Much More Than Simply Not Eating
Fasting has been practiced for thousands of years in cultures all over the world for health and spiritual purposes. Fasting has a reputation for calming and clearing thought, easing stress and opening one’s eyes.
It’s based on the idea that it’s natural for mammals to go for periods without food and that important body maintenance processes occur during these times.
Our bodies store excess energy in fat tissue so it's available later. Fat serves another purpose––it’s the best place to store toxins which the body hasn’t disarmed and excreted. Toxins interfere with the body's mechanisms. Storing toxins in fat tissue gets them out of the bloodstream and away from vital organs and the central nervous system.
Digestive processes consume enormous amounts of energy. Molecules are broken down, drawn through cell walls and and out of tissues, rebuilt. When we stop eating a lot of energy is saved. Instead of digesting new food, the body starts consuming itself, drawing on its reserves of fat, minerals and proteins to keep going. As the body breaks down fat the toxins stored within it are dumped back into the bloodstream. Since digestion is not making its usual heavy demands more energy is available for the work of disarming these dislodged poisons and flushing them out of the body.
Fasting makes use of this natural process. By eliminating solid food for a period of three to five days or more we set in motion the body’s natural cleansing machinery.
It’s very important to do this in the right way. Many modern under-nourished bodies are usually already low in essential nutrients––some of these are critical to the function of our liver, kidneys, intestines––all organs involved in cleansing. Drinking strained raw vegetable (and some fruit) juices or well-strained vegetable broth is a good way to supply these nutrients. Water fasts won’t do this.
It’s also important to keep the body’s channels of elimination open and clean while fasting to assist in the elimination of the toxins the body is trying to dump. Scrubbing the skin with a loofah sponge, taking hot Epsom salt baths and sweating for 15-20 minutes afterwards (not a good idea for people with heart problems), gentle morning enemas to wash out accumulations in the large intestine––all are good ways to make sure that the body can flush itself completely.
The assistance of a good naturopathic physician or acupuncturist familiar with fasting or at least an experienced partner-in-fasting can be critical. Especially on one’s first fast, disturbing symptoms can develop. They usually pass quickly, but it can be crucial to have experienced hands available nearby for guidance, advice and sometimes even evaluation and treatment.
Of course if one has a medical or psychological condition one should consult a qualified professional.
Above all, it’s important to end a fast in the right way. In a word: SLOWLY. Even a relatively short five-day fast requires two to three days to gradually return to a regular diet. The first meal should be extremely light: vegetable broth or, if the weather is hot, a fruit smoothie. Light salads and soups come next, with heavy protein and fatty foods reserved for at least three days after breaking the fast. When the liver is busy recovering from processing corrosive toxins the last thing it needs is a tidal wave of labor-intensive proteins and fats crashing in all at once.
It’s critical to give the liver a few days to make the transition back to normal. Breaking a fast too quickly is the single most dangerous fasting mistake and has been known to be fatal.
When fasting is done properly, however, it can be incredibly effective. It's like doing regular maintenance. A five-day fast does the work of months of other forms of cleansing. Re-establishing the regular, cleansing times of fasting that our ancestors experienced is one of the most demanding and rewarding naturopathic paths.
How To Do a Juice Fast
Before the Fast
- Get a physical and an ok from a sympathetic M.D., especially if you have a medical condition that’s left you weakened. Be sure you’re dealing with a physician who understands the benefits of fasting, because many don’t and see it as eccentric and unnecessary. Be sure this physician understands the need to monitor you and be available while you go through the fasting process. If you’re taking medication get specific advice.
- Buy a good electric juicer. Champion makes industrial strength juicers that will last you the rest of your life. You want a good juicer because you’re going to be making a lot of juice. Plastic juicers can break, and you won’t be able to make enough juice by hand.
- Get an enema bag from the drugstore and put it together.
- Arrange five days where you won’t have to handle any of your normal responsibilities. This needs to be a time for you. If you can arrange for a companion to fast with you it can be very helpful in those moments when you are tempted to break the fast. Be sure they’re a good companion and work out ways to take breaks from each other and handle sticky communication moments––you’re going to be seeing a lot of each other when both of you are at something less than your best.
