Before getting into the subject, which I know is a controversial one and that some will stop reading my blog after this 🙂 , I want to make it clear that I do NOT want to treat this subject from a spiritual point of view, but from a nutritional one, so the article has no intention to judge the faith in God in any way.
Also, this article is NOT addressed to vegetarians or vegans. I admire and respect people who manage to eat a balanced vegetable-based diet on the long term. This article, however, is for people who choose to temporarily eliminate animal products from their diets without having proper knowledge or understanding of the effects this decision can have on their body and overall health.
When I was a child, being influenced by the the religion classes in school and by the country-side context where people would go to the church, I developed the habit of fasting and going for confession twice a year and this would give me a feeling of pride, although I didn’t understand back then too much of what this whole thing meant.
Later on, when the priest’s questions were no longer limited to “did you steal? did you lie? did you go to the church?” and my own human need came along, I didn’t manage to find a priest to rather help me free myself from certain negative feelings or thoughts without judging me and making me feel even worse for my so-called “sins”, so I gave up doing these things. (In the meantime, I developed my own understanding and relationship with God, but that is a totally different topic).
With fasting though, there was another story.
At some point, I remember taking fasting as a challenge of how long can I withhold myself from eating the forbidden foods (being a Christian, that meant a lot of categories of food). Looking back, my poor mother was the most disadvantaged, because she would have to cook separately for me or make more meals to satisfy everyone in the family.
And before Christmas, I decided I want to keep the whole 40-days fast. “Can’t I do it? Of course I can!”, I was telling to myself. Maybe I wasn’t a perfect “saint” all the time, but I did it. It was long. Loooog. (I will never forget making these cookies called “Rolled” (Romanian: “Tavalite”), which are made by literally rolling them through chocolate and coconut flakes, and how I had my hands full of chocolate and held myself from licking my fingers… aaaaah!).
Anyway… It was Christmas eve, we were waiting for Santa Clause and I had just ended my last day of fasting.
As we did every year, while expecting for Santa, we ate traditional Romanian appetizers and fried pork meat (also traditional for Christmas). Then Santa came with sweets and candies and of course I tried a few different ones, just as any happy kid would.
I surely didn’t eat more that usual, but I did try more varieties of the sweets, as I surely had a lot of appetite. (How else could it have been after long weeks of abstaining?)
And guess what I did the next day, meaning on Christmas Day?
Yeah… I ended up at the emergency room. Why? Because I had a “beautiful” indigestion. You see, even if I didn’t eat thaaat much, the fact that after such a long fast I got back to eating what was in fact normal, determined a not so great reaction into my body.
Maybe some of you will conclude from this story that it was normal to end up with indigestion, as the body had “cleaned” itself of toxines, it was all pure zen and stuff and I just hit it hard with meat and sweets.
Well, I understood that I don’t care what others think, but I am not made to fast. Or at least not in the Christian way. And I understood that fasting is not about food. The food is merely a symbol, one that should remind you to be human, to be nicer with the ones around you, to practice compassion and kindness, to love and to offer. And I also understood that I can do all this WITHOUT fasting – that this can actually be the every day status quo, not a short period withing a year, after which to go back at swearing and being mean.
And now, letting aside what happened to me, let’s analyze, one by one, a few myths about fasting. Nutritionally speaking.
MYTH NO. 1: Fasting helps you loose weight
I started with my favourite myth 🙂 So let’s see what’s the story here.
First of all, the Christian fast eliminates from your diet almost all important sources of protein.
Protein not only keeps you full, but it is absolutely essential for keeping (and building) muscle, but also for the proper functioning of all your vital organs. In lack of protein, you would simply die (think: malnourished children in Africa).
Problem is, on one side, that when you no longer consume protein, you loose muscle, because without it, your body will end up consuming the muscle for keeping its functions working properly.
On the other side, fasting (generally) means a high carbohydrate consumption: bread, potatoes, pasta, beans… that is, all foods that increase your insulin level – but what does that mean?
These are the foods that give the body a temporary feeling of satiety, after which the level of insulin decreases and your body will start releasing cortisol (known as “stress hormone” – does not sound too good, right?), basically asking for another dose of food.
This is why it is so hard to feel like you had enough during the fast.
And what happens is that you most likely end up eating more calories without even realizing it (cause when comparing to your normal meat-eggs-diary diet, eating only vegetables and starchy foods gives you the impression that you didn’t eat too much).
Problem is, the majority of people don’t know how to create a fasting menu that keeps a decent level of protein.
What results is the worst combination: you loose muscle and gain fat.
So if after the fast let’s say you remain at the exact SAME weight as before starting fasting, start worrying! It is very probable that you lost muscle and not fat.
