starve your way to health?
Water fasting is a very touchy subject. If you ever decide to research this topic, you'll find one group of people who completely swear by it and who recommend it to everyone, then you’ll find those who are completely against, fear it or have had negative experiences with it. Although water fasting can be a powerful healing tool that has been used for centuries, it is certainly is not a "heal all" modality. Many of us are walking around with weak adrenal function, neurological disorders such as anxiety and depression and the majority of us aren't eating properly as it is, hence America being the most obese nation in the world. Water fasting can certainly improve your health depending on the amount of time you fast but in some cases it can risk your life and delay your healing as well. I feel its best to understand both the positive and negative consequences of this practice before determining if fasting is right for your healing journey.
What is water fasting?
Fasting is a powerful experience both physically and emotionally. It's simply an opportunity for your body to cleanse and heal itself at its own pace. Water fasting is the process of abstaining from food and drinking an adequate amount of water for a specific period of time. Typical water fasts can range anywhere between 1-3 days, 7-14 days or even up to 20-40 days depending the severity of symptoms a person is experiencing. Fasting essentially provides the body the opportunity to rest, cleanse itself of stored toxins and renew itself. Since the body is not spending time on digestion, it can divert this energy towards healing and has scientifically been proven to do so. Water fasting has also been part of religious and spiritual traditions as well.
potential BENEFITS TO WATER FASTING
Dependant upon how long you fast and how much water you drink
Increased resistance to stress
Increased insulin & leptin sensitivity
Increased life span (short term fasts)
Reduction in LDL cholesterol
Increased mental clarity and creativity
Weight loss (in the form of fluid loss)
May reduce blood pressure
May promote autophagy
May reduce chronic disease
May lower the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease
potential CONSEQUENCES TO WATER FASTING
Dependant upon on how long you fast and how often you rest
Thinning of hair
Renal (kidney) failure
Weight loss (in the form of fluid loss)
Water weight gain after breaking the fast
Loss of fitness
Imbalanced insulin and thyroid levels
Death (in extreme cases)
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Before I begin, I want to express that I have never suffered with an eating disorder nor have I ever restricted my food intake for the sake of weight loss in my past. I chose to experience the potential benefits of water fasting because it was a healing modality that I have studied but not yet tried.
I grew up eating a Standard American Diet (SAD) which included meat, dairy, eggs and many processed foods. I rarely ate vegetables as a child and loved junk food. In my high school and college years, my diet was far from healthy. Almost 75% of my diet was in the form of processed, fast, junk food so in my mid to late twenties, my health caught up with me.
After experiencing the negative consequences of unhealthy eating for many years, I decided to change up my diet. Since transitioning to veganism in 2011 and raw in 2013, I’ve experimented with gluten free, plant based whole foods, raw vegan, fruitarian, juicing and herbal remedies to heal. With each transition I made, I continued to improve my health and feel better but even after many years living a very healthy lifestyle, I was still dealing with a painful menstruation and heavy bleeding due to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). At this point in my journey, I would do just anything to heal that pain so fasting was my next challenge.
After experiencing negative symptoms from taking birth control and pharmaceuticals for well over a decade, I found out that I developed two very painful cysts on my ovaries which turned into uterine fibroids. This ultimately made my period each month a complete nightmare. I experienced heavy bleeding, debilitating pain, moodiness, fatigue, depression and would sometimes bleed after intimacy. The pain, the mess, and the embarrassment reached a breaking point so I started researching and experimenting with natural alternatives and focus on the root cause of my problem, not cover it up again with drugs like I’ve done in the past. All of my symptoms in the past pointed to ovarian cancer which is why I chose to fast for 26 days. I wanted to ensure a healthy body in the years to come.
DAY 1 OF MY 26 DAY WATER FAST
In April of 2016, I traveled to Tanglewood Wellness Center in the beautiful country of Costa Rica where I chose to fast for 26 days under the supervision of Loren Lockman. My two good friends fasted here a couple of months prior so I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. After landing in the lush, tropical land of Costa Rica, it felt like I was coming home. I absolutely fell in love with this beautiful country. The people I met were so gracious and friendly. The weather was perfect and the fruit was completely delicious! Nothing like I’ve ever tasted back home in the states. The first couple of days of my fast was a breeze because I was recovering from traveling and working nonstop during my pain. I slept up to 16 hours each day and it felt like heaven.
Tanglewood was a beautiful and relaxing environment to heal in. Although I disagree with some of the advice and practices in regards to fasting, I would still recommend people to visit if their hearts are set on fasting. The peaceful setting and the delicious fruit are definitely worth it!
