(Lemon Juice Cleanse - recipe/instructions in post)
Fasting. Where to begin - well, I've decided I'm going to. Fear not, I'll still be cooking, but for the coming posts The Boyfriend will be in charge of the menu and much of what you'll be hearing are his thoughts on the food. It'll be just like normal, only different!
Before I go ahead and tell you why I'm going to fast, I want to talk about what fasting is.
Fasting has a lot of controversy around it, and rightfully so. By definition, fasting is willing abstinence from all food, and sometimes all drink. It is sometimes done for health reasons, is often done as religious practice, and is (often misguidedly) used for weight-loss. The latter of these three can, in some cases, draw a fuzzy line between being healthful and having an eating disorder.
While some studies show that intermittent fasting can significantly increase a person's physical health, and possibly even extend one's lifespan, others show notable counter-evidence. My personal belief is that much of the issues related to fasting occur because the diet is misunderstood or misused. However, I want to be clear that I am not recommending the use of any particular fasts or diets - anyone interested in fasting, or juicing, should read the information available to them and consult with a doctor before beginning any extreme dietary regimen. Pregnant women and children should not fast.
Note: All information herein is the result much research, but I am not a licensed nutritionist or certified dietary consultant. Feel free to leave comments with any questions you may have, but be aware that my opinions are just that.
That said, here's what I know:
Let's address the weight-loss issue first. Yes, you can lose weight from fasting (look at anorexics, for instance), but let's take a look at how the body uses fuel and where that fuel comes from.
On a regular day, the body gets most of the energy it needs from the food we eat. To function properly, the first thing the body needs is glucose, or sugar - much of what we eat gets converted to sugar during digestion. Within the first eight or so hours of not eating, the body turns to the liver for its back-up supply of glucose. After that's run out, however, the next place our bodies turn are our muscles, converting the protein to sugar - if this goes on for more than a few days it can lead to muscular deterioration. Lastly, the body will turn its focus to the stores of fat, which it will continue to use until it runs out. Not the most efficient, or healthy, way to lose weight. In my mind, this doesn't deserve the definition of fasting - it's called starvation.
Many fasting diets, however, counteract this with the addition of sugars. Not processed and refined sugars, but the complex carbs found in nature such as those in fruit. Take for example the popular 'juicing' diets, which omit solid food but are comprised of large amount of fresh fruit juices. Or the well known 'Master Cleanse' (more on this later) that includes maple syrup. This provides the initial stages of energy we need to stay functioning, and keeps our bodies from panicking and taking what they need from wherever they can.
What about the rest of the nutrition our bodies need? While some fasts include vitamin rich juices to help support normal functioning, others don't. Our bodies are extremely efficient at maintaining themselves in times of drought, but it should be noted that you can fast for too long, especially without proper nutrition. Some diets recommend fasting for a few days, while others say no less than a few weeks - for the most part, the span of time you choose is up to you. Many would find it difficult to fast beyond a reasonable limit, and those who don't may suffer from an eating disorder such as Anorexia Nervosa.
My personal recommendation would be that if you're fasting for the first time, start slow. Use a fast that supplies both vitamins (via fruit or vegetable juice) and glucose, and try just three or four days before easing back to a regular diet. Maintain normal eating habits for at least a month or two before fasting again, and once you get comfortable with it gradually work your way up to 10-14 days. Many have gone on fasts for up to a month or more, but I suggest consulting with a physician before going longer than two weeks.
One of the things your body absolutely cannot do without are fluids, and strange as it may sound one of the biggest issues with fasting is dehydration. Not necessarily because liquids have been cut from the diet, but because of a decreased intake of sodium. Salt helps retain the liquid we consume, and so some fasts (such as The Master Cleanse, and others) recommend drinking hot salt water. In addition to supplying salt, this also helps to flush the colon, working as a kind of gentle abrasive. Be sure to stay near a bathroom during these fasts!
