Be sure to check out the first installment in this series: Fasting and Detox: The Good, The Bad and The Excellent.
What am I doing?? I’m fasting! I can’t eat this! Glumly I sprinkled parmesan into the pot and stirred some more.
“Dinner’s ready!” I called out to my 3-year-old, who was lining up plastic figures across our living room floor.
I spooned the aromatic, cheesy pasta into her favorite bowl, set in on the table, then plopped myself down on the couch. Lying back I placed both hands over my stomach and tried not to think about how hungry I was.
I was on Day 5 of the Master Cleanse, I had not consumed anything except fresh lemonade flavored with maple syrup and cayenne in almost a week.
Why am I so hungry, I wondered. The hunger is supposed to be gone after three days. But the gnawing feeling just intensified . I let my fingers slip into the waistband of my jeans. At least my stomach’s flatter, I thought. These pants used to be tight.
I closed my eyes and began to mentally review my long list of activities scheduled for the next day. They would begin at 7:30 a.m. when I dropped my daughter off at daycare, and I wouldn’t see my home again until well past dark.
“Mommy, I want more!” my daughter called out. Sighing I forced myself off the couch and back over to the pasta pot.
I was 25 then, and I’d already had a few hit and miss attempts at fasting. In those days every book I read – and every health-conscious person I met – waxed poetic about the amazing benefits of cleansing the body through fasting. “I feel so clear!” “I wasn’t even hungry!” “You should have seen the stuff that came out of me!”
These enthusiastic comments motivated me to borrow a Champion juicer and drink nothing but carrot juice for days. Well, I drank purified water too. And tea. But nary a morsel of solid food passed my lips.
And I did feel kind of high from this (when I wasn’t doubled over with hunger pains, feeling fuzzy-brained and head-achey with detox symptoms, or cursing the multiple parts of the juicer – which needed to be cleaned after each juice-making session.)
There were moments when I could really get what all these fasting aficionados were talking about. But later I experienced a net weight gain of a couple of pounds, gas and bloating, and constipation or irregular bowel movements for several weeks. I had to wonder.
Yet still I persevered. Next time, I promised myself, I would be more stringent about what I consumed during the days leading into the fast and immediately following it. I had little problem with feeling tempted by food while actually fasting, after all rules were rules. But before and after – ah, that was a different animal.
Each time I fasted I worked harder at following the detox protocols, especially after breaking the fast. Yet I still suffered afterward. I still felt hungry and experienced detox symptoms during the whole thing, even during longer fasts. When I tried the Master Cleanse I ended up with an excruciating toothache on Day 9, which required a my first root canal – forcing me to end the fast early.
What was I doing wrong?
Why Fasts Don’t Work For Everyone
As I grew older (and wiser) I learned a few things about my body that helped to explain my miserable fasting experiences (and even worse aftermaths.) This was what was up for me. It doesn’t mean that fasting might not be for you. But I suggest you examine these factors in your own life before attempting a fast that eliminates solid food.
1) I suffer from low blood sugar syndrome. When my blood sugar dips I experience intense hunger, irritability and a fuzzy brain. It’s worse if I’ve eaten foods high in sugar – natural or otherwise. My blood sugar issues were only exacerbated by consuming juices and liquids that were high in natural sugars.
2) I’m sensitive to carbs. When I eat too many I experience gas and bloating. Now, when I’m eating normally this pretty much only applies to ‘bad’ carbs like breads, and ‘white foods’ such as white rice, pasta, etc. However, when juice fasting I’m pretty much consuming concentrated carbohydrates in the form of vegetable and fruit juices. And nothing else. My body chemistry did not like this.
3) During those years when I was trying out 3-day, 5-day, or 10-day fasts my life was extremely busy. I was raising a pre-schooler (as a single mom during most of those years) and running a store that was open six days a week, with hardly any help. I had to go-go-go all day with very few days off.
Although many fasting proponents claim that fasting gives you more energy, most sensible practitioners recommend scheduling in time for rest, relaxation and meditation during fasting days. I blew those wise words off completely.
4) I did not have the self-discipline to abstain from coffee, alcohol, ‘white’ foods and other no-no’s during the week or two leading up to the fast. And no matter how hard I tried, once I broke the fast I usually overate. This was just too much of a shock on my cleaned out digestive system and a large culprit, I’m sure, for the bloating, gas and constipation.
If, after looking at your own life and body sensitivities you discover that you might have some of these same issues, I recommend a milder detox plan. What I call a “cleanse.”
You don’t have to cut out solid foods completely to when you want to detox. But you do need to eliminate processed foods, sugar, alcoholic beverages, bread, dairy products, white rice, pasta and other foods that can overtax your liver and congest your colon and digestive organs. To experience the full benefits of a cleanse you want to eliminate or drastically reduce your intake of salt, most oils, and caffeine-containing beverages.
