Fasting 101 and My Long Term Water Fast Experience
Fasting has been used spiritually for thousands of years. I had my first experience with fasting when I was still in middle school as part of my church's youth group. I'll never forget the look on my health teachers face as I explained the fundraiser we were doing for an upcoming mission trip as part horror, part concern as I'm sure she was at the brink of calling social services on us all because not eating for 24 hrs was such an unhealthy thing to do. (Although I recall having juice so, it was more of a juice fast than full water fast). More recently science is catching up to the spiritual health benefits of fasting.
Benefits 1. Promotes blood sugar control by reducing insulin resistance. 2. Decrease inflammation levels 3. Enhances heart health by improving blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels 4. May boost brain function/health* 5. Increases growth hormone secretion (aiding growth, weight loss, metabolism, and strength) 6. Extend longevity delaying aging* 7. May help block and delay cancerous tumor growth and increase chemotherapy effectiveness* 8. Boosts metabolism and decreases calorie consumption aiding weight loss *The studies backing these findings are mainly animal testing only ** I am sharing what I have learned through research and my personal experience. You should not attempt any type of fasting without consulting your doctor and certain populations of people may have negative effects.
Types of Fasts - There are various ways and lengths of time you can go about your fast so I will break it all down for you. Like most nutritional science information, I take my time doing my research and if I feel I can apply it to myself, I experiment with it.
Intermittent Fasting A year ago when I did my 3 month Keto experiment, intermittent fasting fell neatly into place as you start to experience hunger less often. This type of timed approach to eating varies in time up to 24 hours and generally uses the hours you are sleeping as part of that time. If you are using Intermittent fasting (IF) as a weight-loss tool, think about it as lowering your insulin levels far enough and low enough to allow your fat cells to release their stored sugar as an energy source thus burning off fat. Like anything, it is best to train your body by easing into it. For example, if you normally eat after 8 hours (including sleep overnight), Eat dinner at 6 pm. and the next meal 12 hours would be 6 am breakfast. A few days later your breakfast would be at 7 am. Continue pushing back that first meal until you can do a 16 hour fast without a lot of discomforts. Reversing that if you are not very active at night, your last meal could be 3 pm and ending a 16 hour fast with your next meal at 7 am. Eating in an 8 hr. window and fasting for 16 hrs. becomes a doable easy plan. You could also work up to a fast for 24 hrs starting with skipping dinner and the next day's breakfast and lunch, eating the next meal at dinner again. This would be more of an every other day plan. There are many ways that you can arrange your IF. Personally, at this point I can listen to my body and any fasting I do greatly varies week to week based on my activity and energy levels.
Water Fasting I have had experience with this throughout my life for spiritual reasons. From the nutritional information I was given when I first studied nutrition over 15 years ago, I thought these short water fasts were recking havoc on my metabolism and not great for my health. As it turns out quite the opposite is true. There are a few pioneer doctors that have been using long-term, 10 to 30-day water fasting for decades as a jumping-off point to treat all types of illness and diseases (while supervised under their care and being monitored the whole time). The first phase of long term water fast will include preparing for the fast which is especially important if you are not already consuming a clean diet. Following a diet free of alcohol, drugs, sugar, processed foods, etc. for a few weeks or more will make the process easier as will practicing with IF first. Next is the psychological hunger that happens during the first missed meal and may be felt in the first 3-4 days so, yes, if you are doing a fast at home you may experience this the whole time. Although this length may be less if IF has been practiced long term. Acidosis, the third stage, usually begins a couple of days after the last meal and lasts about one week. During acidosis, the body vigorously throws off acid waste products. You may experience fatigue, blurred vision, and possibly dizziness due to your body switching over to burning fat for fuel (burning Ketones) instead of sugar (glycogen). There are more phases and greater benefit than doing a 3 day or so water fast however, I won't get into that here as my experience was with a 4-day water fast.
Juice Fasting This can be done by drinking water and herb tea like the water fast but, also consuming fresh vegetable and fruit juices. This cleansing method can give your digestive system a break and has benefits without the struggle of water fast. It is more of a detox and health benefits aren't as vast.
My long term water fast I did my experiment with long term water fasting at the beginning of May after a year of intermittent fasting of various lengths. I loosely planned a 3-day water fast which can generally be performed safely at home taking into account various precautions. I made sure that I was in a stress-free environment and would not be interrupted by work or other demanding mental or physical situations. I did not exercise during this time. I used various detoxification methods such as a heavily salted water and other laxative methods, visiting the salt room and salt float consisting of a huge amount of Epsom salt, massage, meditation, gentle stretching, and ion foot bath ( I have one at home that was used during my Lyme treatments) to flush out the acid and toxins your body releases during this time. I decided to go day by day listening to my body to determine how long I would fast. I drank water and hot herb tea only on the first day. Throughout my fast, I felt like the herb tea helped lessen the psychological hunger pains. I am a coffee drinker and decided by the 2nd day not to torture myself more than necessary with headache withdrawals so allowed 1 black cup in the morning. Most scientists and doctors agree that these drinks do not interfere with the body's' fast. There is some disagreement about adding lemon juice to water fast so I chose not to utilize it. The first day was defiantly the hardest but I stacked it with the massage and salt rooms and things to do that were also relaxing to me to help distract myself. By the second day when I started to get hungry, the tea would pretty much dissipate my hunger. My body temperature dropped greatly and I was cold a lot. The 3rd day I ran into someone at the grocery store stocking up on veggies to juice for when I would break the fast who said that I looked really relaxed and different before telling them what I was doing. And that is how I felt throughout my fast. Peaceful and vibrant. The 3rd day the hunger wasn't completely non-existent but almost. Scientifically this was due to acidosis which is the same thing that happens when eating a prolonged Ketogenic diet. I did feel like I needed to rest more than staying busy at this point. I lucked out on an unusually warm day so I headed to Assateague with tons of water and a good book for most of the day. My sleep was getting worse each night as I would wake and not be able to fall back asleep. I have had trouble sleeping for years so this was not new territory. The 4th day I still wasn't too hungry and my mental energy levels were good. I did have more dizzy spells than I previously had and lower physical energy. I decided this would be the last day of my water fasting experience mainly because I missed being active and needed to get my sleep back on track. To break the fast I drank mainly fresh-made vegetable with some fruit juice and some homemade bone broth on the 5th day. The 6th day I started with juice then added raw fresh fruit and veggies. By the 1 week mark, it was cooked clean foods added in. The way that you break long term water fast can just as important as the way that you fast. I now just listen to my body for additional fasts. I did a few 24- 35-hour fasts after that and plenty of IF. Lately, I have been so active every day that I haven't done any type of fasting. I am sure I will add in long term water fast a few times a year.