Shravan is the month for fasting, the beginning of the Chaturmas or the four-month period of abstinence from certain food groups. In conversation with Slurrp, nutritionists weigh in on the significance of fasting, ways to fast sustainably and some tips and tricks that will help to maintain and enhance fitness levels during the Shravan vrat.
The monsoon month of Shravan is filled with many small festivals, rituals and customs that celebrate nature's wealth and bounty. It is also the time for heavy showers and rising humidity, a change in season that has tremendous impact on the body. Shravan is also the beginning of the Chaturmas or the four-month abstinence period in which varied foods are avoided to stay healthy as rain showers come bearing down.
Across the country, many opt for different kinds of fasting rituals during Shravan and the subsequent months by abstaining from one food group or the other every three to four weeks. Still others commence upon a fruit or water fast while some refrain from consuming foods with onions and garlic during this period. Whatever the type of fast, it is important to regulate meal patterns without overeating or fasting in ways that leave the body feeling dull and lethargic.
Nutritionists, fitness coaches and dieticians have for long advocated intermittent fasting (IF) for good health and losing calories. Fasting has also been advocated in the ancient science of Ayurveda as a way towards longevity and healthy bodily function.
As nutritionists weigh in for Slurrp on the benefits of fasting during Shravan, they also discuss the significance of fasting and feasting periods in every day diet. Clinical nutritionist Avantii Deshpande who specialises in gut health and PCOS says, "Fasting once in a week is often recommended," because it is essential to give the digestive system much-needed rest so that the body can focus on healing and rejuvenation.
She explains that it is only after digestion is complete that the body can pay attention to cell repair. "Rejuvenation does not happen if the food is constantly given," so the significance of fasting lies in "allowing the body to rest and finish digestion."
Pune-based Sports and Fitness nutritionist Geetanjali Bhide further asserts that fasting is "cleansing or purification of the mind and body." So, whatever the religious import, fasting practiced across faiths, along with improving gut health, also helps to "test self-control of the mind."
Fasting In Shravan
In a similar vein, the concept of avoiding certain foods in Shravan is associated as much with seasonal shifts as with "abstinence of the body and mind," maintains Sports Nutritionist and Strength and Conditioning coach Adwait Gokhale.
"The significance of Shravan fasting goes back to our old Ayurveda where we talk about our digestive fire," elucidates Avantii, "and digestive fire starts becoming a little weak because of the change in weather."
"Agni kami hote," [the fire in the belly reduces] she says, "that is why if you start eating a lot of heavy foods, oily foods or deep-fried foods generally you might not be able to digest that as good as you would in the summer season." Moreover, rainy seasons also means that "raw foods are exposed to a lot of microbial load," which can lead to digestive ailments.
Geetanjali says that fasting in Shravan inevitably involves eating less and eating "foods that are easily digestible. People have only one meal a day, grains are slightly roasted and cooked."
Such fasting can be done on different days. Many perform the 16 Somwar vrat on consecutive Mondays, while others fast on Tuesdays or Fridays where the underlying imperative behind the fast is that of abstinence from certain food groups.
Simultaneously, fasting if done right also means a 10-12 hour fasting window and an 8-10 hour feeding window which should be utilised to eat right. "One common mistake people are making is that during the feeding window, they are not eating well," Avantii rues, "You cannot not eat a proper diet during the feeding window and fast beyond that. Then you are going to deteriorate the body even further."
IF is a common practice but fasting should make one feel energetic, not lethargic and tired. Says Adwait, "A basic simple 12-hour fast done consistently also goes a long way when it comes to good health and wellness."
Along with a closely monitored fasting ritual, nutritionists also suggest some tips and tricks to make the process smoother, maintain muscle mass and detoxify the body to derive optimum results out of Shravan fasting:
Fast, Don't Feast
Geetanjali is quick to caution those observing fasts during Shravan about eating right because it is also the time for preparing indulgent and tempting dishes which can take away from the benefits of the fasting period. "Those who fast in the month of Shravan should remember that fasting is to achieve good health and not feast on the range of products available," she advises. Foods like amaranth, varai and singhada can be eaten instead of sabudana or tapioca, she adds, while adopting fasting practices that go well with individual tolerance levels.
Maintain Protein Levels
Since many choose to turn vegetarian during this month, Avantii suggests that it becomes imperative to balance protein levels in this period. While eating food that is easy to digest, it is also important to have protein in every major meal. "Protein sources would be dals, legumes, curd, tofu, paneer and soy products."
Mix Of Raw And Cooked Food
"See that you are including a good combination of cooked and raw food put together," Avantii notes so that digestion becomes easier. Simultaneously, increase legumes and sprouts in measured quantities, she notes, otherwise it can lead to flatulence. "Cook dals well," she goes on, "and keep on changing the varieties." This is also a good time to include seasonal produce in the diet and Geetanjali suggests have vegetables like pumpkins and gourds.
Do A Social Media Fast
Since Shravan is about abstinence and control over both body and mind, Adwait suggests that along with certain foods, staying away from long hours of scrolling can help to energise and detoxify the mind. "Along with an oral fast, try to include meditation and a social media fast too," he adds, as a more holistic approach towards the concept of self-control in the monsoon month.
Fasting does not mean abstinence from exercise, assert, both Adwait and Avantii. Movement should not be skipped, the latter adds, and it is perfectly possible to take short walks, do yoga or some light stretches. Avantii also says that it is good to exercise during the feeding window so that the body has adequate energy to perform heavy training. "Either before a meal in the morning or right after an early dinner in the evening, always club exercise with the feeding window," she advises.
Give Body Time To Adjust
Follow a fasting regime that is sustainable and doable, Avantii suggests so that it can have lasting results. Adwait also mentions that when the fasting period is over, it is important to give the body time to readjust to normal eating patterns. "When you break your fast, do not be in a hurry to eat your favourite foods. Give your gut the time to adjust to your new (original) routine," he signs off.