Listening to Luke Coutinho expound on the powers and benefits of fasting can be a mind-opener. “It is one of the most powerful inner physicians we possess that helps revive our body’s inbuilt intelligence,” says the expert in the space of holistic nutrition and lifestyle medicine. “Done properly, it can reduce inflamation and trigger the activation of our immune system.”

A major advocate of fasting as a method of encouraging our body to get rid of toxins – and also improve our mental wellbeing – among other things, the Mumbai-based lifestyle expert, who is a regular visitor to the UAE where he has a legion of followers and clients, underscores how fasting gives our digestive system a much needed break.

“Our digestive system is one of the largest consumers of energy,” he says, in an exclusive interview with Friday. About 80 per cent of our body’s energy is spent towards digestion, absorption, assimilation and elimination, leaving about 20 per cent for other cellular processes like repair, regeneration and healing.

“Now, imagine what happens when our digestive system takes a break? All the saved energy is utilised by the body to carry out necessary processes like repair, growth, healing, recovery, and detoxification.”

Fasting, he goes on, serves as a trigger to turn on the good genes and turn off the bad ones. “For instance, fasting turns on the SIRT1 gene, responsible for our longevity and graceful ageing. It also turns off inflammation and triggers the activation of our immune system.” However, he makes it clear that fasting has to be supervised and should not be considered a replacement for medications. Those with health conditions should consult their doctor when undertaking fasting.

A winner of several awards and honours including most recently the “Fit India Champion for Lifestyle and Wellness” for the Fit India Movement, a flagship programme of the Indian Government, Luke believes prevention and recovery revolves around four pillars: Balanced Nutrition, Adequate Exercise, Quality Sleep, and Emotional Detox.

Named one of 500 most influential people in Asia by the New York Press News Agency, Best Nutritionist in the Industry by Vogue, Luke has also authored a series of books on wellness and has four popular sellers to his credit including The Dry Fasting Miracle – From Deprive to Thrive with Shaikh Abdul Aziz Bin Ali Al Nuaimi. Luke’s #NewReligionLifestyle campaign, a free platform on Facebook, aims to educate and create awareness through live videos and blogs on disease, health and lifestyle related issues.

Excerpts from an interview with Luke:

How helpful is fasting, particularly dry fasting (where one does not consume solids or liquids for a specific period of time) for the body? What are its benefits?

Dry fasting benefits us at all levels – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. At a physical level, fasting helps in reducing inflammation, arthritic pain, improvement in gut health, easier management of chemotherapy side effects, improved immunity, energy, skin and hair health. It also helps reduce cravings, boosts mindful appetite, breaks the weight-loss plateau, delays ageing and regains hormonal balance.

That’s not all. It can help detoxify, reduce risk of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and kidney problems, make you feel more energetic, improve stem cell regeneration, autophagy, lean muscle growth, and extend 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 artificial sounds or aromas of food. 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, eyesight and sense of hearing.

Does fasting improve our mental health?

Although fasting may appear as a physical process, its benefits transcend all levels. There is a reason most traditional rituals involve ending the fast after offering prayers. When we are in a fasting state, prayers are deep and prolonged, and you don’t become restless.

Fasting also results in improved focus and concentration, reduced brain fog and fuzzy thinking, and better mental clarity. It has the power of protecting the brain against neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

At an emotional level, fasting makes us feel good from within, positive, peaceful, happy and in a better mood. It is known to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. We become more grounded and are humbled.

Any tips you can offer those who are diabetic and fasting?

Everybody responds differently to fasting. It is highly recommended for diabetics to keep a track of their blood sugar levels throughout the duration of fasting, and end it when they see their blood sugar levels falling. Depending on how extreme the fluctuations in blood sugars are and the kind of diabetes they have (Type 1 or 2 or prediabetes), fasting may not suit some people, and that is absolutely okay. Some individuals do need to eat every few hours, and smart fasting is about respecting what works for you.

What pointers should people who had Covid and are now fasting keep in mind? Any guidelines?

Firstly, keep your healthcare professional in the loop. Fasting isn’t meant to replace medicines or alter the medicine timings. Discussing your plan to fast with your healthcare professional can also help find out if fasting is really the right call for you.

Check your energy levels, because fasting isn’t recommended for people who already have very low energy levels.

Keep track of sugar levels; one of the most common post-Covid side-effects is elevated sugar levels.

Check vitamin and nutrient deficiencies and plan your entire fasting regime in such a way that it doesn’t create further deficiencies. The eating window must be carefully planned.

Plan your fasting in a way that you are ensuring adequate hydration during your feeding window; dehydration can create additional stress on your system.

How can one use this month of fasting and mindfulness to improve lifestyle and health?

I believe fasting is a great way to cultivate self discipline, self-restraint and consistency into your routine. A lack of discipline and consistency, and the tendency of giving in to distractions are big gaps that prevent people from achieving their goals. We live in a time where food is available at the click of a button and our lives are centered around 3 meals, plus snacking and grazing all the time. But do we need so much food and energy? Absolutely not. And fasting is a powerful way to help us realise that most of us are eating way too much.

How can one make the most of this month of Ramadan to stay grounded?

