We’ve found that mice or rats that maintain alternate-day fasting have brain neurons that are resistant to the kind of damage associated with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and even stroke,” Mattson says. He’s in the middle of a study that seeks to confirm these brain benefits in people.
Another proponent of fasting is Dr. Valter Longo, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California. One of Longo’s recent experiments involved a small group of people who fasted for five consecutive days once a month, three months in a row. Among the study participants, markers of cell regeneration increased, while risk factors for diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and aging all dropped, he says.
“We know that the accumulation of cellular damage is the cause of many diseases,” says Dr. Luigi Fontana, a professor of nutritional science at Washington University in St. Louis and Italy’s University of Brescia. But when you go long periods without food, the resulting metabolic changes appear to stimulate “autophagy,” or a natural cleaning out of your body’s damaged cells. “Cells start to eat dysfunctional proteins, organelles, and mitochondria, and this kind of cleaning of garbage and regeneration may be very beneficial,” he explains.
The link between physical fasting and spirituality appears in the book “Talks with Ramana Maharshi” :
Q: “Can fasting help realisation?”
A: “But it is temporary. Mental fast is the real aid. Fasting is not an end in itself. There must be spiritual development side by side. Absolute fasting makes the mind weak too. You cannot derive sufficient strength for the spiritual quest. Therefore take moderate food and go on practising.”
This is explained further :
Q: “How shall I overcome my passions?”
A: “Find their root and then it will be easy. (Later) What are the passions? Kama (lust), krodha (anger), etc. Why do they arise? Because of likes and dislikes towards the objects seen. How do the objects project themselves in your view? Because of your avidya, i.e., ignorance. Ignorance of what? Of the Self. Thus, if you find the Self and abide therein there will be no trouble owing to the passions…There are, no doubt, other methods for the suppression of passion. They are (1) regulated food, (2) fasting, (3) yoga practice, (4) medicines. But their effects are transitory. The passions reappear with greater force as soon as the check is removed. The only way to overcome them is to eradicate them. That is done by finding their source as stated above.”
Regulated diet and physical fasting are said to be only temporary methods of calming the mind, not the eradication of “passion” (lust, greed, anger) via a “Mental Fast”, which culminates in Wisdom. However, one would argue that a temporary fix is better than none at all!
The 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discovery of Autophagy, a process by which the old is recycled to new in the body at the cellular level. Some preliminary research connects the benefits of autophagy to fasting :
Our data lead us to speculate that sporadic fasting might represent a simple, safe and inexpensive means to promote this potentially therapeutic neuronal response…food restriction causes a rapid and profound upregulation of autophagy in the brain…However, caution is counseled, because…chronic starvation might inhibit autophagy, an outcome that could damage, rather than protect, neurons.
 Talks with Ramana Maharshi, Talk 523. 2nd October, 1938.
 Ibid., Talk 170. 24th February, 1936.
Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy
Mehrdad Alirezaei, Christopher C. Kemball, Claudia T. Flynn, Malcolm R. Wood, J. Lindsay Whitton, and William B. Kiosses
Autophagy. 2010 Aug 16; 6(6): 702–710. Published online 2010 Aug 14. doi: 10.4161/auto.6.6.12376
PMCID: PMC3106288; NIHMSID: NIHMS298250