Cleansing diets come in many forms. Some people like to just eliminate those foods and substances, and eat only fruits and vegetables, sometimes soupy grains. Me – I need some rules. Otherwise it’s too easy to slip off my plan (oh, just one slice of this whole grain bread would be okay, wouldn’t it?)
There are a kajillion cleansing plans out there, and – like a lot of natural healing advice – many of them offer conflicting advice on which foods to avoid and which foods are okay to eat. There’s all raw, macrobiotic, ayurvedic and lots more. Mono-diets have also enjoyed popularity. These are cleansing diets where you eat only one food – such as only apples, or only brown rice.
Just as when you’re choosing foods for your every day diet, you must experiment and listen to what your own body is telling you. One plan might work fantastically for one person and be the cleanse from hell for the next. We are all different.
I’ve been fat flushing once or twice a year for several years now and I’ve been mostly happy with the results. It’s a plan I can stick with even when life is busy and I’m off working all day long. (Although it is a bit of a hassle to tote around my healthy foods and drinks.)
My sister-in-law Mary, her family, and several friends swear by the results of Arise & Shine. She’s convinced her twice-yearly cleanses are responsible for her excellent health despite the fact that several of her siblings have succumbed to cancer.
Here’s a little more info about each of these:
This cleansing plan is marketed as a weight-loss diet, and if you follow it carefully you WILL drop some pounds. However, like any diet (or cleanse for that matter), that weight will creep right back on if you do not make adjustments in your everyday diet. That’s why Gittleman promotes this as a lifetime diet plan in three phases.
I just use Phase 1 as a cleansing plan, then I attempt to stick to Phase 2 or 3 for at least a week or two afterwards. But I have to admit, it rarely takes me long to slip back into my wicked ways.
The Fat Flush Book is a good read because Dr. Gittleman spends a lot of time explaining why specific foods work to cleanse the liver, or metabolize fat. She anticipates and addresses questions about the plan and about cleansing in general and provides a clear eating regime along with easy-to-follow recipes.
Some people scoff at the Fat Flush, claiming that it can’t be cleansing because the meal plan includes lean meats and eggs. However, that is exactly why I find this cleanse so appealing! I need my protein, it balances my blood sugar and keeps me from experiencing problems when I go off the plan.
I find the full program to be exactly what it says: a flush of toxins.
When I’m fat flushing I start my day with a half a lemon squeezed into hot water, (the plan eschews any herbal teas at all while in Phase 1 of the flush, but I ignore this and still drink herbal teas that I think are beneficial.) Lemon is known to be cleansing and it figures prominently in many fat flush recipes.
Throughout the day, I drink a total of two quarts of “cran-water,” unsweetened cranberry juice mixed with water. This again helps with elimination and to flush out toxins. It’s also more satisfying than just plain water. Every morning and every evening I mix a tablespoon of psyllium husks into the cran-water – this helps keep the traffic moving, if you get my drift.
It was hard at first, but I found going salt-free for 10-14 days to be a real break-through. I learned to season my food with alternatives such as fresh lemon and lime, ginger, and other spices. Now I use a lot less salt in my regular diet. Most experts would say that’s a good thing!
There are some down sides to this cleanse. If you are not a natural cook, or are often short on time, you might find all the chopping vegetables and food prep a bit daunting. A cornerstone of the plan is to avoid salt and processed foods, so it really doesn’t work to eat at restaurants or get take-out from delis – even if it’s just grilled vegetables and chicken.
If you’re a vegetarian you probably want to choose a different cleansing diet. Although Dr. Gittleman suggests alternatives for vegetarians, the plan excludes beans and recommends tofu and tempeh to be eaten only once or twice a week. She’s a fan of meat, and you’ll have to fnd out why from her.
As I said, I haven’t personally tried this plan, but I’ve heard many testimonials. I’d like to give it a try sometime, but unlike the fat flush meat and proteins are verboten. It’s more of a traditional cleanse, emphasizing fresh fruits and vegies, soups, whole grains, and nuts. Like the fat flush, no processed foods are allowed.
The original Arise & Shine Plan is a 28-day process (another reason I have not tried it – that’s pretty long for me!) When following it you taper down on various food groups slowly, eventually working up to 1-7 days of eating nothing but the Arise & Shine shakes and supplements before adding back in solid food. This full fasting period is optional though.
The basis of the Arise and Shine Plan is their supplements and shakes, which you purchase from their web site or an authorized dealer. They utilize high quality herbs and supplements including psyllium, bentonite clay, other cleansing herbs, and probiotics. This could be a tricky plan to follow if your work involves traveling around from place to place because you need to drink a shake or take some supplements every couple of hours.
