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By Nadia Marshall
Every day of every week we tend to put our digestive fire (or Agni) under strain. We eat when we’re stressed, we eat on the run, we overeat, we skip meals, we eat at irregular times, we eat bad food combinations, we eat heavy foods that are difficult to digest, we eat our next meal before our previous meal has been digested, we eat too much too late at night and so on and so forth. Basically, unless we live a very peaceful, very contained, very strict or very physically active life, caring for our Agni every day, at every meal is a challenge!
As a result, it is somewhat inevitable that our Agni will become imbalanced from time to time (if not all the time), it is inevitable that our food won’t be digested properly and it is inevitable that Ama (undigested food wastes) will be produced and accumulate in our system. Since imbalanced Agni and accumulating, overflowing Ama is considered the root physical cause of all disease in Ayurveda, we really need a simple way of keeping a lid on the accumulation of toxins.
Regular cleansing or fasting is the perfect antidote but long-term cleanses can be difficult. We have to muster a fair bit of motivation to make them happen as regularly as they should.... and getting your partner, family or friends to support you can be even harder! There’s got to be an easier way, doesn’t there?!
Well, there is.... intermittent fasting in the form of a regular Liquid Diet Day. Liquid Diet Days are like an Agni-reset button, a clean slate for your metabolism... they are a like a lovely day of rest to help the fire in your belly burn bright and digest all that pesky Ama lying around. And, unlike the longer cleanses, they are really easy to do and incorporate into life. So easy in fact, they can be done every week (or fortnight at least).
What does a liquid diet day entail? Basically preparing a tasty cleansing soup and eating it all day long, along with some herbal teas like fresh ginger tea or a tea made from equal parts ground cumin, coriander and fennel (I also allow myself a couple of cups of normal tea). And that is it! You can either have the soup as three distinct meals or just drink it throughout the day every 1-2 hours. If (like me) you have any Vata in your constitution or are prone to low blood sugar then eating regularly is best. You can also have a little basmati rice at dinner time if you feel you need it. The first couple of Liquid Diet Days can be difficult but after that it gets easier and easier because the fast itself helps to stabilise your blood sugar levels.
If you’re going to do it regularly, choose a day that will fit in with your lifestyle - when you are unlikely to be doing too much physical activity, socialising or super-demanding mental work. I've been really getting into my Liquid Diet Days for the past 7-8 weeks. I’ve chosen Wednesdays because they are relatively quiet for me and in the last couple of months, the fast has become a pleasant ritual; a day of deeply caring for myself and my Agni.
Ayurveda has espoused the benefits of intermittent fasting for thousands of years... and now Western science is demonstrating many benefits too! Fasting has been shown to:
• increase longevity
• improve weight (if necessary)
• improve blood-pressure
• improve insulin resistance
• reduce total cholesterol (a marker of imbalanced metabolism)
• reduce Insulin-Like Growth Factor (IGF) levels (a marker of cell growth and potential for cancer); and
• increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels (shown to stimulate nerve growth in the brain, related to memory and learning and reduce anxiety and depression).
In my experience some of the other benefits of regular fasting, although less fancy, have been equally exciting, including:
• improved digestion
• better elimination
• reduced cravings (especially for processed sugar, bread, pasta, meat, cheese, alcohol and eating out)
• feeling lighter and brighter
• more energy
• a greater appreciation of food generally
• an increased awareness of the difference between true hunger and boredom
....and, because I’ve been eating out less, I’ve saved lots of money too! So there you have it folks, Ayurvedic intermittent fasting or Liquid Diet Days can be a wonderful, wonderful thing to do. The first few are a challenge but pretty quickly they become an easy part of life... and it is actually a sweet relief to not have to think about food or cooking for the day!
Finally, here is the simple Ayurvedic Cleansing Soup I make on my Liquid Diet Days....
Ayurvedic Cleansing Soup Recipe
This is super easy and fast to make and it is light and delicious so is by far the easiest approach. Basically it is a one-pot kicharee soup so is a perfectly balanced meal for your body - it will strengthen Agni, cleanse Ama and balance the Doshas.
The amounts below are per person. If cooking for two, double the recipe.
• 1/3 cup basmati rice
• 1/3 cup split yellow mung daal
• 1/3 cup chopped veggies (e.g. carrot, zucchini or spinach)
• 8 cups boiling water
• 1 tsp ghee
• 1/4 tsp turmeric
• 1 pinch asafoetida/hing
• 1 tsp cumin seeds
• 1 tsp finely grated ginger
• 1 tsp garam masala (make your own - equal parts cumin, fennel & coriander seed ground in a spice grinder)
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Lemon to taste
• Coriander leaves to sprinkle on top (optional)
Soak your rice and mung daal overnight in water (it’s a good idea to set an alarm the night before your designated Liquid Diet Day so you remember this step). In the morning, drain it, rinse it and put it in a large pot. Add the veggies and all of the spices then the boiling water. Bring to the boil then turn down to a low simmer until the mung is cooked, then blend with a stick blender. Serve hot with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a generous squeeze of lemon. Cooking time is approximately 15-20 mins.
When heading off to work, simply pop your hot soup in a food thermos or if you have a stove at work, take a pot into work so you can warm it up and help yourself throughout the day.
Let me know how you go!
Lots of love
**Please note: If you are underweight or suffering from depletion of any kind it is far better to have a light diet day rather than a liquid diet day. So simply eat kicharee all day instead of the cleansing soup. Or if you find your blood sugar really can't cope with soup all day, try kicharee instead. **