What does that mean? That you got fat instead of loosing it. You got rid of what you shouldn’t have – muscle. Why?
Because muscles are the ones that burn the most fat. Without muscle you would almost not even consume calories. Why doing sports helps you get lean? It’s exactly because through physical exercise you use your muscles, the ones that put all that fat to work. And that’s also why performance athletes eat twice as much as others and are “only fiber”. So, if you do sports and you fast without looking at the amount of protein you eat, it’s the worst thing you can do to yourself!
Protein deficiency is associated with:
- Muscle mass loss
- Fatigue and low energy
- Low libido
- Low / lazy metabolism
- Difficulties in concentration and learning
- Irritability and state changes
- Muscle pain, bones and joints
- Increased blood glucose (cause of diabetes)
- Slow healing of the wounds
- Low immunity
So MYTH BUSTED: Fasting doesn’t help you loose weight. And if the scale does indicate a few kilos less, you should check your muscle mass and your calories – your body might be deprived of essential nutrients.
PS: I am not saying that you cannot eat balanced or include protein and healthy fats during fasting. Soy and tofu, lentils, black beans, chickpeas are some of the reliable vegetable protein sources. Or you can supplement with hemp and peas protein powder.
MYTH NO. 2: Fasting is healthy
In addition to the worry around the questionable protein intake during fasting, it’s fantastic to look at the entire industry that was built around the Christian fast (at least in Romania): pâté, sausages, cheese and cheddar, yogurt, hamburgers, chocolate and many other products, all “suitable for fasting”, meaning created without any meat, eggs or diary products.
Of course, maybe because I also do marketing consulting, I see the industry through different eyes and it might seem exagerated, but I see the mechanisms behind the commercials and how we are manipulated, especially when we lack information from trustable sources.
So I provoke you to read the labels and find out by yourself how many food additives these so-called “fasting food” contain, from starch, thickening agents, dyes, gels and emulsifiers to sugar, dextrose, and enormous amounts of salt. Or margarine, that hydrogenated oil, which is the most terrible source of fat you could ever consume. It’s in fact fast food, not fasting food (I doubt God wanted you to eat all that…).
Unfortunately I wasn’t inspired enough to actually take a picture of some labels I read, but I got a bit terrified.
The problem is that in the absence of the main ingredients (meat, milk, eggs, etc), these products cannot be too tasty without the addition of substantial flavor enhancers.
I found some articles quoting a study done by a Consumer Protection Association showing that 1 of 2 fasting products contain citric acid, 1 out of 4 products contain sodium metabisulfite, 1 out of 5 products contain 2 preservatives, 1 out of 6 products contain carrageenan, 1 out of 8 products contain calcium chloride, 1 out of 10 products contain sodium monoglutamate. Only 10% of the products analyzed do not contain any food additives. (source 1, source 2)
For example, as mentioned before, soy is among the few vegetable sources with extremely high protein content (so that’s good). The problem is that it’s not too tasty and does not even slightly resemble the taste of meat. And that is why more often than not, a lot of salt is added to the product, in order to “cover” the flavourless taste.
Just how much? I checked out of curiosity some soy varieties in a store and I thought I misread the label of a “soybean schnitzel”. Up to 14% salt. Let that sink in for a second… 14%! And yes, you read well! I regret so much not having my phone with me to take a picture!
In case the above percentage doesn’t speak anything to you, the maximum daily amount recommended by the World Health Organization for one adult is 5 grams of sodium. So 100g of this soybean pack contained almost TRIPLE the daily salt requirement! And if you think 100g is enough to cover a meal… good luck with that.
What does excessive salt consumption lead to?
- First and most dangerous: hypertension
- Water retention (cellulite anyone? what was it about fasting and loosing weight?)
- Excessive dehydration (drink enough water and check your pee regularly – it should be light yellow!)
- Swollen feet
- Kidney stones
I am not saying that there are no products with a decent amount of salt or maybe even unsalted, but how many people of those who fast actually read (or know HOW to read) the labels? Do you know, do you always read them?
And when you do, please don’t forget about the long list of food additives mentioned above, look for them too, not just for salt. And out of the million varieties, choose the ones with the highest protein content.
So MYTH BUSTED: Fasting is not necessarily more healthy. On the contrary – chances are that, without proper prior research and without careful product and labels analysis, as well as without understanding how the body functions, you will choose the easy fasting products, the proteinless fast food of the modern world, and ingest a high quantity of ingredients that you can call anything BUT healthy!
PS (thank you Diana G for the observation): If you do decide you want to fast, don’t be lazy: buy ingredients and cook – avoid processed foods by all means. And ALWAYS read the label, whenever you buy something, fasting or not. It’s the easiest thing you can do to improve your diet.