DAY 3 OF MY 26 DAY WATER FAST
Day three of my water fast was excellent. Three days flew by and I felt very rested and refreshed. If people are interested in water fasting, I would recommend fasting up to three days. I feel this amount of time is long enough to notice positive benefits without negatively impacting your health or adding additional time to recover. When fasting, be sure to rest and relax as much as possible and keep track of your water intake. Each new day of my fast, I that noticed I wanted less and less water so I worked on staying diligent to make sure I was drinking enough water. I would say "enough water" is approximately between 3-4 liters of purified water, spring water, or reverse osmosis. Distilled is devoid of minerals which our body can leech from itself and alkaline/kangen water is changes the pH and acidity in our gut which can negatively affect digestion.
day 14 of my 26 day water fast
As you can see, I am getting deep into the water fasting state. I was about 101 pounds at this point (I am 5’5”). I am noticeably underweight as you can see my chest bones. Although I felt fine at this point, I didn't really see how fragile I was until I look back. I am grateful I had the full support of my family and close friends during this process. Even though some of them didn't necessarily agree with my decision to fast and were very concerned, they supported my experiment because they knew I was willing to do anything to heal the pain during my monthly cycle. Either way, I was determined to give fasting a fair shot so I continued on. Call me crazy, I have no shame or regrets in life.
DAY 25 OF MY 26 DAY WATER FAST
This day was the hardest for me. I was one day away from breaking my fast and I was down to 87 pounds. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest with every beat. I would get spurts of energy at times which was essentially the hormone cortisol trying to keep me alive. My body was telling me to break the fast but my ego wasn't about to listen. Looking back, my decision to wait one more day to break my fast was a huge mistake. I felt a little "brainwashed" during my stay. There were people who felt pulled to break their fast and I saw how much "guilt" they felt which should of never been the case. We should never feel guilty for the instinct to nourish our bodies. Like I said, each person will differ in the amount of time they fast so each will have different experiences. There is no comparison when it comes to fasting.
day 26 of my 26 day water fast
On day 26 I reached my goal. I took a couple of shocking photos before I went to break my fast with coconut water and made an emotional video that I have a hard time sharing with the world. Go easy on me, this wasn’t easy to share. I used one of my favorite Pink Floyd songs “Coming Back To Life” in this video.
BREAKING MY 26 DAY WATER FAST WITH COCONUT WATER
I was very emotional at this point. The coconut water was right in front of me ready to drink yet I hesitated and was scared. I wasn't sure how I was going to feel. Since it typically takes 21 day to create a habit, I essentially taught my body how to "survive" without food for 26 days. This journey was very difficult to share simply because I knew I would receive criticism from many people who would not personally understand why I would abstain from food for this long. Fortunately, it is not their journey to walk and I am grateful I had more support than negative feedback along the way.
1 day post water fast
This is me, straight up chilling in bed like I did for the majority of my fast. Look at the life in my smile :) Even after eating again I still needed to rest, take it easy and let my body process the newly introduced food slowly. To calm my restless mind I listened to audio books and relaxing music on a daily basis. I broke my fast the proper way: slowly with small portions. You can seriously damage your health if you eat more than you need to during the re-feeding process because you are still at a weak and fragile stage. This is why supervision is essential for long fasts. Don’t let your ego take over, you need assistance from others.
3 days post water fast
This was a very happy moment because for the first time in almost a month, I was finally able to eat my favorite fruit, mangoes, and these were no ordinary mangoes, these were tree ripened mangoes from Costa Rica! Imagine not being able to eat your favorite food for over a month. Lets just say, I was a very happy girl here!
After getting back home, I eventually needed to get back to work (someone had to pay for my trip). I was really excited to take better care of myself and follow the most "perfect" diet to aid in my healing, but what happened to me in the months to follow was completely unexpected and emotionally devastating to me. I rebounded. Hard. Even while eating the same exact diet I was on for years. I started to gain weight at a very alarming pace.
the rebound effect
One year after my water fast, I experienced what I call the "rebound effect". The negative side effects I experienced starting 3 months after I broke the fast was bloating, adrenal fatigue, skin breakouts, weight gain (26 pounds on top of my pre-fasted weight), reduced fitness levels, depression and even body dismorphia from losing weight and gaining weight so quickly. I found that when I started to gain extra weight on top of my pre-fasting weight my body image changed and I felt "fat". This was the first time I have ever experienced a disordered body image especially since I've never suffered from an eating disorder in my past.
The rebound effect was so powerful for me that no matter what I did (excessive exercise, eat less or continue to fast - like many “experts” recommended), I continued to gain weight and felt very fatigued. At my heaviest weight as a raw vegan, I was running half marathons, eating the same way I always have been eating but the weight (in the form of fluid, not fat) kept piling on. This was a very trying time for myself because I didn't have many people I could confide in as the majority of people would blame my weight gain on my excessive fruit intake when just a year prior before my water fast, I was the leanest and fittest I've ever been in my entire life eating primarily fruit for well over a year. I felt defeated, like I ruined my body and all of my hard efforts the year prior were wasted. This was when depression set in.
