Another side effect of fasting involves its transformative aspects and how they relate to personal life changes. Often we maintain certain relationships and attitudes toward other people or our careers by resisting inner guidance, feelings, and desires to do something new. Divorce, job changes, and moves are all more likely after fasts, because fasting often stimulates self-realization and change, enhances our potential, and leads us to focus on where we are going, rather than where we have been. During fasting transitions, many people question all aspects of their lives and make new plans for the future. They also have new sensitivity to and awareness of their job, mate, home, and so on. I warn fasters before they begin that these experiences may arise and their lives may change, especially when I sense that they are not really committed to or believe in what they are doing. Even though these insights and changes may be traumatic, my belief is that they are ultimately positive, as they support the evolutionary purpose of the human being. In this way, fasting helps us follow our true nature.
How to Fast
In the thousands of people I have observed during fasting and detox programs, the complications have been negligible, provided that proper procedures have been followed and attention paid to the ongoing body changes. Usually, people feel fine, even euphoric after a few days, although there may be ups and downs or various symptoms; yet, overall, in my experience, changes are positive.
The general plan for fasting works progressively, from a moderate approach for new fasters and unhealthy subjects to a stricter program for the more experienced. It is important to take the proper time with this potentially powerful process and not jump into a water fast from an average American carnivorous diet. Although many people do fine even if they make such extreme changes, it clearly maximizes the risks of fasting.
A sensible daily plan is one where fasting is mixed with eating. Each day can include a 12-14 hour period of fasting in the evening and during sleep before awakening and getting ready for the day. (Breakfast was given that name to denote the time where we break the fast of the night.) Many people eat very lightly or not at all in the early morning to extend their daily fast. This is more important if dinner or snacking tends to be extended into the later evening, though this is not ideal. On the other hand, if we eat a decent, not excessive, meal in the early evening and awaken hungry, a good breakfast can be consumed after water intake and some exercise.
In preparation for our first day of fasting, we may want to take a few days to eliminate some foods or habits from our diet. When many self-indulgent habits exist, longer preparations may be indicated. Eliminating alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and sugar if possible is very helpful, although some people choose to wait until their actual fast days to clear these. Red meats and other animal foods, including milk products and eggs, could be avoided for a day or two before fasting. Intake of most nutritional supplements can also be curtailed the day before fasting; these are usually not recommended during a fast. Many people do well by preparing for their fasts with three or four days of consuming only fruit and vegetable foods. These nourish and slowly detoxify the body so that the actual fasting will be less intense.
The first one-day fast (actually 36 hours, including the nights—from 8 p.m. one night until 8 a.m. the following day) gives us a chance to see what a short fast can be like, to see that it is not so very difficult and does not cause any major distress. Most people will feel a little hungry at times and may experience a few mild symptoms (such as a headache or irritability) by the end of the day, usually around late afternoon or dinnertime, but this depends on the individual and the state of toxicity. In actuality, the first two days are the hardest for most people. Feeling great usually begins around day three, so longer juice fasts are really needed for the grand experience.
One of the problems with fasting is that it can be the most difficult for those who need it the most, such as the regular three-square-meals-plus-snacks consumers who eat whatever and whenever they want. Often such people must start with more subtle diet changes and prepare even more slowly for fasting. A transition plan that can be used before even going on the one-day fast is the one-meal-a-day plan. The one daily meal is usually eaten around 3 p.m. Water, juices, and teas and even some fresh fruit or vegetable snacks can be eaten at other times. The one wholesome meal is not excessive or rich. It can be a protein-vegetable meal, such as fish and salad or steamed vegetables, or a starch-vegetable meal, such as brown rice and mixed steamed greens, carrots, celery, and zucchini. People on this plan start to detox slowly, lose some weight, and after a few days feel pretty sound. The chance of any strong symptoms developing, as might occur with fasting, is minimal with this type of transition, and the actual fast, when begun, will be handled more easily, also.
The goal, then, is to move into a one-day fast and then a few two- and three-day fasts with one or two days between them when light foods and more raw fruits and vegetables are consumed, and also provide fluids, juices, soups, and a generally alkaline cleansing diet. This way, we can build up to a five- to ten-day fast. When the transition is made this slowly, even a water fast can be less intense and more profound for those wishing a powerful personal and spiritual experience. With a water fast, however, I strongly suggest medical monitoring and retreating from usual daily life.
