Religious Fasting Spiritual and Physical Benefits – Radio 4

Religious Fasting Spiritual and Physical Benefits – Radio 4


Speaker 1: It’s not surprising that the blockbusting
diet book of the season is ‘The Fast Diet: The Secret of Intermittent Fasting… Lose
Weight, Stay Healthy and Live Longer’. And a quick look on the web will show you, it
has many, many clones. S1: The essence of all these best-sellers
is to eat very little food for two days, fast, and then eat normally for five, The 5:2 diet.
Wine writer Fiona Beckett, has been following 5:2 since last November. Fiona Beckett: I think, you really want to
keep it simple. You don’t actually, on a fast day, want to spend hours in the kitchen sort
of fiddling around with something elaborate. You just want something rather nice, rather
delicious and it needn’t be penal. You can have really quite nice foods. I mean, Asian
cooking is particularly good on the 5:2. There’s some Asian style broths and stir-fries are
really good. And things like seafood, you can have prawns and shrimps and all sorts
of really quite delicious things. So, it’s not as if it’s like a great deprivation. [music] S1: Pastor Grace Komolafe, has little interest
in blockbusting diet books. But she has been fasting since she was a teenager, as a member
of the Pentecostal Church, the fastest growing Christian group in the UK. Most Pentecostalists
fast regularly, part of their emphasis on the work of the spirit and their belief that
they’re taking the church back to it’s early, simple beginnings. She seemed the woman to
teach me what fasting means now. Particularly, as I was considering as part of preparing
for this program, going on a fast myself. Pastor%20Grace Komolafe: Fasting is so beneficial
for us, every Christian, so that, that will keep us calm. It will actually detox us because
we need to be detoxed, not only from all the toxin but from unbelief. When you fast, you
discover that on your spirit is just lifted up. You know, you understand the word of God
more. You have more revelation of the word of God. Fasting should be put back on the
menu of the church because it is our inheritance. In fact, fasting is an instrument of humbling. S1: An instrument of humbling, perhaps. But
it turns out, those early Christians and present-day Pentecostalists are onto something more. There’s
a growing body of scientific evidence that intermittent fasting is remarkably good for
us physically. Mark Mattson, Professor of Neuroscience at John’s Hopkins University
in the United States, is one of the leading researchers on the benefits of fasting. Mark Mattson: About 25 years ago, we started
working on animal models to try to understand what’s going wrong in the brain in Alzheimer’s
disease, as well as Parkinson’s disease. And we knew that major risk factor for these disorders
is advancing age, and other laboratories had demonstrated years before that simply reducing
the calorie intake in animals will result in them living much longer, and it kind of
slows down the ageing process. We found that simply placing animals on, for example, alternate
day fasting where they go 24 hours every other day with no food would protect nerve cells
in their brains and these experimental animal models of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. [music] S1: Research that cast light on a story Andrew
Jotischky, came across in his early history work. Andrew Jotischky: The most extreme example,
I suppose, is the story of a hermit called Onuphrius. He probably, he almost certainly
didn’t really exist as a real person. It’s a story, and he supposedly lived in the same
spot in the Sinai Desert, under a palm tree for 30 or 40 years and surviving only on the
dates that fell from this date palm, that he was sheltering under. Without wanting to
say that it is actually possible to live solely on dates for 30 or 40 years, the more I looked
into it actually, the more plausible it became that dates could form the staple of the diet
of someone who is in that kind of position, who’s living a largely sedentary life. Dates
are extremely rich in certain kinds of vitamins and in fats. And in fact, we have plenty of
other evidence from more contemporary literature that Bedouin lived for a very long periods
solely on dates and camel milk. [music] S1: Bedouins living their hard lives on dates
and camel’s milk, gives a hint of the evolutionary benefit that might come with a form of partial
fasting. MM: Eating three meals a day plus snacks is
abnormal. That’s abnormal eating patterns based on our evolutionary history. We think
in part, interment fasting is good for the brain, because when you go without food for
an extended time period, nerve cells in your brain actually become more active and we’re
finding in animals that improves their cognitive function, their learning and memory. And it
makes a lot of sense from the standpoint of evolution, if you’re an animal or one of our
early ancestors in the wild, and you haven’t had food for a while, you better keep your
mind active and figure out what you need to do to find food, so that you can survive.
When they’re hungry, nerve cells are more active and that, in turn, leads to the production
of proteins we call ‘Nerve Cell Growth Factors’ that, as the name implies, promote the growth
