Intermittent fasting is the new craze when it comes to weight loss. And yes! it does work for many, but not for all... Here is the ayurvedic take on intermittent fasting: When & What to eat, Who it’s good for, How to, Why it works.
The idea is to fast for 16 hours and eat an 8-hour-eating-window – you could also start on a 13-hour-fasting window and gradually increase to 16, after a week or 2.
When intermittent fasting, most people skip their breakfast, have a brunch between 11 and 1pm, a dinner at 8pm then stop eating till the next day. Others have breakfast, a late/afternoon lunch and nothing till the next morning.
What does Ayurveda has to say about the concept?
Ayurveda tells us to have the breakfast of a King, the lunch of a prince, the dinner of a beggar.
In ayurveda, everything is related to our metabolism and ability to digest efficiently, breaking down the ingested food, then transforming it and finally absorbing the nutrients while (and this is most important) getting rid of the “toxins” in the most efficient way possible. If the digestion is optimum, health will be too.
Interestingly Ama, toxins in Ayurveda, literally means “what is undigested, uncooked, not useful to the body or the mind” and has yet to be disposed of.
So why the breakfast of a King?
Because you’ll be awake and be active throughout the day following that meal, it will be digested easily and will provide the energy needed to go through life.
One of the ayurvedic recommendations, when it comes to healthy eating, prescribes to leave 4 to 5 hours gap between 2 meals. What we don’t want to do is to eat while the previous meal is still being digested. That’s too much traffic and congestion. The latest meal would have to patiently wait for its turn. Sitting on top, it stays in too long, starts to create fermentation, hence often creating gas and/or bloating or acidity. This is especially crucial in the evening: as we go to sleep, our digestive system does too and functions at a slower pace. As most people tend to go to bed 2 or 3 hours after having dinner, we actually go to sleep on an undigested meal, which will remain in the digestive tract too long, creating fermentation and toxins. This accumulation creates blockages which triggers a vicious circle where digestion slows down further, produces more stagnation and retention of undesired matter.
There are 2 tricks to this:
Eat earlier (for example 6pm if you go. To bed at 10 or 11pm) so that the 4 to 5 hours gap is respected
And/Or: eat mashed food or soups. If you spare your digestive tract the suffering of turning the foods from their solid state to a liquid form, you have helped the digestive system do its work and have thus shortened the digestive process. Concretely: a veggie soup with vermicelli is much better than a beef steak at night.
How Many Meals a Day According to Your Dosha
A Vata dominant constitution can skip meals all day, snacks on nuts and seeds and tend to prefer small but repeated intakes of foods.
A pitta dominant constitution doesn’t snack but also cannot skip a meal for fear of being irritated, angry and impatient. This is because their nature is fire and when the digestive enzymes are secreted at fixed hours, they need to have something in there to be digested or they might suffer from acid refluxes and mood irritability.
As for Kapha beings, they can skip a meal but have a need for heavy, grounding and satisfying foods. They often eat emotionally and look for sugars to keep them anchored.
(If you dont know your dominant constitution, try this test)
With that in mind:
Vata needs to stick to 3 meals and no snacking, re-instating a semblance of structure in their life. This will nourish, ground and bring some balance to Vata dominants profiles. This is also why Intermittent fasting is doable for a Vata individuals but isn’t’ recommended. This is especially true if you are underweight or frail. Funnily Vata beings are always keen on losing weight when they are the slimmest of the constitution. This is because Vata always seeks to fell light and even when they are slim, they believe they should lose weight.
Pitta should have their 3 meals a day, which makes intermittent fasting a challenge but a possibility.
As for Kapha, this is perfect for them. Intermittent fasting has beautiful results on Kapha imbalances such as excess weight gain.
The point is to understand, that a digestive system that’s working non stop by ingesting snacks, or 5 to 6 small meals throughout the day, is a tired digestive system. If you run a marathon, go to the gym 1 hour later, play tennis 3 hours later, and have a yoga class 2 hours after that, you'll probably be exhausted and perform any of these activities half way or just not… Exhausting the digestive system, makes it perform inefficiently, this is simple and common sense.
This is where the philosophy behind “intermittent fasting” is in agreement with the ayurvedic principles. Giving a vacation to our digestive system allows it to heal itself and restore its performance.
Kapha foods are most responsible when it comes to excessive body weight. Kapha has heavy, sticky, gooey, immobile, sedentary properties which apply to all cheeses, breads, all industrial and processed sugars, some fruits and so forth. Kapha is cold, heavy, and static, it also is famous for its slow digestive fire (Manda Agni). Yet, Kapha is our immunity, the preservation of the tissues and their healthy build. It constitutes most of what are fat and muscles. Promoting opposite qualities which are those of Vata (dry, light, and quick moving) will create balance. But most importantly, we'll have to restore the digestive fire and increase its ability: this is done by the help of Pitta foods and spices (cumin, cardamon, cinnamon, fennels seeds...). Sharp, pungent and quick are the attributes of Pitta. They will promote an efficient digestive process.
Concretely, this means we want to eat light and easily digested foods with pungent and hot qualities which trigger the digestive fire.
