Updated: Sep 4
There is plenty of information out there about fasting. With this piece, I want to share what I have learnt through fasting, as well as give the reader some humble and very general advice from my own experience and perspective.
Since my late 20s, when I was quiet overweight, I have been aware of many benefits of fasting. Although I tried many different diets and crazy protocols to lose weight, including some fasting; It took me a while to try The Body conscious fasting, the one where I was really committed to observe my emotions as well as my physical changes. I resisted to admit that no eating is good for you. My childhood and early life in general was so deprived of material things that I did not find very tempting going without food, while it was available. I, for sure did not feel safe going into fasting.
Before I engaged in the process, I had to witness the effects that fasting had on my meditation mates. I saw the immediate benefits they got through fasting: the easiness in their moves, the light in their eyes, the healthier skin, the higher energy…..just to name some obvious evidences.
It has been 15 years of this journey. How this started: When I started, I decided to start simplifying what I ate: My first fast looked like this: for one day a month I would eat a small bowl of organic brown rice three times a day, any amount of water I wanted, and all the organic fennel tea I wanted. I choose fennel because it was my favourite at that time and fennel has a gentle taste. After about a year, I switched to two days a month in a row with this regime.
The time of this regime come to an end when I noticed that on these days I was feeling a bit anxious around meal times, with some exasperation before my bowl of rice; at the same time I felt a bit bore of brown rice….No good. At this time, I have been able to build a good personal discipline of yoga and intense physical work. These two years of fasting monthly with rice and water come to an end. I decided that I was ready and able to manage without food for a day, I felt safe. I set my intentions of being very aware of what emotions and how my body would respond when hunger arose. A new face of fasting started for me and it was one day a month with no food but all the wanted water and organic fennel tea. This evolved to two days in a row a month. It worked very well for about a year, but at the end, I was feeling that two days was a bit long, especially because my job become very challenging.
I decided to start fasting only one day but doing it weekly instead of monthly.
This has been working well on and off for the last 10 years but consistently for the last 6. The fasting lasts usually between 24 and 36 hours depending on my commitments, season, and my emotional state. Some weeks it's easier than others.
I think people who fast regularly experienced not only the physical journey but the inner journey. Our emotions are deeply linked to food as satisfactory, regulator of anxiety, cover of fear, safety issues, pleasure, sense of lack, family, loneliness.
From my life style and personal needs, fasting once a week works well. I have built a routine around it and although sometimes is complicated to fit with times and activities, it has become a good practice that gets easier with the time.
The Big Water Fast
It has been 5 years now since I have been water fasting for 5 days in a row once a year. No food or tea or coffee, just water. I won’t say the process is easy, IT IS NOT. The first and second days are easier, days three and four are challenging. The last day, you start feeling the energetic, physical and emotional benefits. That is when you KNOW is worth it.
I will mention some of the main symptoms, discomforts and pains. As I will mention the challenges, I will also tell you what I gained. The process has been always rewarding in different levels some of which are probably so subtle that I still am not totally aware of them. I never regret.
Before starting the fasting, I planned things to do over this week, to keep myself busy but mainly indoors. Apart of some gentle walks and stretching in the park, I stayed indoors with as little external and physical demands as possible.
Things like this happen:
Day One: Easy, a bit of tiredness at the end of the day and a headache started after midday. I feel very sleepy and a bit edgy with my emotions. Feeling the hunger and the demands of my body for food. As I am used to the one day fasting, I am familiar with the symptoms in my body. I know that I will always survive and survive happily.
Night One: I usually sleep well, not great but acceptable.
Day Two: Start well, headache around midday and it becomes very strong in the evening. I feel usually extremely hungry and tired in the evening, but keep hydrated. When we do not eat, the body also miss the water we get through food. So, good water intake is crucial and maybe a bit of sea salt in it to put some minerals that we are not taking from food.
Night Two: I sleep much better than the first night.
Day and nights three and four: Intensity cracks in. These were the most challenging and the most interesting days for me: When we fast all our inner organs not only stomach, get stressed and activates, specially heart, liver and kidneys.
Although Energetically I feel light and mentally very clear, in these days I feel really my heart, my liver and my kidneys as if they were talking to each other, constant pulsing, I can feel and hear all this as if I don’t have skin, as if my organs are out talking and shouting: I heard my heart beat as I never had, my liver and kidneys pulsing in and out… I am sure each of them is activating their specific coping mechanisms and replacing old and toxic cells fro new brand ones. The organs are conversing one to another in order to make the orchestra that is my body to play the right melodies in synchronicity.
