by Celes Chua
In the past couple of days I’ve been reading up about fasting, specifically water fasting, with much interest. I intend to try a water fasting experiment myself next week and will be updating daily with a journal of my experience.
What’s Water Fasting?
Fasting is the process where you abstain from food and/or water for a set period of time. In water fasting, you don’t get to eat but you are free to drink as much water as you want. A popular form of fasting is juice fasting, where you consume nothing but juices (greens or fruit juice).
Fasting shouldn’t be confused with starving, where one suffers from severe lack of nutrition, vitamins and minerals. During fasting, your body burns your fat reserves (adipose) for energy. The person does not suffer any deficiency of protein, vitamins, minerals or fatty acids. Starving happens when a body has no reserve fat fuels to burn (happens for anyone with body fat from 5-10%) and starts eating into its own muscles and organs for energy instead. Carrington (Physical Culture, 1915) put it well in these words:
“Fasting is a scientific method of ridding the system of diseased tissue, and morbid matter, and is invariably accompanied by beneficial results. Starving is the deprivation of the tissues from nutriment which they require, and is invariably accompanied by disastrous consequences.”
Starving happens when fasting ends. The amount of time one can fast without going into starvation mode depends from individual to individual, such as the fat %, body weight, body condition and so on, but the average person can actually last 40 days just drinking water alone (with proper supervision of course; please do not attempt to do this yourself without doing due research first). According to A. J. Carlson, Professor of Physiology, University of Chicago, he states that a healthy, well-nourished man can live from 50 to 75 days without food, provided he is not exposed to harsh elements or emotional stress. Loren Lockman, the founder of a fasting center, has been supervising people through pasts in the past 10 years from fasts as short as a few days to as long as 10 weeks. If you do a simple search on Youtube for “fasting”, you’ll find vlogs of different people doing 10-day, 25-day and 40-day fasts.
Why fast? That’s a perfectly valid question. I first heard about fasting when I was young, in primary school. At a certain point in the year, there would be references to people who were fasting. For example, during PE classes, the teachers would exempt certain students from doing sports because they were fasting. Most Malay students would also not eat during recess breaks. I later found out that this was a practice followed by Muslims, whereby they would refrain from eating and drinking (from sunrise to sunset) for one month (Ramadan). This would happen every year.
At that time I never thought much about it. I thought it must be an act that required a lot of discipline and self-control, so I was respectful of those who followed that. I didn’t think I would be able to get through a day, from morning to night, without food. I’d probably die or become nutritionally deprived.
Fast forward to today, and things have changed .
Natural Way To Heal
In the past few days, I’ve been reading up about fasting. I’m quite intrigued to learn about the practice and the many purported benefits of fasting. Apparently, there is a small, but actively growing, interest in fasting as a holistic form of therapy and wellness. I won’t turn this article into a fasting literature, but suffice to say there have been many accounts on how fasting is the natural way for the body to heal. (I’ll include links and resources at the end of this post where you can check out) When left on its own, our body is actually capable of healing itself through many ailments and illnesses. Eating and taking medication interfere with our body’s natural ability to heal. This is why we rarely have appetites when we’re sick, because the body does not want to ingest anything and wants to go through the self-healing process. Check this excerpt by Loren:
…Virtually all symptoms that we experience are evidence that the body is attempting to heal itself. Sinus congestion, fever, swelling, even pain, are created by the body on purpose, and are nothing more than evidence that the body is working to address some problem and restore balance, or homeostasis. When the body is given an opportunity to cleanse and heal, all manner of symptoms may arise, and they often do.
Sometimes, those who don’t understand this will believe that the fast has made them sick. In fact, by ceasing to squander the body’s energy on unnecessary activities (including, temporarily, eating!), much more energy is available to cleanse and heal. The appearance of symptoms simply indicates that these processes have begun. It is always the body that heals itself. Remedies of all kinds generally treat symptoms, not causes, and it is only by eliminating the cause of a problem that we can expect to solve the problem.
Taking a decongestant may relieve the discomfort, but it does nothing to eliminate the actual problem, which was a toxic substance in the body. With its means of elimination paralyzed by the drug, the body is forced to store these toxins, furthering the body’s build-up of them, and eventually creating chronic disease.
If you’ve been eating a Standard American Diet for 20, 30, 40 years or more, your body probably has a lot of stored debris. Additionally, as the body becomes overburdened with the toxins brought in from outside (exogenous) sources from our diet, water, and the environment, it’s also becoming overburdened with toxins created inside the body (endogenous). These endogenous toxins are the waste products of cellular metabolism. When a system is heavily burdened, it’s unable to process and eliminate the cellular wastes quickly enough, and these wastes build up.
