As a result, it is somewhat inevitable that our digestive fire (referred to as Agni, pronounced ugg-knee in Sanskrit) will become imbalanced, in one of three ways. It can get too hot and overcook our food, it can get too low and undercook our food, or, it can become like a fire blowing in the wind - sometimes big, sometimes tiny - sometimes overcooking, sometimes undercooking.
When our food is undercooked or overcooked, it creates undigested food waste or toxins known as Ama in Sanskrit. Ayurveda teaches that this heavy, sticky, toxic waste accumulates in our digestive tract and can eventually overflow into our channels and tissues, hampering cellular nutrition and waste disposal. It is here, in the tissues and channels, that it can precipitate the manifestation of disease. Since imbalanced Agni and accumulating, overflowing Ama is considered the root physical cause of ALL disease in Ayurveda, we really need a simple way of keeping a lid on this constant accumulation of toxins.
Regular cleanses or fasts are the perfect antidote to this problem, but long-term cleanses can be very difficult. We have to muster a fair bit of motivation to make them happen as regularly as they should... and getting your partner, family or friends to support you can be even harder! There's got to be an easier way.
Well, there is - intermittent fasting in the form of a liquid diet day. Liquid diet days are like an Agni-reset button, a clean slate for your digestion and metabolism. They provide a lovely day of rest to help the fire in your belly burn bright and digest all that pesky Ama lying around. And, unlike the longer cleanses, they are really easy to do and incorporate into life. So easy in fact, they can be done every week.
Ayurveda has espoused the benefits of fasting for thousands of years... and now Western science is demonstrating many benefits too. You may have heard of the 5:2 Diet popularised by Dr Michael Mosley following his BBC documentary Eat, Fast and Live Longer? In that documentary and the proceeding book, The Fast Diet he outlines current research on the benefits of intermittent fasting. In a nutshell, they include:weight lossimproved blood pressureimproved insulin resistancereduced total cholesterol - a marker of imbalanced metabolismreduced Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF) levels - a marker of cell growth and potential for cancer; andincreased brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels - shown to stimulate nerve growth in the brain, related to memory and learning and reduced anxiety and depression (1).
It may help you to live longer too. At this stage, longevity experiments related to fasting have only been carried out with fruit fly, rodents and monkeys but in these, fasting has shown to increase lifespan by up to 20% (2)! Evidence suggests that dietary restriction can have health benefits for humans, too, though it is unclear whether it can increase longevity.
One piece of research not mentioned in Dr Mosley's book is the work of Dr Matt Piper from the University College of London's Institute of Healthy Ageing. His team has discovered that fasting from protein, particularly one essential amino acid called methionine (found in meat, fish, brazil nuts, sesame seeds and wheat germ) is the most important factor for replicating this 20% increased longevity (2). Therefore, carrying out fasts that are rich in animal protein (like the approach recommended in the 5:2 Fast Diet) may actually be counter-productive. If your aim is to live longer, plant-based fasts may be more likely to do the trick.
So, Western science agrees. Intermittent fasting can help us to live longer and has been shown to decrease our risk of developing some of our biggest health concerns - depression, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dementia. Ayurveda would add ALL other diseases to that list too!
This is great news but is it really enough to motivate us to do our one-day fast week in, week out, for the rest of our lives? In my experience there are some direct benefits of regular fasting that are more likely to keep us inspired for the long haul. They include:improved digestionbetter eliminationreduced cravings (especially for processed sugar, bread, pasta, meat, alcohol and eating out)stablised blood sugarfeeling lighter and brighter with more energyimproved complexiona greater appreciation of food generallyan increased awareness of the difference between true hunger and boredomand yes… slow, steady weight loss or easy weight maintenance.
What does an Ayurvedic liquid diet day entail? Basically, preparing a cleansing vegetarian soup and eating it all day long, along with some herbal teas like fresh ginger tea or a tea made from equal parts ground cumin, coriander and fennel (I also allow myself a couple of cups of normal tea). And that is it! You can have the soup as three distinct meals or just drink it throughout the day every 1-2 hours. If (like me) you are prone to low blood sugar then eating regularly is best. You can also have a little basmati rice at dinner if you feel you need it. The first couple of liquid diet days can be difficult but after that it gets easier and easier because the fast itself helps to stabilise your blood sugar.
It is also important for your Agni to not launch straight back into heavy foods the next day. Have stewed fruit or a light Ayurvedic porridge for breakfast instead of bacon and eggs… and maybe kicharee for lunch. Build your fire back up slowly with small pieces of wood before adding the big logs.
If you're going to fast regularly, choose a day that will fit in with your lifestyle - when you are unlikely to be doing too much physical activity, socialising or super-demanding mental work. I've been really getting into my liquid diet days for the past four months and they have become a pleasant ritual; a day of deeply caring for myself and my digestive fire. And it is actually a sweet relief not having to think about food or cooking for the day - once your fasting soup is made in the morning, you're sorted.
So there you have it folks, Ayurvedic intermittent fasting or liquid diet days are an easy, effective and wonderful thing to do for your ongoing preventative health regime. Not only do they reduce toxins and support a strong digestive fire, they also calm your cravings so you tend to make better decisions. But, even if you make a few unhealthy choices in-between, it is okay because you are constantly pressing the re-set button, constantly making a fresh start! So, they also eliminate the accumulation of food guilt…perhaps the worst toxin of all!
**Please note: If you are underweight or suffering from depletion of any kind it is far better to have a light diet day rather than a liquid diet day. So simply eat kicharee all day instead of the cleansing soup – see our website for recipes **
1) The Fast Diet by Dr Michael Mosley
Ayurveda is the traditional medical system of India and the sister science of Yoga. Nadia Marshall is an Ayurvedic Consultant, Cook, Health Writer and Managing Director of the Mudita Institute & Health Clinic near Byron Bay. Their 'WARMTH' cookbook is available as a FREE download from their website at: www.muditainstitute.com
Recipe: Ayurvedic Cleansing Soup Recipe
Nadia Marshall is an Ayurvedic Consultant, Cook, Health Writer and Managing Director of the Mudita Institute & Health Clinic near Byron Bay. Their ‘WARMTH’ cookbook is available as a FREE download from their website.