Lent is a time when Christians usually fast. Sarah chose to stay away from alcohol and beef for the 40 days while John has decided to abstain from sex. There are different kinds of fasting, but the one that comes to the attention of health specialists is dry fasting. It involves not eating food or drinking any fluid for a particular period of time.
It could be for hours or even days. While most people dry fast for religious reasons, there are those who dry fast to detoxify their bodies or lose weight.
Cathy Nakirwoya for instance, says she dry fasts on some days of the week in order to reduce weight.
“I weigh 76Kgs at the moment and I will only stop once I reach 70kgs,”
For Judith Iculet, a Catholic, dry fasting is for spiritual purposes. “I fast every Lent for spiritual nourishment and repentance. I also want to feel the kind of pain Jesus felt when he did not eat for 40 days and nights, and feel the pain of those who hardly have what to eat.” she says.
Regardless of the reason why someone chooses to dry fast, Dr Vincent Karuhanga, a general practitioner at Friends Polyclinic and ambulance service, says there are several complications that can arise as a result of someone not eating food or drinking fluids.
“One of the outstanding effects is that the body’s metabolism (chemical reactions that occur in living organisms) rate is slowed down because fewer calories are being burnt,” he says. Karuhanga says the other problems a person is likely to incur include headaches due to hunger spasms, body dehydration (abnormal loss of water from the body) as well as having low blood sugar levels and yet the brain uses the sugar as fuel for coordinating various activities.
Dry fasting can also cause someone to over eat as a way of compensating for the food they did not have earlier in the day. The other effect can be change in the personality of an individual. “A person can become moody, gloomy and sad because of not eating food the whole day,” Dr Karuhanga says.
The individuals who are supposed to stay away from dry fasting
Dr Alex Kakoraki, a general practitioner at Murchision Bay Hospital , Luzira, says it is important for patients who suffer from diseases such as cancer, HIV/ Aids, and sickle cells to stay away from dry fasting because their bodies need a constant supply of nutrients for their bodies.
“A healthy diet maintains and improves their health,” he says.
He adds that patients with chronic illnesses who engage in dry fasting are bound to have weak immune systems, thus becoming weak.
“In case a woman has a heavy flow, she may not dry fast. She needs to eat in order to replace the abundant quantity of blood that is being lost,” Dr Kakoraki says.
On the other hand, women with a lighter flow may go ahead to dry fast.
They tend to breathe faster once they get an attack and this all requires energy. In case one has not been eating and gets an attack; breathing becomes even more difficult for them. According to Kakoraki, they need to have regular meals that comprise different nutrients ranging from carbohydrates to proteins.
Dr Kakoraki points out that low intake of vitamins or iron in the body can cause some types of anaemia. For instance, low level of vitamins B12 in the body can cause pernicious anaemia (a condition where the body lacks enough red blood cells).
“The good sources of B12 include eggs, milk, meat, liver and fish,” he says. Iron is needed to produce haemoglobin (a protein in the red blood cells that carries oxygen). Besides meat, other food sources of iron include spinach, fish, pork, spinach, peas and dried fruits such as apricot.
They should never miss meals as well because their blood levels are always fluctuating. Some of the foods that he recommends them to eat include cassava, millet, posho, maize and yams.
“They can be broken down to form glucose that helps to regulate the sugar levels,” he says
These include the elderly, babies, and children especially those below 12 years, pregnant women, andbreast feeding mothers.
“Pregnant women need food every day because they are not only eating for themselves but the growing foetus as well,” says Dr Kakoraki. Breastfeeding mothers lose nutrients through breastfeeding which need to be replaced by continuous proper eating thus they too, should not fast.
The elderly, babies and children also need many nutrients and should therefore continue eating a balanced diet everyday.
Alcohol has tendencies of exhausting the sugar levels in one’s blood system. Since the body requires sugar (for energy that enables body systems to continue working), it is important that one eats foods that produce glucose.
Some of these include cassava, maize, posho and yams.
Patients with heart diseases such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and pericardial effusion (abnormal amount of liquid around the heart) need energy to aid the proper functioning of their hearts. If one denies the body of sufficient energy, the normal functioning of the heart can easily be tampered with.
5 things to know when dry fasting
Dr Jennifer Mugisha, a freelance nutrition consultant gives the following pointers:
•One should never dry fast while sick since the body at this time requires a constant supply of nutrients in order to function better.
•It should be done for a maximum period of 12 hours. A period longer than this is harmful to one’s body organs, for example, one may develop open painful wounds along the lining of their stomach (ulcers).
•One should not eat a complete meal soon after breaking the fast. A warm or hot drink such as tea is often recommended because it helps to open up the digestive system as well as the blood vessels. Cold drinks on the other hand tend to constrict the blood vessels and the digestive system.
Eating heavy meals soon after breaking the fast can cause some bit of discomfort to an individual. This is because it has been piled into the digestive system at once. It may also lead to constipation and the digestion of their food might actually be slowed down.