These very same toxins are kept in our fat cells, or our adipose tissues. Since we’re constantly eating every day, we provide our bodies with a ready stream of energy (food is converted to glucogen through glycogenolysis), which leaves our bodies with little reason to break down our adipose tissues. Glucose is our body’s immediate preferred fuel. Only by cutting out our glucose source (by not eating or by reducing our caloric intake) will our body turn to our fat reserves for energy (this process is called catabolism). This is when the toxins finally get processed, broken down and released, resulting in a physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthier you.
Immense Benefits of Fasting: Mental Clarity, Increased Creativity, etc
My interest in taking on fasting is multiple-fold. Firstly, I’m very curious about the many benefits I’m reading about fasting and would like to test it out for myself to see if they’re true. I’ve been reading accounts of how people feel heightened levels of mental clarity, significantly increased creative output, inner calmness, a new-found relationship with themselves, supremely vivid dreams, and so on during their fasts. These tend to happy from Day 3 onwards of their fast. One of the big reasons is because since there’s nothing to digest, our body stops diverting energy to our digestive systems and instead directs them to our brain, leading to higher level output (i.e. thinking and creative work).
In particular, I’m quite keen about the whole benefit of “increased creative output” :D. I’ve been experiencing increased bouts of creativity and “flow” with the raw food diet, so I can imagine how much stronger it’d be during a water or juice fast (where the body doesn’t need to digest the food).
Secondly, I’m also quite keen about the whole emotional and physical purging process. I can imagine my body has lots of toxins piled up from all the years of eating meat products (before I turned vegetarian), and then all the cooked/fried stuff I ate (before I turned to a raw diet). It’d be nice to do some major cleansing in my system through this fast, kind of like a system reboot.
When I first went on a 21-day raw-food trial back in 2009, I went through a phase in the middle where I had a sudden craving for meat. That was immensely bizarre because I had totally no desire whatsoever to eat meat ever since I switched to a vegetarian diet in Jan ’08! In my mind I was going “What the f* is this about?!” After pushing past it, that craving suddenly disappeared totally and in its place were anger and latent memories of a past experience (which I subsequently processed and would eventually blog about here). This was one of the first times when I realized that many physical sensations (including hunger, cravings, ailments) are actually unprocessed emotional and mental baggage that manifest themselves on a physical level. Given that food is something that we ingest daily to become part of our body, and that food/eating is commonly advertised as a synonym for happiness/love, it’s not surprising that a lot of our issues get buried in food/eating as well. So I’m really quite curious to see what comes out of experiment this time with fasting, where I’m not going to get to eat at all.
Weight loss is obviously something one would experience during a fast since you’re not eating anything. I’m not really looking at this as a benefit to get out of fasting since majority of the accounts I read mentioned that they regained most of the weight after reverting to their regular diet. If I get to keep the weight off that’s nice, otherwise I figure the raw diet is already helping me lose weight (vs. my previous diet) as it is.
Enabling Others To Learn and Grow
The third reason is that I’m always looking to explore new territories of growth and to share them here so others can learn from my experiences. By taking on the fast and publicly sharing them here at TPEB, I can imagine that this will be a helpful resource to those who might be interested to try this for themselves in the future. I know I’ve found Steve Pavlina’s raw food journals helpful in my foray into raw foodism, so I believe that these fasting journals will be helpful for others in time to come.
Building a New Relationship With Food
And fourthly (somewhat related to the 2nd reason), I’m interested to build a new relationship with food. After moving into raw foods, it made me see food in a whole new light and made me realize how much I was using food as an emotional outlet (even more so than I realized). It also made me understand on a whole new level what it really feels to be hungry and require food, vs. when it’s just a desire to eat and fill out an emotion. The answer is that probably 99.9% of the time it’s the latter and not the former. The fact that pretty much all processed foods and cooked foods include sugar, salt and additives in one way or another and they affect our sense of true hunger, which aggravates emotional eating problems.
I read with interest of Frederick (a raw vegan expert)’s 23-day fasting account, where he lost the physical sensation of hunger after the first 3 days. For the remaining 20 days, he literally stopped feeling hungry for food. I thought that must be a really interesting state to be in – it basically rips apart everything we hear about food and eating today, where we need to have 3 meals a day, that skipping a meal is bad for health, and so on and so forth.
