The Fall season brings many seasonal fruits and vegetables, like apples, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes. At the same time in India, Fall starts with Navaratri, a holiday with nine days of fasting in observance of the Goddess Durga’s victory of good over evil in Hindu culture. This fasting period signifies the female aspect of God (Durga) who becomes very ruthless and angry towards a demon and destroys him completely through her divine power. I always struggled with these fasting traditions in India, especially with so many new foods around me that tempted me to cook and feast. I always felt that fasting traditions do not necessarily make us any healthier. I find lots of fasting foods fried, full of sugar and ghee, and what not. When people break their fast, they tend to indulge even more due to being deprived of food for so long. Being a foodie, I have always struggled with fasting but have also always been fascinated with the spiritual aspect of it.
Something different happened this year, and I gave Navaratri fasting some serious thought and consideration. I decided to fast for nine days to not only attain some dietary discipline, but also to uplift my spirituality. It all became possible with the support of my sweet mother and family. I did some research on Navaratri fasting foods. Surprisingly they were all a dietitian’s favorite, healthy seasonal foods, such as buckwheat, water chest, black gram, yogurt, sweet potatoes, potatoes, pumpkins, and dry nuts. Fasting traditions can vary from region to region and family to family in India and around the world. People tend to eat seasonal fruits and vegetables and refrain from grains, meat, alcohol, and onion and garlic. Basically, I discovered the Navaratri fast is a nine-day gluten-free vegetarian diet. I learned about these fasting foods from my mother, did some research, and combined my own dietary knowledge, and I came up with my own modified version of fasting recipes and dietary guidelines. I wanted to see what I would feel after trying this regimen for nine days. In order to do so, I had to break some habits that were part of my life for so long. I am a dietitian/nutritionist and a foodie, but still was struggling with my own weight and love of food. These are the dietary disciplines that I decided to follow during these nine days, and this is what happened to me.
Dietary discipline no. 1: During fasting days people will not eat anything until they have taken a bath and prayed/meditated. In order to do so, I had to give up my morning tea. So, I started my morning with a cup of warm water with fresh lemon. It was very difficult for the first two days, and I had some serious morning headaches – perhaps because I was craving my normal morning caffeine! Surprisingly that caffeine craving went away after two days and morning lemon water became my new routine. Then, I walked my dog for about 30-40 minutes, followed by a shower and prayer/meditation. This new morning routine not only woke me up better than my good old tea, but I also saved about 100-150 junk empty calories by avoiding morning toast or a piece of biscuit that I always savored with my tea.
Dietary discipline no. 2: During fasting, people avoid grains, so after my morning prayer/meditation I will eat a piece of fresh fruit and some homemade yogurt instead of my usual morning milk and cereal. This small dietary change sparked another healthier start to my day – consuming unprocessed and seasonal foods.
Dietary discipline no. 3: During the fast, people usually eat one or two meals a day and nothing in between. This was a little hard for me due to my nibbling habits. So, I decided to just have a cup of water or tea or coffee without sugar if I get hungry and chose to have my evening meal earlier than usual. This small dietary discipline saved me some lunch calories without starving and kept me from indulgence snacks.
Dietary discipline no. 4: I was supposed to avoid my usual grains that I was accustomed to. I had to be creative on my evening meals that could be prepared only with super grains like buckwheat, tapioca pearls, and quinoa. I prepared my evening meal with these super grains, adding vegetables such as sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, and water chestnut flour. All the food was prepared with some ghee, unprocessed salt, and black pepper. This helped me maintain two meals a day with no snacking in between. This dietary discipline also helped me in taking some time to sit down and thoughtfully prepare and consume my food. It also helped me break my on the go eating habits because during fasting you have to sit down and eat your meal.
At the end of the nine-day fasting period, I lost about 2.2 pounds, and I feel like I am in much more control about my body and food habits while feeling more energetic. My heartburn is gone due to not eating fried and spicy foods for nine days. I feel spiritually lifted and much calmer.
Now that my Navaratri fast is over, I am still trying to stick to my healthy routine, especially cutting out my habit of nibbling on food all day. Hopefully, I cannot only keep those two pounds off, but also can slowly attain a healthy body weight.
By sharing my fasting story, I am not trying to promote religious fasting, or gluten free diet but instead I’m trying to prove that dietary discipline, along with some motivation, can go a long way in your weight loss efforts. You don’t have to blame your age, thyroid, or medication side effects. Our brains can grow and change. Weight loss can happen and is doable. Anybody can do it!
I would like to share one of my favorite high-energy recipes Tapioca pearls pilaf which is a healthier twist to a traditional Indian dish. I will continue to make this delicious dish every now and then.