Contraindications for Fasting
Fatigue Nursing - and post-surgery
Low immunity Mental illness
Weak heart Cancer
Low blood pressure Peptic ulcers
Cardiac arrhythmias Nutritional deficiencies
As with any therapy that has some physiological effect and benefit, fasting also may have some hazards. The potential for the development of these problems is maximized with lengthy, noncaloric or water fasts and minimized with juice fasting of reasonable length, such as one to two weeks. Clearly, excessive weight loss and nutritional deficiencies may occur, again more marked with water fasts (juices provide calories and nutrients, although they do not provide complete nutrition). Weakness may occur, or muscle cramps may result from mineral deficits. Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus losses occur initially but diminish after a week. Blood pressure drops, and this can lead to episodes of dizziness, especially when changing position from lying to sitting or sitting to standing. Uric acid levels may rise, which may result in acute gout attacks or a uric acid kidney stone, although this is rare. This problem is minimized with adequate fluid intake.
Some research reports have described hormone level changes with fasting. Initially, the level of thyroid hormone falls, but it rises again in association with protein-sparing ketosis. Female hormone levels fall, possibly as a result of protein malnutrition, and this can lead to loss of menstrual flow; that is, secondary amenorrhea. This cessation of the periods in women is also seen in long-time vegetarians, especially those who engage in extensive exercise programs.
Cardiac problems, such as abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias), can occur more easily with prolonged fasting and/or with subclinical preexisting problems. Extra beats, both ventricular and atrial, have been seen, and there have been deaths from serious ventricular arrhythmias, such as ventricular tachycardia, most often occurring during long water fasts. Similar problems have occurred recently in people using the nutrient-deficient protein powders that have been freely sold; many unhealthy weight reducers have been put at risk by using these powders over extended periods on unmonitored fasts. This risk is minimized with juice fasting (up to two weeks) or when basic minerals, mainly potassium, calcium, and magnesium, are supplemented during water fasts. Having our progress followed medically through physical exams, blood tests, and even electrocardiograms is a way to protect ourselves from the potential hazards of fasting.
Another side effect of fasting involves its transformative aspects and how they relate to personal life changes.
Often we maintain certain relationships and attitudes toward other people or our careers by resisting inner guidance, feelings, and desires to do something new. Divorce, job changes, and moves are all more likely after fasts, because fasting often stimulates self-realization and change, enhances our potential, and leads us to focus on where we are going, rather than where we have been. During fasting transitions, many people question all aspects of their lives and make new plans for the future. They also have new sensitivity to and awareness of their job, mate, home, and so on. I warn fasters before they begin that these experiences may arise and their lives may change, especially when I sense that they are not really committed to or believe in what they are doing. Even though these insights and changes may be traumatic, my belief is that they are ultimately positive, as they support the evolutionary purpose of the human being. In this way, fasting helps us follow our true nature.
How to Fast
In the thousands of people I have observed during fasting and detox programs, the complications have been negligible, provided that proper procedures have been followed and attention paid to the ongoing body changes. Usually, people feel fine, even euphoric after a few days, although there may be ups and downs or various symptoms; yet, overall, in my experience, changes are positive.
The general plan for fasting works progressively, from a moderate approach for new fasters and unhealthy subjects to a stricter program for the more experienced. It is important to take the proper time with this potentially powerful process and not jump into a water fast from an average American carnivorous diet. Although many people do fine even if they make such extreme changes, it clearly maximizes the risks of fasting.
A sensible daily plan is one where fasting is mixed with eating. Each day can include a 12-14 hour period of fasting in the evening and during sleep before awakening and getting ready for the day. (Breakfast was given that name to denote the time where we break the fast of the night.) Many people eat very lightly or not at all in the early morning to extend their daily fast. This is more important if dinner or snacking tends to be extended into the later evening, though this is not ideal. On the other hand, if we eat a decent, not excessive, meal in the early evening and awaken hungry, a good breakfast can be consumed after water intake and some exercise.
In preparation for our first day of fasting, we may want to take a few days to eliminate some foods or habits from our diet. When many self-indulgent habits exist, longer preparations may be indicated. Eliminating alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and sugar if possible is very helpful, although some people choose to wait until their actual fast days to clear these. Red meats and other animal foods, including milk products and eggs, could be avoided for a day or two before fasting. Intake of most nutritional supplements can also be curtailed the day before fasting; these are usually not recommended during a fast. Many people do well by preparing for their fasts with three or four days of consuming only fruit and vegetable foods. These nourish and slowly detoxify the body so that the actual fasting will be less intense.
The first one-day fast (actually 36 hours, including the nights—from 8 p.m. one night until 8 a.m. the following day) gives us a chance to see what a short fast can be like, to see that it is not so very difficult and does not cause any major distress. Most people will feel a little hungry at times and may experience a few mild symptoms (such as a headache or irritability) by the end of the day, usually around late afternoon or dinnertime, but this depends on the individual and the state of toxicity. In actuality, the first two days are the hardest for most people. Feeling great usually begins around day three, so longer juice fasts are really needed for the grand experience.