A juice fast, which I usually recommend, can be longer and is much easier for most people. The fresh juices of raw fruits and vegetables are what most fasting clinics and practitioners recommend. They provide calories and nutrients on which to function and build new cells, and also provide the inherent enzymes contained in these vital foods. (Food enzyme theories, discussed throughout this century, have recently been described in books such as Enzyme Nutrition by Dr. Edward Howell.) Raw foods are considered the healing force in our diet because they contain active enzymes, which are broken down when foods are cooked. Many health enthusiasts consider a raw-food diet the most healing and most nutritious diet.
For the inexperienced faster, it is best to go slowly through the various steps and to avoid being excessive or impatient so that we learn about ourselves in the process. To do this, we need to make a plan and put it into effect, observing or "listening" to our body and even keeping notes in a journal. Get to really know yourself. Then, once we have fasted successfully, we could continue to do one-day fasts weekly or a three-day fast every month if we need them. This helps to reconnect us with a better diet and to remotivate us toward our goal of optimum health.
In a more adventurous mode, many people, even some who have never fasted, begin with a seven- to ten-day or even longer fast on fresh juices. I recommend this for most people who have any of the indications and none of the contraindications discussed in this program (also see General Detoxification). People planning these longer fasts, especially inexperienced fasters who have been eating a random diet, should spend a period about equal in length to the planned fast preparing for it. During this preparatory period we can follow some of the previous suggestions, such as eliminating sugar and refined foods, fatty foods, chemicals, and drugs from the diet and reducing consumption of meats and other acid-forming foods, and then moving into several days of consuming primarily fruits and vegetables and more fluids. This will lead into an easier and more energizing fast.
For any cleansing period, it is essential to plan times to meditate, exercise, get fresh air and sunshine, clear our intestines, get massages, take baths, clean our house, brush our skin, and more. Maybe you thought you were going to sit back and relax and have juice delivered to your room? With less shopping, food preparation, and eating time, we have more hours in the day to take care of ourselves in other ways. These supportive aspects of cleansing are discussed further below.
Timing of Fasts
The two key times for natural cleansing are the times of transition into spring and autumn. (This is discussed in other sections of this book, such as in Chapter 9 on Diets and the General Detoxification program earlier in this chapter, and emphasized in
my first book, Staying Healthy With the Seasons.) In Chinese medicine, the transition time between the seasons is considered to be about ten days before and after the equinox or solstice. For spring, this period is about March 10 through April 1; for autumn, it is from about September 11 through October 2. In cooler climates, where spring weather begins later and autumn earlier, the fasting can be scheduled appropriately, as it is easier to do in warmer weather. With fasting, the body tends to cool down.
In the General Detoxification program, there is also a complete yearly cycle for cleansing with a variety of ideas and options. For spring, I usually suggest lemon and/or greens as the focus of the cleansing. Diluted lemon water, lemon and honey, or, my favorite, the Master Cleanser, could be used.
Spring Master Cleanser
|2 Tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice|
||1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup|
||¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper|
|8 ounces spring water|
Mix and drink 8-12 glasses a day. Eat or drink nothing else except water, laxative herb tea, and peppermint or chamomile tea.
Fresh fruit or vegetable juices diluted with an equal amount of water will also provide a good cleansing. Some vegetable choices are carrots, celery, beets, and lots of greens. Soup broths can also be used. Juices with blue-green algae, such as spirulina or chlorella, mixed in can provide more energy, as these are high-protein plants and easily assimilable.
Autumn is the second most important cleansing time, when we prepare for a new health program, focus on our career or school year, and let go of the fun and games of summer. At this time, a fast of at least three to five days can be done, using water or a variety of juices, including the Master Cleanser, apples and/or grapes (usually mixed with a little lemon and water to reduce sweetness), vegetable juices, and warm broths.
How do we know how long to fast? We may use a certain time plan, such as discussed above. Ideally, though, we should follow our own individual cycles and our body’s needs. As we gain some fasting experience, we should become attuned to when we need to strengthen or lighten our diet and when we need to cleanse. Usually, if we are under stress or have been overindulging or develop some congestive symptoms, we want to lighten our diet to balance this. If more changes are needed, a more cleansing, raw-food diet or a fast can be begun.
A special light, purifying soup is offered by Bethany ArgIsle.
Autumn Rejuvenation Ration
|3 cups spring water|
|1 Tablespoon ginger root, chopped|
|1-2 Tablespoons miso paste|
|1-2 stalks green onion, chopped|
|cilantro, to taste, chopped|
|1-2 pinches cayenne pepper|
|2 teaspoons olive oil|
|juice of ½ lemon|