- Fill your refrigerator with large bags of carrots, celery, beets, zucchini, and anything else you want to juice. You’ll want to have many more vegetables than fruits, however. Too much fruit juice in an empty stomach can set wild fluctuations in blood sugar in motion. This will make you miserable.
- Please be sure to buy organic.
During the Fast
- Don’t eat any solid food. Any.
- Make as much fresh vegetable juice as you want, and drink it whenever you want (at least 12 oz every two hours). It’s important to make fresh juice so that (a) you have something simple and mindless to fill up the time, and (b) so that there’s as much chi as possible in the juice. Your body will need it. Be sure to have a large glass of juice every two hours, except when sleeping.
- Be sure to thoroughly strain the juice. Any pulp left remaining in it can stimulate your digestive enzymes and make you more hungry. You should also be sure to thoroughly clean the juicer immediately every time you make juice; it’s much easier to do this when the waste is fresh, moist and soft.
- If you’re fasting when the weather is cold or if you need a change of pace, you can also make yourself a vegetable broth. Potatoes are a good ingredient, along with any other vegetables you like. Keep it cooking all day and pour yourself cups when you’re hungry. Be sure there’s no pulp in what you drink.
- Every morning give yourself a gentle enema with warm water. Fill the bag with water and be sure to squeeze all the air out of the bag. You can do this by filling the bag with as much water as possible, screwing in the top plug, and then holding the bag against your belly with the hose coming out of the top and squeezing until water starts to run smoothly out of the hose. If you fail to get all the air out of the bag and hose, you’ll get air in your intestines and this will hurt.
- Lie on your right side in a comfortable position. You may want to make yourself a bed of pillows and towels on the floor of your bathroom, near the toilet. Using a lubricant such as K-Y Jelly, cover the inserted end of the hose with lubricant and gently insert it into your anus. Then open the valve on the enema bag slowly and take as much time as you need to to empty at least 2/3 of the content of the bag into your intestines. Don’t force anything––if you feel like you have to stop, then stop. It will get easier each time you do it.
- After you’ve either drained the bag or taken as much water in as you can, pull the hose out and try to lie on your back for a minute or two. If you can, gently massage your abdomen in a clockwise direction. After awhile, you will want to empty out. Do so.
It's crucial to wash out the intestines while fasting because the presence of food is necessary for peristalsis, the muscular pumping that moves fluid through the intestines. Peristalsis slows when there’s no solid food. Yet the liver still dumps toxic residues into the gut after cleansing overnight. The liver does a lot of its work at night because more energy's available when the body's at rest. Not washing the intestines in the morning risks a buildup of this waste and since the intestines can reabsorb some of what’s inside them, washing the waste out is a very, very good idea.
The period after the enema is usually where you get to experience the energy and clear-headedness that fasting brings.
The first day of a fast is usually pretty easy. By the second and third days the classical idea is that serious toxin dumping is being done; you may feel pretty miserable. You can lessen your discomfort by sweating in an epsom salt bath, doing the enemas, drinking more juice and resting. Consider this a sacred time. By the fourth day the most aggressive part of the cleanse is over, and your energy will start to return. The fifth day ... will surprise you. Let’s just say you may well come to a new understanding of how Christ and Ghandi were able to do what they did.
To End the Fast
- Your first meal is critical and should be small and extremely light. You can have a little of the remains of the broth you’ve been making, or some miso soup. You want to eat something that takes as little energy to digest as possible. No chunks of fat or protein. Not yet.
- Your second meal is almost as critical as the first. A light salad with a slice or two (no more) of bread is ideal. The second meal should not come earlier than 8 hours after the first.
- By the second day you can start to eat somewhat normally. You still want to concentrate on vegetables and light grains, though. No heavy meats, and only a little cheese, please.
- By the third day after breaking the fast (the day you break it is Day 1) you can resume normal eating habits. It’s not a good idea to eat huge, demanding meals for at least five days, however. Take your time.