of nerve cells, formation of new synapses and improved function of the brain. S1: Mark Mattson. For Pastor Grace it is the
intention behind fasting that’s the key. PK: Fasting is for God, it’s not for you.
You are fasting to seek the face of God and because of that, before you do your fasting,
the spiritual preparation that is needed is to search your heart, are you’re doing it
for the right motive? And also, you need to start gradually, if you want to start to do
a long fast. Gradually means that before you start, you begin the fast, maybe two or three
days before the fast, you stop eating sugar products, you wing yourself from caffeine
and you start eating smaller portion of food. So, that will train your body and it will
make the fasting easy for you. S1: Talking to pastor Grace confirmed me,
in my belief, that I ought to practice what this program is, sort of preaching. So a few
days ago, I began modestly. S1: Well I’ve decided that I will fast. I
can probably only do it for about 30 hours. Spiritually, I should think of forgiveness
and as pastor Grace says. So, I’ve tried to that. It’s three o’ clock in the afternoon
and I will try and fast ’til tomorrow evening at eight o’ clock. It shouldn’t be very difficult.
It hardly compares with the desert fathers. S1: Meanwhile, in Bristol, Fiona Beckett continued
with her less austere, but much longer-lasting endeavour. FB: Well, the things you can eat quite a lot
of are fish, and seafood, and vegetables. A bit of fruit, but fruit’s quite calorific.
It’s really the things you need to steer clear of, but the point of the diet and why it’s
so incredibly clever is that you only steer clear of them for a day. There was always
the thought of, if I can’t have cheese, for example, I can have it tomorrow. It’s the
psychology of the diet that’s so incredibly clever. So, I mean on the fast days, I don’t
eat carbs on the whole, bread, pasta, cheese, not much meat really, occasionally chicken,
but not red meat, and no alcohol. S1: In the early church, fasting was often
no more than a spiritual version of the 5:2 Diet, taming gluttony, Andrew Jotischky. AJ: There’s a treatise by Saint Bernard of
Clairvaux from the 1120s. He’s one of the founding figures of the Cistercian order,
and he’s very critical of eating practices in other Benedictine monasteries. He describes
in considerable detail and with great indignation, the numbers of courses that are brought in
to feed these monks. He describes the complex flavours, the skill of the cooks, the way
in which food is dressed up to resemble something else, and the effect that this has on monks.
And he says it deflates and depresses the spirit. It leads to a sort of lowering of
spiritual awareness on the part of monks. S1: It’s 9 o’ clock at night. I’m not hungry,
but that’s hardly surprising, six hours isn’t very long. I missed dinner. At the moment,
it doesn’t seem that big a deal. PK: There is a physical benefit, as well,
in fasting. Fasting keeps you young. Yeah, it keeps you very young and it keeps your
mind alert. Your skin becomes very smooth and shining if you give yourself to fasting.
So for all those benefits as well, fasting is very good. S1: I have to say, that if you haven’t said
that you were 25 and not 48, I wouldn’t have said you were in your 60s. You have very,
very youthful skin. PK: Yeah, I’m 67. S1: You don’t look 67. PK: Thank you. [chuckle] S1: Those side benefits, to a spiritual practice,
have their roots in scientific fact. Mark Mattson. MM: Intermittent fasting will improve glucose
regulation and therefore, protect against diabetes. And the reason that happens is that,
when you go without food for an extended time period, say 12 to 24 hours, your muscle cells
and your liver cells will undergo changes that make them better able to remove glucose
from the blood, so that when you do eat, the glucose is rapidly removed and taken up by
the cells where it’s needed and used. Another clear fact, that we’ve documented in our animal
studies, is that intermittent fasting will lower blood pressure and reduce resting heart
rate and enhance ability of heart to respond to stress. S1: Another beneficial impact is the one Fiona
Beckett is pursuing. FB: Weight loss has gone really well. I’ve
lost about 19 pounds, which is great, I needed to. And that’s over a period of just three
months. S1: That steady weight loss is what Professor
Mark Mattson documented in a study of 100 women; a third eating normally, a third on
a reduced calorie diet, and a third practising intermittent fasting. MM: And in this study we did at two consecutive
days a week, they ate only 600 calories. So, essentially, one meal each day. And they were
on the diets for six months, and what we found is that as expected, both energy restricted
groups lost weight. But we found that the group on a diet that we’re calling the 5:2
diet, the women, they lost more belly fat and their glucose regulation was improved,
so that they were able to maintain lower blood glucose levels. S1: Professor Mark Mattson, so far, so positive.
Where’s the harm in avoiding a couple of thousand calories a week? But there haven’t been any
medical studies in this country of the 5:2 Diet. So, in the absence of cost on findings,
the medical experts recommend getting your doctor’s advice before starting any kind of