I should note that, most of the time, it is not recommended that you take supplements while on a fast. Some fasts include nutrient rich juices, but many vitamins cannot be absorbed or processed without the inclusion of fats, and sometimes proteins, in the diet. I do recommend, however, taking probiotics as you return to normal eating, to replace the good bacteria that get lost during a colon cleanse.
In addition, discuss with a doctor before taking any drugs or medications while fasting - similar to the way alcohol can have a much larger effect when consumed on an empty stomach, medications, including those over-the-counter, can have a much bigger impact during a fast. The same goes for caffeinated teas and coffee.
Going into a fast: One of the most important things about a fast isn't actually what you do on the diet, but what you do before and after. You should always ease into and out of fasting, letting your body transition gently. Try to resist having a big 'last supper' before you begin a fast, and give yourself a few days at the end to start eating fruits and vegetables, drinking broth, and then adding things like rice, soup, or beans into your diet.
When the body goes without solid food (even for just several hours - and this is why it's important to eat smaller meals more frequently when not fasting) it can enter what I call 'starvation mode'. If it's been a while since your stomach's last meal, it might not know when the next wave of nutrition is coming - therefore, your metabolism will slow down and you'll begin to store as much of what you have as possible. This can quickly become a cycle. If you're feeling ravenous, chances are your body will take a tiny bit of what you give it to satiate its needs and then store the rest away to use slowly, like a squirrel hoarding nuts for the winter.
Because your body will be saving its energy, you should not only eat light the day before and carefully introduce foods in the days after a fast, but you should take it easy during. If you normally work out, take a walk and do stretches instead. Only begin a fast if you're in relatively good condition - not sick or coming down with something your body needs to focus its energy on to fight.
So, why fast? The reason I'm fasting (and the reason I've done it in the past) is not for weight loss, or to 'possibly extend my lifespan', but to cleanse my body of any toxicities and impurities that have built up. Giving my organs a chance to flush out the old, before piling on more of the new. While some 'cleansing' fasts include laxatives and the like, I don't usually see the need to go so far unless for some medical reason.
In the past, I've used fasting as a kind of reset button after a prolonged period of un-health. I say 'un-health' because I don't want to specify just 'not eating well' - what I mean, instead, is much broader, including headaches, fatigue, depression, and overall discomfort mentally and/or physically. Certainly much of that is affected by what I eat, but often there are other factors. This time, there are a lot of those 'other factors', such as all of the drugs that have been pumped into my system to deal with infection and illness over the past several months. Ridding my body of some of the sludge that's built up not only gives me more energy, but ensures that my body can run smoothly and efficiently. One well oiled machine.
Another reason for fasting is if you suspect you may be allergic to, or not handle well, certain foods. By cutting everything from your diet and then slowly adding things back in one at a time, you can pinpoint how certain foods make you feel. Coming off a fast, you might add most things back into your diet and then find that dairy upsets your stomach - if everything else has been fine on your digestion, it will be easy to tell what's causing the problem.
Detoxing: Because many fasts are designed to expel the bad things from your body, some people may experience detox symptoms. The toxins in your kidneys and colon are a bit like sediment at the bottom of a pond, and when you begin to remove that waste a lot of dust gets kicked up. As your body works to flush out all of this build-up, you may become irritable, tired, or even have headaches or soreness. These are all normal responses to any detox. After the murkiness is washed away, however, you'll have more energy than before, be in a better mood, and find that your digestion is more efficient now that everything is cleaned out.
Note: Those with dependencies to things like caffeine or alcohol may experience more frequent or severe headaches due to withdrawal.
Cravings: While I'm at it, I should probably mention cravings. I can only speak from my own experience, but for me I get my biggest cravings on the second or third day - and it usually starts with the junk food. Whatever sweet and salty goodness I'm currently into. After that my stomach doesn't bother me so much - it's getting most of what it needs from the fast I've chosen and is focused on conserving energy, while I'm focused on all the extra time I have not eating - so our paths don't cross so much (although I continue to cook for those around me, always).
