Every year I commit to a juice fast of some predetermined length of time. The longest I’ve fasted personally is for 5 days and nights. That’s a relatively short fast, but it’s a good length for me given my BMI (Body mass index). I certainly don’t use fasting as a way of losing weight, but rather as a way of resetting my system, giving my gut a break from its hard work, and allowing my body a little more “RR&R time” (rest, relaxation & repair).
What is a fast? Traditionally, a fast is where one only consumes water for a period of time. That’s it, just water! I’ve tried that too, but realized in doing so that I have a condition called Gilbert’s disease that basically causes my liver to “freak out” when it is forced to detox at that rate without substrate, and I get sick. So, I do juice fasting instead. This means I have nothing but vegetables and a little fruit run through a juicer for my meals each day along with a few liters of water. After trying both methods, I have found that using juice instead of plain water is helpful if you’re still living your life during the fast. I still have to work during my fast. Juicing allows me plenty of energy to keep up at work while water fasting made my body slow down way too much to use my brain and body for what I needed it to do in a regular day.
Day 1: My experience during a juice fast is not typical of most people’s experiences. For most, day 1 is full of pain, discomfort and irritability due to withdrawal from foods. Many of the foods we give ourselves each day have addictive properties - concentrated fats, caffeine, high-sodium and refined sugar. When you abruptly discontinue these foods, you can expect your body (and often times the digestive tract itself) to revolt from not having their addictions fed. Since my diet is already unprocessed, plant-based and without any concentrated sugars in general, I don’t have these detox/withdrawal reactions. The main issue I have on day 1 is reckoning with the habits I otherwise am unaware of - the temptation to eat out of boredom or for procrastination. I had three juices today: the first - a green juice made from a bunch of collards, 2 apples, a wedge of ginger and a cucumber. The second - an orange juice made from carrots and an apple. The third - an orange-red from pomegranate, carrot & papaya. I picked this week to fast because my husband will be traveling so there will be no one eating good-smelling food around me. I also wanted to station my hardest days (usually days 3 and 4 for me) during days where I had plenty of tasks to do so that I’d be more distracted and less focused on food.
Day 2: This morning I noticed a window of irritability - noticeably more impatience than “my normal”. Something small and frivolous made me feel more aggravated than was reasonable. Anyone who is fasting should expect this day to be wrought with withdrawal symptoms again, maybe even more intense than the first day. Headaches are common, especially with caffeine withdrawal. In my opinion, if you’re going to continue to work during a fast, having stationed outlets for relaxation and reflection are essential to have a healthy fasting experience, and to allow your body to take full advantage of the rest. If you are high-stress and miserable, your body will not experience the same level of benefit. How can you do this?
Deep breathing exercises, gentle walks outside, journaling daily - multiple times per day is ideal, and meditation. Keeping your body in a relaxed state (activating the parasympathetic part of the nervous system) allows it to repair rather than stay in “high alert” mode.
What’s fascinating about the fasting state - especially when nothing in my environment changes - is how much time I suddenly have. There is so much time I otherwise spend on buying food, preparing food, cooking, eating the food and cleaning up afterwards day after day. When you remove most of that and replace it with 5-10 minutes of juicing 1-2x per day, you notice. In addition, because I’m not eating I’m not interested in putting myself in situations where I might lust after food. For me, this means any situation where I experience heightened stress.
Day 3: Wow, all the time I have! Because I’m working and I don’t want to lose motivation through my fast, I make the juices the night before and store them in the refrigerator sealed in quart-sized mason jars. I have four per day, and I’ve taken to not starting any juice until about 10 or 11am, relying on abundant water first thing in the morning before my juice. So when I wake up, everything seems to take less time than before, and I’m twiddling my thumbs before I head to the office.
What juices am I making? I’m not big on recipes… I like to use recipes for inspiration, but not actually to follow. So I have taken to the following rough guidelines for my daily four juices:
My green juices (2 per day) are made up of: 1 large cucumber each + 1 large bunch (8 cups or so) of 1-2 types of dark leafy green (mostly kale and spinach) + 1-2 apples + 1 lemon + 1 wedge of ginger + 1/2 head of broccoli per juice + about 4 stalks of celery.
My orange juice is made up of: mostly carrots + 1-2 apples + 3 stalks of celery + 1 wedge of ginger. Sometimes I add plain, pre-bottled pomegranate juice to this for added resveratrol - a compound abundant in pomegranate seeds that is helpful for detoxification and energy production.
My pink juice is made up: 4 stalks of celery + 2 grapefruits + 1 apple + multiple carrots.
There is no hard and fast rule on which juices you should have, or if you need to vary them at all. Having as many greens as possible is a good idea, and limiting your fruit as much as possible is also a good idea. Other than that, the refrigerator is your oyster…. or whatever.
Day 4: The thing that may (and should!) shock you the most thus far during a fast is the fact that you can continue to have bowel movements despite eating any solid food. This is because there is a lot of bacteria, other microbes, toxic waste from the body and “leftover” bulk from the time before your fast that your body wants to eliminate. I happen to find this phenomenon both the coolest and also the most disturbing. It bothers me that my body can harbor so much waste, but I’m glad that it also has the ability to get rid of it!
Day 5: Today is supposed to be the last day of my fast. I actually feel amazing. I have had virtually no energy dip or mood changes at all during this time. Aside from mild mental slowness in recent days that was probably only perceptible to myself, I haven’t had any issues. This is NOT a typical response to a fast, certainly not during the first few days. But, by day 5, most people are starting to feel a sort of euphoric feeling and heightened energy and mental clarity. For anyone who is carrying extra weight and would like to proceed with fasting, they will continue to feel great moving forward. For myself, I am at my lowest weight that I am comfortable with, so I will be stopping my fast after today.
Day 6: Breaking the fast has historically been the hardest part of fasting for me. I’m fantasizing throughout the fast about the foods I want to eat when I break it… so it can be hard to slow down and be strategic about re-starting. Surprisingly, I feel none of that this time around. If it weren’t for my weight requirements, I would surely continue. When anyone breaks a fast, it’s important to remember that the stomach hasn’t done any work at all in a while and will probably rebel violently against you if you add in too much food, or difficult-to-digest food (like meat and other proteins) right off the bat. I like to start with some fresh fruit to break the fast and then follow it later in the day with steamed vegetables and maybe some rice at the end of the day. Definitely no weight-lifting for a day or two. Rather, an easy hike and some long walks will be ideal for me.
Fasting can be a great way to reset the body and give it a much-needed break. It brings the focus back to the body rather succumbing to the pressures of our “pill for every ill” society’s tendency to look outward for solutions rather than inward. Fasting can offer not just a physical break and restorative solution, but also a mental and even spiritual one. To really come to terms with our addiction to food (especially processed, high sugar, high fat diets), our reliance on it to be social, and the high-speed pace we move every day is something I find therapeutic. Every fast teaches me something different and more important than the fast before.
I’d love to know your thoughts on fasting and questions you may have about the process.
Suggested resource for further reading on the topic: Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctor's Program for Conquering Disease