Fasting, not eating food, will probably make me see food in a different light than how I’m seeing it now. The people who’ve undergone fasting talked about how they felt hunger in the first 1-3 days and stopped feeling any physical hunger after that. It also made them realize what true hunger really felt like (hint – it’s not what we’d think it is). Someone who has a true ideal relationship with food and his/her body will eat only when required, stop when body is full, not experience any sudden cravings or desire to eat, and will be in a healthy body weight and fat percentage, because the body has no use for any excess fat whatsoever (unless you live in an extremely cold climate like Antarctica).
I intend to fast for 3 days, starting from next Mon, 9am (7 Feb) to Thu, 9am (10 Feb). I’ll not eat anything in these 3 days and will only drink water. I guess that means eating while I can during Chinese New Year tomorrow and the day after . If everything goes well, I might continue on the fast to 5 days or even 7 days. I don’t intend to go anywhere beyond 7 days, though I’ll see how it goes.
I just posted about my fasting experiment in the forums yesterday and so far a few members have expressed interest in joining in. If you’re interested to participate (even if for a day), feel free to join us in the forums. Even if you’re not, you are still invited to join in the discussions. Note that isn’t meant as a big scale challenge like 30DLBL or 21DHL but a personal experiment that I’m sharing with everyone at the blog. Join in if you want to; otherwise you can just watch if you prefer. Either way I’ll be doing the fasting experiment and sharing it with you guys.
I intend to post about my fasting experience via daily logs at TPEB. During this experiment, I’ll share what I’m going through as transparently as I can, from the pros to the cons. I intend for the journals to be helpful to those who are curious about fasting or who intend to try out fasting themselves in the future.
Most reactions surrounding a fasting decision will probably be rooted in fear. I know because I can imagine myself reacting that way if someone tells me that he/she wants to fast.”What? You want to fast? No! It’s dangerous! You’ll die! It’s not good to go hungry!”
As I’ve mentioned above, our body has sufficient fat reserves to last us for 40 days, with some even stretching as long as 10 weeks. Our body will not burn muscle as an act of natural preservation. By default, our body follows this set process to get energy:
1) Glycogenolysis (Normal eating – Energy from glucose)-> 2) Catabolism (Fasting – Energy from fat storage) -> 3) Starvation Mode (Starvation – Energy from muscles)
Each pound of fat is 3,500 calories, so that’s quite a lot of calories for the body to burn during the fast before it’ll ever resort to burning from muscles. Only when there are no more fat reserves left (less than 7% or 10% body fat for males and females respectively – Wiki), will the body then turn to burning muscles and organs for energy (which is starvation and highly dangerous – most fasting should end well before this)
I’m well in the acceptable weight range with sufficient body fat that can be burned before I enter starvation mode. Girls tend to have higher fat reserves than guys, though it’s really a case-by-case scenario based on your weight, fat percentage and physical condition.
Of course, I’m also not going to press-on and force myself not to eat if I’m convulsing and suffering some averse bodily reactions or anything like that. I’ll stop if I think something seems amiss. After all, disciplining myself is really not my forte at all!
From what I’ve read, the first 1-3 days are the hardest because that’s when your body adjusts to not getting energy from glucose. After the initial adjustment is done, the physical sensation of hunger disappears. The days beyond should be progressively easy, as long as I keep my activity level light. Since the body is in a fat-burning metabolism (vs. a glucose-burning metabolism), my energy is best conserved for brain work. I might go for light strolls, but otherwise that’s about it.
If you’re interested to join in the fast, do spend some time to read up (I’ve provided resources below) and proceed at your own risk. It goes without saying that fasting is notfor pregnant ladies, thin/extremely thin people who have limited fat reserves, people taking heavy medication, people with severe illnesses and conditions, etc. When in doubt, consult a medical healthcare expert!
As preparation for my fast next Monday, I intend to eat minimal fruits and juice over the weekends. This will help me ease into the 3-day fast or however long it’s going to be. As mental preparation, I’ve been trying out a light fast on just oranges and apples today and it’s going well so far.
At the end of the fast, I’ll slowly break out of it by first taking in fruit juices, and later on fruit. Eventually I’ll resume with regular raw meals after 1-2 days. Basically you should consume things that are easiest on your digestive system as it eases back into regular mode. So juices -> fruits -> vegetables -> cooked food -> diary -> meat-based food (if you eat meat).
Some Fasting Resources
If you’re interested to read more about fasting, here are some additional resources:
That’s it for now! If you’ve anything to share in the topic, join us in the forums to continue the discussions!