My first fasting experience (2/2) : one week in Normandy
Until recently I did not have a strong interest in fasting. Like many people I associated it with a mere lack of food, and could not understand why one would even consider such practice ! It was only when I attended several lectures on this topic during my naturopathy course that I litterally became fascinated !
Soon after the end of the second lecture, I had joined a six-day Fasting and Hiking retreat in Normandy. The programme for the week included (unsuprisingly!) fasting as well as long walks along the beach and in the countryside.
I found this fasting/hiking concept quite clever: during long fasts, mornings tend to be difficult. Walking energizes the body and enable the fluids to move around for a better detoxification. I had no apprehension apart from having to quit coffee. I was wondering how my body would react, knowing that skipping my morning coffee would usually mean enduring strong headaches. During the retreat neither tea nor coffee were allowed, only herbal infusions.
The preparation: a foretaste of fasting
Soon after my registration, I received instructions to prepare for the fast. One week prior to day 1, I had to eliminate certain foods from my diet (this preparation is supposed to last the same time as the fast).
Animal proteins, processed food, salt, refined sugar and addictive substances were to be eliminated first. Plant-based proteins, cereals, grains, oils had to be gradually removed the following days. The last two days only fruits and vegetables remained. It seeems quite a strict diet but it is essential for a better fasting experience. I did not manage to stop coffee during the preparation and trust me, I learned it the hard way.
Cleansing the intestines with prune juice, Epsom salt or other techniques, was also part of the preparation. When one stops eating, as the digestive system slows down, any remaining element is likely to stagnate in the colon and cause fermentation… which, I let you imagine, is not ideal…
I also had a list of specific items to bring for the retreat (hot water bottle, trekking shoes, a small note book, menstruation pads…).
Day 1 – Saturday : at the 2 fig trees Guesthouse
Day 1 : It was already 10am, I quickly finished to gather my stuff and took off to Normandy by carsharing. When I arrived to the gueshouse I was totally blown away by the beauty of the place, but also by the warm welcome of Emmanuelle, a nice and energetic lady. She had been a regular fasting practitioner for 17 years and was certified to organise retreats from a renowned naturopathy center in Paris.
She showed me around and introduced me to the group. We were six in total. I shared my room with a student who was preparing her PhD on … fasting !!
The menu for the week was composed of clear soup (without the vegetables) in the evening and vegetable juice in the morning. These liquid intakes were less strict than water fasting, as they allowed a minimum of vitamins and minerals per day. The consumption of herbal tea was also encouraged, to help the elimination organs deal with the toxins inflow.
After our first clear soup, Emmanuelle talked about fasting, its effects and benefits. The day ended with a documentary screening.
My impression on this first day was quite positive ! However my menstruations had started the day before and I was feeling a bit weak (you will understand a bit later why I mention this).
Day 2 – Sunday: troubles…
Although I had selpt very well during the night, I woke up at 9 am feeling unwell and tired. After having sipped our juice, we began the day with a 10-minute Do-In practice, a series of gestures and tapping synchronised with conscious breathing. This incredible energy booster became our morning routine for the following days.
We left at 10:30 for a 12km hike along the sea. I felt like a silent zombie. The sensations oscillated between low and high energy.
Quite surprisingly, I did not feel hunger (and would not feel hungry for the whole retreat). As the day passed, the headache became gradually stronger, and I was feeling cold.
At the end of the afternoon, a Yoga workshop was organised at the guesthouse. After one or two downward dog postures, I capitulated… The headache was so strong that I became nauseous and needed to lie down (I suddenly hated coffee !).
I remained prostrated on my bed with closed curtains for a certain time. At that moment I wished I had followed the preparation correctly and I even wondered what I was doing here !! Emmanuelle prepared herbal tea with honey and a light soup to reduce the body reaction. I went to bed hoping for the next day to be better !
Day 3 – Monday: still not quite there yet…
Despite an agitated night, the headache was gone. My roommate and I were feeling weak and nauseous. I really did not feel like walking for three hours. Two other people were going to Honfleur, a really cute town nearby. I decided to join them for the day. When we came back, a sophrology session was organised.