One of the problems with fasting is that it can be the most difficult for those who need it the most, such as the regular three-square-meals-plus-snacks consumers who eat whatever and whenever they want. Often such people must start with more subtle diet changes and prepare even more slowly for fasting. A transition plan that can be used before even going on the one-day fast is the one-meal-a-day plan. The one daily meal is usually eaten around 3 p.m. Water, juices, and teas and even some fresh fruit or vegetable snacks can be eaten at other times. The one wholesome meal is not excessive or rich. It can be a protein-vegetable meal, such as fish and salad or steamed vegetables, or a starch-vegetable meal, such as brown rice and mixed steamed greens, carrots, celery, and zucchini. People on this plan start to detox slowly, lose some weight, and after a few days feel pretty sound. The chance of any strong symptoms developing, as might occur with fasting, is minimal with this type of transition, and the actual fast, when begun, will be handled more easily, also.
The goal, then, is to move into a one-day fast and then a few two- and three-day fasts with one or two days between them when light foods and more raw fruits and vegetables are consumed, and also provide fluids, juices, soups, and a generally alkaline cleansing diet. This way, we can build up to a five- to ten-day fast. When the transition is made this slowly, even a water fast can be less intense and more profound for those wishing a powerful personal and spiritual experience. With a water fast, however, I strongly suggest medical monitoring and retreating from usual daily life.
A juice fast, which I usually recommend, can be longer and is much easier for most people. The fresh juices of raw fruits and vegetables are what most fasting clinics and practitioners recommend. They provide calories and nutrients on which to function and build new cells, and also provide the inherent enzymes contained in these vital foods. (Food enzyme theories, discussed throughout this century, have recently been described in books such as Enzyme Nutrition by Dr. Edward Howell.) Raw foods are considered the healing force in our diet because they contain active enzymes, which are broken down when foods are cooked. Many health enthusiasts consider a raw-food diet the most healing and most nutritious diet.
For the inexperienced faster, it is best to go slowly through the various steps and to avoid being excessive or impatient so that we learn about ourselves in the process. To do this, we need to make a plan and put it into effect, observing or "listening" to our body and even keeping notes in a journal. Get to really know yourself. Then, once we have fasted successfully, we could continue to do one-day fasts weekly or a three-day fast every month if we need them. This helps to reconnect us with a better diet and to remotivate us toward our goal of optimum health.
In a more adventurous mode, many people, even some who have never fasted, begin with a seven- to ten-day or even longer fast on fresh juices. I recommend this for most people who have any of the indications and none of the contraindications discussed in this program People planning these longer fasts, especially inexperienced fasters who have been eating a random diet, should spend a period about equal in length to the planned fast preparing for it. During this preparatory period we can follow some of the previous suggestions, such as eliminating sugar and refined foods, fatty foods, chemicals, and drugs from the diet and reducing consumption of meats and other acid-forming foods, and then moving into several days of consuming primarily fruits and vegetables and more fluids. This will lead into an easier and more energizing fast.
For any cleansing period, it is essential to plan times to meditate, exercise, get fresh air and sunshine, clear our intestines, get massages, take baths, clean our house, brush our skin, and more. Maybe you thought you were going to sit back and relax and have juice delivered to your room? With less shopping, food preparation, and eating time, we have more hours in the day to take care of ourselves in other ways. These supportive aspects of cleansing are discussed further below.
Timing of Fasts
The two key times for natural cleansing are the times of transition into spring and autumn. In Chinese medicine, the transition time between the seasons is considered to be about ten days before and after the equinox or solstice. For spring, this period is about March 10 through April 1; for autumn, it is from about September 11 through October 2. In cooler climates, where spring weather begins later and autumn earlier, the fasting can be scheduled appropriately, as it is easier to do in warmer weather. With fasting, the body tends to cool down
Spring Master Cleanser
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup
1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 ounces spring water
Mix and drink 8-12 glasses a day. Eat or drink nothing else except water, laxative herb tea, and peppermint or chamomile tea.
Fresh fruit or vegetable juices diluted with an equal amount of water will also provide a good cleansing. Some vegetable choices are carrots, celery, beets, and lots of greens. Soup broths can also be used. Juices with blue-green algae, such as spirulina or chlorella, mixed in can provide more energy, as these are high-protein plants and easily assimilable.
Autumn is the second most important cleansing time, when we prepare for a new health program, focus on our career or school year, and let go of the fun and games of summer. At this time, a fast of at least three to five days can be done, using water or a variety of juices, apples and/or grapes (usually mixed with a little lemon and water to reduce sweetness), vegetable juices, and warm broths.
How do we know how long to fast? We may use a certain time plan, such as discussed above. Ideally, though, we should follow our own individual cycles and our body’s needs. As we gain some fasting experience, we should become attuned to when we need to strengthen or lighten our diet and when we need to cleanse. Usually, if we are under stress or have been overindulging or develop some congestive symptoms, we want to lighten our diet to balance this. If more changes are needed, a more cleansing, raw-food diet or a fast can be begun.