MYTH NO 3: Fasting helps you detoxify your organism
The first question that comes to my mind – and this refers to whenever I hear “detox” – is this: “Detox” from what?
Point is, when you eat correctly and include good sources of protein and fat in your diet, which are both tasty and satious, but most importantly, are essential for the proper functioning of the body’s mechanisms, and also take care of having a varied diet to take micronutrients from, meaning vitamins and minerals, I personally do not see why detox should still be needed.
I believe that the issue with this myth is not whether it is true or not, but the way in which people actually perceive the idea of the body detox in the first place.
I don’t know how and when did we start associating the word “detoxification” with juices, with eating only herbs, or even “black fasting” (not eating for a few days) and starvation, along with blaming meat for everything that goes wrong with our bodies.
Moreover, following this sort of “detox diets” would lead to cleaning the intestines, which would mean loosing weight as well. Pretty logic, right?
Well, not quite.
Because what you would be doing in such a case would be depriving the body of essential nutrients and besides taking out the protein, you would also deprive your body of fat – which I have previously written before here and here, explaining why they are absolutely essential for your body and especially for your brain (here is a good vegetable fat source that you can successfully eat during fasting 😉 ).
It’s essential to keep in mind that most of all nutrient absorption is done in the intestines, so they might not want to be cleaned… (Check out this article to learn more about how your gut works.)
I will repeat myself saying that if you don’t provide the body with either protein or fat, and on top of that you also starve it by “cleaning” everything inside of you, it will start using your muscles in order to produce energy. Yes, for sure it will also use the fat on the body, but that’s the most unhealthy way to lose weight, as the body is already in “emergency mode”.
There is what is called “intermittent fasting“, but that is completely different – the no-food intervals generally last up to a maximum of 12-18 hours, followed by a #smart recharge of the body, all being very well controlled and thought trough. But let’s get back to the point:
Why would you really need deTOXIfication? To get rid of something toxic, right?
If we take a look around, I would say that meat and animal source food is not really the most toxic thing for us all, but the environment full of pollution, radiation, traffic exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, synthetic herbicides, and lots of other factors that produce free radicals, known to fuel oxidation in the body in various forms, leading to aging, cancer and other serious diseases. (5)
What helps you fight against these free radicals? Antioxidants: green tea, cinnamon, turmeric, onion, garlic, cumin, basil, onion, garlic, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes. (6) In short, spices and vegetables that, if you have a proper diet, you include them in your diet anyway, regardless of fasting or not.
And you know what else is helping to detoxify? SLEEP. You can eat as healthy as you want, if you only sleep 3-4 hours a night, your body will still feel saggy. During sleep, the body recovers – from the smallest cell to the largest functions it performs. But do not believe me. Please test and see for yourself. 😉
What I mean is that when you have a healthy lifestyle, take care of yourself and when you eat well and balanced – including meat or other good protein sources, healthy fats and various vegetables – you already fight against the toxicity around you. The liver and kidneys are organs specifically designed to “sort” and detoxify – if you kept all the toxins in you, you would die quickly, be sure of it.
However, suddenly eliminating all the animal products in your diet only weakens the body in front of all these challenges that it knows best to fight because it has biological mechanisms specifically designed for it. (And it makes it hard to get back to normal, just as a reminder of my Christmas story.)
So here I wouldn’t necessarily say MYTH BUSTED, but that A CHANGE OF PERCEPTION is needed on the idea of detoxification itself (which would completely cancel the myth in the first place). And if you truly want detoxification, take a one or two weeks vacation away from any city and from ANY kind of technology, where you can breath in some fresh air and where you remember how to live and enjoy every blade of grass. That is the real detox we long for. 😉
PS: If your diet is based mainly on junk food, then maybe a short fast wouldn’t hurt you 😛 However, if this is the case, I would recommend a much more structured and balanced change that a temporary solution such as religion driven fasting.
In conclusion, forget about fasting if you keep it for any of these myths. Because this isn’t the way for becoming a better person. This isn’t the way for loosing weight and getting lean. This isn’t the way to become more healthy. This isn’t the way to detoxify.
Take a break.
Close the phone.
Look at the sky.
Go to the mountains and inhale the fresh air.
Move, be active, however you enjoy it.
Breathe in the nature.
Appreciate the people around you.
Make honest compliments.
Share joy and smiles.
This is what the Allmighty Force truly wants us to do.
As for health, if you are already doing all these, you are already on your way to a healthi(er) life, as your body and mind will be happier. But if you need help or a plan for starting to eat healthier, let me know and I will be happy to help.
With love for life and healthy food,
Photo sources: Digi24.ro, Monitorulcj.ro, Iasi4u.ro, Shutterstock.com, Pixabay.com.