There has been a lot of talk about fasting recently. I have some experience on the topic and thought it might be useful to summarise the basics from what I have learned over the years. It’s a vast subject and I only touch on a few aspects but if there is interest, we could take the discussion further and learn from each other.
What is fasting?
Everyone knows something about fasting. Why is the morning meal called ‘breakfast’, after a time of fasting overnight when the body drew its energy from its own resources to maintain life, we ‘break the fast’ and switch to a mode of external energy sources. Fasting is a natural state of human life, a way to live from the body’s own nutritional depots. It can be a complimentary method to lose weight and adopt a healthy lifestyle. Fasting is not starvation and has nothing to do with deprivation or deficiency; it doesn’t cure illness and is not a quick-fix to lose weight.
There are many forms of fasting. This summary looks at fasting for the healthy individual (there are fasting methods as complimentary therapies for specific diseases or used for religious purposes). To name a couple, you can fast with raw juice (Heun method) or with water. I am most familiar with the Buchinger method, fasting with tea and diluted juice.
Everyone should make use of the opportunity to fast at some point. It is gratifying to know that one can survive without food for a time and as a consequence adopt a more sensible and modest approach to eating. But here are key reasons:
- Fasting works on the principle of self-empowerment, raising awareness of your own needs; it can help to deal with the complexity of modern life, rediscovering relaxation and creativity.
- Fasting can provide you with a clean slate, it can be a way to adopting a better diet and lifestyle, it can help to lose weight if a sensible diet is adopted long-term afterwards
- Fasting helps to unblock, release and wash-out unwanted and retained substances
The decision to fast
If you are healthy, you are not taking regular medication and you are confident to follow a fasting plan, you can fast on your own. For those feeling uncertain and particularly those with medical issues, consultation of your GP is essential and fasting under experienced and medical supervision may be advisable. Fasting takes time, your first attempt should not be longer than 5 days of fasting (3 might be enough for you) but you will have a step-down and several build-up days. Some people prefer to do this during a normal working week, some whilst away in the proverbial lone cottage. There are also organised retreats for fasting courses. Either way, you need to speak to friends and family for support (if fasting at home, making dinner for the family is going to be challenging) and find time with limited social commitments (and you will find those social commitments almost always involve food).
Keep in mind, you might
- Be slower than usual, things take more time
- Your blood pressure/ pulse might respond slower at times
- You may require more (or some less) sleep
- You may be more irritable or sensitive, your mind is detoxing too
I started fasting several years ago. I was trying a basic elimination diet addressing what I thought might be food intolerances. I did identify foods I wasn’t tolerating particularly well. Surprisingly, I felt very well whilst not eating. I started reading into therapeutic fasting, a fasting method integrating traditional medicine and thought I had a chance. I obviously couldn’t stop eating altogether but my theory was if I give my body an occasional break from whatever its struggling with, I might feel better overall. I adopted the Buchinger method (Dr Otto Buchinger was German doctor/ philosopher who didn’t invent fasting but pioneered the method), a holistic approach to physical well-being and inner harmony.
I have been fasting twice per year most years ever since, usually for 7-10 days. Buchinger means plenty of clear liquids throughout the day (water, tea) and a glass of diluted juice and a bowl of broth as your ‘meals’. You need to empty your bowels every other day (enema, salt, buttermilk, whichever method you manage). There is daily meditation. I prefer fasting during a normal week with my routine in place but set aside time for long mornings or naps. I tend to exercise as normal although endurance rather than fast speed so stay away from burpees and the like (it’s a good excuse).
I look forward to it. I find it incredibly rewarding. Mentally, I find peace and quiet during the time of fasting. It’s a soul finding exercise, stress relief and way to re-center my mind, motivation and determination. Physically, you detox through passing urine, the gut and skin; I lose some weight and regain sensitivity for good food in the right amounts. You might get a break from little ailments like acne or eczema.
My struggles, I tend to be a bit low mentally on day 3 or 4, the mornings are slower physically on those days as well. I struggle with the cold at the best of times, it’s pretty relentless during fasting. I miss my coffee!
But overall a great way to pause, take stock and make life in today’s busy life more enjoyable.
A note on the literature
There is a large amount of literature on the topic. However, finding good literature is difficult. As a start and a little more information, a nice article in the Guardian summarises a journalists experience fasting in a supervised setting: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/11/jeanette-winterson-why-i-fasted-11-days
Would you like to find out more about fasting? Or you are ready to start your own practice? Let us be part of your journey!