Autumn Rejuvenation Ration
3 cups spring water
1 Tablespoon ginger root, chopped
1-2 Tablespoons miso paste
1-2 stalks green onion, chopped
cilantro, to taste, chopped
1-2 pinches cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
juice of 1⁄2 lemon
Boil water. Add ginger root. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in miso paste to taste. Turn off fire. Then add green onion, some cilantro, cayenne, olive oil, lemon juice. Remove from burner and cover to steep for 10 minutes. May vary ingredient portions to satisfy flavours. Enjoy.
Breaking a Fast
When to stop fasting and make a transition back into eating also takes some inner attunement. Things to watch for include energy level, weight, detox symptoms, tongue coating, and degree of hunger. If our energy is up and then falls for more than a day or if our weight gets too low, these may be signs that we should come off the fast. If symptoms are intense or if any suddenly appear, it is possible that we need food. Generally, the tongue is a good indicator of our state of toxicity or cleansing and clarity. With fasting, the tongue usually becomes coated with a white, yellow, or gray film. This represents the body’s cleansing, and it will usually clear when the detox cycle is complete. Tongue observation is not a foolproof indicator, however. Some people’s tongues may coat very little, while others will remain coated. In this case, if we were to wait until it totally cleared, we may overextend our cleanse. If in doubt, it is better to make the transition back to foods and then cleanse again later. Hunger is another sign of readiness to move back into eating. Often during cleansing times, hunger is minimal. Occasionally, people are very hungry throughout a fast, but most lose interest in food from day three to day seven or ten and then experience real, deep-seated hunger again. This is a sign to eat (carefully!).
It is important to make a gradual transition into a regular diet, rather than just going out to dinner after a week-long fast. Breaking a fast must be planned and done slowly and carefully to prevent creating symptoms and sickness. It is suggested that we take several days, or half of our total cleansing time, to move back into our diet, which is hopefully a newly planned, more healthful diet. Our digestion has been at rest, so we need to go slowly and chew our foods very well. If we have fasted on water alone, we need to prepare our digestive tract with diluted juices, perhaps beginning with a few teaspoons of fresh orange juice in a glass of water and progressing to stronger mixtures throughout the day. Diluted grape or orange juice will stimulate the digestion. Arnold Ehret, a European fasting expert and proponent of the "mucus-less" diet, suggests that fruits and fruit juices should not be used right after a meat eater’s first fast because they may coagulate intestinal mucus and cause problems. More likely, a meat eater’s colon bacteria are different than a vegetarian’s; with fruit sugars, the active gram-positive anaerobic bacteria in the meat eater will produce more toxins. Initially, a transition from meats to more vegetable foods will then allow a smoother fast, mainly with vegetable juices and broths. They could also take extra acidophilus to begin to shift their colon ecology.
With juice fasting, it is easier to make the transition back into foods. A raw or cooked low-starch vegetable, such as spinach or other greens, can be used. A little sauerkraut, a fermented cabbage, helps to stimulate the digestive function. A laxative-type meal, such as grapes, cherries, or soaked or stewed prunes, can also be used to initiate eating, as it is important to keep the bowels moving. Some experts say that the bowels should move within an hour or two after the first meal. If not, take an enema. Some people may do a saltwater flush (drinking a quart of water with 2 teaspoons of sea salt dissolved in it) before their first day of food.
However you make the transition, go slowly, chew well, and do not overeat or mix too many foods at a meal. Simple vegetable meals, salads, or soups can be used to start. Fruit should be eaten alone. Soaked prunes or figs are helpful. Well-cooked brown rice or millet is handled well by most people by the second day. From there, progress slowly through grains and vegetables. Some nuts, seeds, or legumes can be added, and then richer protein foods if these are desired. Coming back into foods is a crucial time for learning individual responses or reactions to them. You may even wish to keep notes, following such areas as energy level, intestinal function, sleep patterns, and food desires. If you respond poorly to a food, avoid it for a while, perhaps a week, and then eat it alone to see how it feels.
Some juices work better for certain people or conditions. In general, diluted fresh juices of raw organic fruits and vegetables are best. Canned and frozen juices should be avoided. Some bottled juice may be used, but fresh squeezed is best, as long as it is used soon after squeezing.
Water and other liquids are what primarily cleanse our system, increasing waste elimination—rather like squeezing out a dirty sponge in clean water. Lemon tends to loosen and bring out mucus and is useful for liver cleansing. Diluted lemon juice, with or without a little honey, can loosen mucus fast, so if this is used, we need to cleanse the bowels regularly to prevent getting sick. Most vegetable juices are a little milder than lemon juice.
Each juice has a certain nutritional composition and probably certain physiological actions, although these have not been studied extensively. We can think of fresh juices as natural vitamin pills with a very high assimilation percentage, and we do not need to do the work of digesting them.