HEALING ASPECTS OF FASTING
Many health disorders in technologically developed societies stem from all sorts of excess due to overindulging lifestyle. In the Western world, we are relatively wealthy and do not suffer shortage of consumer goods. Our constant need for ‘more’ which often times is understood as ‘better’, has lead us to the development of a culture of excess in terms of material possession as well as emotional and psychological activity. Eventually excess can no longer be absorbed and over-accumulates in our bodies, minds and immediate environments. This is unfortunately quite apparent in the case of food consumption. Food is an essential part of our lives. It is our nourishment and fun. Unlike other regions of the world, in America food is not expensive, it varies greatly and it is easy to obtain. We are very lucky. However, with the abundance of food comes a responsibility of knowing and respecting our limits.
My personal and professional experience has told me that in most cases the body knows how to heal itself and how to maintain its own well-being. In fact, our bodies are continuously repairing and restoring their tissues and cells and always going towards the most optimal health. This process is happening without our conscious involvement and its existence is undeniable. We can work with this process and help our bodies to heal not only faster but also deeper. One time honored way of doing this is by stopping or significantly reducing the intake of food for a scheduled period of time – fasting. By doing this, we are getting out of the way of the body’s work of thoroughly breaking up what has been ingested, transforming it into blood, vital substances and energy, and completely eliminating what is not needed.
Why does fasting makes a positive impact on our health
First of all, hardly anyone in our society eats just enough to sustain themselves in healthy way. Food is abundant, irresistible and a very important part of celebrating and feeling happy. We can say that in most cases our food intake exceeds our nutritional needs and the body’s ability to eliminate it. Of course the most troubling would be eating out of habit (out of boredom, for entertainment or emotional eating) which can be quite a detriment to our health.
Second thing to keep in mind is that food as a source of our nutrients is also our daily medicine. Hence the importance of its quality. What we ingest 2-5 times a day, every day, 365 days a year will have an undeniable chemical and energetic impact on the physical body. All the extra ingredients that are put into the food to keep its long shelf life, right color, flavor, texture and more will take on a greater magnitude. Chemical, thermal and mechanical processing of the food to make it sugar free, fat free, gluten free, lactose- free, caffeine-free and so on also makes the food more difficult to transform into proper nutrients. Not to mention the variety of ways of altering food by whipping it, over-heating, genetically modifying, exposing it to pesticides and/or antibiotics, artificially enriching it, irradiating, microwaving and other ways of ‘improving’ it. I call it the “de-naturalization” of normal, natural foods.
The safest way of eating is by making your own breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that are made out of organically grown, whole grains and vegetables. Otherwise, we introduce into the body all sorts of ingredients that are used for processing the foods and which by their very nature have nothing to do with the bio-chemical or molecular structure of normal, natural food. They are not truly digestible but still need to be processed by the body and fully eliminated. Problem is compounded by too frequent intake. Poor digestion and elimination allow additives and other toxins to accumulate in the tissues which then sit and linger and over time they become the source of internal toxicity and inflammation. Let’s not forget that although, the de-naturalization of food is a modern problem, just pure overeating, or even normal eating of natural foods in persons with poor digestion or other health problems can cause accumulation and blockages in the circulation of blood and vital substances and auto-toxicity.
The moment we stop all intake, the body goes to work to clear up the digestive system. It continues to collect and remove from the GI tract all unused and undigested food clearing the path for more subtle elements to follow later. Once the digestive tract is clear of the recent intake of food, the process of removing accumulations goes deeper. The deeper storage areas of the body are fat tissue, connective tissue and organs (skin, liver, lungs, reproductive organs). In there, the body stores mucous and more dangerous substances like ingested toxins, food additives, medications and internal auto-toxins that are a product of oxidation, inflammation or immune system imbalance as well as toxins that are produced by overstimulation of endocrine and nervous system. At this stage the body can also eliminate excess dampness and stagnant water that had not yet been metabolized. In the effort of keeping homeostasis, the body can store dangerous substances even deeper. For example heavy metals get stored in the area of brain and spinal cord.
The accumulations that are stored deeper in the body are eliminated later during longer fasts and their elimination can only happened when there is completely no intake other than the pure water. The elimination happens via urine, stools, sweat and respiration.
