Here we are again at the beginning of a new year—when many of us consider implementing resolutions to lose weight and become fitter. If your modus operandi is to latch onto typical diet schemes to “lose weight fast,” try something new this year by approaching your wellness goals differently and save your nervous system a trip down Anxiety Avenue.
One way to maintain a healthy weight is by practicing intermittent fasting. You might be under the impression that intermittent fasting is a relatively new concept, but it isn’t. In fact, intermittent fasting has been practiced for thousands of years! It is how we eat when we follow the laws of nature and are in tune with circadian rhythms.
WHAT ARE CIRCADIAN RHYTHMS?
Circadian rhythms are cycles throughout the day and year when our bodies perform different functions, animals behave in various ways, and the seasons shift to create changes in the weather, flora, and fauna. The planets, sun, and moon also follow circadian rhythms.
The moon cycle runs around 29.5 days (circalunar rhythms/clocks) or 14.75 days (circasemilunar rhythms/clocks) (see Figure 1A). The moon also generates rhythms with a shorter period of 12.4 and 24.8 h, called circa tidal and circa lunidian rhythms, respectively (1–5).
“The solar cycle is an approximately 11-year cycle experienced by the Sun. During the solar cycle, the Sun’s stormy behavior builds to a maximum, and its magnetic field reverses. Then, the Sun settles back down to a minimum before another cycle begins.”
“Earth’s rotation creates a cycle of day and night, which is observed as changes in light levels and temperature. During evolution, plants and animals adapted to these cycles, developing daily cycles of physical and behavioral processes that are driven by a central biological clock, also known as the circadian clock.”
On a more microcosmic level, cellular and enzymatic activities and bacteria production have circadian rhythms too!
This is important to remember because honoring the circadian rhythms affects digestion which, in turn, affects our ability to perform bodily functions; a byproduct of which is the ability to maintain a healthy weight!
WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING?
Intermittent fasting is when a person goes without eating for a period of time. Fasting can be anywhere from a number of hours to a day or multiple days.
Note Fasting for an entire day or multiple days is not recommended for everyone. It’s best to consult with a professional before embarking on fasting practices that last an entire day or multiple days.
THE PROPER TIME TO PRACTICE INTERMITTENT FASTING
We fast intermittently if we follow the natural circadian rhythms—meaning that we have our last meal at sundown and break the fast at sunrise. Generally, finishing supper no later than 6:00 pm and breaking fast with breakfast at around 7:00 am is best due to the way vata, pitta, and kapha function. This is Ayurvedic intermittent fasting.
CIRCADIAN RHYTHMS AND AYURVEDA
Ayurveda has always known the importance of following along with the laws of nature and circadian rhythms. The elemental energies of vata (space and air), pitta (fire and water), and kapha (water and earth) are governed by circadian rhythms. Vata, pitta, and kapha are activated at cyclical times of day, and we are influenced by the functions associated with them.
VATA, PITTA, KAPHA, AND CIRCADIAN RHYTHMS
KAPHA TIME | 6:00–10:00 am
Heavy, earthy, and water qualities predominate at this time, making it easy for us to stay snuggled under the covers longer and be sedentary throughout the day. Rising by 6:00 am before kapha’s qualities set in will help us avoid getting stuck, lazy, and unmotivated.
Exercising at kapha time is recommended, as this is when muscle strength and endurance are best. Aim for early evening if you miss exercising between 6:00–10:00 am.
KAPHA TIME | 6:00–10:00 pm
Turn off technology an hour before going to sleep. Make sure lights are out by 10:00 PM to ensure that the still, sedentary qualities of kapha allow you to fall asleep and remain asleep more easily.
PITTA TIME | 10:00 pm–2:00 am
Pitta’s fiery quality is active at this time, allowing the body to detoxify and burn fat, but it is necessary to be asleep at this time in order for pitta to perform.
*Molecules of emotion are stored in the fat cells. So, it’s not surprising that sleep can be interrupted if we eat late or stay awake past 10:00 pm because the energy that would otherwise be used to burn off fat, detoxify, and allow us to process thoughts and emotions, is being used to digest a late meal and keep us awake instead.
The results of missing out on the fat-burning and detoxification processes also results in interrupted sleep, nightmares, and a restless mind that causes insomnia as we wake up to rehash events or stressful thoughts.
PITTA TIME: 10:00 am–2:00 pm
At this time, take advantage of pitta’s fiery nature to aid in digestion-eat your biggest meal of the day at this time when digestive strength is at its best.
