Ekadashi is an important religious ritual followed by people of the Indian Subcontinent. The highlight of this day is a 24 hour fasting from sunrise to next sunrise. Let us explore the food and fasting rituals observed on this day.
Fasting period and food
Fasting begins at sunrise and goes on for 24 hours. Proteins and carbohydrates are not consumed during the fasting period. Fruits, vegetables and milk products are allowed. Some people observe a total abstinence from food while other who eat avoid grains, beans, pulses and rice.
Ekadashi is observed twice a month as per the lunar calendar. The word literally translates to “Eleventh” which is the eleventh day during each of the moon phase, Shukla Paksa and Krsna Paksa. Ekadashi fasting and rituals find mention in the vedas as well as many of the Ayurvedic texts.
Understanding fasting and benefits of a 24 hour fast
In modern times fasting is the most misunderstood term. Understanding what is hunger and how it is different from empty stomach is the key. An empty stomach is actually good because it provides lots of benefits to the body as well as mind. Fasting resets your body functions to normal. It provides the much needed rest for organs involved in the digestive system and metabolism. Fasting raises your energy levels and improves focus. Hunger is a direct result of consuming carbs and sugar. They force you to enter into a vicious cycle where you keep eating and feel hungry soon enough.
Food is basically broken down to glucose. The three main sources of glucose which we can consume is carbs, protein and fats. Glucose is released to the blood by the small intestine. That is why your blood sugar levels rise after a meal. Here on there are two things that the body can do. First the glucose is absorbed by the body cells to be consumed as energy. Rest is the glucose is retained by the liver as reserve. But the liver as a refrigerator has limited space. Once it is full with fats, we enter into a condition called fatty liver. The liver now has no choice but to convert the excess sugar or glucose in our blood to visceral fat which is stored next to our belly and then further at the waist. Fat stored in liver is in the form of glycogen.
So let us check out what happens after we fast for a particular duration.
16 hours fast – Glycogen reserves in the liver gets over. Glycogen is converted to sugar by the liver and supplied to the blood for energy. It is during this period that you melt your liver fat if there is an excess storage. This phase is also important because you have transitioned from glucose burning to fat burning.
18 hours fast – Autophagy starts to kick in. The 2016 Nobel Prize was awarded to a Japanese Scientist who did research on autophagy. During this phase body starts burning old and damaged components within the cell. Your body cells begin healing and regenerating.
22 hours fast – The second brain of our body, gut or intestine start healing and the inner lining starts getting removed to be replaced by a fresh layer.
24 hours fast – BDNF is released. This is a form of protein molecule which repairs the neurons. We become more aware, sharper and brain function improves multifold.
When we transition from glucose burning to fat burning we enjoy the benefits of healthy energy and abundance of oxygen. As we prolong fasting the cells healing begins. It activates growth hormone, slows down ageing and takes care of inflammation as well as high blood pressure. Ancient people understood the benefits of avoiding carbs and proteins. Which is why rules were set for which kind of food to be consumed during fast. Religious scriptures promote fasting in one form or the other. But the true benefits of fasting occur near 24 hours where the brain functions start improving. That can be achieved by a 24 hour fast on the auspicious occasion of Ekadashi.