Some swear by it as the cure for every ailment. Some only do it when they are stranded by accident in the woods and can’t catch a chipmunk. For those who have never tried it, it sounds, at the best, intriguing, or at the worst, miserable. For those who embrace it, it is enlightening, empowering, and healing.
Let’s peel back all the hype and just look at the basics of fasting. Are there health benefits? Absolutely… when done correctly.
Fasting can be as complex or simple as you make it. Some people consider cutting a certain food group or favorite indulgence out of their diet a type of fasting. Others think fasting should be performed for religious reasons and nothing should enter the mouth—not even water. Since the first is much too broad and the second is only for the devoutly called, I will focus on a fasting that is a bit more mainstream. The two most well-established types of fasting are juice fasts and water fasts.
The name is self explanatory: you just drink water for a set number of days. I have only done one long water fast in my life; I didn’t follow the rules and started the fast when I was working a very physically-demanding job. I made it to day five, and then broke it.
If you decide to do a water fast, I highly recommend doing so when you don’t have to do large amounts of physical exertion. I was a sales rep that walked throughout offices carrying multiple 25-pound boxes of product, and I also got a shipment in my storage shed during my fast of over fifty heavy cases that I had to unload and stack by myself. By the final day, every time I got out of my car, I had to lean against it for a few minutes to make the world stop spinning.
The main benefit people claim from water fasts is the body’s ability to detox with the energy normally utilized for digestion. Your GI system also gets a needed break. I did lose weight quickly on the water fast, which was another nice benefit, and the hunger pains stopped after the second day. I felt miserable most of the time, however, with headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and general weakness. I tried to push through it, as I couldn’t slow down due to work. Had I done it correctly and rested, I’m sure my experience would have been much different. Those who swear by water fasting say they notice a clarity of mind, peacefulness, increased energy, weight loss, and general healing as positive results.
Juice fasting is done by using a juicer to extract fruit and vegetable juices from fresh produce. You then drink different recipes throughout the fast. It is a much gentler way to fast vs. straight water fasting, in my experience. You don’t slow down your metabolism as much as you would drinking only water, as you still consume calories and important nutrients from the juices.
I am a much bigger fan of juicing and have completed multiple juice fasts. My longest fast was 14 days: while drinking just juice, I experienced many of the amazing benefits of fasting with no unpleasant side effects. I felt healthy, energetic, calm, and lost weight. I was even able to run light training 5Ks during the fasting, although my times were not as impressive as on my regular diet. Other people, whom I have coached through juice fasts, report similar benefits.
One of the best sites that I have found for information about juicing is Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. The site was created from a documentary about a very sick Australian man who did a 60-day juice fast while on a trip to America, and turned his health around. I have utilized this site and free information for most of my recipes and as a resource during my fasts.
While fasting may seem crazy to some, its benefits can’t be ignored. I have personally experienced the rewards of doing a fast the correct way, and the drawbacks of fasting the wrong way. My best advice is to do your own research and check with your doctor to determine if fasting is the right course for your health.