With the practice of intermittent fasting gaining popularity in recent times, many people are trying out more extreme fasting forms, one of which is dry fasting. Dry fasting is a practice that involves restricting not only a person's food but water intake as well. Those who follow it claim it aids weight loss, build immunity, and improve spiritual well-being. This practice is in no way a new invention and has been a part of our Indian way of life for as far as one can remember. Cosmo India spoke to Holistic Lifestyle Coach and Integrative Medicine expert Luke Coutinho whose list of celebrity clients include the likes of Shilpa Shetty (with whom he co-authored a diet book).
Luke recently authored a book called The Dry Fasting Miracle—From Deprive To Thrive. Here, he speaks to Cosmo India to explain exactly what dry fasting means, how you should go about it and enlists its health and weight loss benefits.
Cosmo India: What exactly does dry- fasting mean?
Luke Coutinho: Dry fasting (called Vrat in Hindi) is a discipline, a lifestyle practice that involves complete abstinence from food and water for a brief period of time, similar to the traditional practice of fasting during the month of Ramadan or Navratri. It is a concept that has always existed in every religion and nature follows it too. Fasting actually comes very naturally to us. A 7-8-hour sleep in the night is a period of fasting anyway. Our body automatically puts us in a state of fast to allow for detoxification. The dirt in the corners of our eyes, the morning breath, and our first urine that is warm and acidic are all signs of our body successfully detoxifying itself at night. However, with the constant availability of food, irregular eating patterns, and literally no discipline around eating and drinking, we have moved too far away from this concept and end up eating all the time, giving our body and digestive system absolutely no rest and space to detox itself. Our digestive system takes up about 80% of the body’s energy to digest, breakdown, assimilate food, leaving on 20% of the energy for cleansing, repair, grow, restore, and detox. So, giving our digestive systems a break redirects all the energy to what the body is supposed to do. Dry fasting helps wake up our body’s own intelligence to heal itself.
CI: How should you about dry-fasting?
LC: There are two phases in dry fasting - The fasting / Detoxification / Elimination phase and the Building / Eating phase. During the fasting phase, one fasts with absolutely no food and water and during the building phase, one eats and drinks in order to nourish the body. By far the most natural way to fast out of our experience is a simple 12 hour fast that is in alignment with nature or circadian rhythm. In this, one eats the last meal of the day close to sunset (e.g.: 7 pm) and keep fasting all through the evening and night until sunrise (e.g.: 7 pm). This is a simple 12 hour fast in the most natural way.
CI: What are some of the benefits of dry-fasting?
LC: Dry fasting affects us at all levels – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
Physical benefits: A Reduction in inflammation, arthritic pains, improvement in gut health, easier management of chemotherapy side effects, improved immunity, energy, skin and hair health, reduced cravings, mindful appetite, breaking the weight-loss plateau, anti-ageing, hormonal imbalance, detoxification, reducing the risk of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and kidney problems, feel more energetic, stem cell regeneration, autophagy, lean muscle growth, extend life, youth, and vitality. Fasting is also a great stimulus for HGH (human growth hormone).
In Mexico, there are fasting pods called “fast incubators,” where people are surrounded by nature and are not exposed to any smell of food, noise and one can fast for any period of time ranging from 10 – 30 days. People who have tried this have reported remarkable improvements in the healing of various diseases, improvement in eyesight and the sense of hearing come back!
Mental Benefits: Improved focus and concentration, addresses brain fog, fuzzy thinking, gives mental clarity, protect the brain against neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Emotional Benefits: To feel good from within, positive, peaceful, happy, and in a better mood. It is known to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression (has to be supervised and not a replacement for medications).
Spiritual Benefits: Enhanced spiritual practices, deepened prayers because meditation is most fruitful on an empty stomach. One can meditate best when the digestive system and its communication with the brain function is given complete rest.
CI: Does dry-fasting help you lose weight?
LC: You are bound to experience weight loss with the dry fasting because your intake of food is lesser and more mindful. In fact, many individuals experience a lot of weight loss and even manage to break their weight-loss plateaus during the initial few weeks of practising dry fasting, however, it's not recommended to adopt dry fasting with an intention to lose weight. The intention is everything. Embrace fasting to inculcate discipline into your lifestyle with respect to eating and drinking, but not as a shortcut to lose weight. Dry fasting mustn’t blind anyone from rectifying lifestyle changes – which is the root cause of weight gain.
A lot of people start dry fasting in order to quickly lose weight but do not focus on improving their eating habits and continue to eat processed and nutrition stripped meals during the building phase. This is wrong. They may lose weight but at the cost of their health. They begin to look haggard, dry and brittle nails and hair, dull skin, weak immunity – all at the cost of losing a couple of kilos. If you want to adopt dry fasting to lose weight, do it, but also eat well, exercise well, sleep well, and keep a check on your emotions. Dry fasting is not the only answer. Having said all of the above, since each body is different, fasting too should be extremely personalized according to one’s health condition, lifestyle, and goals.
To know more, you can grab a copy of Luke Coutinho's latest book, The Dry Fasting Miracle.