The gluttony of Chinese New Year festivity is officially over. Now, we return to our regular routine, perhaps a little sluggish after the recent overeating and lack of exercise. Time to go on a diet?
In many diet plans, intermittent fasting is one of the recommended methods. Depending on your fitness objective, it may include not eating processed foods, carbs and sugar, or restrictive food consumption for an allocated time in a day to limit calorie intake and encourage weight loss.
Of course, fasting is more than just about losing weight. In fact, fasting is an ancient practice for the body to heal, rejuvenate and detoxify. It gives the digestive system a “vacation” from all the hard work, especially after much glorious feasting.
Fasting is basically voluntary abstinence of food. Its purpose is diverse. Throughout history, we have witnessed hunger strikes or protest fasts as a non-violent method of resistance to incite change and action in a country or government (example: Gandhi). In the religious and spirituality context, the purpose is for penance, prayer and altruism, or as a petition to God for a special cause like healing or guidance.
Different Christian denominations observe different fasting traditions. Those observing Lent have already fasted since Ash Wednesday last February 18. This reduction of food intake goes for forty days until Easter in April. Other fasting practices include the avoidance of meat, consumption of nothing but water, to fasting every Friday throughout the year.
As one of the five Pillars of Islam, Ramadan is an important month where fasting meant abstinence from food, drink, offensive speech and actions, and vices like smoking and sex. Fasting is mandatory to all Muslims. Exemption only applies to children below the puberty age, and the ill or pregnant. Puasa period is twenty-two hours daily, with only feasting times at dawn (Sahur) and dusk (Iftar or “breaking of fast”).
In Judaism, fasting occurs several times a year to commemorate various religious events. Most notable one is Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement, where food and drink are absolutely forbidden for twenty-five hours.
Hinduism has no strict fasting rule. Discretion and purpose is up to the individual. Fasting is common during religious festivals like Durga Puja or Navaratri, a nine-day 24-hour complete abstinence twice a year to purify the body and worship the deity, Durga.
Baha’i faith devotees abstain from food and liquids for nineteen days between March 2 and March 22 annually. This fast is a major obligation to focus on spiritual matters and be closer to God.
Then there’s Jainism, the ancient Indian religion that has five forms of fasting depending on purpose. Nothing beats their extreme fast, the Santhara, a fast to the death. It is only allowed for those facing imminent deaths like old age and terminal illness as a preventive measure to “burn” old karmas from carrying forward to the next life.
Buddhism considers fasting as the first step of self-discipline to achieve self-control. Monks usually observe fasting, but ordinary devotees may also do so if they observe all the Precepts of Buddha every full moon days.
If you opt for fasting, be sure you do it for the right reasons, and without compromising your health. Fasting sends a message to the body to flush out the old and make way for the new. When done right, it is a good way to reinvigorate the body with a physical “restart” of fasting.
Andrea Tan is a Kuching-born writer based in Kuala Lumpur. Aside from playing with words, she is teaching herself to draw so she can tell stories with illustrations too.