When all the paths and passages are clear and there is no ”trash” messing up the system, and there is literally nothing for the body to eat (except to drink pure water) than very profound clearing can finally take place – the eating away of the diseased tissues and grand removal of dead cells that had not yet been eliminated. The body will not eat away normal and healthy cells and tissues as long as there is “junky” stuff that the body has no use for. Elimination happens strictly in this order – from the most superficial excess (undigested foods) thru clearing the storage (stagnant, un-metabolized water, toxins) and lastly eating away dead and diseased tissues. This order is inherent and can not be altered. The body will eat healthy tissues only if it is starved to death. However, fasting is not a starvation, it is a temporary abstinence from food in order to improve the body’s metabolic functions and general well being.
The elimination of the diseased tissues can only happened during longer periods of fasting and it will depend on the individual health of the person. It is worthwhile to mention that although it has enormous healing benefit, FASTING IS NOT A MEDICINE. It is not intended as a medical treatment and it’s benefits will be limited by the individual general state of health, stamina, age and body weight. If you are suffering from any medical conditions you must first talk to you doctor to determine if fasting is safe for you.
Fasting is a highly individual and private process and it should be done in the spirit of healing and long term preservation. Healing fasts are done as self-cultivation and out of self love with the respect for the marvel of the body. For those who seriously consider fasting for healing there is literature that describes in detail different stages of fasting as well as biological processes that take place during those stages and how to fast safely. There are different ways and styles of fasting depending on our individual capacity and the particular benefit we want to achieve. Different types of fasting will vary in duration or they may be done during specific body cycles or lunar cycles or specific times of the year. So called fasting on juices is not fasting but dieting. Juice contains digestive substances that when ingested will keep the digestive process going (however slow it may be). Only when food digestion is completely on hold, the full biological benefit of fasting can be achieved.
Just to be ridden of the undigested food alone is a huge relieve. We feel instantly better, lighter, more clear-headed. There is more energy to do things, more space within to embrace the new, and our mood and outlook on life improves. Most visibly, the skin texture and color becomes much nicer. Spirit shines thru the eyes and there is a radiance in the face. All senses sharpen. The digestion of food becomes more complete. Because the GI tract gets a break from constant work and takes time to regenerate, various discomforts related to digestion may go away. Usually, the flexibility of the joints greatly improves. Some old pains and aches may go away. And if as a result of fasting we can get rid of the diseased tissues in the body there is a chance that we can also heal problems that bothered us for a long time.
The benefits of fasting stretch long beyond the time of doing it. Depending on how we fast, we can have even life-long benefits. Of course the benefits of fasting can be supported or destroyed by the subsequent life style. The way one comes out of the fast is even more important than the fast itself. Coming out of the fast is tricky. The appetite comes back very quickly and strongly and it takes a lot of effort to not over-eat. The time of eating after breaking the fast is called a regenerative eating and it should be as long as the number of days we didn’t eat. The food and drink should be carefully chosen and be full of enzymes (raw, fresh vegetable juices, raw fruits, raw salads) and/or life culture (kefir) to help the body to re-start production of it’s own enzymes and secretion of the digestive juices. At this stage the body not only re-starts metabolic process but also actively and very vigorously regenerates and rebuilds itself creating new, healthy cells.
Many associate fasting with depravation and are worried that not eating can damage the body. Others may mistakenly take it for anorexia. Fasting is not done to manipulate anything, the body does all the work by itself. Fasting is done out of a deep and sincere desire to heal and it is done in the spirit of faith in our ability to overcome the difficulty that directed our attention towards fasting in the first place. It is deeply personal and somewhat humbling process during which one gets to face things about oneself that are not so easy to face. Fasting is a DISCIPLINE. To practice it takes courage, determination, knowledge and faith. It is advisable to practice it under supervision of a mentor. Around the world there are medical professional who advocate fasting as well as fasting clinics. Although all the healing work is done solely by the body itself and without our intervention, still, it is good to know what is actually going on with the body biologically during the different stages of fasting. The knowledge is available thru different literature and is an essential part of doing it the right way.
Fasting has been practiced by humanity since antiquity. In fact many cultures and religious traditions endorse and encourage fasting as a way to purify body and psyche in order to heal and gain clarity of the mind. That’s right, one of the healing benefits of fasting is a renewed, more clear perspective on life. Body and mind are one working unit. One operates more in physical reality and the other in a less material world. The condition of one undeniably affects the condition of the other. Throughout history many people were fasting to completely empty themselves physically and mentally for the sake of receiving the guidance and insight on life.
Fasting is very transformational. It is a very challenging yet rewarding process. Anyone who voluntarily engages in this discipline is about to change a big part of themselves forever.