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Fasting


There are many ways of living that impact health, both positively and negatively. If you are looking to embrace a way of living that allows robust health to flourish, and one that gives you the BEST odds of avoiding serious illness, then consider how Natural Hygiene looks at health restoration and maintenance.

One of the tenets of living healthfully is treating the body well. And because of prior living habits, sometimes fasting can help the body restore lost health. But just as with diet, there is a healthiest way to fast; and there are times when extended water-only fasting can do more harm than good.

 


Excerpt from the book

The Raw Food Diet and Other Healthy Habits
Your Questions Answered

by Don Bennett, DAS

 

Chapter 11. Fasting

Q: "What's your position on fasting for healing purposes? Would you recommend that I do a cleanse before transitioning to a 100% raw diet to help get out all the backed up nastiness?"

A: There are two kinds of fasting: body initiated and intentional. I am a firm believer in respecting the body initiated fast. This is when your body does not want you to eat. You know that if you are running a 104 fever and you eat something (even though you aren't hungry), your body will toss it back out because it doesn't want to stop what it's doing (an intensive effort at dealing with a pathogen) to instead do some digestion (a very energy intensive process that robs energy from the healing process). This scenario is obvious. But many people are always eating ahead of hunger, either thinking that when their stomach growls this is a sign of hunger (which it isn't), or are eating on a schedule, or are eating X number of calories which necessitates eating even when not hungry. True hunger is felt in the same area of the body as thirst; in the upper chest / throat area. Thirst has an immediacy to it, and is not what you would describe as a pleasant feeling. Hunger on the other hand is a pleasant feeling, subtle but pleasant, and, like thirst, it makes no noise, and no one can feel it if they were to place their hand on your body (as they could when your stomach is grumbling). Stomach noises are not hunger; they are either the stomach doing some house cleaning or latent indigestion.

Intentional fasts are done, well, intentionally, either because someone feels it would be helpful, or because a fasting practitioner sold you on the idea of fasting, or because it's Tuesday and the person fasts every Tuesday (or once a month, or for three days four times a year, etc). There is nothing that coincides, physiologically, with a Tuesday. And even though the earth does go around the sun once every 365 days, the body has no digestive cleansing cycle that coincides with that regardless of what math you use. So the "fast every xxx" is something humans thought up and it has no correlation with the human body's needs, nor does it respect what the body wants.

That said, for many people who have been eating a non-human diet, it would certainly give the body a break by not eating for a few days. But understand this, if the body wasn't trying to get you to fast, and you stop eating, the body assumes that food has become scarce and will accordingly "dial you down", meaning after a few days of no eating, your metabolism will shift into "sparing/conservation mode", which is why fasting is not a good way to lose weight. But many people, if they waited for true hunger, would find that it doesn't come, and this means that your body has probably been trying to get you to fast for a long time! So my test as to whether or not someone should intentionally fast is to wait until you feel true hunger to eat (as described above). If you get truly hungry, then your body is not looking to fast at this time, and I'm of the opinion that you shouldn't. But if true hunger doesn't appear, consider not eating until it does (unless this goes on too long, and you can't do a lengthy therapeutic fast at this time or you can't do it under supervision). One caveat to this test: the body wants food for two reasons: fuel and nutrition. A long time ago, in our biological "eco-niche" when we ate to satisfy our caloric needs, we got enough of all the nutrients our body required for optimal functioning. Not so today because of where our food comes from (an industry that does not grow for nutritional content). So what do you think happens if you've eaten enough to fulfill your caloric needs but not your nutritional needs? You'll still want to eat. Not for fuel, but in an effort to keep the nutritional insufficiency from becoming a health harming deficiency.

But what if the body also wants you to stop eating for a while to free up vital nerve energy for some long overdue healing to keep something that's currently semi-serious from becoming something serious? The body is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. Not a good place to be. This is why I highly recommend eating a diet that supplies both the foods the body is adapted to eat and the nutrition the body requires for optimal functioning... and when the foods you're buying can't do both, you've got to step in, step up, and do something about it if you want optimal health. So, eating this way can allow the body to request a water fast when it wants to without making some things worse.

What most people should be doing, and what would be of a huge benefit, is to simply make sure they are not overeating, which wastes bodily resources and nerve energy. The best way to ensure this is to eat nutrient-packed food (uncooked), eaten as simply as possible, and to pay attention as you eat so you can "hear" when your body says "enough", and then stop eating at that point even if there is still food left on your plate or you're only half way through the apple or banana or avocado (especially an avocado). And what I mean by "eating simply" is: eat mono meals (a meal of just one item); if eating more than one item at a meal, eat "sequentially" meaning eat the higher water content foods first then wait a bit before eating the other foods that have a lower water content; and don't eat a meal that contains foods that don't combine well in the stomach (known as "food miscombining", more commonly called "food combining" which I feel is a confusing term because it can suggest that you should combine certain foods, which is incorrect).