The biggest complaint I’ve heard about Arise & Shine is the financial investment. Some people prefer to just eat unprocessed, wholesome foods and skip all the supplements – or choose their own and buy them at a cheaper price. However, if you’ve never cleansed before I think going with a set plan designed by experts could be a good way to go.
Some Recommended Full Fasting Plans
By now you know my personal take on full fasts. However, I know enough people who have experienced incredible, healing results from fasting. Again, if you’ve never done anything like this before, you could start out with a cleansing diet, and if that goes well, try a fast next time. The Arise & Shine 28-day plan above allows you to incorporate both.
A nice thing about fasting is your time is so freed up when you let go of food completely. No deciding what to eat, choosing foods at the grocery store, no cooking and cleaning up for the duration of your fast. (Well, juice fasting involves a bit of the above, but still a lot less than regular meal prep.)
Keep in mind that if you’re planning to fast on liquids only, you may need to resort to using enemas to complete the process of eliminating toxins. (This was hands down my least favorite aspect of fasting!) Many of the books I recommend in Part 1 of this series give detailed instructions.
If you’d like to give fasting a try, I’d recommend a juice fast or the classic Master Cleanse. I’ve seen friends and customers experience the most positive results with these two fasts.
Proponents insist that freshly juiced vegetables and fruits work their own detoxifying magic. A classic juice fast involves drinking several glasses of fresh juice daily, often diluted with spring water.
Carrot juice is the most common juice used (and juice grade carrots are cheap and can be purchased in 20 lb bags), but the best fasts combine a variety of vegetable juices. Many fasting plans include fresh fruit juices as well, but I’d go easy on those because of the high sugar and carb content.
The key to successful juice fasting is using fresh juices only. Bottled juices have lost their enzymes and have an even higher sugar content. They should not be used in a fasting regime.
Unless you own one of those fancy green drink blenders (the kind where you can throw in whole vegetables and it juices up the whole thing) juice fasting does involve a bit of prep and clean up. You need to peel, chop and core the fruit and vegetables and thoroughly wash all the juicer components.
You’re in luck if you live near a fresh juice bar (often featured in larger health food stores) – but that can get expensive and your juices will not be quite as fresh, unless you visit the place several times a day.
One of my favorite books detailing a juice fast plan is The 3-Day Energy Fast. The plan includes some fruit juices and a nightly meal of clear vegetable broth. It also includes several tips for inner work that you can focus on while fasting. (More on that in my next fasting post!)
This is the least expensive of all the fasts and cleanses I know of, and it also involves the least work (except plain water fasts, which I don’t recommend!) Some people like this one best because of this low labor output and because your energy is freed up to focus on the cleansing process.
Many folks report feeling super energized during this fast – despite the fact that they are taking in so few calories.
Invented by Dr. Stanley Burroughs in the 1930s, this fast is sometimes called ‘the lemonade diet.’ You make up a couple of quarts of master cleanse lemonade: Add eight tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 3-4 lemons), four tablespoon of pure maple syrup and about a quarter teaspoon of cayenne (less if sensitive) to a quart of fresh spring water.
You sip on this all day, drinking at least six 8-oz glases – and that’s it. The recommended length for this fast is ten days.
Dr. Elson Haas, author of Staying Healthy With the Seasons recommends supplementing the lemonade with a tablespoon of olive oil twice daily to tonify the liver and (very important!) lubricate the intestines. (Anything to keep from having to do that enema)! If I were to try the Master Cleanse again, I would substitute flax seed oil.
Another method for getting those intestinal toxins out of the body while master cleansing is to do an “internal salt water bath intestinal cleanse” every other day. Somehow I missed this when I did the Master Cleanse all those years ago – probably because it would have been impossible to do it and go racing off to work. Too bad, because it might have made for a better experience!
Here’s what the salt water intestinal bath involves: Mix two level teaspoons sea salt into one quart lukewarm spring water. Drink the whole quart first thing in the morning – and then be sure to stay near a bathroom for the next two hours. You will regret it if you don’t! If you have high blood pressure or tend to edema (or swelling of extremities) you should skip the salt water cleanse.
Whew! That’s enough information for one post. I did promise you some more detailed information about recommended supplements and herbal teas to use while cleansing. I’m not breaking my promise. Stay tuned: Part 3 will give you the goods.
Keep in mind that it’s not recommended to take any supplements during days that you are consuming only liquids (unless you are following a specific plan such as Arise & Shine.)
In the 4th and final installment of this fasting/detox/cleansing series, I’ll look at to some exercises and mindfulness practices that can enhance a cleansing or fasting regime.
Over to you! What’s your take on the whole fasting/detox debate? Do you have questions about cleansing diets and fasting? Feel free to say your piece in the comments.