My First Fasting Experience (1/2)
If somebody had told me a few years ago to fast for a week, my answer would have been an emphatic: NEVER IN MY LIFE ! No cheese, no bread, no coffee, no croissant, no …, no…. ??? And here I am today, coming back from a fasting retreat in Normandy, France. This was a true discovery and I am already thinking of going back. But before sharing all the details of my dietary adventures, I would like to tell you more about fasting.
What is fasting ?
Humans are made to fast and this empirical practice can be found all over the world since time immemorial: “Fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within” once said Paracelsus.
To fast is to voluntarily cease to eat, whether to enhance a spiritual practice, as suggested by many religions, or for detoxification, healing purposes… It can last up to approximatly 40 days. Beyond that limit, the body is in danger.
A fast can vary in duration (extended or short), mode (dry/water fasting, vegetable juice, herbal tea), or frequency (once or twice per year, intermittent fasting …).
We often do not realize how unhealthy our lifestyle tends to be. Improper food or quantities, stress, pollution, physical inactivity… are amongst the many habits or exposures that cause most of our daily ailments. Our eliminatory organs (liver, lungs, kidneys, skin, intestine) work continuously all year long. As a result our body is overloaded and our natural balance mechanism (homeostasis) cannot function properly.
This is the reason why fasting offers a wonderful opportunity to detoxify, regenerate the tissues, let the digestive system rest for a better restoration of its lining and a balance of its flora. All the energy saved by the lack of digestion can be used for this great cleansing process!
But the benefits extend way beyond the physical plane. Fasting enables to let go of emotions, symbolized through our organs: lungs connected with sadness, kidneys with fear, liver with anger… It is also a great moment to start fresh on a healthier basis, and to simply connect with the body. Many people describe sensations such as well-being, lightness, enhanced creativity, clarity of mind supporting decision making, better concentration and memory, sharpened senses.
How does the body deals with the lack of food ?
Our meals provide several sources of energy: carbohydrates (sugars), proteins (made of amino acids), and lipids (fats). The main source is glucose, a fast-acting sugar which feeds all our cells, including the brain cells.
As food intake ceases, the body starts feeding on its own: this is called the autolysis process. First, it seeks the most accessible source of glucose: the blood sugar, and the glycogen stored in the liver and muscles. This stock is exhausted around 24h after the last meal.
The body then starts transforming its proteins. As these elements are absolutely essential to many body functions they must be used with great caution. So, the not-so-useful ones are recycled first! Meanwhile, the body gradually uses up the stock of its main pantry: the fats.
The fats are turned into:
- glycerol to make glucose,
- and in fatty acids which become ketone bodies.
They become the main source of energy approximately on the 3rd or 4th day of fasting. It just so happens that the fatty tissue contains the wastes accumulated throughout the years (such as heavy metals, chimical molecules, pollution elements). So, during the fat transformation process, those wastes are released in the body and handled by our eliminatory organs (if they are strong enough for such a big work).
What are the signs of elimination ?
The elimination process can be sometimes quite spectacular: it is called the healing crisis. The intensity of the signs is proportionate to the life force of the individual, and to the amount of accumulated wastes. They tend to decrease after the 3rd or 4th to be replaced by a feeling of well-being and vitality.
The possible signs include : nausea, darker urines, decrease in blood pressure, disturbed sleep, dreams, slight hypoglycemia, headaches, bad breath, furry tongue, menstruation modifications (especially if one starts fasting during the initial phase of the cycle), fatigue, pimples, increase in body temperature, sensitivity to cold, dizziness, emotions, palpitation, hunger…
Helping the organs of elimination is essential. All of the following will help optimizing the detox:
- fresh air,
- draining herbal tea,
- following the recommendations on how to prepare and resume a fast.
- drinking loads of water
- hammam, sauna, walks, massages,
- hot water bottle on the liver,
- being in a relaxed environment …
For my first experience, I joined a group of six people in a rural guest-house. We were supervised by a fasting expert. I feel I really benefitted from the group energy. Letting the coach take care of the logistic, leaving my everyday life to enjoy a real break in the country side helped me a lot in this rather challenging 7-day process. A coach provides valuable information, helps to go through the healing crisis, but more importantly, he or she is capable of detecting the warning signs and take appropriate measures to keep you safe. For all those reasons, I believe trying extended fasting alone at home is really not a good idea.
Is fasting suited for everyone ?
In France, fasting retreats are offered to people in good health, as the therapeutic approach is not (yet ?) authorized. There are quite a few counter-indications (including pregnancy, liver and kidney malfunctions, cardiovascular disease, etc), so it is always preferable to check with your doctor if you have enough energy to fast.
In Germany and Spain the Buchinger Wilhelmi clinics offer therapeutic fasting supervised by medical staff.
To know more about fasting …
- The books of Herbert M. Shelton, a naturopath and one of the main figures of the Natural Hygiene Movement in the 1900s.
- “The Fasting Cure” by Upton Sinclair
- “The Complete Guide to Fasting” by Dr Jason Fung.
- This website provides comprehensive information on the subject.
- Fédération Francophone de Jeûne et Randonnée (FFJR): the FFJR offers hiking and fasting retreats mainly in France but also in Canada, Morocco, Sweden, Tunisia, Spain, Portugal, Italy… Unfortunately, the website is not translated into English. A map, providing the location and name of each center, is easily accessible.