Post Christmas is the most popular time of year for people to embark on new fitness regimes, invite new diets into their lives, and generally get more extreme when it comes health habits. One method which has become more and more popular over the years is that of fasting, with the intention of detoxing, but is it really good for you?
Fasting has been proven to benefit people by removing unwanted toxins that are stored in the body’s fat reserves, as well as helping people to lose weight plus other physical, mental and spiritual advantages. However, there can be associated risks and complications, and so everyone, especially people with existing medical conditions, should approach with caution.
How do you fast?
Fasting basically entails the removal of food from your diet entirely for a certain amount of time. The two most popular (and consistent throughout history) ways to fast are either water fasting, which is literally a diet of water alone, the second being juice and or broth (vegetable) fasting, this entails ingesting calories and nutrients so is not considered a complete fast. The intention of the solely water fast is to flush the system and rid it of any lingering toxins; some religions and ancient beliefs are that this is essential to clearing the gut and purifying the blood. It is also a method to rebalance the mind and body and is said to be spiritually enlightening.
One other method, which has reached popularity in recent years, is intermittent fasting whereby you stick to your regular diet but fast at certain points in the week and stick to this routine. For example to eat normally during the week and at weekends only have one meal per day (there are many variations).
In Chinese medicine the act of fasting is not simply removing food from your diet but also an intense moment for meditation in order to assist in removing any blockages in your chakras (energy points in the body) and ensure your chi (energy) is flowing correctly. If your energy is flowing freely you are able to connect and be at one with the universe.
Fasting will require you to have an allocated amount of time without any stress or strain, during which you wouldn’t be able to function effectively at work so during a holiday would be the best moment. You would also benefit by being in a peaceful and serene environment without too much distraction.
How does fasting work?
Basically once you remove food from the diet the body has to find sources of energy elsewhere. First it turns to stored protein in the muscle, this however is not a sustainable source, as of course we need our muscles to function effectively, so the body turns to fat stores for energy instead, which is why fasting implies weight loss. Within this fat a lot of toxins are stored and so once it is being used for energy these start to be dispelled via the bloodstream. This process of removal is effective yet can prove very uncomfortable. Once these toxins have been released, and pass through our system, it is like a reset for the body which can have amazing, positive results on our health, both mentally and physically, however there are noted drawbacks and difficulties which may present themselves.
How long do you fast for?
Fasting can often start to become very difficult at around day three as your withdrawals start to become both mental and physical; as it would removing anything habitual from our daily lives, and something so apparent and natural as food is obviously not an easy thing to stop having. Some people fast for 24-72 hours, some for up to a month. It really does depend on the body and mind of that person as to what is needed and what they are capable of.
What are the risks?
There are so many opinions both medically and personally on fasting, and there are countless variables when it comes to the length of time, the type of fast and how it is done, plus the body type of the individual, and so it is very difficult to give an overview on the subject.
There are many studied potential risks with fasting as our regular levels of certain minerals and nutrients are depleted during a fast, this can interfere with the body’s usual rhythm, especially cardiac function. Our immune system is also put under pressure during a fast and so infectious diseases are much more difficult to fight off. We simply would not have the energy. Fasting lowers your blood pressure, and can leave you feeling weak, dizzy or nauseous. These symptoms occur more with longer fasts, rather than short or intermittent fasts, and obviously many people do fast safely, however, it is worth noting the risks in order to make sure that if this is your choice some day, it is the right one for you.
Which diet is best?
If you really research into diet, the general consensus when it comes to the healthiest way of life is that we should stick to whole, nutrient-dense, plant-based, fresh, unprocessed, low sugar, low salt, food and drinks. Steer clear of junk food, and when I say junk food I mean anything that doesn’t fall under the list I just gave! We need regular exercise, plenty of sleep (at least 8 hours a night) and to keep hydrated. If you really feel like you are blocked and need to dispel more toxins, I would personally suggest following this, see how you feel after a few months of really healthy and clean living.
Once you are on a healthy track, if you still feel the same way then you could either gradually work yourself down from eating normally to reducing to just fruit and vegetables, or try an intermittent fast routine whereby you cut out meals on certain days allowing your body to fast for short periods on a regular basis. Or you could try the water only or juice only fast for up to a week in a calm, quiet environment, with minimal distractions and responsibility for the time needed.
Once you have completed the task, work your body up to the idea of food again with a piece of fruit or fresh juice, or vegetables. This is as important as the fasting itself as can have negative impacts if done incorrectly. As you regain a regular diet ensure that it remains as healthy as possible (see above) and don’t fall into bad habits or the benefits will be short lived.
There are so many guidelines on fasting on the internet that it is almost impossible to discern the absolute truth, however, I believe that the truth can only be found when you listen to your own body and mind, for if we truly tap into ourselves we can know what we are capable of, in need of and ready for. So, if you feel so inclined to fast, do read up but remember who you are and try not to be swayed by the hardcore pro-fasting articles, nor the extreme anti-fasting information as both have their own validity and agenda, pick out what you believe and that which will benefit you, now.
*All types of fasting are strenuous on the body and can be dangerous, especially if you have any existing medical conditions. You must consult a doctor or medical advisor in advance and know exactly what to do and expect.
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