Towards the end of the fast, when I begin to think about what I might want, the change in what my body asks for is amazing. The first things on the list are always salads, soups, and lean proteins. This is part of what I was referring to when I said it's like hitting the 'reset' button - it reminds me that what I want and what I need can be one and the same.
Summation: In the end, fasting is a very personal choice. It's something you should educate yourself on and make your own decisions about, but it's also about how you feel while doing it. One person's experience will always differ from another's.
(Making the lemonade and orange juice - the oranges courtesy of The Mother's recent trip to Florida. Thanks, Mom!)
What is this "Master Cleanse"? The diet I follow is closely based off Stanley Burroughs' "The Master Cleanse", or Lemonade Diet (which is a book you should read, not read about - you'll find both over-the-top advocating and under-educated bashing if you only listen to others. In all things, find the source and form your own opinion). While much of Stanley Burroughs' book is a somewhat spiritualized analysis of how the body works, the Lemonade Diet has been around for over sixty years now, so is no new thing. The idea behind it, in brief, is:
Lemon juice - lemons (and limes) are extreme sources of vitamins and minerals, plus they act as a diuretic, stimulating your kidneys and helping to flush toxins out through urine. While extremely acidic, the juice is converted to alkaline in our digestive tracts and actually help to keep our alkalinity balanced.
Pure Maple Syrup, Grade B - Maple syrup has a balance of simple and complex carbs to deliver the initial burst of glucose our bodies need. In addition, it has essential vitamins and minerals most other sweeteners don't. This is also the reason for Grade B, which is darker, less refined, and contains more minerals than the more common Grade A syrup.
Cayenne Pepper - to help stimulate circulation, and break up mucus and other build-ups in the body.
Spring or filtered water - hot or cold
Supplemented by 1 quart of warm water, with two level tsp. sea salt dissolved into it - first thing every morning, the salt water not only adds sodium to the diet as I mentioned earlier, but works as a quick and thorough flush of the intestines. Be sure you're near a bathroom when you drink the salt water!
The Master Cleanse is certainly well thought out, and even includes information about using the fast as a diabetic, but I don't subscribe to its every word or hold it as some high and mighty 'one book'. There's a lot of literature out there, and what's right for some may not be right for others.
What I do is not exactly Stanley Burroughs' method, but the basis is the same.
(Citrus massacre! You'll be needing a lot of lemons for this diet, but it's important to use fresh juice, not boxed, bottled, or frozen.)
(This makes about enough for 1.5-2 days of fasting. Be prepared to squeeze a lot of lemons, but don't skimp and buy the pre-juiced stuff!)
2 - 3 cups fresh squeezed lemon juice (depending on how sweet my lemons are)
2 cups grade B maple syrup
10 cups purified water
Cayenne pepper to taste (usually less than 1/8th tsp. for the whole batch, though sometimes I just add a dash per glass to suit my mood)
Supplemented by hot salt water first thing in the morning, and as much plain water or herbal/decaf tea as I want. (I'm especially fond of peppermint and kava teas, while fasting).
Although I keep the drink in the fridge, sometimes I'll warm a glass in the microwave before bed.
(The lemonade - really tasty, if you ask me!)
Day 1: Ease into the fast with lots of fruits and vegetables, clean water, and tea.
Day 2: Eliminate all solid foods - start with fresh squeezed orange juice, and then begin drinking the lemonade.
Day 3 - End: Salt water, lemonade, water and tea as needed. Drink as much of the lemonade as you want, as frequently as you want.
Day 1: Continue drinking the lemon juice, add orange juice, fresh fruits, vegetables, and raw nuts. start taking probiotics. (Raw, vegan, and gluten-free)
Day 2: Introduce heartier solids like soaked oats, soup, rice, and continue to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. (Vegan, gluten-free)
Day 3: Slowly return to a regular, healthy diet.
That's my plan, and I'm stickin' to it!