I'm sure you've heard all the buzz about "intermittent fasting" lately--and I think it's definitely a buzz-worthy topic with lots of health benefits (more on that below). Did you know, however, that the ancient practice and medical wisdom of Ayurveda has always advocated a certain amount of fasting in your everyday-diet? Yep. For thousands of years, Ayurveda has touted the benefits of keeping your digestive system clean, healthy, and strong by:
Not only should you be "fasting" between meals, but, according to Ayurvedic tenets for optimal health and digestion, you should also finish your last meal at least 3 hours before you hit the hay. Yep, you heard me. This means, if you go to bed at a decent hour (around 10pm), you should finish dinner by 7pm. This is a natural, daily fast of, roughly, about 12-13 hours (if you figure that most people eat breakfast around 7/8am).
"Why should I fast overnight," you ask? I will gladly tell you, if you don't mind a little reading. We should start with the liver, an AH-mazing organ. The liver performs over 500 metabolic functions in the body (whoa!). Some of its functions include the manufacture of bile, which helps us break down and emulsify the fats we eat. It also helps "clean up" the blood, by recycling old red blood cells and dumping those into your bile. Also, did you know that EVERYTHING you eat or put on your skin (and therefore into your bloodstream) must pass through the liver for filtration? Your liver is a hard-working organ, my friends.
And wait! Your liver is not just hard-at-work during the day. Nope, unlike you, who's snoozing away and blissfully unaware, the liver is doing its "janitorial duties" at night. The liver cleans up your blood and removes toxins (or substances it might perceive as "toxic," like gluten, chemicals, metals, etc.) that were stored in the cells of your body throughout the day. So if you eat too closely to bedtime, and your liver has to keep busy by aiding to digest your dinner or bedtime snack, it won't be able to do "clean up on aisle 6." In other words, your liver will be too busy digesting food to mop up the possible garbage you introduced into your system during the day.
Think of it this way: just like you, your liver is less effective at doing its job when it has to multi-task, "splitting" its energy among many different jobs. Let's face it, you know what a crappy night's sleep you get when you pig out right before you go to bed: you're hot, uncomfortable, and keep waking up, only to emerge as "rested" as a passenger on a red-eye flight from Los Angelos to New York City. (Rested? Not...at...all.) This all happens because you've overloaded your digestive system and liver.
So what, exactly, am I trying to tell you?
WE SHOULD ALL BE "INTERMITTENTLY FASTING" ANYWAY, EVERYDAY, ABOUT 12+ HOURS, BETWEEN ABOUT 7PM AND 7/8AM.
Now, are there studies, showing health benefits of longer fasting times? Yes! But what I've just described is a really simple way to get started. Why would you want to try to fast for 14-16 hours (which is what most studies are suggesting you'll want to eventually aim for to really reap the benefits of intermittent fasting), when you can't even go from dinner to breakfast without having a snack? Start with the overnight fast, people--I promise you will suffer so much less!
So what are the benefits of going a little longer on your fast (say, going 14-16 hours, or only eating during an 8-10 hour window)?
FINALLY, and most importantly, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. IF YOU HAVE ANY DIAGNOSED HEALTH CONDITIONS, PLEASE CONSULT WITH YOUR PHYSICIAN OR HEALTH CARE SPECIALIST BEFORE TRYING ANY OF THE ABOVE SUGGESTIONS
Feel free to email me with any questions--I hope you found this informative and helpful! I love sharing this information with you!
Meghan Hays Ayurveda - Ayurveda Salt Lake City