Is Fasting Healthy?

Is Fasting Healthy?

Fasting is an ancient practice used for religious events as well as during time of health and disease.  It is the bodies natural way to let go and detox.  

It is different from starvation because of intention.  Meaning that when we fast we have the intention to best serve our living organism; to let go, detox and ultimately create space.  Fasting can be done with food, talk or anything that we seem to need to rest from doing.

This blog focuses on a technique that I have used for decades with clients to help them revitalize their metabolism and renew their vitality; that technique is fasting.

A lot has been written about fasting. A lot of it as good for you as junk food. But the overall principal is the same in all of them: the body needs time to rest from the daily activity of digestion.

Fasting has been the subject of much of my research for more than ten years. I know about the physiology of fasting and about its psychological effects. I’ve fasted myself numerous times, always keeping journals  of my experience. Here’s what I’ve found:

When we stop eating, our body goes into autolysis-self- digestion after the first three days. It begins to break down much of its worn-out, aged tissue, and it eliminates toxins through the bowels and skin. Drinking plenty of water is vital during a fast, and I found that fresh, diluted fruit and vegetable juices, which help with cleansing and nourishment, kept me feeling vital.

Most people fast for the wrong reasons, though, and don’t recognize the side effects. Lengthy fasting is not the ideal way to cleanse the body nor lose weight (though you will lose weight). And sudden fasts (“Wow! I’ve gained three pounds in a week. Better not eat anything for three days so I can lose them”) sends the body into shock-like showering in ice water after a heavy exercise.

The worst results come after the fast ends. The faster, proud of herself and, indeed, having lost a pound or two, immediately begins to binge on the very foods that caused her to panic earlier in the week. “I can eat again,” she tells herself, “and if I gain too much weight, I can always go on another fast.”

So we must remember that fasting is not a technique to be used to negate bad eating habits. The fast-famine spiral puts a strain on your entire system causing irregular moods and emotions due to the stress of not being in balance.

What Research Tells Us

The practice of  eating and fasting will send the body into a metabolic imbalance. In effect, her liver tries to accommodate nutrient fluctuations,  but does not know what was happening to it. The body works optimally when it is on a regular schedule, with few if any surprises. Regularity is the best way to cultivate a stable mind, too, since the brain is the organ to send signals to the entire body when the blood sugar levels are off.  So I have modified the fast for seven nights per week-that is, every night.

As I mention in Feeling Good Matters, the overnight fast, lasting from six P.M. to breakfast (which, remember, is not eaten directly upon arising), gives the body time to cleanse itself without shock treatment. People like to fast-it makes them feel renewed-but if they do it for long periods, they tend to overeat when they stop. With the overnight fast, there is no such tendency. And the therapeutic value is greater. The overnight fast leads to a gradual diminution of appetite rather than the food craving one feels after an extended fast, and it provides enough time for the digestive system to rest for the morning’s rejuvenation.

Researchers feel that the overnight fast as described here may contribute to cell renewal to counter oxidative DNA damage caused by free radicals. You’ll be rejuvenating your metabolic process, and as a by-product, you’ll be training your mind, for if you allow yourself to eat every time your mind tells you that a bite of food would “go good just about now” you’ll never train it to be still.

And when you wake up your digestion has been self-cleaning for some twelve hours (do the math: In the course of twenty-one days, you’d be “fasting” for nearly eleven of them!). Break the fast with fresh fruit juice (if you feel you need more of a cleansing because you did eat late the night before) or the more nourishing vegetable juice.

Some guidelines that I use with clients are:

Do not create a metabolic disturbance by over doing it.  What do I mean by overdoing it? Many people attempt to detox blindly not considering what the body needs during a detox.  Therefore, my number one suggestion for fasting is to practice what I term the overnight fast. That is for a healthy person — meaning one that is not rehabilitating from sickness or disease—should eat very light in the evening if at all.  This requires a few guidelines for success.

  1.     Assess your situation.  Do you eat close to bedtime.   Do you wake up fatigued, do you carry excess weight, do you have trouble sleeping?  
  2.     Have one-two freshly prepared meals per day with a complete lunch.  The body needs nutrients to cleanse and detox.  You cannot practice the overnight fast if you just ate a salad for lunch.  There will not be enough nutrients to sustain you.
  3.     Include freshly made teas and pure water throughout the day.  This helps flush out any toxins that may act as a stimulate to encourage snacking and eating throughout the day into the evening.
  4.     Utilize supplements skillfully based on your need.  We usually search for food when we have an underlying deficiency.
  5.     Learn to meditate.  Fill your eating time with relaxation and meditation.  Your liver will love it.

Fasting on a daily basis between meals and in the evening is a sure way to stay healthy and alert.  By practicing the overnight fast you allow your body to do the housecleaning and your mind to rest.  Practice it for one month and you would have fasted a total of 11 days.  That is quite an accomplishment while at the same time not disturbing your metabolism.

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