Feeling my heart beat and my liver pulsating is great but I must say the pain that some times I experience in my kidneys is difficult to cope with, specially the night three and day four and night four (This happened in my first and second year of this protocol, after the 3er year I have not felt this pain). This pain in my kidneys went to my legs and it was permanent and more intense at night specially night number 3.
I was explained by someone who knows about fasting that it was nothing like kidney failure 9which I felt like), Is is part of the reset process going on in my secretory and excretory systems.
If day 1 and 2 brought me more awareness of my emotional body and the feelings that we engaged with when we are hungry, Day 3 and 4 are remarkable to become more aware of my inner organs. I must say, I never have felt pain in my kidneys and that level of discomfort and tiredness in my legs. The 3 and 4 nights are usually more challenging but with the pass of the years the nights have become also easier and I have slept much better in my 2 last years of following this protocol.
Day and Night Number Five: My favourite day and night. If the previous days allow me to become aware of emotions and inner organs, in the fifth day I become aware of my energetic body. I certainly feel very content. I suppose it is also a feeling of achievement, I feel proud of my self reliance. Day five brings me a sense of lightness and openness. I don’t not feel hungry on the day 5, although I want to eat and I think t about food, this desire comes more from wanting to taste and the experience of sensing that physical hunger.
I usually break my fast with a bowl of organic brown rice with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt. I so enjoy and bless the availability of food it and my choice of eating or not. The food always tastes good.
After the fast I always feel very light, content, physically strong, I sleep very well the night number 5.
What I have learn from the 5 days fasting protocol so far?
From my journey through fasting I have few lessons:
-If you are going to start fasting, start just with intermittent fasting and increase the gaps between meals, slowly. Increase to one day a week for few months and so on. Build it up, become friends of fasting until you feel you can manage 3, 4, 5 days.
-The fist time you are going to fast for more than 3 days Do it under professional supervision/advice/mentoring or an experienced "faster" (If such a word exists). There are moments when you need support since the physical stresses and pains can be overwhelming.
-Although I always lose few pounds in the five days of fasting they were back on again in about a week or less. From my fasting experience and reading other's peoples experiences I can recommend: Do not fast for 5 days if you want to lose weight permanently. This is not my intention and I know that the weight I lose with the fast will come back very soon with my normal eating regime. What I know is that fat melts and I my body looks more toned. Thre is a change in the quality of the tissue of my body.
-To start fasting: Start training your body considering different factor such as: Your schedules, your food preferences, your eating patterns. Start gentle as if your case study is your fasting body. Everyone is different and not one type of fast is universal. You need to find your own. Some people start with intermittent fasting which is having a short window where they eat: say 8,10, 12 hours of eating and 16, 14, 12 hours fast. Some people start simplifying the diet slowly giving the body the chance to reset for a fast. With time, you will find your way of fasting, and as you see the benefits, you will feel more encouraged to include fasting in your schedule and make it part of your life style.
-The way to break the fast is very important. Break it with very simple food and small amounts. It can be a small bowl of your favourite grain or vegetable or a plain vegetables soup. It will give time to your body to settle again and it will prepare you emotionally to be even more grateful and enjoy fully the next proper meal.
-Appreciation: I feel much more appreciative with the opportunities I have to choose what to eat, when to eat, where to eat. We take it for guarantee and forget how blessed we are. There are so many people who go with no food/no choice. When returning from fasting, I engage with gratitude for the abundance that I can afford and the choices I can make.
-Fasting has helped me with: better digestion and skin, more sense of alertness with my body sensations, more emotional awareness around my food preferences and situations when I crave specific food. Fasting has given me lots of emotional material to work on myself. Anger, sense of lack, fear, insecurity, lack of trust in my bod
-My body has developed more intelligence, being more sensible about what/when to eat. The body becomes better at choosing food that is healthy and provides one with what is needed nutritionally.
I would not go as far as saying that fasting is a strategy to enlightening, but for sure provides with a physical opportunity to visit some shadows and fears and face them. I have faced them with an empty stomach, pain in my kidneys, beating heart so… I suppose there is a bit of science in it as well.
Some Extra Information:
It has been demonstrated that different forms of fasting have been ancestral practices for healing and/or spiritual rituals. Religions use it, many animals in the wild fast for long periods of time depending on the seasons/weather and also to heal. Health recuperation experts advice different modalities of fasting as integral part of treatments. Lots of studies keep showing how many ailments and illnesses can be healed and prevented through fasting.