A note to women in the their peri-menopause to menopause phase
In the US, 50% of women 40 to 50 are overweight, with half of these obese. On average, women between 50 and 60 years old put on an average of 700g a year (1.5lbs) for no apparent allopathic reasons. This is a life stage which is marked by opposing forces: the stagnation of Kapha (heaviness, lack of circulation, weight accumulation in places you’ve never had had fat before and cellulitis) on the one hand and the aggravation of Vata on the other (the withdrawal of Oestrogens, dryness and coldness). But it also involves an imbalance of pitta responsible for hot flushes and migraines. Vata and Kapha being of opposite natures, the only thing they have in common is to have a low digestive fire and to be balanced by Pitta. But because of the excess of inflammation that comes with the menopause, only good pitta foods and activities should be used: ginger, good quality proteins such as lean meats and white fish, nuts, eggs, avocadoes and so on.
Intermittent Fasting the ayurvedic way – Breakfast or dinner skipping?
Most intermittent fasters skip the breakfast rather than their dinner. This is understandable because skipping dinner makes us a social outcast. The end of a long day at work is also associated with relaxation, sharing and satisfaction. In addition, an intermittent diet that skips dinner means we'll have our last meal at around 3 or 4 pm. If you work this is complicated, and thinking of not eating till the next morning is…. Well, not easy. Lastly, most people rush to work having no time for breakfast or have no appetite in the morning till about 10 or 11am. Bottom line, skipping breakfast’s a much easier option:
It would be much more efficient and beneficial by ayurvedic standards to have the breakfast of a king, the lunch (or late lunch) of a prince and no dinner, rather than skipping breakfast. Scientifically, the studies on intermittent fasting also show that skipping dinner is better than skipping breakfast. But again, it’s not always easy to apply.
An option is to have a big breakfast and late lunch, and decide to have a soup or a sweet potato and broccoli mash for example in the evenings. It’s no longer pure intermittent fasting, but it’s its essence and follows the ayurvedic principles of healthy digestion.
Ayurvedic Intermittent “fasting” Routine
Based on having breakfast & no dinner
Start your day with
A lemon water with chia seeds
Apple & Cinnamon Water
A Cumin Water
Walk for 30 to 45 minutes in the morning (preferably and if possible, in nature)
Practice Yoga asana for weight loss for 20 minutes
Perform 10 slow and thoughtful Sun Salutations (5 on each side)
Have a protein rich breakfast:
Now you can have a coffee or a tea, but don’t start your day with it and just have 1 a day if you can
Eggs & avocado on a flat bread (tortilla or Pitta- bread without yeast) and an avocado
Avocado and Fresh goat cheese breakfast with a flat bread (tortilla or Pitta- bread without yeast)
Ham/chicken with leafy greens
Almond milk quinoa Porridge & chia seeds
The late brunch of a Princess
Mung Dal Chilla with paneer stuffing
White fish & veggies with squash.
Unprocessed carbohydrates (basmati rice or mung beans or sweet potatoes) with cooked leafy greens (mustard leaves, spinach for example but avoid Kale in Vata dominant natures or if you are bloated)
No Dinner or a Soup
Either go for the full version of the intermittent diet and skip that dinner meal or decide to have a light dinner that will easily be digested by the time you go to bed.
Rice vermicelli soup and veggies
Sweet potato mash
Good & Trimming Foods
Make sure that you have sugars, they aren’t the enemy and there are central to our immunity and our health. But only have them in their natural forms: sweet potatoes, basmati rice (avoid wild rice, round rice and all other non-long grain rice), peppers, Honey, and so on.
You can have a tea spoon of Honey before bed: honey is hot in nature and helps digestion. You can also have an apple a day for its fibres, but away from meals within your 8-hour eating window and not as a dessert.
Nuts are good fats: even though they aggravated Pitta, most nuts are a good source of fat. Avoid peanuts though. Almonds are a good nut for all constitutions. Coconut oil and Ghee are recommended. They are saturated fats which do not alter molecularly when heated. Excess weight deals with unsaturated fat which are mobile. So, these too are good for losing weight. Even though ghee in excess will slow down the weight loss process. Avoid olive oil, and prefer sunflower, mustard or sesame oil if you are free of inflammation. If you want to restore the digestive fire and avoid the creation toxins, one crucial ayurvedic advice is to avoid mixing animal proteins: cheese and eggs, meat and cheese, and so on.
Veggies, Leafy Greens & cruciferous: broccolis, cabbages, brussels sprouts, mustard leaf, spinach, green beans, peppers, squash, lentils, tofu, asparagus are good choices.
If you eat meats: prefer white fish and white meats of the best quality you can afford (organic, wild caught).
Cheese: all of them are Kapha or Kapha Pitta. They aren’t recommended to lose weight. But allow yourself a bit of fresh goat cheese (water based) and stay away from hard pastes which are very heavy in bad fats (blue cheese, ossau irrati, edam…).
Iron, zinc, and selenium motivate the thyroid gland and increases the metabolism. I only advise that if you take complements you take them in a form where there are about 20 different minerals, so that the body takes in what it lacks without creating other imbalances. Vitamin K is good against cellulite too.
People with a history of anorexia, bulimia, eating disorders in general, diabetes, who are pregnant, have kidney or renal issues should abstain from intermittent fasting.
I have to make sure one understands these are global considerations and advice. They do not take into account your personal constitution and the specifics of the nature of your imbalance if present. Therefore, do not follow these guidelines blindly because one size doesn’t fit all, but instead, adapt them to your own condition. You can be in touch to have your own ayurvedic consultation so that this programme is catered to your specifics. Or seek professional advice from your doctor before embarking on an intermittent fasting journey.