There is so much more to Ramadan than fasting. This beautiful and holy month teaches us gratitude, to stay connected with our spirit, slow down, practice patience, self restraint, all of which can help ground us.

Some ways to stay grounded this month:

• practice gratitude while ending the fast. Thank your body for supporting you through the fasting phase.

• be mindful of what you experience through the fast.

• believe that your body will support you through the entire course of 30 days.

• practice mindfulness and chew every morsel when you sit down to eat.

• practice self-restraint when you experience a craving or temptation.

• cultivate a spiritual or religious practice to stay connected with your spirit.

• offer kindness to yourself and people around you.

How can we develop a sense of being grateful, particularly during this month which is all about reflection and mindfulness?

Fasting and aligning with the fundamentals of nature can develop a sense of gratitude in us. It makes us grounded, humbled and grateful. It comes naturally. When we fast through the day, there is immense gratitude we experience in every bite of food and drop of water when it’s time to end the fast. In a world that is filled with convenience, distraction, and everything instant, right from gratification to foods, this is a beautiful feeling to experience.

Also, because this month is all about reflection and mindfulness, we bring our focus back to what we have instead of what we don’t. The reason most of us are unhappy today despite an abundance of everything, is an attitude of lack. When we constantly complain, blame, and whine, we create an attitude and energy of lack, which makes us vibrate at a very low frequency. On the other hand, shifting our focus towards gratitude and abundance, we raise our vibration as an individual, as a community.

You often mention the importance of fasting at least once a week all through the year. How can we incorporate it into our life?

When it comes to adopting fasting as a way of living, extremes aren’t necessary and needed. One of the most natural and effective forms of fasting is the circadian rhythm fasting. This is how we are supposed to ideally live our lives anyway. It aligns with cycles of nature and no one can challenge that. According to circadian rhythm fasting, one eats their last meal of the day close to or before sunset and ends it only after sunrise, allowing a window of natural and beautiful 12-hour fasting or more depending on what suits an individual.

If we align all that we do to the circadian rhythm, it will help restore, regain and reset our health in a huge way.

You can still socialise, eat what you want... but in a smart way. All we need to do is understand how it works and change your mindset. Times may have changed, but our bodies and the way it functions remains the same. The fundamentals and principles of nature haven’t changed, and never will.

A day according to circadian rhythm will look somewhat like this:

1. Waking up with the rising sun.

2. Avoid looking at gadgets right after waking up, and use this time to connect within, with nature, soak up natural sunlight and expose yourself to nature in any way possible.

3. Avoid eating anything until the sun rises.

4. Consume coffee or tea only three hours after waking up.

5. Eat, workout, sleep and wake up around the same time every day to build a rhythm.

6. Consume maximum calories for breakfast and lunch, and minimum for dinner. Let dinner be the leanest meal of the day.

7. Eat the last meal of the day before or during sunset, and fast through the night (dry or intermittent, based on whatever is comfortable). End it next day after sunset. This automatically results in a 12-hour effortless fast in the most natural way.

8. Keep a 2- or 3-hour gap between dinner and bed-time.

9. Disconnect from blue/artificial light close to bedtime. Such kinds of light suppress melatonin secretion. This should be done at least 1-2 hours before bedtime. Earlier the better. Plan your day if you want to fit in television or other modes of recreation.

By far, this has been one of the most powerful lifestyle changes people have made during lockdown and there have been thousands of positive testimonials from people who have embraced it.

5 foods best avoided when we end our fast

• Tea and coffee

• Fried and greasy foods

• Sugary foods

• Foods that are very high on fiber (because one needs to gently wake up the digestive fire. too much fiber can overwhelm and irritate the stomach linings)

• Refined carbs and ultra processed foods

5 must-have foods to include in our diet when we end our fast

• Dates or banana (foods that can provide instant energy)

• Lemon water / coconut water

• 1-2 seasonal and fresh fruits

• Simple homemade meals like dal-rice, khichdi, soups

• Soaked nuts and seeds

Weight training and mindfulness

Is weight training and gymming as good as it is being made out to be? A lot of people who are in their 80s and even 90s who have never even set foot inside a gym seem to be living a healthy happy life, despite having certain stresses and tensions of life. So is it really all in the mind?

Luke Coutinho: If asked this question a few years back, I would have said No. I believed nutrition and exercise are critically important for a healthy life. And while there is still immense power in nutrition and physical activity, there is a slight change in how I perceive health today.

With over 9000 hours of consulting patients from across the world with a range of lifestyle diseases, I believe health is more about being and feeling happy and less about diets and workout programs. Like you rightly mentioned, our ancestors ate what they wanted, and never stepped inside a gym, and yet lived a healthy and fulfilling life because they were happy. Despite the day-to-day stressors, their state of mind and thinking was happy. Happiness is our natural state. We were born to be happy. So when our body experiences negative emotions and sadness for an extended period of time, it shifts from its natural state, and that is where problems stem from. In the whole equation of health, our state of mind plays a bigger role than nutrition and exercise, and this is precisely why only prescribing diet and exercise never works. One cannot ignore the mind from the equation of good health. This is where tools like mindfulness, gratitude, laughter, memories, building meaningful relationships, visualization, cultivating hobbies, acceptance, letting go, forgiveness and so on play important roles in building wellness.

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