I have known for decades the benefits of fasting. But fainting in the middle of a 7-day fast back in the 90’s left me reticent to try another water only fast. Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since the 90’s.
When I turned 40, I undertook a series of Master Cleansers. The Master Cleanser was originally designed to heal stomach ulcers and other gut issues and you can read all about them online if you care to. I’m really glad I did them, actually, but now that I’m nearer to 60, my health goals have changed.
For the past several years I have been working to heal an autoimmune disease. While I am very close to eliminating that little bugger, I have been experiencing increased inflammation and all of the pain that comes along with it. Having learned a bit about the devastating effects of long-term inflammation – the risk of cancer being one of them – I am highly motivated to do something about it. After all, you either know enough or hurt enough to bring about change. I’m there on both counts.
At the end of March, I decided to take another hard look at fasting. Since I had tried everything else, from diet changes to anti-inflammatory supplements – with little to no success – I turned once again to the age-old practice of water fasting. Here’s what I learned this go-round.
1. Water fasting is really not that hard.
Fortunately for me, I did my research this time. I discovered that the body on a water fast requires rest. That was not a luxury I had back in the 90’s, raising toddlers, and my habit during Master Cleansers was to go even harder than I did when I wasn’t fasting. But why not? I had energy like never before! What I didn’t know then is that you lose more lean muscle mass if you exercise while on a fast. Counterintuitive, perhaps, yet scientifically true.
This time was different. I literally spent days 1-3 lying around or in bed most of the time. The hunger pangs were completely gone after the first 24 hours, and I wasn’t so much tired as I wanted to give my body all of the tools it needed to do the work I was asking it to do: let go of inflammation and extra body fat. I always notice more clarity and energy while fasting, and this time was no exception. My only ‘crises’ were on days 3-4, when I woke up with severe hip/lower back pain. In actuality, those aches and pains have been a part of my experience for years now, but I believe this time it was pain leaving my body. 🎉
Of course, drinking enough water is key. In fact, not drinking enough is probably the most common mistake for fasters. Word of advice: if you’re thirsty, you’ve gone too long without water. Since I had done so many Master Cleansers, I also knew the importance of helping the toxins to move out of the body, so I added in the salt water flush 3 out of the 5 days. This gave me another benefit as well: replenishing some lost electrolytes. The flush is easy. Just warm up 1 quart of filtered water and stir in 2 tsp. of unrefined sea salt. Drink within 15 minutes. You’ll spend the next hour or so in the bathroom, but the reward is that you will feel so much better throughout the rest of the day.
The body truly does have the wisdom to heal, and when we shut down the digestive system for an extended period of time (5-15 days, say), the cells are freed up to clean house. Damaged parts are eliminated and old fat stores are burned for energy. This process was literally built into our DNA by our hunter-gatherer ancestors who had to adapt to short periods of food deprivation. Ironically, they did not experience the host of diseases our indulgence has given rise to. Everything from diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer can be traced to the food we eat. But I digress…
2. How you prepare for and come off of a fast are way more important than the fast itself.
If you do not want to be miserable during a fast, make sure you have eliminated sugar and caffeine well before starting.
I talked to some folks about fasting and one of them said that fasting always gave them a terrible headache. I asked if they drink coffee. Yes. In fact, the headache was never from fasting, but from the caffeine withdrawal! I have been caffeine-free for almost a year now and eat very little sugar and no meat products. I had the slight beginnings of a headache on day 2 which I quickly corrected with a tall glass of water. Other than that, my head felt great the entire time!
One of my biggest failures in the past was coming off of the fast. I have never been able to take my time and introduce foods back slowly. This time I did!
I chose to begin my fast at noon on a Monday and end at noon on a Saturday. I did this to gear my body up for a future commitment to intermittent fasting – eating in a 6-hour window between 12-6 pm every day. The morning of day 1 began with a concoction of green juice and water. 5 days later, at noon on Saturday, I began drinking fresh fruit juice which I continued through Sunday. Monday was fruit salad and Tuesday green salad with lime juice and a little salt. Wednesday was the first day I began taking in cooked vegetables. My plan moving forward is a simple diet of fresh fruits and veggies, quinoa, green tea, and lots of water for 21 days post-fast. We’ll see what my body says at that point.
3. When done correctly, fasting is the body’s most powerful reset button.
My goal for this fast was simple: give my body the energy and space it needed to heal. But the fast itself gave me so much more than that. My tastebuds are firing like never before. I now know that I can miss a meal (or 20) with no problem. But the most encouraging benefit has been my breathing. I have been working for almost 3 months now (using the Buteyko Method) to reduce my control pause, with little to no success. But over the course of the fast, my BOLT score increased by about 5 seconds! This is huge! Carrying extra weight – especially in the form of inflammation – stresses all of the body’s systems, particularly heart and respiratory. I now have hope that I may one day achieve the my ultimate goal: an easy 30-second control pause. Time will tell.
Overall, I am very happy that I made the decision to fast. The week went quickly and surprisingly smoothly. If you should decide to undertake a water-only fast of any duration, I highly recommend you do your research first. Clean up your diet way before you miss your first meal. Rest is paramount, so be sure you can build that into your fasting time. Above all, listen to your body. Mine had been telling me to do this for some time, but if yours is saying no, then don’t do it! Instead, ask your body what it needs and treat it well. It is the only one you will have during this lifetime. Care for it, love it, and be grateful for it.
Thanks so much for reading. Here’s to your good health!
For more information on fasting, check out True North Health or the following videos. For info on the Buteyko Method, follow Take a Deep Breath on YouTube or watch Patrick Mckeown’s Ted Talk. To learn about other great breathing techniques, check out SOMA Breath.