The benefits of fasting are many, and there are dangers. Here are somethings to consider in preparation for the 21 days. This information is from the two reference sources listed at the end.
THE OTHER SIDE: LET’S GET TO THE DANGERS FIRST.
Even fasts of a few weeks or less can have dangerous consequences. Fasting puts two different types of stress on your heart. First, it cannibalizes cardiac muscle for fuel. The human body does everything it can to conserve muscle during a fast, but inevitably some muscle will be sacrificed at the beginning of the fast. After a few days, the body switches over to using fat, but researchers have discovered that protein (muscle) utilization actually increases again later on, even though fat stores are still available. This protein includes the muscle in your heart: weaken this too much, and heart failure will result.
Strict water fasting is also a risk for heart failure because during a fast, the body’s intracellular stores of minerals vital for cardiac function, like magnesium and potassium, are depleted, even though serum levels remain normal. The results of this cardiac muscle loss and mineral deprivation can be tragic.
Another potential downside of long-term fasting is the rate of detox. Fat is your body’s storage organ for everything, including any toxins that may have accumulated over the years. When you lose weight, all these toxins have to be removed through your bloodstream, which can be extremely uncomfortable. During fasting, these symptoms are even more pronounced, since the rate of fat burning is so rapid – many people feel nauseous, sick, or otherwise unwell.
BENEFITS: THE GOOD STUFF TOO.
Water fasting offers the quickest detox and strongest therapeutic effect. It is also the most challenging fast to perform in the first few days. Careful preparation in the days before a water fast can make all the difference in your level of comfort, but the emotional challenge will still be great.
A true water fast maintains a zero caloric intake. This means water only, nothing added to it. Some call water fasting the only “true” fast and believe that any food allowed into the bodily system prevents the complete resting state desired, compromising the level of cleansing and detox attained.
Water fasting isn’t for everyone, nor is it appropriate at all times. The more toxic your body is, the more intense your discomfort will be in those early days if you have not prepared. Yet, even proper preparation cannot predict the intensity of the detoxification process. Having support is important if this is your first water fast because it can be difficult to continue on your own when the symptoms have become frightening. I remember the toxins being released through my skin, particularly on my chest and shoulders in the form of puss filled pimpled that itched. Initially I thought I was allergic to a medication I had to take for the first week of the fast, but when it did not subside I figured out that it was toxins. The itching was so great that I had to make an oatmeal salve to help because I would wake up in the middle of the night scratching uncontrollably.
The speed at which old conditions can right themselves during a water fast is incredible. It’s amazing the little health “issues” that just go away–the mole that just drops off, the shoulder that’s been achy for years suddenly feels well again, that little patch of “weird” skin you’ve grown accustomed to vanishes without a trace…and those are just the little things.
Water fasters are advised to consume one to two quarts per day of the purest water available or to use distilled water. (While distilled water is not good for everyday consumption, it is good during a fast for its increased ability to bind to toxins.) The first few days of a fast are the most difficult. Besides the emotional challenge of going without food, these first days may have the most intense and uncomfortable symptoms of detoxification. After that, the body adjusts to the new fasting state, and most individuals feel little further discomfort, even hunger disappears.
After 2-3 days, the body goes into a state called ketosis, where it begins to fuel itself internally by burning fat cells. Ketosis occurs around 48 hours for women and 72 hours for men according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Fasting and Eating for Health. The length of time one can safely operate in ketosis varies from person to person.
Fasting also promotes autophagy, which is like a “spring cleaning” for your cells. Since your body is essentially eating itself, it has a chance to get rid of any junk or waste material that may have built up, and repair the damage of oxidative stress. This is one of the biggest benefits of fasting even for people who are already at a healthy weight, since it has powerful anti-aging and muscle-building properties.
One study also found that an extended fast (10 days on average) was beneficial to patients with hypertension, also noting that even though the patients didn’t embark on the fast to lose weight, all of them did – average weight loss was around 15 pounds. Longer term fasting (up to 5 days) may also have some benefits for chemotherapy patients.
Another benefit of extended fasting is purely mental: for many fasters, it’s a way to “re-set” their relationship with food, break free from patterns of emotional eating, or start fresh at the end of the fast. Fasting is part of many religious and spiritual practices because of its value for meditation and mindfulness. Bear in mind that this doesn’t happen automatically: it requires a high level of self-awareness and effort on the part of the faster. It’s a very useful tool, but it’s not a miracle cure.
Many people also fast safely, but it’s worth noting that fasting isn’t a risk-free experiment. Less serious drawbacks also include intense mood swings, low energy, and irritability. Fasting lowers blood pressure, so you may feel weak, dizzy, or nauseous during the fast. It raises levels of the stress hormones norepinephrine and cortisol, probably an adaptation to give you more energy for finding food, but not beneficial for optimum health.
One reporter from Harper’s Magazine lost 30 pounds on a 17-day fast, and suggested that fasting is so denigrated as a cure for chronic disease because it’s just not profitable for drug companies. His article also detailed the case of a suicidal doctor after the Civil War who tried to starve himself to death, only to find that the longer he fasted, the better he felt.
An extremely obese man in Scotland lost 276 pounds on a 382-day fast, while taking supplemental vitamins and minerals. A rarity among extreme weight loss patients, he actually kept the weight off once the fast was over.
One follower of the Perfect Health Diet fasted for 30 days, and reported that his migraines were cured at the end of the fast. However, he later discovered that just eating a ketogenic diet would have the same effect.
Perhaps most usefully to anyone considering a long fast, a blogger named Celestine Chua fasted for 21 days and kept an astonishingly detailed record of her physical and emotional reactions. Although she experienced severe mental and physical “detox,” she reported being glad that she’d fasted, and having a better relationship with food afterwards.
All these reports are biased, of course, because people who try a fast and fail are much less likely to write publicly about it. But they are interesting resources, and we’re not likely to get a randomized, controlled clinical study any time soon, so they’re the best we have for now.
While you’re in the midst of a fast, don’t try to work out at all – this will just cause your body to lose more muscle than necessary. The closer you can get to bed rest, the better. Read, journal, meditate, sleep, listen to music, or talk to people you love. Many people take time off work to concentrate on their fast. Keeping a slow-paced and thoughtful environment will help you really get the most of the psychological and spiritual benefits of fasting.
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