I recently underwent a fascinating, life-altering three weeks. For two of those weeks, my diet consisted of bread and water – without the bread. And I am not someone who has experienced anorexia. Quite the contrary – I was drawn to the field of nutrition because of my love for food (nutritious or not) and snacking has been a recurrent downfall.
But fate flung at me an inflammatory sports-related condition called plantar fasciitis, which made walking almost impossible. I saw that an inability to walk would lead to decreased fitness, increased weight gain and perhaps even type 2 diabetes and related problems, not to mention a reduced overall quality of life.
So I was ready to take a chance, but with powerful safeguards. I knew and trusted the medical staff that would support me through a water-only fast. I understood a little of the science behind their work. The clinic I attended is the only one I know that offers water fasting with vigilant supervision by MDs and other medical staff (plus it is economical). Their success with hypertension, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis is impressive and they currently have a research grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Withdrawing from the world while resting your mind, body and digestive system is an age-old technique with roots in the healing traditions of ayurveda, ancient Greece and many western and eastern religions. A remarkable number of spiritual leaders underwent fasts for as long as 40 days.
My water fast was for 14 days, followed by a week of re-feeding. During this time, I learned the following:
1. I strongly advise against doing a water fast for more than a day without supervision by an experienced MD.
2. Water fasting is quite distinct from juice or maple syrup-based fasts, in which a stream of sugar fuels the body and brain. In water fasting, the body breaks down fat and soon goes into a state of ketosis. Fasting (where you lose fat) is not the same as starving (where fat is gone and muscle and body protein are lost).
3. A typical weight loss is one pound per day, primarily fat. A few pounds, due to salt and intestinal contents, are regained during re-feeding, yet with proper follow-up the weight stays off. I met two happy individuals who had lost over 80 pounds in a series of fasts.
4. People had come from across Canada, the US and Europe. For some, symptoms of type 2 diabetes had disappeared within a few weeks on water. For others, the pain, stiffness and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis faded as possible trigger foods were removed from their diets. In a study of 168 patients with blood pressure above 140/90 mm Hg, the average reduction was 37/13 mm Hg after 2 weeks on water plus six days of re-feeding. All those on hypertensive medications discontinued their meds (see references at www.commonground.ca). Read some stories at www.healthpromoting.com
5. The re-feeding began with juice, followed by a plant-based diet with no added SOS (salt, oil, sugar). Meals consist of steamed greens, soups, yams, a salad bar and fruit. After two weeks of water fasting, one’s sense of taste changes. Addictive attachments to SOS can be replaced by healthier eating habits.
6. To my surprise, doing without food was not hard – it was relaxing. I returned home 12 pounds lighter and followed up with very effective chiropractic treatment in BC. Best of all, the experience was healing.
1. Goldhamer et al. “Medically Supervised Water-Only Fasting in the Treatment of Hypertension.” Journal of Manipulative and Physiological
Therapeutics. 2001. 24(5):335-339.
2. Goldhamer et al. “Medically Supervised Water-Only Fasting in the Treatment of Borderline Hypertension.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2002. 8(5):643-650.
3. Lisle, D, Goldhamer A. “The Pleasure Trap.” Healthy Living Publications. 2003
Vesanto Melina is a dietitian and co-author of nutrition classics Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, Becoming Raw, Raising Vegetarian Children, the Food Allergy Survival Guide and the Raw Food Revolution Diet. For personal consultations, phone 604-882-6782 or visitwww.nutrispeak.com