NOTE: As you transition to the healthiest of diets you may lose weight and become underweight for a while. This is normal, and there are good reasons for this. Just know that the weight will come back without you having to "eat more" or to eat more calorically dense food that is part of an unhealthy diet.

 

Q: "When I started eating a healthy diet (healthiest diet), and started getting more sleep, and doing some rebounding, I found that I lost my appetite… I just didn't feel like eating. I'm thinking of respecting this, but was curious why this would happen."

A: When someone does a 180 from a typical cooked animal and grain based diet to an uncooked fruit and leafy greens diet, it is a major change for the body, but in a good way. Look at it from the body's perspective: All of a sudden you've found and are now eating the foods the body is designed to eat instead of the nutritionally lacking, irritating food that caused the body to jump through hoops to keep itself in balance, and required a lot of nervous system energy (nerve energy) to process.

Keep in mind that the body knows what's wrong with it at any given moment, and is always trying to keep disease from getting out of hand (where it threatens your life). So let's say your body knows that it's got some catching up to do in the disease-resolution department, and it knows there's a lot of housecleaning it got behind in too. When you free up nerve energy for those tasks by eating a less nerve energy intensive and more nutritious diet, your body will shift into high gear in an attempt to get ahead of any as of yet undiagnosed disease. When this happens, you can feel worse before you feel better. And what can also happen is you can lose your appetite completely. One reason for this is because the body has some repair work to do on the digestion system, and knows that with no food coming in, it'll be easier to fix things, and with no digestion to do, there will be even more nerve energy to work with, which will make the repair work more "robust". And even in the case of a tumor that wouldn't be detectable for another 15 years, the body knows it's there, and with its improved vitality plus no digestion going on, it can now really deal with that tumor like never before. So for maximum effectiveness, your body could take away your appetite for a time. This is called "body initiated" fasting (assuming you obey your body and don't eat), as opposed to "intentional" fasting where you decide to stop eating based on what is usually something arbitrary like a day of the week, or the seasons.

But if (water only) fasting is going to go on for more than a week and become truly therapeutic fasting, this should be done under the supervision of someone practiced in the science and art of fasting. Why? Normally, when a healthy person becomes ill, they will lose their appetite until their body resolves the issue, at which time their appetite will return. The problem with modern humans is that some are already so ill, sub-clinically and clinically (undiagnosable and diagnosable), that when they do a fast, they aren't capable of fasting long enough for healing to be completed so that hunger can return. This is why very unhealthy people can't use the criteria "fast until hunger returns" to know when to break the fast. It may seem strange that the body can't let you know when fasting must stop due to the inability to fast longer, but millions of years ago, people couldn't get so unhealthy that they couldn't heal within the time frame that the body was able to fast, so our bodies didn't need that mechanism; fasting would normally never need to go on for more than a week or two, and we could certainly "last" that long. So evidently the body is only programmed with…

"more nerve energy = better recovery from serious conditions"

and

"fasting = more nerve energy"

This is why, for some people, a therapeutic fast must be done more than once for the health issue(s) to fully resolve, and certainly the first of those fasts must be stopped prematurely because the body has used up all available carbs and fat for fuel and starts using protein, which is the clinical definition of starvation. And this is when a fasting practitioner will stop the fast whether the healing is finished or not.

 

Q: "Is there ever a reason to not do water fasting?"

A: If your body is handicapped with any dietary nutritional insufficiencies and especially deficiencies, a water-only fast will obviously deepen the condition. And if one or more nutritional insufficiencies/deficiencies are a contributing factor to the ill-health condition you're trying to resolve, water fasting may help in some ways but hurt in others. This is where "nutritionally supported fasting" can help. This does not mean a calorically restricted diet, but a water fast done with the inclusion of "green juices" which may be nutritionally enhanced depending on the quality of the greens used. Optimally, tests for certain "problematic" nutrients should be done, and any insufficiencies/deficiencies corrected, before fasting. If fasting doesn't help, or makes matters worse, it's likely that nutritional insufficiencies were the problem, and not a malabsorption issue, which can be helped by fasting. Unfortunately, some fasting practitioners do not offer nutritionally supported fasting, and some will only if asked to.

