How fasting helps your body

A health expert explains the benefits of abstaining from food and drink

How fasting helps your body
How fasting helps your body Image #2

Health coach Nicole van Hattem explains how fasting can do your body good this Ramadan.

The Holy Month of Ramadan is an opportunity to cleanse the body and move to a more wholesome, natural and pure eating style. During your fasting period you may be tempted by an overabundance of food choices – particularly sweets and processed foods – between sunset and sunrise, however with greater awareness of the benefits of fasting, commitment and planning, you can reap the significant physical gifts of fasting.

Why fast?
Fasting is an opportunity:
• to interrupt patterns and learn to manage eating habits.
• to improve self-control and discipline.
• to let go of food and substance addictions.
• to slow down, breathe and chew while eating.
• to eat more consciously, making better food choices.
• to give the digestive system a rest.
• to breakdown and release accumulated toxins from your body.
• to increase your sense of gratitude for an abundance of food.

What happens when we fast?
We fast every day – technically the body enters a state of fasting eight hours or so after the last meal. Typically the longest time between eating is the time between our evening meal and breakfast (hence the name). During short fasts (after the body has used the nutrients from digestion of the last meal, such as daylight hours during Ramadan), the body will use glucose stored in the liver and muscles as the main source of energy, then fat becomes the next source along with small quantities of glucose which are ‘manufactured’ through other mechanisms in the liver. Only during prolonged fasts of many days to weeks does the body eventually turn to protein released from the breakdown of muscle (this is to be avoided).

The use of fat for energy aids weight loss, preserving the muscles, and in the long run reduces your cholesterol levels. In addition weight loss results in better control of diabetes and reduces blood pressure. A detoxification process also occurs as many toxins stored in the body’s fat are dissolved and removed from the body. After a few days of a fast higher levels of certain hormones appear in the blood (endorphins), resulting in a better level of alertness and an overall feeling of general mental well-being.

Eating – what and when
Suhoor – the pre-dawn meal.

Eat slowly digesting foods that provide energy for many hours, such as whole grains, beans, pulses and healthy fats. Eat slowly, in moderation, and choose high quality foods.

Iftar – the meal that breaks the day’s fast. Break the fast slowly. You want to gently reintroduce food into your digestive system. A small amount of food, such as a few dates or fruit, nuts and seeds, are a good choice. Follow this shortly after with a light meal of vegetables or salad, slow burning carbohydrates (such as beans and grains), lean protein and healthy fats. Iftar should remain a meal – not a feast.

Recommended foods
Vegetables, fruits (or pure fruit juices with no sugar added), pure water and herbal teas, whole grains, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds, healthy fats (in moderation), spices and seasonings, grilled, baked and steamed fish. Eating high quality organic meats is optional.

Foods to avoid
Heavily-processed, fast burning foods that contain refined carbohydrates (such as sugar, white flour, cakes, biscuits, chocolates and sweets), caffeine, processed animal products (such as highly processed meat and dairy products), sugar and artificial sweeteners, soda and soft drinks, deep-fried foods, high-fat foods, overeating, nicotine, gulping food or eating quickly.

Fasting is a time to slow down, make conscious choices, reinforce or create healthy habits, connect with the purpose of food as nourishment, and to increase your levels of gratitude for the abundance of food in your life.

So this Ramadan, why not give your body the gift of fasting and reap the rewards of greater health and wellbeing for the whole year.
Nicole van Hattem is The RAW Health Coach, a raw detox advisor and sought after inspirational speaker. Find out more at

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