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Fast facts about fasting

health and fitness Updated: Jun 13, 2010 16:15 IST
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It could be an impending wedding or a dream holiday, but all of us think of losing weight just to fit into that one dream suit or dress. A drastic, unhealthy trend has caught the fancy of those desperate to lose weight anyhow. Most people resort to fasting without proper guidance. While fasting for small amounts of time does help cleanse the body of toxins, people have begun to fast for longer time periods. And the immediate effect might be impressive, but is it safe on a long term basis?

Forms of fasting
Water fasting: This involves intake of only water and no food. It is very stringent and may lead to multi-nutrient deficiencies.

Juice fasting: Here, you simply take fruit and vegetable juices for detoxification. This involves rapid cleansing and may cause weakness.

Selective food fasting: Certain cereals, fruits and vegetables are permitted but no animal foods are allowed. This is the healthiest form of fasting and can be adhered to for a longer time span.

Many health practitioners are against the idea of fasting. But there are health benefits to it too: Periodic fasting accompanied with healthy eating improves insulin responsiveness, lowers blood cholesterol and prolongs life span.

It helps improve the mental stability of people suffering from anxiety and depression.

It detoxifies the body, cleanses the blood and improves the functioning of kidneys and liver.

The side effects
Fasting involving sole dependence on water and juices has its own side effects, which may not show immediately but will affect you later on. What may seem to you as fat loss is actually plain water loss. Excessive weight loss is often accompanied with vitamins and mineral deficiencies. Fasting for more than 10 days causes the following problems: It leads to hormonal fluctuations which lead to mood swings, irritation and fluctuations in the menstrual cycle.

Blood pressure drops and you feel dizzy especially when changing body positions.

Muscle weakness and cramps occur due to mineral deficiencies.

The drop in blood sugar level makes you lose concentration.

You become susceptible to infections.

The kidney and liver become weak and their ability to regulate metabolism is compromised.

The right time
It is advisable to fast when:

You’re leading a life of excesses.

You’re overcoming an emotional attachment to food.

You’re suffering from mucous conditions. Fasting helps purify the body and reduces mucous conditions (boils, cold, congestion, blocked nasal passages, asthma).

Fasting for a duration of 3 to 4 days has been found to be beneficial. But longer fasts cause you to binge at the time of breaking them, and any real benefit is doubtful.

Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre

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