If you research the Minnesota Starvation Experiment by Ancel Keys in 1944, you’ll find that my experience was very similar to this experiment. Although it was conducted across a 14 months period, it showed the psychological effects of starvation among 36 males. The data from this experiment has been useful in exploring metabolic adaptation. The symptoms these men experienced were tiredness, loss of sex drive, weakness, and edema or water weight gain (which is the body’s natural response after any form of restriction).
It has now been 2 1/2 years after I broke my water fast in Costa Rica in 2016 and I feel I am almost back to where I was. My fitness and marathon running isn’t the same as it was but I will get there in time. I don't weigh myself anymore because I experienced body dysmorphia from losing and gaining weight so quickly and I’d rather focus on the health of my body instead of the actual weight. Luckily what I set out to heal (my painful periods) actually healed but it took 2 years post fast and may have not been entirely due to fasting since I still dealt with my symptoms a year afterwards.
so HOW DID I HEAL FROM the REBOUND of the fast?
Time and self love
Healing is a process. Sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes you need to go backwards to re-calibrate before you can move forward in the right direction. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes it can take years. I say, it will take as long as it takes. Healing is a marathon, not a sprint. You can certainly heal your body and your life but it may not always look or feel like you expect it to be. Just know that any setback is simply a setup for an epic comeback. Shift your perspective. Once you look back, you will see it was supposed to happen this way. Love yourself while being patient with the entire process and see it through.
THE TRUTH ABOUT extended WATER FASTING
You cannot starve your body to optimal health, this is achieved by a healthy lifestyle only.
The health risks of fasting can potentially outweigh the health benefits.
The longer you fast, the longer it will take for your body to heal properly.
Fasting for long periods of time can slow down your metabolism and insulin response.
You risk hormonal and thyroid imbalance as well.
Fasting should not be done without supervision (I don't care how "experienced” you are).
Working out excessively while fasting is counterproductive to healing.
Depending on how long you fast, expect some water weight gain after fasting (which is completely normal and healthy).
Exhaust all healing modalities including a healthy lifestyle long term prior to choosing to fast.
It takes a long time to heal anything so practice gratitude, self love, and patience during the process.
WHEN SHOULD YOU WATER FAST
I recommend working your way up the different levels of this detoxification pyramid instead of jumping from a diet of high protein animal products straight into a juice cleanse or water fast. Doing this may shock your body and its normal functions so I do not recommend skipping any steps up this pyramid. If you want to go on an extended juice feast to lose a couple of pounds, you're better off following a whole foods plant based diet or incorporating more raw living foods into your diet over a longer period of time. It took me many years before I was able to go from a plant based to raw, then to all fruit. Water fasting isn't necessarily a goal either. Many people have healed their bodies without water fasting so depending on where you are at in your health journey, extended water fasting may not be right for you. My advice is not to rush the process and simply take your time.
warning - when to not WATER fast
If you are pregnant or nursing you should NOT water fast or even juice cleanse. You are responsible for nourishing an infant child so you need all the nutrition you can get, more-so than the average person. If you have anorexia, bulimia, body dismorphia or any body image disorders, please DO NOT water fast. These are mental issues that will never be resolved by an extended water fast, nonetheless a specific diet. You need to address the root cause of your disordered thinking and learn how to have a healthy relationship with food and your body first. Don't look for external modalities to heal internal issues. Other people who should not fast are individuals who are underweight, under the age of 18, people with type 1 diabetes and individuals recovering from surgery. The risks can out weigh the benefits in many of these cases.
TO THOSE DEALING WITH AN EATING DISORDER
I want people to take personal responsibility for the health of their bodies and I do not want them to rely on extreme measures like water fasting to fix all of their problems. The reality is that people would rather risk their lives instead of changing their diet and live a healthy lifestyle long term. I get it. People want results like yesterday, including myself who has put almost a decade into living a healthy lifestyle. My best advice for people who may be suffering and considering water fasting would be to stay consistent with yourself. Consistency with a healthy lifestyle is far better than attempting perfection. There is no such thing as perfection in this world so please get used to failing. Fail early, fail often but most importantly, fail forward.
I am here for anyone who may need a helping hand when it comes to healing, just reach out. Taking your health into your own hands and healing yourself takes great courage and love of self. My hope is that sharing my personal experience and information on my water fast inspires others to choose a healthy lifestyle FIRST over risking their health to fast. I will never recommend water fasting to any of my clients because there are so many other safer alternatives to healing that should be exhausted before ever trying long extended water fasting. The moment we accept ourselves completely as we are is when we are actively practicing self love. Regardless of the choices we've made in our past, we can always create a new life with each new day.