What are the benefits of fasting?

by Paul Goodchild on May 6, 2009

At the time of writing, I am on day 6 of a 7-day fasting program.  I came to the resort specifically for this purpose as I wanted to explore the idea and the benefits of such an undertaking on my body and mind.  Wikipedia defines fasting as:

Fasting is primarily the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. A fast may be total or partial concerning that from which one fasts, and may be prolonged or intermittent as to the period of fasting.

So this covers a whole range of fasts.  It can be anything from a complete removal of all food and drinks (except water) to the removal of a certain food or food type for a defined period of time. Common fasting includes:

  • ‘fruit juice’
  • ‘raw food’ (only veggies and fruits)
  • water (no food or drink of any kind)

The question I’ve been exploring is whether there are in-fact any benefits to taking this course of action.  Much of my reading around the subject makes a lot of sense and indicates highly significant positives in undergoing a fast.  The material also points to how this process forms a major part of religions, and has has been used in ‘ancient’ times and cultures regularly as a body cleansing technique and both a preemptive strike against, and a cure for, many body ailments.

What actually happens when we fast

When we’re eating normally every day our body is constantly working to process the food we’ve ingested.  This involves moving it through the digestive tract while extracting energy in the form of carbohydrates, fats and protein, and absorbing other nutrients and minerals required by the body. If you eat 3~5 times daily your digestive system is constantly at work – there is no rest.

Not only your digestive tract, vital organs such as liver, kidney, gall-bladder etc., are always working to process your food – this means your body’s focus is constantly on digestion.

When you stop eating, the body’s dedication to digestion eases off since it’s no longer required.  It frees up an opportunity to concentrate resources on other systems.  With the digestive tract and vital organs no longer working on full load, it allows for rest and very important repair procedures to be undertaken on those systems.  The immune system begins revitalization and the body will concentrate on removing and breaking down latent toxins, foreign bodies, and chemicals present in your tissues.

As far as energy goes, glycogen stores present in the liver are broken down to glucose to provide immediate energy supply access in the first 12hours.  Following this, fat stores are utilized to supply energy requirements, that are then followed by your proteins (reaching this stage isn’t advisable since you are effectively digesting yourself, and this is known as starvation).  It’s important also to note that toxins, chemicals, particulates etc. absorbed through food, body products, and inhaled air, are very often stored within the fat stores and these are released again once the body begins breaking down stored fats.

Within the first 24hrs of fasting, as mentioned before focus turns to repair and reconstruction of the body systems and vital organs.  Destructive toxins are targeted and released into the blood stream to be broken down and expelled.  It typically lasts from days 1~4 and may cause nausea, lethargy, headache, joint aches, bad breath, body odour, etc.  This has a huge impact and it’s the period where people feel worst in the process – it’s when most fasters are tempted to quit because, depending on how “toxic” you are, you may cause a large enough spike in toxins loosed into the blood stream to make it too uncomfortable.  It may hit you quite are hard, or not, depending on your lifestyle leading up to the fast.

Once the worst of the immediately accessible toxins present are expelled, the process of repair and revitalization continues throughout the body and the poor feelings begin to subside.  It is obviously a continuous and perpetual process, but the worst is typically over in the first few days.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that when you sleep you undergo a ‘mini-fast’.  You will have typically stopped eating for nearly 12hrs and the body takes the opportunity to repair and expel what it can.  This explains why you wake up with a coated tongue, bad breath and bad body odour – the body is expelling toxins picked up during the day.

My current fasting course

On my current fast, all eating has been eliminated and only the drinking of certain restricted fluids/juices for the purposes of providing the body with core nutrients is permitted.  Examples of these are coconut water, carrot juice (1 per day), and a broth soup (2 per day) that is the water in-which vegetables have been cooked.

It’s not a particularly difficult course.  I’ve had good days and bad – days 2 and 4 stand out as being particularly tough. That said though, since day 5 my condition has improved significantly.  I feel better today than I have for a long time.  I don’t have the quick energy available to me that I would have were I eating with a ready source of carbs, but I feel clear headed and quite alert.

My fast has another angle to it – colonic irrigation.  I’ll perhaps go into this in more details in another article, but in summary, basically 5 times a day at 3hr intervals I take in a drink that contains certain ingredients designed to pass through the digestive tract, especially the colon, and draw out many of the particles and toxins that have lain dormant there for years.  One ingredient actively soaks up toxins and chemicals, while another expands and pushes slightly against the gut lining loosening and picking up attachments to the wall of the colon.  The colonic helps to pass these material along gut, flushing it clean of materials with the absorbed toxins and also helps to loosen up and carry away stubborn particulates attached to the colon wall.

There’s a lot of social taboo associated with the mention of ‘colon’ and ‘colonic irrigation’, but I figure it’s worth getting out there.  Don’t instinctively turn away from the idea until you’ve taken some time to investigate what exactly is going on and why it isn’t actually that big a deal.

Our diets and why this is important

Take a moment to consider what your diet consists of in the 21st century and you will begin to realise the importance of this process.  Our foods are not organic… (there was no such term at the term of the last century) our foods are grown and prepared industrially – fruits and vegetables with pesticides and artificial fertilisers, meats are farmed with growth hormone, anti-biotics and feed gruel and grain and typically remains of other animals.  Many popular fish such as salmon are also farmed, fed on remains of other animals and antibiotics.  So what you’re eating daily is a product of this process.  This isn’t a rant on how terrible the world is, but a facing up to the reality of our situation.  We put this stuff in our bodies and grow and derive nutrients from it.  It becomes an integral part of our systems and will ultimately impact our health and vitality as it is increasingly stored in our tissues, fats and digestive tract.

Fasting offers a window of opportunity to direct focus on breaking much of these destructive elements down and having them expelled from our body.  The colonic irrigation assists to revitalise the impacted colon by removing detritus and stale materials that have built up over time – I’ll go into more detail on this in a future article… perhaps even with pictures too 😉

For now though, I’ll leave it there and maybe expand on the benefits of all this in the future.  I hope it makes you at least a little more aware of your body and what you subject it to daily, and maybe how you might actively assist in bringing it back to a peak level of performance, in spite of your diet and environment.

Also, it might be worth pointing out that this is also not a dieting/weight-loss program, though weight-loss is a by product of the process.  As you begin to metabolise stored fats you will obviously lose weight and become slimmer, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a weight-loss technique.

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