Last month, Mumbai-based health, nutrition and lifestyle advisor Luke Coutinho released two books—The Dry Fasting Miracle: From Deprive to Thrive (Penguin eBury Press) and The Magic Immunity Pill (co-authored with Anushka Shetty; published by Penguin eBury Press). Coutinho believes fasting is a proven practice to increase mental focus, boost immunity and increase energy, and believes there has been a significant increase in the number of people practicing fasting during the lockdown, as they have more time in hand to plan meals and limited movement allows for a lower food intake. Coutinho speaks to Lounge about his journey with fasting and how he manages to feel good without pushing his body. Edited excerpts:
When did you begin dry fasting on a regular basis and why?
Dry fasting is complete abstinence from food and water for a certain time window during the day. I consciously started practicing it about 10 years ago. I noticed feeling light, my concentration improved, energy levels increased exponentially and skin started to glow. Now, if I get a seasonal cold or flu, I prefer to fast than resort to medicines. The premise of fasting is your body gets a break from digesting food and directs that energy to other vital organs or to heal.
Even in my childhood, there would be a break of about 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. We had the last meal of the day at around 6:30 – 7 pm, didn’t snack post this and were served breakfast after 7 am the following day. It has been part of my upbringing.
Did you face any challenges that came in the way of dry fasting?
Not really. I listen to my body and don’t push myself. For instance, if there are days when I am travelling, I will not fast or not break my fast while on a flight. Sometimes I wake up and intend to fast for two hours extra, but my body is saying no. If I force myself, my mental focus wavers and exhaustion sets in. I immediately eat and drink something. The body is constantly changing and human beings cannot put themselves in a box and say ‘I will only do 16 hours or only 18 hours.’ No, that’s not the right approach. I always pay attention to my body.
How can one better listen to the body at a time when we are pushing ourselves to do more?
It really depends on your day and the kind of work you have. When I have to see many clients in one day, I will not fast at all. I wouldn’t ask someone involved in intense physical work to fast. Someone who has a desk job can fast, once a week to begin with. Your energy levels will significantly go up and automatically, your body will get used to it. The idea is to plan better and improvise to suit your lifestyle. If someone wants to start dry fasting, the first step is to consult your doctor. This practice can build you up, but it can also work against you.
How do you prepare yourself for dry fasting?
It’s simple. I have my regular meals and drink enough water through the day and dinner is served an hour after sunset. Then I keep myself busy. Because, if the mind is preoccupied with thoughts about food, it’s going to be difficult. So, after 7 pm, I read, talk to my patients, maybe watch a little bit of TV and that’s it. Soon, it becomes a habit and that’s how you prepare yourself. You don’t have to eat extra. You don’t have to drink more water. If you have eaten well and drunk enough water during the day, automatically you have prepared yourself. If you wake up in the middle of the night feeling hungry, break the fast, it’s ok. Try again tomorrow. I have had people who started with 8 hours and then they built it up to 9, 10, 11, 12 hours and so on. So, people shouldn’t scare themselves and try 16 hours or 18 hours to begin with. Knowing that you can break the fast anytime you want gives you more confidence to do it.
And how often do you practise it?
I fast 4-5 times a week for 12-16 hours depending on how my body feels.
Your book, The Dry Fasting Miracle, often uses the phrase ‘intelligence of the human body’. What do you mean by that?
We are instruments of intelligence that science and modern medicine can’t completely explain. There is an intelligence that is built-in in the human body that directs growth, nurtures and heals. It is this intelligence that indicates we need to wake up, put ourselves to sleep and helps us get through life. When you feel unwell, there is a loss of appetite as the body redirects the energy it uses for digestion to your recovery. Even during sleep, there are millions of bodily changes without us being conscious about them. I am talking about this intelligence where your body knows what to do. When the intelligence is compromised, there is disease and distress. If the intelligence is working, you will be healthy.