‘Fasting is a fiery weapon.’ Mahatma Gandhi
Fasting has been used both as a religious and medical practice for thousands of years. Ancient Chinese, Greek, and Roman physicians suggested fasting for medicinal purposes. The great spiritual traditions recognize the merits of fasting. Today fasting is recommended by physicians and therapists for physical, mental, and spiritual health.
As described in the Merriam Webster Dictionary, fasting is ‘to eat sparingly or abstain from some foods.’ That is, we do not eat some or all food and drink or both for a while. In that sense, we all fast some way or another during our lifetimes. For instance, fasting is recommended before surgical or other procedures or medical tests.
One of the early supporters of water fasting is the American writer Mark Twain. He wrote, “A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can the best medicines and the best doctors. I do not mean a restricted diet; I mean total abstention from food for one or two days.”
Water fasting, also known as a water cleanse, is a type of fasting in which you consume only water for a while. Many cleansing diets are called as fasts, but in water fasting, your calorie intake is zero. Water fasting is a period when a person eats no food and drinks only water. Water Fasting may help you with weight loss, but is it safe, and do the effects last long-term?
Why Do People Do Water Fasting?
People may undertake water fasting to lose weight, for spiritual or religious reasons, or to heal from particular health problems. Nowadays, water fasting has become popular in the natural health and wellness movements, often alongside meditation.
If you want to do water fasting, especially for medical reasons, you should take a recommendation from a health professional who is familiar with water fasting. When you water fast under professional supervision following specific guidelines, it is also called therapeutic fasting.
In water (therapeutic) fasting, the health professional asks about your health history and make a physical examination. During water fasting, patients are monitored daily, and if necessary, the health professional may terminate the fast. Compared to an unsupervised fast, a supervised fast has an increased probability of being successful, particularly emotionally and physically.
‘We live in disordered times, complicated, distracted, and demanding… Whether in prayer or meditation, in visualization, fasting, or song, we need to step out of our usual roles, out of the busy days on automatic pilot.’
Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist teacher, and psychotherapist
Benefits of Water Fasting
Researches show that water fasting promotes autophagy and may lower the risk of many chronic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer, etc. Autophagy is a process in which old parts of your cells are broken down and recycled. Several animal studies suggest that autophagy may also help extend life span. Autophagy also triggers the immune system to start producing new white blood cells. As we already know, white blood cells are a crucial component of your body’s immune system. So, water fasting helps you reboot your immune system.
Researches also suggest that extended and medically supervised water fasting may lower blood pressure, which will help people with high blood pressure.
Water fasting may also improve insulin and leptin sensitivity. Insulin and leptin are essential hormones that affect the body’s metabolism. Improved insulin sensitivity means that your body efficiently reduces its blood sugar levels. Meanwhile, being more leptin sensitive could help your body process hunger signals more efficiently, and in turn, lower your risk of obesity.
Is it Safe to Water Fast?
When you want to undertake water fasting, you should check with a physician whether you are suitable for doing water fasting. Although there are potential health benefits of water fasting, people who should not fast, or who should seek advice from a medical professional before water fasting include older adults, those under 18, and those who:
- have an eating disorder
- are underweight
- are pregnant or breast-feeding
- have heart problems
- have Type 1 diabetes
- have uncontrolled migraines
- are undergoing a blood transfusion
- are taking specific medication; seek the advice of a doctor
When You are Water Fasting
Water fasting can be mentally and physically challenging, so people must prepare themselves by:
- eating well before the fast, with foods that are high in energy
- reserving a time that will allow for rest
- avoiding fasting if feeling unwell or very tired
- avoiding demanding exercise
- considering building up to a fast slowly, for example by reducing the size of meals and following a vegan diet for at least a week
- If you have not done water fasting before, you should consider doing water fasting under medical supervision.
It is essential to drink enough water during the fast, and you should spread this out throughout the day. However, you should not drink more than usual during water fasting since it can be harmful rather than useful.
You may feel tired and low on energy since water fasting deprives the body of the fuel it needs. Especially if you are taking long-duration water fasting, you may feel dizzy, weak, irritable, or nauseous. Then, you should seek medical advice. If necessary, health professional would check your vitals and will terminate the fast.
Considering all these factors of feeling dizzy, weak, irritable, and nauseous, the purpose and importance of supervision during water fasting become more evident. Being supervised by a health professional, especially experienced in fasting, will increase the participant’s chances of having a safe and successful water fasting experience. The health professional will make the necessary adjustments according to the individual needs of the participant.
Breaking the Water Fast
When ending your water fasting, you should ease back into eating to avoid potential digestive problems. Depending on the number of days you water fasted, you can introduce your body to food gradually. For example, at The LifeCo, we strongly recommend two days of fast-breaking for each week of water fasting.
During water fasting, your digestive system gets complete rest. Breaking your fast means restarting the digestive process. Therefore, you should consider starting with liquids, like green juice smoothies or vegetable broth. You may have melons that are nutrient-dense and essential for maintaining proper nutrition after water fasting. Taking it slow and secure is not the only kind to your body but also allows you the opportunity to integrate your new-found clarity on your relationship to food.