Ten Tips for a Successful Fast
Fasting can have a powerful impact on your overall health and well-being. However, most of us find it difficult to begin, and complete, a fast that lasts longer than 24 hours. With some planning and a little knowledge, you can maximize the effectiveness of your fast and minimize the discomfort, making it much more likely that you will be able to complete your fast (and even do it again). Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Prepare your body
Fasting is like a marathon. It requires endurance and stamina. It also requires training and preparedness. You wouldn’t dream of running a marathon without training for weeks and months ahead of time. In the same way, you shouldn’t jump into a lengthy fast without getting prepared.
First, eliminate all caffeine from your diet. If you have enough time before your fast, you can cut back incrementally. This will help to lessen the withdrawal symptoms (headache, fatigue, nausea, etc.). Try to be caffeine-free before you begin your fast. If you do not do this, you will experience significant discomfort during the first 3-4 days of your fast, depending on how much caffeine you consume on a daily basis.
Additionally, cut out all sugars, refined grains, and starches. In essence, eliminate everything white and processed from your diet: white sugar, white flour, white rice, potatoes, and all those pretty packaged foods. This will begin to cleanse your body of “waste foods” which have very little (if any) nutritional value and often contain additives which are harmful to your body.
Instead, concentrate on eating raw foods: fresh vegetables, fruit, raw and soaked nuts, and even sprouted grains and legumes. These foods contain enzymes and nutrients that your body needs to function and to heal. By loading up on enzyme rich foods before you begin your fast, you ensure that your body is supercharged and ready to focus on healing itself without having to deal with a continual influx of pollutants.
2. Start out Hydrated
Every cell in your body needs water in order to function properly. During a fast, when your body is under a significant amount of healthy stress, water is even more important. As you fast, your body draws out the toxins from the “storage bins” in your body (fat, lymph nodes, and even your organs). Staying hydrated will ensure that these toxins are flushed out of your body as rapidly as possible, and that all the systems of your body are supported so they can function optimally. If you drink plenty of water during your fast, you will feel better, experience fewer side effects from withdrawals and detoxification, and will increase the overall effectiveness of your fast.
How do you know if you are drinking enough water? You should aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 120 pounds, you should be drinking 60 ounces or more of water every day. Your urine should be clear, or nearly clear. If it’s not, you may be dehydrated (note that certain vitamins, like D, may make your urine yellow, so if you’re drinking more than the recommended amount of water and your urine is not clear, that may be the cause).
3. Exfoliate by Dry Brushing
You may wonder what skin has to do with fasting. It’s simple: during a fast, your body works hard to remove toxins and restore itself to health. One of the primary ways these toxins are eliminated is through your skin. Keeping your pores open and free of dead skin cells allows your skin to function properly.
Dry brushing is an exfoliation technique that stimulates your skin and other systems of your body, including the lymphatic. It has been found to increase the effectiveness of a fast because it allows your skin to work optimally. The actions involved in dry brushing also get your lymph and circulatory systems going, all of which help to get the toxins out more effectively.
Here’s how you do it: Using a dry natural-bristle brush (like the one above, available at any mass retailer for under $10) or loofa, brush over your body in long strokes, working against your hair and toward your heart. Avoid tender areas (like the face) but try to cover as much of your body as possible. A long-handled dry brush can help you reach your back. Do this when your skin is completely dry (like right before you shower), up to twice a day. When you’re fasting, you might want to do it right after you wake up, and again right before bed. It’s also beneficial to do it right before working out so that your sweat glands are free to work properly when you exercise.
4. Avoid External Toxins
The point of a health fast is to allow your body the time and energy it needs to do some heavy spring cleaning. Fasting allows you to shut down the flow of toxins going into your body through your mouth, but most of us never stop to consider how many toxins we’re absorbing from the products we put on our bodies every day. You can increase the effectiveness of your fast by eliminating or decreasing these external pollutants, at least temporarily. Consider going shampoo and conditioner free and avoid pore-clogging lotions and deodorants during your fast. Many healthy options are available (I love mineral rock deodorants, for example). Take the time before your fast to make the switch!
5. Be Prepared for a Rough Start
Fasting is hard. There’s no way around it. We are used to eating whenever and whatever we want. For most of us, eating fulfills both a physical and emotional need. Eliminating food may leave us feeling vulnerable, irritable, or even restless. You might be surprised at how terrible you feel, not because you need to eat, but because you can’t eat.
