Water Fasting: Facts and Tips
As an ex-athlete, Personal Trainer, cancer survivor, Yoga fanatic and avid faster, I encounter lots of comments and questions on the subject of fasting from friends and clients, so I wanted to give you a little insight into my experience. Fasting has had controversial reviews over the years, mostly from Western thinking industries and fitness professionals, whose goal it is to drive that metabolism every waking moment of the day, with small frequent meals to maximize calorie burning potential and make sure your body doesn’t eat up that precious muscle tone you’ve worked so hard to get.
Of course, these are all valid and accurate things to do, and I myself recommend doing all of it, most of the time.
But about twice a year, it’s good to reset the immune system and give your body a chance to flush out toxins, repair, produce new cells, and start fresh. That’s where the fast comes in.
SEE ALSO: 4 Awesome Benefits You Get From Retreats
What it is and Isn’t
New scientific studies are emerging reporting that fasting “kick-starts stem cells into producing new white blood cells, which fight off infection”. Check out this article from the British Telegraph on the findings.
Something fasting should NOT be about is weight loss. Weight loss inherently happens from a fast, but it shouldn’t be the reason you are fasting, and fasting should not be attempted if you are underweight or fighting illness. Fasting is linked with improvements in mental clarity as well as boosting or resetting your immune system and reducing cell inflammation – a major factor in fighting things like cancer, hormonal issues, and digestive concerns. But what about my precious muscle tone you might ask? Aren’t I going to hit that caveman starvation level, rock bottom metabolism that everyone talks about? Isn’t my body going to shut down?
Not to worry.
The benefits of fasting are amazing. Although it is true that you’ll experience SOME muscle loss during a fast, the rate at which it happens is insanely slow, at 0.2kg per day after full Ketosis is reached, a process I’ll talk about next (at around 3 days).
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You need to have some level of body reserves to be able to fast and endure muscle loss. If you’re too thin, a competitive athlete or body builder, a water fast might not be for you, and you should probably consider other options like a juice fast. Check out this article for more details. Basically, for the minuscule amount of muscle tone you will lose in a short water fast, you’ll get so many more benefits.
Water fasting 48hrs for women, and 72 hrs for men initiates Ketosis, a fuel burning system your body converts to in times of glucose shortage.
Our brains and organs need glucose, usually stored in the blood, supplied by daily intakes of food to maintain our bodies. During a fast, the body switches to using Ketones as a fuel source instead. This happens already during high level workouts, and also during sleep in non-fasting individuals. It’s a naturally occurring process. It is recommended that you fast between 3-21 days for optimum results. Below 3 days, and your body won’t have reached Ketosis. After 3 days, every added day you fast allows your body to consume more dead cells and junk to convert to fuel, cleaning your body. Once you stop your fast, your body will create fresh white blood cells, resetting your immune system.
If you want to learn more about fasting, I recommend Dr. Fuhrman’s book, Fasting and Eating for Health, available on amazon, from which the second article above has also quoted from.
Before Your Fast
Since everyone is different, your preparation and activities during a fast will vary, but here’s some tips from my own experience with it.
Choose a time to water fast when you won’t be under high stress, working a lot, under intense physical strain, or subject to lots of social events. Your body’s response to fasting can include feeling weak, feeling exhilarated, having no energy, having lots of energy, sleeping better, having insomnia, finding mental clarity and needing to rest a lot. Until you’ve done it yourself, you won’t know what to expect.
I myself experienced weakness and lethargy most of the time, and have not fasted long enough to experience the renewed clarity of mind and energy that others have reported in prolonged fasts. What I HAVE experienced during my 3 day fasts is fat loss with improved muscle tone, decreased bloating, lowered cell inflammation, and improved muscle tone. I also believe that with my history of cancer, the resetting of my white blood cells is crucial to my longevity.
I choose to fast Friday-Sunday, to avoid social activities or stress.
Before fasting you may want to prepare a little. You can graduate into your fast by eating only fruit and vegetables for 1-2 days prior, or even just freshly prepared fruit/veg juices. But you don’t need to do this. I think it helps to eliminate at least meat/dairy a day or so before fasting, so your body isn’t so in shock when you drop to just water.
During Your Fast
Definitely stay away from food related things. You’ll find yourself wanting to eat your face lotion if it smells nice.
Try to stay busy. Read, meditate, go for walks. Just don’t talk about food. Don’t brush your teeth with toothpaste and don’t oil pull. While on a fast, don’t put anything in your mouth that will stimulate your digestive juices. Brush with water and floss with non-flavored products. This is probably the most unbearable part of fasting for me. My mouth feels horrid. For the first 2 days, it just feels dirty. It is reported that after 4-5 days, your body starts expelling toxins through your skin and mouth. You can experience boils and your tongue will go white with gunk that your body is eliminating.
After a couple of days of this, it goes away, and you begin to feel fresher and very alert.
Don’t take a hot bath. I’ve experienced doing this myself, and there are reports of similar responses from others describing dizziness, blindness, palpitations, nausea and shortness of breath. The experience is all temporary, but not pleasant, so best to avoid. If you do experience this, just lay down, take deep breathes and ride it out. Exercise if you feel like it. I exercise gently, as I am generally weak during a fast. I stick to Yoga and Pilates. My partner will run and bike. He tends to be someone who feels pretty awesome on a fast. You can aid ketosis during a water fast by exercising, so it is worth doing if you have the energy. I suggest you don’t over-do it until you can safely say you understand your own body’s response to fasting.
Listen to your body’s signs to end the fast. Despite how your energy levels feel, your body may tell you when it is time to stop. Let’s not mistake this with your mind’s lack of will to continue. Understand the difference in yourself. Don’t fight your body when it lets you know to end it.
After Your Fast
On completing your fast, it is important to gently reintroduce your body to food. Remember, your usual fuel burning systems have converted. You need to give your body time to change them back. On day 1, drink something like freshly squeezed orange juice to give yourself a good vitamin hit, and introduce your stomach to regular fuel again. Do this first, and wait several hours, continuing to drink lots of water.
Then introduce other fruit and vegetable juices throughout the day. Listen to your body. You may be able to convert back to solids by early evening. On day 2, you can return to solids. I recommend sticking to fruits, vegetables and decaffeinated teas. I enjoy baking a plain sweet potato to sooth my stomach as it gets back to work again. I also like plenty of miso soup, as it is thin and gentle on my stomach.
On day 3, you’re back to normal….whatever normal is for you.
If you’re considering a permanent change to your diet, like converting to vegetarian or vegan, doing so after a fast can be a great time to do it. You’ve cleaned up your system and reduced your habitual cravings already, making it easier to stick to your new dietary goals. If you failed to reach your fasting goals…..not to worry, there’s always another chance to try again in a few months. And the next time around, you’ll know more about yourself, so you’ll be better prepared.
Good luck and enjoy the experience!
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