Martha Getachew had struggled with her weight ever since attaining 40 years old. Her gradual weight gain coupled with insensitive comments from others triggered her.

The mother of two longed for a way to lose weight, finally embarking on intermittent fasting was hope, a method of going without food for a couple of hours each day or eating just one meal in particular days.

Six months ago, Martha limited her food intake to once a day. Working at the beauty salon, she said it was difficult at first to go all day without eating. However, she got accustomed to the lifestyle as the days went by. She started to notice changes in her body after losing four kilogrammes in three months, following through with the habit despite reaching her ideal weight.

The owner of Marti Hair Salon claims her journey was boosted, going up to two days without food occasionally, as she saw improvement in her productivity.

"I've never felt better," she told Fortune.

According to Martha, fasting is not an easy pursuit; it takes discipline but it is all worth it in the end. She has limited herself to strict but quality nutrients, where she, unfortunately, has to spend more budget on food than she would if she was eating three times a day.

"I try not to go near carbohydrates," she said.

Over the years, people have adapted to the lifestyle of going long hours without food. According to research conducted by the National Institute of Health, satiety and hunger can strongly influence mood, learning, memory and cognitive performance.

While fasting, the body shifts from using glucose as its primary energy source to burning fat, according to Zelalem Debebe (MD), an assistant professor at Addis Abeba University in dietetics. However, she questions if people who are engaged in fasting practice it correctly. She said there are some people who fast all day and replace the calories at night.

“That doesn’t do any good,” Zelalem said.

She said that the majority of people that fast are prone to lose weight, but it goes beyond the calorie intake for people with low metabolism, that are likely to gain weight. She recommends people affected by eating disorders, patients with chronic diseases and underweight people keep themselves from fasting.

Fasting has been a practice suited for spiritual people, abstaining from food for hours to as long as days. Some ordain restrictions on animal products with meals consisting of vegan food being appraised for consumption while others are set on strict timing. It has been a way of gaining mastery over the self, subjecting the body to starvation to away from desires.

In the 20th century, as more was known about the nutrition of the human body, a wide array of approaches emerged. Studies have shown that fasting for 12 to 24 hours triggers cells to digest certain structures and proteins in a continual cleanup process.

One of the scientists to expound the idea of fasting is Yoshinori Oshumi, a Japanese cell biologist who won the Nobel prize in 2016 for his research on the mechanism by which cells eliminate worn-out proteins in due course of starvation. According to the research, fasting is connected with blood sugar control, reduced inflammation, weight loss, improved brain function and longevity.

Although Ermias Amelga, a former wall-street banker and businessman had not suffered from weight problems or diseases, he has been known to adopt the mechanism of autophagy. Nine years ago he started researching ways of increasing his life expectancy while sustaining his health.

Ermias had not been one to shy away from unhealthy eating in his earlier days.

“I would devour a whole cake in one sitting,” he said.

He decreased his daily meal intake to only lunch which consists of close to 1800 calories upon the discovery of the need to starve the body in order to replace dead cells. For Ermias, the goal was not to lose weight but develop a clean body that is healthy.

"As food became abundant, people have developed the habit of eating without going hungry and discipline has been lost," Ermias said.

He claims it is possible to increase life span by threefold if the body is subjected to constant starvation, leading to increased energy levels and improved physical performance upon burning fat.

Zelalem agrees eating throughout the day keeps insulin levels high, subjecting one to chronic diseases such as type II diabetes. However, she doubts whether starvation alone contributes to cell regeneration leading to longevity. She believes proper nutrition matters while balanced meals, hydration and knowing the physical limits while fasting is critical.

The total consumption of the nationwide annual fresh production of assorted vegetables is about 28.6 million quintals. Ethiopian diets are mainly composed of teff, roots, tubers, animal products and pulses. The consumption of fruit and vegetables is low and cereals remain the major contributors of energy and protein constituting 75pc of the diet.

Apart from premature mortality and medical costs, World Health Organization (WHO) data reveals that obesity may lead to regressing work productivity and quality of life.

The Global Obesity Observatory points the economic impact of obesity was estimated to be 552.31 million dollars in Ethiopia in 2019, equivalent to five dollars per capita and 0.6pc of GDP.

In 2030, it is predicted that the economic impact could reach 1.81 billion dollars, predicted to increase to 7.25 billion dollars, equivalent to 31 dollars per capita and 0.6pc of GDP and represent a 13-fold increase in total costs by 2060.

The consumption of products in saturated and trans fatty acids, sugar or salt is associated with decreased health and social care costs in addition to low economic productivity.

The government has been working towards adding a negative value to the consumption of products with a documented debilitating impact on health. In 2020, the Ministry of Finance levied an excise tax on what it labelled as "unhealthy products", imposing 10pc on processed sugar and chewing gum, 10pc tax on chocolates, 20pc on tobacco and 25pc on soft drinks.

Given the well-established role of price as a driver of food choice, interest in taxes and subsidies to improve diets seem to be underway.

According to officials, taxing products for public health reasons is associated with “negative externalities” that can result in costs to society that neither the producer nor consumer covers.

Shimelis Araya (PhD), an agricultural economist applauds the government for taxing unhealthy products and expanding its revenue. According to him, the costs of society consuming unhealthy products are not reflected in either the costs of production or the price that the consumer pays which could be attributed to a “market failure”.

Farmers process up to 60pc of their milk output during long fasts in Ethiopia. The share of consumption does not change with the presence of long fasting periods, which translates into lower absolute levels of consumption given the decrease in milk production. Milk sales are significantly affected by long fasting periods, being reduced on average by 28pc due to lack of market access.

Shimelis believes the positive aspects of fasting on the economy can be seen in the long run when environmental attainability is sustained. He attests to the possibility of creating a healthy lifestyle that enables an optimal productive society to promote human capital.

"Unhealthy eating lowers productivity, which in turn dwindles the economy," he said.

In the short run, however, Shimelis observes that fasting will do little to breed the economy.

“The economic activities are bound to shrink in the country,” he said.

The number of restaurants that received licences in 2021 dwindled by almost half from the previous year. Last year, only 93 restaurants received licences from Addis Abeba Trade Bureau, showing a 65pc decline from the previous year.

He observes that people are going to slowly subside going to restaurants and hotels, creating a way for such businesses to close down which are prominent generators of value-added tax (VAT) revenue.

“VAT revenue generated from consumers will plummet inextricably,” Shimeles disclosed.

PUBLISHED ON Mar 11,2023 [ VOL 23 , NO 1193]

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