What Is a Fast?

Reader Contribution by Erik Thiel

Fasting is a great way to energize the body and mind and to tune it in for the changing seasons. With spring’s longer days and longer to-do lists around the corner, I could use a push-and-a-shove and would happily fall face first into a pile of motivation. Fasting is that push-and-a-shove and what follows is a period of increased motivation.

Before getting into the core and science of what fasting is, let’s talk about what it’s not. Although it has become popularized through celebrities and marketed by corporations, it is not primarily a weight-loss diet. It is also not a one-way dead end street to God’s house. Yes, it may assist some people in losing weight or in walking a spiritual path, but by no means is fasting going to keep that weight gone for long or the mind fixed on God forever. Even a skinny atheist will benefit from a fast.

Defining a Fast

Fasting is a cleansing for the physical body. Just like an automobile needs a tune-up, so does the body. To get the best gas mileage, a vehicle’s tires must be properly inflated, the air filter must be cleaned, and the oil needs changed every so many miles. Although the vehicle may still run with low air pressure, dirty filters, and old oil, it will not operate at peak performance. After a less-than optimal life, it will soon enough die. But if that same vehicle receives regular tune-ups, its life expectancy will be increased, along with the quality of each ride. Same with the body.

I know the human body does not have tires, air filters, or engine oil, but it does have tissues, blood, and organs. Everything from the air humans breathe to the food humans eat contains different levels of contaminants that continue to build up. Although the body naturally relieves itself of many toxins, it can never be fully relieved unless the amount of contaminants entering the body are dramatically decreased. By not chewing or eating any food for a chosen number of days, the digestive tract goes on vacation and all organs get time off. Extra energy becomes available within the body and that energy is re-directed towards removing toxins and healing organs.

Fasting is not eating, but the body is still getting vitamins and minerals through fluids. And water. According to Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by James and Phyllis Balch, they recommend to fast for three days a month and to follow a 10-day fast, at least twice a year. For me, that sounds extreme. (I’m not an atheist, but I sure am skinny.)

Science of Fasting

In today’s world, toxins are impossible to avoid, but with a little fasting know-how, toxins built up in the body can be removed and no one needs to be a nutritionist, a doctor, or plastic surgeon to do it. It can be done in the comfort of a home while following a daily routine. Once the digestive system begins to experience a rest from food, many natural processes take effect. According to Prescription for Nutritional Healing, the following happens:

The natural process of toxin excretion continues, while the influx of new toxins is reduced. This results in a reduction of total body toxicity.

The energy usually used for digestion is redirected to immune function, cell growth, and eliminatory processes.

The immune system’s workload is greatly reduced, and the digestive tract is spared any inflammation due to allergic reactions to food.

Due to a lowering of serum fats that thins the blood, tissue oxygenation is increased and white blood cells are moved more efficiently.

Fat-stored chemicals, such as pesticides and drugs, are released.

Physical awareness and sensitivity to diet and surroundings are increased.

In my own experience, once I begin a fast I feel like I can feel how each part of my body works on an independent level. I do get irritable, lazy, and weak once the toxins jump out of my tissues into my bloodstream and begin the removal process. The removal process alone is quite a process. Since the body is not digesting food it is not removing stuff the same way and will require extra attention. Some common things to aid in the removal process are enemas and herbal teas during the fast or taking fiber supplements before and after the fast. Salt water flushes also work great and have become my chosen method of removal while fasting.

Types of Fasts

In Gandhi’s day, it was common for people to fast on water alone. I have no desire to experience how that may feel. This type of fast is not recommended, according to Prescription for Nutritional Healing, because toxins will be released too quickly and fresh vitamins, minerals, and enzymes will be lacking, causing headaches and worse.

I have followed a 3-day juice fast and a 3-day master cleanse and the master cleanse gave me much more energy. This fast permits the body to drink water mixed with grade B maple syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. Each ingredient aids the body to remove toxins and heal, in combination with a salt water flush first thing each morning.

The 3-day juice fast was a bit more demanding. I lost count of how many times I had to clean produce, juice the produce, break down the juicer, clean the juicer … I felt like there was less time to rest which added to the feelings of weakness and irritability. It was also more expensive than the master cleanse; however, I would love to try this fast in the summer when produce is available both in season and local.

The most important thing about fasting are the days before and after the fast. Don’t expect to eat a steak, cheese fries, and a big bowl of ice cream as a last meal before a fast, whether it’s for 5-days or one. According to Prescription for Nutritional Healing, eating raw fruits and vegetables two days before the fast will cause less of a shock to the body. Also, if cooked foods are eaten right after the fast, the beneficial results may not be so beneficial in the end.

My Own Experience

For me, two days before the fast I’ll limit myself to one cup of coffee in the morning. I’ll also cut out junk food and sugar and I’ll eat a big salad for dinner. The next day, the day before the fast, is when I get strict. No caffeine, lots of green smoothies, and a 100 percent raw food salad. If I need a snack, I eat an apple, which helps me with caffeine and sugar withdrawal, or some almonds and dried cranberries.

Then the fast is on. (Sometimes near the end I get the urge to create elaborate grocery lists in preparation for when I can eat again. I do not recommend feeding these thoughts.)

I always break the fast with fresh made orange juice, except this juice has all the pulp still in it. Feeling the digestive system go back to work is mind-blowing, like going to one of those museums where human veins, tissues, and organs are all on display for the still-alive humans to observe, except it’s like observing it from the seat of the dead, as if I could consciously observe the inside of my body to not only know what it looks like, but to know what it feels like, functioning, at the same moment. It’s definitely a little out there in comparison to normal, everyday sense-awareness. Even fun.

After orange juice, I’ll eat small pieces of fruit. The stomach shrinks and the amount of digestive fluid the body needs to digest food decreases during the fast. Working back up to large portions and cooked foods is a slow process, yet another great benefit of fasting. The body gets used to raw vegetables and fruits, and it starts to tell the mind that this is the food it wants. Of course the mind always wins and in a few days, coffee and bakery treats are re-introduced. But the urges for healthier food choices at least tends to linger.

I once did a 5-day fast but I looked Gandhi-skinny and it mentally scared me a bit. Physically, it felt great. The weight and muscle came back in less than 2 weeks. According to Prescription for Nutritional Healing, fasting for more than three days should only be done under qualified supervision. I agree. Most recently, I followed a one day fast and that, too, was a well-worth experience.

According to the Prescription for Nutritional Healing, the length of the fast will accomplish different things. A three-day fast helps the body rid itself of toxins and cleanses the blood. A five-day fast begins the process of healing and rebuilding the immune system. A ten-day fast can take care of many problems before they arise and help to fight off illness, including common degenerative diseases.

And according to me, even a one day fast will energize the body and mind and tune it in for spring. I’ll physically and mentally be buzzing with energy along with the bees and blossoming flowers.

Please do much research on fasting before attempting it alone. I am not a nutritionist, doctor, or plastic surgeon and I only intend to share my experience. For more information on fasting, check out Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Also check out this website for more information on how to prepare for the master cleanse, along with the salt water flush recipe.

To check out what’s happening in the garden, visit my blog. Thank you.

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