Why I Sometimes Recommend Intermittent Fasting For Optimal Health: A Doctor Explains
Please consult with your doctor or trusted health care practitioner before making any dietary changes.
Fasting is trendy, especially something more recently being called intermittent fasting. Fasting is a general term for going without food for a set amount of time (from a few hours to a few weeks), with or without liquid additions. Sometimes fasting is used to refer to going without a particular thing, such as sugar, meat, or alcohol, but that’s not the technical definition.
Intermittent fasting is a more periodic type of fasting. While Ayurveda recommends that everyone should go for 12hours without eating between dinner and breakfast for good health, intermittent fasting goes beyond this. There are many ways to do it, such as going for sixteen hours without eating.
For example, if you finish dinner at 6 p.m., you would not eat breakfast until 10 a.m. For others, intermittent fasting means fasting for one day every week, or one weekend per month, or one week per year. The idea is that fasting gives the body a rest from digestion so it can concentrate on healing.
This works for some people, in certain situations. For others, it is almost always a bad idea.
So how do you know whether fasting is right for you? First of all, I want to make one thing clear: Fasting, and intermittent fasting in particular, is an advanced technique. Most people don’t need to do it, especially if they are practicing the aspects of The Prime and eating whole foods according to their unique constitution or dosha. If you don’t ever want to fast, then don’t.
Some have come a long way in their detoxification journey, however, and want to fine-tune their bodies and minds further. You must have your detoxification pathways turned on before fasting and you should be nutritionally replenished, or calorie restriction will not have a detoxifying effect. It will only have a depleting effect.
If you are already efficiently detoxing and you want to try fasting, it could be valuable for you. I want you to understand, though, that fasting is more of a mental than a physical feat. Emotions come up strongly during a fast, which surprises many people. It helps to be prepared for that.
But should you fast, even if you want to? Before you make that decision, you must consider your predominant dosha (to figure out your dosha, take the quiz here):
Fasting is not appropriate for vata people most of the time. If you really want to do a fast, do it only in the spring, as the weather is getting warmer. During this time, I recommend fasting no more than one day a week for no more than four weeks. During that one-day fast, have Prime Broth (recipe here) or other warm soupy liquids for all three meals. You should never go without any food.
Another option some vatas like is to skip just one meal, such as dinner, or eat only Prime Broth or soup for dinner. This can also be a gentle way to get the benefits of fasting without overly aggravating vata energy. Anything more extreme will increase vata energy too much. You could feel highly aggravated, anxious, nervous, or hyperactive, and you can stop absorbing nutrients altogether and become nutrient-deficient quickly.
Even if you enjoy this kind of heightened state, it is stressful on your body and mind. Calming is more important. A daily meditation practice is a much more valuable use of your time.
Pittas can fast, but they don’t generally like to because they have such large appetites. However, for pittas who overeat, occasional fasting can help keep things under control. The only caution for pittas is that fasting can increase the digestive fire (agni) a little too much. If you start to feel heated, aggravated, and irritable, it may be time to end the fast.
Pittas need to fast only about once a month for regular maintenance and should never do a water-only fast. The best way for pittas to fast is up to one day per week for as long as they like. However, if this is long-term (more than four weeks in a row), they should only skip breakfast and dinner and should have something for lunch.
Alternatively, a pure liquid diet of vegetable juice in the morning and Prime Broth for lunch and dinner would be appropriate one day per week for pittas. Pittas always need something in the middle of the day, even if it is only Prime Broth.
This is the dosha that is built for fasting. Kaphas can comfortably go for extended periods without food, and it is good for their physiology to do this. When offered only healthy choices, kaphas naturally tend to eat little anyway. It’s their cravings that get them into trouble. They are also the least aggravated, mentally, by fasting.
Kaphas don’t usually want to hear that they are good at fasting because they tend to be the most emotionally attached to food. However, fasting is easy for them, once their addiction pathways are normalized (i.e., after The Prime).
Fasting benefits kaphas in particular because it increases the number of mitochondria (the energy producers in cells) that are produced in the body, and fasting also increases the expression of the cytochrome P450 enzymes so crucial for detoxification.
Because kaphas retain toxins and fat more stubbornly than other doshas and tend to have low energy when imbalanced, they particularly benefit from these effects.
When kaphas fast, their whole systems become more efficient. They can easily fast for a full 24 hours one day per week either on just water alone or on a full liquid diet. They can do it easily — but just remember that first they must normalize their food addictions and release their strong emotional attachment to food.
How hard would it be to skip one day of eating, or one meal, once a week or every so often? You may really enjoy the effects. Just be sure you are efficiently digesting first and you are in a nutrient-dense state. Keep up with your good habits. And never forget this, if you are even considering fasting — I cannot overstate the importance:
Fasting is not for when you’ve been practicing unhealthy habits and want to get back on track. It is only useful for when you are already on track and detoxing well. This is when fasting has a positive rather than a negative effect.
Also remember that intermittent fasting has health benefits, but severe calorie reduction on a persistent basis can be destructive to the body, especially if you have more of the vata and pitta physiology. Food is healing. It’s good to eat!
Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary, MD, is a neurologist, neuroscientist and an internationally recognized expert in the ancient practice of Ayurvedic medicine. She earned her medical degree at Loma Linda University School of Medicine; completed her internship at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and neurology residency at University of California San Diego (UCSD).
Chaudhary is the author of “The Prime” (Penguin Random House, 2016) and “Sound Medicine” (Harper Collins, 2020); is a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine and is a highly sought-after speaker, researcher and adviser for Healthy Directions. She is the former director of Wellspring Health in Scripps Memorial Hospital, where she successfully combined conventional treatments with Ayurvedic practices of detoxification, diet, and lifestyle management to help patients effectively manage chronic neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and migraine headaches.
Her program was so successful that it is now used for a wide range of health concerns, including weight issues and chronic disease. Through her integrative approach, Chaudhary teaches her patients about the connection between mind, body and spirit, which impacts every aspect of health both physically and mentally. Learn more at www.DrKChaudhary.com.