Fasting has become my number one tool when it comes to my health. While fasting can be a single event, I have found it to be more of a journey. Learn more about the health benefits of fasting!
Animals intuitively know to refrain from food when they are sick. But sometimes we miss the obvious—that our food decisions dramatically impact our health. As Hippocrates said,
Everyone has a doctor in him or her; we just have to help it in its work. The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food. But to eat when you are sick, is to feed your sickness.—Hippocrates, M.D., 460–377 BC, Father of Western Medicine
My Fasting Experience
As one who grew up in the ’60s with boxed foods and TV dinners galore, I was never without food. I didn’t miss a meal and snacked throughout the day. When I traveled to Europe for 10 weeks in 1979, I experienced real hunger for the first time. I learned that my body could go without food for brief periods of time. I lost weight and felt better.
When I returned to the States, I resorted to my old eating patterns. This time I snacked on healthy foods, but didn’t consider fasting until my health declined in 2008. (Read the story of our toxic mold exposure here.)
As we altered our lifestyle and diet, I attempted my first fast in 2009. I fasted for 2 1/2 days on green juice. I was nervous and unsure. But I felt the benefit immediately. By relieving stress on my digestive system, my brain cleared and my mood improved. My energy soared.
We started the Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet in 2010. The GAPS diet is essentially a fast from processed foods, grains, and sugar. GAPS introduction consists primarily of homemade meat stock and vegetables. My body responded well to GAPS, and I found myself returning to the GAPS intro whenever I felt my body go “off.” (See more in the previous post Diet and Mental Health.)
Fasting was becoming an integral part of my life.
In December 2014, I tried my first seven-day cleanse based on the protocol outlined in Dr. Bernard Jensen’s book Dr. Jensen’s Guide to Better Bowel Care: A Complete Program for Tissue Cleansing Through Bowel Management. Combining fasting with colon cleansing, I experienced dramatic relief. I also learned that I can fast. I didn’t do it perfectly, but my fasting journey went to the next level.
My next step was to try a month-long fast from eating in the evening. I noticed that I fell asleep more quickly. Soon a short-term experiment became a lifelong habit. I drink herbal tea at night and no longer think about eating after dinner.
Recently, I noticed the return of bad eating habits. Too much snacking and emotional attachment to food. I was drawn to “carbier” foods and had little interest in nourishing ones.
My mood deteriorated. Everything felt out of control.
I decided the one thing I can control is my food intake. I returned to the Bernard Jensen fast/cleanse and followed it to a T. It was the best I had ever done! Fasting is truly a skill to be learned. It begins with small steps and a determination to move forward despite setbacks.
The Health Benefits of Fasting
Research suggests that fasting allows the body to clean itself and regenerate. Autophagy is the technical term for this. From the Greek auto-, “self,” and phagein, “to eat,” autophagy is the “natural, destructive mechanism that disassembles, through a regulated process, unnecessary or dysfunctional cellular components.” (From Wikipedia.)
Fasting stimulates autophagy in the body as well as the brain. In the study Short Term Fasting Induces Profound Neuronal Autophagy, the authors note that autophagy is upregulated in the brain as well as the liver.
The increased abundance of autophagosomes in Purkinje cells was confirmed using transmission electron microscopy. Our data lead us to speculate that sporadic fasting might represent a simple, safe and inexpensive means to promote this potentially therapeutic neuronal response.
No wonder my brain feels much clearer during a fast!
Autophagy declines with age, which is one more reason fasting may be beneficial for those of us in the “older” population. (See Autophagy Key to Restoring Function in Old Muscle Stem Cells.)
Fasting has even been deemed beneficial during cancer treatment, as well as for cancer prevention. (See Intermittent Fasting in the Treatment of Cancer.)
More Fast Specifics
The following points are excerpted from the book Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford.
- Use pure water and foods. Freshly pressed juices are preferable, although unrefined, organic, bottled juices may be used.
- Chew food very well. This includes “chewing” liquids—mixing them with saliva—before swallowing.
- The quantity of liquid or food can be somewhat determined by your intuition, which is remarkably heightened while fasting. Nevertheless, in fasts on whole fruits, vegetables, or grains, never eat to the point of feeling full. Try eating no more than twice daily unless very hungry.
- Daily enemas are traditional with fasts. They are often useful for those with slow digestion, although they are not as important for those fasting on grains, vegetables, or fruit as for those on tea, water, or juices. Headaches that occur during fasting can be caused by stagnant intestines. In this case, enemas are a speedy recovery. (Personal note: I have found enemas to be helpful during longer fasts. See Health Benefits of Coffee Enemas.)
- Other helpful processes that assist in cleaning are dry-brush treatments, baths, and saunas; walks and moderate exercise; sun and air baths.
- Complete a series of small fasts before attempting a long one.
- Start and break the fast gradually by taking one-third of the length of the fast on each end of the fast (one day for a three-day fast) to add foods from other groups.
Not everyone should fast. Listen to your intuition as you consider short, medium, or long fasts. Those who are nutritionally deprived or experiencing severe physical debilitation should work with a qualified health practitioner. Paul Pitchford concludes,
Regardless of the fasting procedures, the vitally important factors are the attitude and learning during the fast, including the conviction to make what was learned a part of daily life.
Fasting has become my “go-to” when I feel off. It is the number one tool in my arsenal when it comes to my health.
Benjamin Franklin may have said it best: “To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.”
I discuss my fasting journey in this episode of The Connecting Place.