VATA TIME: 2:00–6:00 am
The light and mobile qualities of vata are responsible for those nights when we wake up and have trouble falling back to sleep, lying awake with an active mind. This can be avoided when we refer back to kapha’s heavy, immobile qualities and maintain a routine of being asleep by 10:00 pm to ensure restful slumber.
Rise by 6:00 am to take advantage of vata’s “mover and shaker” mojo to get you up and going.
VATA TIME: 2:00–6:00 pm
The light, mobile qualities of vata enhance productivity and creativity at work and in our studies as it fuels the activity of the mind. We’re likely to come up with great ideas at work and retain information that we study when we focus on it at vata time of day.
INTERMITTENT FASTING AND SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES
Intermittent fasting from sundown to sunrise offers the body an approximately 12-hour break from eating, where it can focus its attention and energy on detoxification, fat burning, resting, and resetting digestion.
There are special circumstances under which the practice of fasting may take us outside the realm of vata, pitta, and kapha’s circadian rhythms, AKA Ayurvedic intermittent fasting. As mentioned earlier, these practices that are outside the realm of Ayurvedic intermittent fasting should be discussed with a professional.
Special circumstances for longer periods of fasting or fasting outside Ayurvedic intermittent fasting can include seasonal shifts, spiritual reasons, and individual medical or constitutional needs.
STORING FAT IN WINTER AND AYURVEDIC FASTING IN SPRING
Our ancestors reaped the benefits of intermittent fasting quite naturally, as the availability of food was scarce and what was harvested in the early spring was very low in fat. The naturally occurring, low-fat diet of spring forces the body to derive energy from burning its own stored fat. If you were lucky enough to pig out during the feast of fall, you still had some fat to burn each spring.
Spring is truly weight loss season, and with one-third of Americans obese, it seems that many of us could stand to lose a few pounds each spring.
Read more Learn how winter plays a part in the advent of Ayurvedic intermittent fasting in spring.
Ayurveda suggests that spring is the best time to fast as it is kapha season. Kapha season—the second half of winter through spring—is heavy and watery; fasting and seasonal eating are great ways to lighten up.
Here are a few easy spring fasting strategies:
- Fast one day a week, having only water or vegetable juice. (Longer water fasts should be supervised.)
- Eat a good breakfast and lunch and skip dinner.
- A daily 13-hour fast—after dinner, eat nothing from 6:00 pm to 7:00 am. Water is OK.
When fasting outside the norm of Ayurvedic intermittent fasting, we should consider a person’s unique constitution, stage of life, and current imbalances. This out-of-the-norm fasting can disrupt the nervous system, cause blood sugar instability, anxiety, irritability, and in the long run, create weight gain!
FASTING FOR VATA, PITTA, AND KAPHA CONSTITUTIONS
Generally speaking, those with a predominance of kapha do well fasting. The kapha appetite isn’t as strong as the pitta appetite. So, while kapha people enjoy eating, they can go longer without food before they suffer from imbalances.
Pitta-predominant people MUST EAT! They have strong appetites due to their ability to digest well. Beware, pitta peeps get hangry!
Vata-predominant people tend to forget to eat. This does not bode well for their lightness. Anxiousness, inability to focus and concentrate, and blood sugar nose dives are common side effects of fasting that rear their ugly heads when meals are not regular.
For the most part, it’s not recommended for vata- and pitta-predominant people to fast for long periods of time other than Ayurvedic intermittent fasting (from sundown to sunrise).
Read more about Ayurvedic intermittent fasting.
BENEFITS OF AYURVEDIC INTERMITTENT FASTING
- Decreased diabetes risk
- Decreased cardiovascular risk
- Improved longevity
- Protection against cancer
- Reduced risk of neurological concerns
- Decreased inflammation
- Balanced lipid levels
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced oxidative stress
- Balanced weight
Ayurveda suggests that we not skip meals except when participating in fasting for certain exceptions. The habit of snacking should also be avoided. Favor three meals a day—eat enough breakfast to sustain yourself until lunch, make lunch your biggest meal of the day, and make supper a “supplement”—just enough to hold you over until you have breakfast in the morning.
Acknowledge that digestive strength takes time to warm up in the morning. Ease your way into the day with hot water and lemon or ginger tea.
Stay hydrated throughout the day, drinking half your body weight in ounces of water daily (more if you sweat or drink alcohol or caffeine). Proper hydration helps maintain healthy digestion and fat-burning abilities.
Save heavy foods for midday when digestive strength is at its best, and favor lighter soups or salads for supper time.
Try feeding someone else before yourself and give thanks!