I realized that relaxation was helping to reduce the unpleasant sensations. Other treatments such as massage and reflexology sessions were offered by professionals at the guesthouse. After our evening clear soup, Emmanuelle gave a speech on sprouted seeds and lacto-fermented vegetables.
Workshops and speeches were the moments that I appreciated the most, as they helped understand the importance of a healthy diet. Fasting is good, but preventing the toxins to come back is even better !
Day 4 – Tuesday : a day at the thalassotherapy center… Absolute relaxation
I had been mostly awake the night before, and the rare moments of sleep were filled with unpleasant dreams. It is apparently quite frequent and many fasters write down their dreams to interpret them.
I woke up with a lot of difficulty, the morning juice did not feel good to my stomach and I was weak. I somehow found the strength and motivation to go hiking. The boosting effect for the rest of the day felt very rewarding.
At 1pm, we walked towards the thalassotherapy center of Cabourg for a sauna, hammam and seawater swimming pool. After several hours at the center, we came back to the guesthouse. Sauna is a real plus during a fast, because I helps evacuate the toxins. It stimulates the sweat glands which act as “mini-kidneys” for toxin elimination.
I went straight to bed after the soup that night !
Day 5 – Wednesday: last day of healing crisis
The third day is generally a key moment in the fasting period and certainly not the easiest. As I explained it in the first part of my article, around that moment, the adipose tissues become the main « fuel » for the body. As they are transformed, all the toxins they store are released.
That night was… rough… I had heavy pain in the hips, pelvis and lower back. No positions could relieve me. I slept no more than 2 hours, yet I woke up quite fresh with a clear mind !
The pain remained during the day. I felt like my rusted body was being quartered. My menstruations had still not stopped which made me even weaker. Disruptions of the menstrual cycles are quite frequent while fasting, it is therefore useful to bring sanitary pads just in case.
We enjoyed another yoga practice that evening, followed by an interesting speech about colon hydrotherapy.
Day 6 – Thursday: back to life !
The previous night was agitated and yet again, I woke up feeling energetic. It became clear to me that I had to quit coffee when returning home. I did not do much that day, apart from reading books on fasting. I noticed that despite the lack of sleep, I managed to concentrate without having to read three times the same sentence (this had not happened to me in a long time). I could definitely feel this clarity of mind expressed by many fasting persons.
Day 7 – Friday : breaking the fast
Friday was probably the most important day of the retreat. The « breakfast », consisted of two prunes with flaxseeds in a glass of water. What a luxury for someone who had not eaten in 6 days ! The idea behind this was to slowly prepare the digestive system to process food and to accelerate the bowel movement.
In the morning we had time for one last workshop : Emmanuelle taught us how to prepare lacto-fermented vegetables. Each of us made a jarful and we were offered a bottle of local organic apple juice.
Later we spent an hour in Cabourg for last minute shopping. When we came back, lunch was on the table. Emmanuelle had prepared a raw and cooked vegatable based meal, with home-made sauces and sprouted seeds.
While fasting, the sensory perceptions are more acute and the flavours are amplified. It was the best meal of my life !
While giving her last advice, Emmanuelle insisted on the importance of reintroducing the foods gradually during the following week. Our bodies needed to slowly reajust. One cannot come in and out of a fast eating a burger and fries! So if we take into account the periods of preparation and readaptation, a total of three weeks of efforts are in fact needed for a one-week fast. This seems a lot, but truly essential. Soon after lunch we had to head back home… I could not believe the week went by that fast !
It was challenging … but my body benefitted !
I cannot deny that the first days were a real challenge. I am deeply convinced that had I started the fast with more energy, I would have enjoyed it more. Fasting with no vitality can even be dangerous in some cases.
The following days, I could definitely observe the benefits : I felt full of positive energy. I had met great people along the way and discovered an amazing place. My skin was as soft as babyskin and my nails shinny and pink. I felt lighter (I had lost 6 kilos !), inspired and younger. My backache was gone, as well as my then chronic premenstrual pains.
We were a group of six people, with six different experiences. Some felt hunger, others did not, some had massive detox symptoms, others did not. The only sensation that we all shared was the joy of fasting.