Fasting for Health: A Dietary Lifestyle
Fasting is much more ingrained in our daily lives than we think.
We tend to associate fasting with religious observation. But the practice of abstinence from certain food products is no longer confined to the trenches of religious tradition: its subtle omnipresence in our everyday, urban life is easy to overlook, but upon closer inspection, fasting is everywhere, albeit in various forms, and stemming from diverse motivations. These range from the ethical concerns for animal welfare, inherent in veganism, to diets revolving around food intolerance or allergies, such as the gluten-free diet. Similarly, strict, doctor-recommended diets designed to cater to the treatment of chronic diseases, as in the case of diabetic patients, often require staying away from what are considered unhealthy dietary choices, such as fat, sugar, and alcohol.
And in the midst of this wide spectrum of fasting regimes, there is also the occasional fad diet, often endorsed by celebrities, promising rapid weight loss and overall health improvement, on the basis of exclusion. The “it” diet at the moment is arguably the ketogenic diet (with Kardashian sisters Kim and Kourtney, as well as Vanessa Hudgens, reportedly swearing by it), which is comprised of foods high in fat, combined with very low-carb vegetables. An unorthodox diet in that respect, the ketogenic (or keto) diet even allows the consumption of high-fat foods like butter, cheese, meat, and eggs. The purpose of this unusual dietary regime is to force the body into the state of ketosis (after which the diet is named), wherein, instead of burning carbs for energy, it burns fat. Thus, for the body to achieve ketosis and maintain it, a drastic reduction in daily carbohydrate intake is required: often, it is not allowed to exceed 50g a day. Furthermore, protein intake is limited as well, as protein can break down into glucose and this must be avoided for ketosis to be reached.
Despite the immense newfound popularity of the keto diet, there is no conclusive or consistent scientific evidence that it yields any overall health benefits to its adherents. And it doesn’t really follow up on its weight loss promises either: in a video that debunks the myths around the keto diet, chemist and popular YouTuber Mai Thi Nguyen Kim explains that, whilst it is possible to lose weight by going keto, the weight loss can only be sustained long-term if the keto dietary regime continues to be maintained with vigilance. However, this is highly improbable given that the success of the diet is dependent on a hardcore restriction on carbs (and carbs are everywhere).
The already established vegan and Mediterranean diets (and the dietary intersection of the two), as well as the lesser-known DASH diet (that aims at reducing blood pressure), seem to yield the most overall health and weight loss benefits for their followers, while additionally being the most environmentally sustainable thanks to the zero (or limited) consumption of animal products they involve.
Still, there are two important things to keep in mind while fasting for health or ethical reasons (regardless of the diet followed). Firstly, environmental sustainability, as well as ethics of consumption, are not guaranteed by simply following a plant-based diet. It is time we demanded transparency in the hitherto obscure processes behind food production, and took into account the human factor as well: by ensuring fair trade labour conditions for farmers and sellers, and by fighting against the neocolonial practices often involved in global farming and trade. Secondly, we should not forget that having the choice to fast in times of dire poverty, wherein many are forced to do so, is a privilege in itself, which we should acknowledge.
studierendenWERK BERLIN is featuring an exhibition on fasting and its multifaceted perspectives. The exhibition, which is currently presented at the student canteens of the studierendenWERK network, will culminate in a joint fast-breaking celebration that will take place on 23 May, 2019, at the TU Mensa Hardenbergstraße.