To Fast or Not? For How Long?

Want to stir up a really heated debate between doctors and natural healers? Bring up the subject of fasting.  In general, the medical community considers fasting a ‘starvation diet’, which is unsafe and very bad for you.  They are right in that anorexic – bulimic behavior really is hard on your system, but fasting is not starvation. On the other hand, natural healing practitioners believe that the body can heal itself without pharmaceutical or surgical intervention. Fasting is one tool in that healing process. However, even within the natural healing community there is a wide range of opinions on what is the ‘correct’ fasting diet.

I have done fasts as short as one day, but usually five days and as long as 28 days. I have never done a ‘water only’ fast.  Water only fasts can pull toxins from your system faster than they can be cleared out resulting in a severe ‘healing crisis’ or Herxheimer’s reactions.  I have done fasts for their own sake and as part of a detoxification ‘cleanse’.  Dr. James Balch, MD & wife Phyllis Balch, C.N.C. in their book “Prescription for Nutritional Healing”, recommend: 1.  a three day fast to help the body rid itself of toxins and cleanse the blood; 2. a five day fast to begin the process of healing and rebuilding the immune system and; 3. a ten day fast to prevent problems before they arise and fight off illnesses, including degenerative diseases that have become so common in our chemically polluted environment.

Fasting one day a week on watered down juice or a vegetable broth gives your digestive tract a ‘day off’ in which it can relax and restore itself.  Fasting for three days may help the body cleanse itself, if you eat a cleansing diet of fresh fruit or juice (not canned or artificially sweetened) and vegetable broth, but the body does not start consuming stored fat and digesting unwanted foreign protein until day four or five.  In terms of overcoming the sense of deprivation, days one through three have always been the hardest for me.  After that, a sense of ‘being in the flow’ of the fast sets in and most cravings fall away.  However, I do maintain a constant intake of water, green and herbal teas, juice (watered down by 1/2) and vegetable broth.  I also maintain a vitamin supplementation and a small amount of bulk fiber (usually psyllium, but sometimes a banana).  Here, I disagree with Balch & Balch.  I believe (especially on ten day and longer fasts) that chemical toxins and body wastes are being dumped into the colon and need to be swept clear of the body before being reabsorbed.  The psyllium also helps reduce the ’empty’ feeling one may experience during a prolonged fast. 

No one recommends that you fast for more than three days without the supervision of a qualified health care practitioner. Lactating and pregnant women should never fast.  If you are experiencing acute symptoms of pain, weakness, fever or have diabetes, hypoglycemia or other chronic health conditions, consult your doctor before engaging in even a short fast.  Otherwise, sensible fasting can be a short cut to feeling better quickly.

For a more in depth discussion of the physiology of fasting go to this three part post.

       1. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, James F. Balch, MD & Phyllis A. Balch, CNC, Avery Publishing Group, Garden City Park, NY, 1993.
       2. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine – Fasting, 2nd ed.. Douglas Dupler, MA, Gale Group, 2002.

Don Gillmore, Licensed Massage Therapist(15 yrs), B.S.- Life Sciences

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One Response to “To Fast or Not? For How Long?”

  1. […] reasons for fasting and what may be accomplished in various time frames in my previous post ‘To Fast or Not? For How Long?’ Here I will focus on the physiological changes that take place during a […]