People have fasted for centuries for many different reasons. As a Baha’i, I participate in the fasting tradition, and abstain from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset between March 2nd and March 20th. In addition to reminding us that we are truly spiritual beings, fasting can help us regain balance in our eating habits. It forces us to eat purposefully, and to choose what we eat wisely. My first fast over 15 years ago didn’t go well because I didn’t fast practically – I thought that spiritual help would come and I wouldn’t have to pay attention to what I ate before the sun came up and after it went down. I’ve realized by now that we are given intellect for a reason! In addition to using prayer, meditation, and yoga to refocus spiritually, I regain balance in my eating habits through purposeful choices, as well.
Here is what I do:
*Remember that because calorie intake is reduced, all calories count. Cut out all empty calories during the fasting period. This includes processed foods (like soda and frozen dinners) and high glycemic index foods (like white bread), which don’t provide a lot of nutrients for the calories you’re eating and don’t last as long in your body as low glycemic foods (e.g. whole grains). Click on the glycemic index link above for more information.
*Hydrate wisely. Because of its high caffeine content, coffee dehydrates your body. If you’re one of those whose only liquid in the morning is in the form of coffee, you should probably consider rethinking this habit during the fasting period. I love coffee, but can get too dependent on the caffeine, and my yearly fast helps me break that caffeine addiction. Each morning I drink a few cups of tea, water, and Gatorade. Gatorade (or any other drink with elecrtolytes) helps my body stay hydrated throughout the day, which greatly reduces dehydration headaches.
*Include whole grains and fiber in your breakfast. Whole grains take longer to break down, and therefore keep you feeling full longer. Oatmeal (whole oats – not instant) is a great breakfast for the fasting period. I’ll microwave half a cup of oats, 1 cup of water, and a quarter cup of raisins and pecans at 50% power for five or six minutes, then stir and add a bit of honey and sea salt.
*Include protein in your breakfast. I am sure to include lots of protein for breakfast to keep up my energy supply for the day. I’ll have a soy sausage patty, eggs, yogurt, bean burrito, chocolate soy milk, or soy protein shake in addition to a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and nuts.
*Break your fast slowly. When the sun goes down, I purposefully break my fast with water or tea, instead of gorging (as my hunger sometimes urges me to do!) on whatever is to be had. Friends of mine break their fast with broth or juice. Rehydrate with fluids, and then go ahead with your meal.
*Plan ahead. I try to plan out a few meals that will be quick to prepare and ensure I have the ingredients on hand. If I don’t do this, then I end up eating whatever junk can be had at the end of the day. Here are some quick meals I make during the fasting period that are packed with nutrients, fiber, and whole grain:
Bean Burritos – vegan: Saute onion in olive oil until translucent, then add a few cloves of chopped garlic or a few teaspoons of granulated garlic or garlic powder. Stir in either chopped green chile or dried red chile flakes, to taste. If you can’t get find good green chile (not canned!) I would go with the dried red chile flakes, which are easier to find. At this point, if I’m in a hurry, I’ll add two or three cups of prepared beans, either from the crock-pot or canned. If I have a bit more time, I’ll add in some other vegetables I have on hand in with the onions, such as zucchini, summer squash, corn, and tomatoes. Saute until zucchini is crisp-tender, then add in the beans. Stir to heat through, then remove from heat. Salt to taste, then wrap in whole wheat tortillas. If you’re not vegan, you can top with sour cream, yogurt, or cheddar cheese.
Egg Fried Rice – can be vegan (substitute egg beaters for egg): Prepare a cup of basmati, jasmine, or brown rice according to package directions or in the rice cooker to yield two cups. In a frying pan or wok, saute a chopped onion in olive oil until translucent. Add a few diced carrots and peas, and a handful of edamame, saute a few minutes more. Add in sliced mushrooms, then the rice. You may need to add a bit more oil at this stage. After everything is stirred through, make a well in the center of the rice, and break in one or two eggs. Scramble quickly, breaking the egg up into small bits, and then incorporate in with the rest of the rice. Remove from heat. Sprinkle over with sesame oil and Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, and top with sliced green onion.
Pilau -vegan – Prepare a cup of basmati rice according to package directions or in the rice cooker to yield two cups. In a frying pan or wok, saute a chopped onion in olive oil until translucent. Add a handful of raisins and/or chopped dates, and a handful of chopped nuts such as almonds or pecans. Saute through, and sprinkle with sea salt, a 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1/8 tsp clove, 1/4 tsp cardamom, and a 1/4 tsp cumin. Stir in the rice, adding oil if necessary. Taste, and adjust seasonings, adding salt if necessary, and increasing other spices to your liking. Set aside. Saute cubed extra-firm tofu in vegetable oil until golden on all sides. Drain and sprinkle with salt. Add to the rice. Eat with flatbread and a garden salad.
Quelites (beans and spinach) – vegan: Chop an onion and saute in olive oil until translucent. Add a few cloves of diced garlic or a few teaspoons of granulated garlic or garlic powder. Add in a few cups of prepared pinto or red kidney beans, either from a can (in this case, use two cans) or homemade. Stir through to heat, and add a few teaspoons of dried red chile flakes (to taste) and a bag of fresh spinach. Heat through just until the spinach wilts. Eat with whole grain tortillas or flatbread.
Whole Wheat Penne Pasta – vegan: Saute a diced onion in olive oil until translucent. Add a few cloves of diced garlic or a few teaspoons of granulated garlic or garlic powder. Dice up a few cups (total) of whatever vegetables are in season where you are. For me this includes summer squash, zucchini, broccoli, and carrots. Saute the vegetables in with the onion and garlic, adding olive oil if necessary. Set aside. Add in a rinsed can of beans of your choice, or chop extra-firm tofu into 1-inch cubes, then saute in oil until browned on all sides. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Set aside. Prepare whole wheat penne according to package directions. When drained, add the pasta to the vegetables and beans or tofu. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste, then squeeze over with lemon juice and add in either fresh chopped rosemary or fresh basil or red chile flakes.
Do you fast? If so, do you fast for a cause or a religious tradition or health? Do you have special meals that cleanse or sustain? I’d love for you to share!
Photo Credits: lobster20 at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1789