fast. S1: It’s now 2:30 on the second day, almost
24 hours as I started this. The difficult bit today was getting on a train at mid-day
to come to Oxford. And everyone, or so it seemed, was eating lunch. The smells of station
food. Cornish pasties and soup and bacon sandwiches. S1: It’s just off to seven on the second day
and I’ve been extremely hungry for nearly two hours but I feel bright and sharp. My
head is very clear and I feel a bit messianic kind of god-like and a feeling that I ought
to do this every week. This is the answer to humanity’s problems. I feel terrific. Now,
I’m going to eat dinner. [music] S1: After I’ve broken my fast and the messianic
feeling had passed sadly, I went to Pastor Grace’s New Covenant Church in Woolworth,
to see how fasting fitted into church life. After the joyous musical service, I talked
to senior cleric, Pastor Shayo. Pastor Shayo: The difference between fasting
and doing hunger strike is when people abstain from food but they are not taking time to
pray, that’s more or less doing an hunger st… Trying to walk on… But what we do
is really that time is devoted to prayers so that we can have a close or whatever…
The body will be down and the spirit will be up to be able to communicate with God,
that’s why we do it. S1: Though the motivations are different,
there are similarities between Pastor Shayo’s reaction to fasting and Fiona Beckett’s. To
her, not so new-fangled fasting diet. FB: This way of eating, this quite Spartan
days give you an enormous amount of energy. You do feel more energised. You also feel
much more mentally sharp. Your concentration is better. And just generally feel healthy.
And a lot of people also say you do look well. I think it gives you a great sense of control
of the fact that you can decide not to eat and actually recognise again what it is like
to be hungry. I’m not pretending that in our western lifestyle, that we’re ever genuinely
hungry but to actually feel annoying sense that you would actually like to eat, as opposed
to actually feeling rather full is quite a novel sensation and interesting and I think
entirely healthy one. S1: The body, the mind, the spirit. Fasting,
even done for the worldliest reasons seems to touch them all. I asked Simon Cohen what
he thought of Pastor Grace’s belief that fasting should be put back on the menu of the church
because, as she said, it’s the instrument of humbling. Simon Cohen: One of the reasons for fasting,
particularly within Christianity and we’re hearing these messages echoed by Pope Francis,
of course, is around solidarity with the poor and being without. We’re so, so privileged
to live in the society and all of the luxuries that that affords. And by going without, particularly
going without food or ingredients that we have learned to love so much is a humbling
process. And I think it’s quite difficult to really build empathy or compassion to really
dethrone ourselves and put ourselves in a position of the so-called ‘other’, unless
we behave or eat or drink like the so-called ‘other’ as well. S1: Do you think it’s coincidental then that
the hottest, most fashionable diet right now is the 5:2 Fast Diet, which is that you eat
normally for five days and you eat very few calories for two days? SC: I’d not heard of this before, but I think
that one of the crucial points when looking at the faith traditions and fasting, and indeed
feasting, is looking at the question of motivations. Why are we fasting? Why are we going without?
Are we doing it so that others think that we’re really cool? And, “Look at the sacrifices
I’m making,” or, “Look how thin and alive I’m looking today,” or is it to go into a
deeper understanding? And a deeper relationship with the food that we put so plonk in our
mouths so often. And I think that motivation is really key. And that’s not to say that
many of the people who are reading this book have got impure motivations. But I do think
that it’s important to ask ourselves, why are we going on this? And what are we learning
as we’re going through this fasting or through these diets? And how is it shifting or changing
our relationship to the things and the food that we consume?

2 Replies to “Religious Fasting Spiritual and Physical Benefits – Radio 4”

  1. The Documentary is nice except for some flawed point. One such would be to say that," Bedouins living on dates and camel's milk gives a hint of evolutionary benefit that might come with partial fasting-" how could you say milk + dates as partial fasting plus, what benefit are you talking about. Secondly, "Eating three meals plus snack is abnormal based on Evolutionary history" you cannot base your study on Evolutionary stories more so research results obtained for Animals cannot mean for Humans

  2. Mark Madson's analogy, his inflection and his inferences are totally flawed. Intermittent fasting does improve cognitive behavior, but is there an evidence for humans? secondly he is basing his argument on evolution and its stories which is again erroneous. Also eating pattern of 3 + snack is abnormal according to his deduction, which is again vague. The food and its type play a vital role, whether it is 3 times or 7 times. Except for the flaws,the Video is Nice. I hope the facts are corrected.

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