Spiritual fasting is emerging as something that has secret health benefits for a reason that may surprise you. It's one of those spiritual health tips where the mind body connection becomes very evident. It appears that the health benefits from fasting for spiritual or ritualistic cultural reasons may be what sets it apart from things like a regular 21 day cleanse one of those health detox fasts and things like the grape cure. I know this research made me curious...
When Oprah went on her famous 21 day cleanse in the height of her dieting days she claimed it was a detox for better health - but what were her real intentions? If her cells could have spoken, what could they have told us?
When you understand the mind-body connection, you also understand that intentions and thoughts are energy that literally vibrate through our body changing our physiology. As Deepak Chopra says: "Our cells are eavesdropping on our thoughts.' And not only are they eavesdropping but they are also responding biochemically.
I've done some really dumb cleanses, detoxing diets and detox fasts in my time. Like the fasting detox grape diet when I got so light-headed that I fainted while out cycling. I guess that was my very wise body saying: "NO MORE YOU SILLY IDIOT!!!"
At least I told everyone else I was "detoxing" or "cleansing". But if my cells could have spoken they would have told you this were just another of my wonderfully warped attempts at getting thinner via the fastest method I could find. I wasn't trying to get rid of some of my body because I was in love with it - I was trying to get rid of it because I hated it. Well guess what love biochemical are totally totally different from hate biochemicals. One helps your health, the other erodes it. I'll leave it up to you to guess which one harms and which one helps.
The other reason I watched the Oprah's 21 day cleanse with a skeptical eye was that our Mind over Fatter group had just been discussing a rather fascinating bit of research shown on the BBC food channel about a fasting detox study.
They took ten healthy young women on a retreat and randomly assigned them to an experimental and control group. The control group - was allowed to eat and drink freely. The other had to follow a strict detox fast for 5 days of liquidized drinks and macrobiotic foods. PS. weight loss did not occur in the experimental group.
Even though it was only five days of this detox fast, the BBC program showed just how fast their mental state deteriorated - especially when they witnessed the control group eating spaghetti bolognese, and chocolates!! The famous, Ancel Keys 1945 research called the Minnesota Starvation Study found mental deterioration as well and many of his subjects developed not only enormously disordered eating and weight problems, but also psychological problems too.
And when I was grape fast detoxing - I was oh so very very good, but when I stopped, it didn't take me long to turn very very 'horrid' and eat everything under the sun to make up for the deprivation. It was as if I'd developed a binge eating disorder and become totally food obsessed.
Not long after doing this 21 day cleanse Oprah told the world she was embarrassed because she'd gained 40 pounds back to 200 pounds. I wasn't surprised because from reading her online diary, I could see this was no detoxification of the body and mind - she was 'white-knuckling' this so-called detox for better health.
By contrast, when Muslims fast during Ramadan their intention is to attain 'Taqwa' a higher spiritual consciousness, a purification of heart and mind. Their spiritual fasting speaks a language the body understands as a state of love with it's resultant positive biochemistry. The secret health benefits of detox lie in the motive and intention. And indeed research shows that health improves (1) with religious fasting. And this includes improvements in: "blood pressure, blood lipids, insulin sensitivity and biomarkers of oxidative stress."
However, when you go on a fasting detox to lose weight fast your body recognizes dieting as 'deprivation' and reacts with fear biochemistry. Fear releases cortisol - a great way to gain weight and lose health.
When Catholics fast over lent, according to father Dwight Londenecker it's, "to discipline our physical appetites in order to concentrate on the spiritual realm." In other words it's a spiritual fasting with the intention of feeling more connected to and closer to God and indeed some fasters report feelings of ecstasy and rapture. The Biblical-based fast known as 'the Daniel fast' commonly partaken for 21 days (just like Oprahs 21 day cleanse) ... found improved health outcomes as above.
Similarly, when 60 Greek adults fasted over Christmas (40 days), Lent (48 days) and Assumption (15 days) and blood lipid measurements were taken throughout that year, when compared to 60 Greeks who had not fasted researchers concluded (2): "Adherence to Greek Orthodox fasting periods contributes to a reduction in the blood lipid profile including a non-significant reduction in HDL cholesterol and possible impact on obesity." In the Greek Orthodox spiritual fasting is considered a reverence to God.
The intelligence of the body is astonishing isn't it?
(1) The impact of religious fasting on human health: Nutrition Journal 9(1):57 · November 2010
(2) Effects of Greek orthodox christian church fasting on serum lipids and obesity Katerina O Sarri, Nikolaos E Tzanakis, Manolis K Linardakis, George D Mamalakis and Anthony G Kafatos BMC Public Health 2003 3:16
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