Be prepared to deal with the emotional component of fasting. You may be surprised at how you feel about food and eating once food is taken away, and you will very likely learn something about yourself that you didn’t know before. It might be helpful to journal or talk to a friend as you work through this process. Even better, find a friend to do the fast with you! You’ll find comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
Additionally, you may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, especially during the first few days. Perhaps you didn’t realize how addicted your body had become to coffee, or how often you reach for something sugary. You may be tempted to think about the foods you crave and count the hours until you can eat them again. Instead, try to focus on the fact that this fast is helping you to break those addictions. Imagine what is happening inside your body as the enzymes go to work cleaning up and repairing all the damage that has been done over the years. The pain or discomfort you are feeling is a sign of how much you needed this fast, and how hard your body is working to heal itself. Know that you will begin to feel better with each passing day, and don’t quit!
6. Know Your Triggers
My husband and I like to watch movies together on the weekends. We snuggle up with a big bowl of popcorn and enjoy some time alone after the kids have gone to bed. For me, movies and popcorn go hand-in-hand. I call this a “food trigger” because my brain strongly associates the activity with eating. I purposely planned my fast for a time when my husband would be away for work because I can avoid many of the food triggers that are associated with spending time with him (like movies!).
Your food triggers may be different from mine, but we all have them. Knowing what they are and making a plan to deal with them will help you to have a successful fast. Think about which food triggers you can avoid during your fast. If you always have a cup of coffee and a doughnut in the break room at work, you might need to avoid going in to the break room while you’re fasting. Make sure you don’t have to make a trip to the grocery store if that’s a trigger for you, and stay away from any social events that are food-focused. Look at your calendar when planning your fast and choose a time when you can be busy without eating.
7. Prepare Meals Ahead
If you’re responsible for preparing the meals for your family, you’ll be wise to get the shopping and cooking out of the way before you begin your fast. Take the time to make some healthy freezer meals or fill your fridge with things your family can make themselves. Discuss your upcoming fast with your family. They may want to join you, at least in part, by giving up certain unhealthy foods, like sugar and processed grains during the fast. Your fast could be the impetus your family needs to get healthy!
8. Stay Busy
The first few days of a lengthy fast, you might not feel like doing anything. But as your energy returns, staying busy will help to pass the time and keep your mind off food. Plan to complete a project, visit a museum, de-clutter the garage, volunteer in your child’s classroom, or have a long phone conversation with an old friend. Do things you enjoy! I have found that when I fast, I am motivated to clean out and straighten up other areas of my life. I tackle the paper piles on my desk or clean out the kids’ closets. It feels good to me to set my home in order while I’m putting my body in order. As I busy myself with these very productive activities, I am less interested in eating and more interested in completing my project. It feels good to be busy!
9. Break Your Fast Wisely
Your first meals after your fast should be very small and consist of only raw fruits and vegetables. If you did a juice fast, you can eat the same things you juiced, only in their whole forms. Avoid high fat foods, dairy, and grains until your body as become acclimated to eating again. Add foods in slowly so you don’t overwhelm your system or you will feel sluggish and queasy. This is also a good opportunity to monitor how you feel when you eat. Because your body has been cleansed, you’ll be able to discern if your body reacts negatively to certain foods so you can avoid them in the future.
You will notice that you are satisfied with less food because fasting causes your stomach to shrink. However, your brain knows how much you normally eat and doesn’t adapt as easily to these new cues. You may feel like you can’t possibly be full because you haven’t eaten “enough.” Discipline yourself to eat only until you’re satisfied, no matter how small the portion may be. Your body will tell you when you need more.
10. Make the Changes Permanent
As you end your fast, your body has been detoxified, your stomach has shrunk, and your energy has returned. Many of your food cravings will have subsided, and your body has been released of its addictions. It may take time to break the mental addictions, however, but you have a critical opportunity to make some significant changes in your life. If you make fasting a regular part of your lifestyle, the benefits will only increase and you will find yourself less willing to waste the benefits of fasting by eating poorly. Take the time to schedule your next fast. By scheduling another fast, you are telling yourself that you are serious about this commitment to healthier eating. You will be less likely to slide back into old habits if you know you have another fast coming up. You have earned a fresh start—now take it!