 

Where to do an extended water-only fast

Most people who go to a fasting clinic/center go because they are dealing with a condition of ill-health. History has demonstrated that some fasting practitioners do not do a good job of screening their prospective clients and declining to take on certain people for an extended water-only fast. Does the profit motive play a role in this? That's for others to contemplate. But the fact is that there have been people who shouldn't have been fasted because there are contraindications to fasting for people in certain conditions. And obviously, if you have nutrient deficiencies caused by a dietary insufficiency of certain nutrients, and this is a contributing factor to your ill-health condition, a lengthy fast would be contraindicated until you resolve this issue (because fasting obviously doesn't affect the nutritional quality of the foods you're buying).

Then there is the issue of safety. If you're going to a hospital to have surgery, do you want a surgeon who graduated in the top of his class, or a surgeon who was at the bottom of the list and who doesn't have the best record of successes? That answer is obvious. And the same vetting should take place for any health practitioner whose services you intend on using, because your health is your most valuable commodity. Do not rely solely on a fasting center's promo material. Do not just go by the positive testimonials on their website (because they don't post the "fails"). And personally, I wouldn't trust any self-promotional material from the owner of a fasting center/clinic. Do your due diligence. Why? If you are going into an extended water-only fast and you are doing so with a condition of ill-health, there exists the possibility of complications and for things to go downhill, and to do so very quickly. And while this is certainly the exception and not the rule, if it does happen, say what you will about the medical industry's method of dealing with degenerative disease, but their emergency (life-saving) care is tops and is good to have on hand should something go not as expected.

So it would be good to be aware that, just like an auto repair shop, there are good, safe fasting clinics/centers, and there are ones who I would describe as "second-rate" because they are run as a "profits-before-people" business. So taking the time to vet a place you're thinking of attending is a worthwhile investment of your time. And if you come upon conflicting information regarding fasting clinics/centers or fasting practitioners, be glad, because this is valuable information for the vetting process.

To view an example of a negative fasting experience, click here.

 

Why would someone pay to fast when it's free?

Good question. And here's a good answer. Fasting for a few days can easily be done by almost anyone at home, with no supervision. But an extended fast should be done with supervision because for many people, they can have so much healing that the body needs to do that it can't be done during one fast (the person will run out of fat resources for fuel before the body can "fast to completion"). This scenario of not being able to fast to completion is not normal. We're meant to be able to fast to completion whenever the body wants to fast. So when we can't, the body just keeps on fasting because there is no natural, evolutionary mechanism to stop the fast when all available fat resources have been exhausted, so then the body turns to protein (from muscle tissue for fuel), and in an unsupervised setting, the person wouldn't know when starvation mode starts (and yes, this is the clinical definition of starvation, when the body must now use protein for fuel). So in a supervised setting, blood work can be done to know when starvation starts, and the fast is then stopped (even though the body would have liked to do more fasting). After about 6 months, the person can do another extended fast, and hopefully fast to completion this time.

 

Explaining Fasting to the Lay-Person

When a first-rate fasting clinic that does medically supervised fasting was interviewed by a local TV station, the director explained the benefit of fasting by saying that it was like a "computer reboot for the body." Would it have been over the average viewer's head to explain that the digestion of food is a very energy intensive process – the most energy demanding process we have – and not eating allows all that energy to be used for healing instead, and this accounts for the improved healing that would not take place when eating three meals a day, especially meals of the hard to digest foods that many people eat. The analogy to a computer reboot sounds nice, but is not really accurate, and since it sounds very non-scientific, it's something a naysayer can mention when trying to think of things to say against doing an extended water-only fast, but a skeptical person might be less skeptical if they were given the more accurate explanation.

 

A note about "dry" fasting

I am of the considered opinion that when you are fasting, and you get thirsty, if you refuse to drink some water because you are doing a "dry fast" which many consider to mean "no water at all even if thirsty", then you are going against your body's wishes, and this is never good. When you disrespect your body in favor of something you believe to be good for the body, no good will come of it.

Some proponents of dry fasting say that water is not needed when fasting because you access water from the body fat that you lose. But if this were the case, you wouldn't get thirsty, and people do get thirsty when fasting. Plus, when fasting, you use about one-third of a pound of fat per day (for fuel). And since fat is about 5% water, this fat loss would equate to about a quarter of an ounce of water per day. Since we should be getting about 40-60 ounces of liquid a day (optimally from your food, optimally from fruit), a quarter of an ounce of water doesn't sound like it's enough, especially considering that when you fast, you ramp up detoxification, and one of the eliminatory channels for what your body is trying to detox is urine. But with a quarter ounce of water per day, that's not going to allow your kidneys to flush out the toxins that were mobilized from that fat you are losing, never mind any other toxins that become systemic. And despite what you may hear, this is not good for the kidneys.

 

"But there are so many books and videos about dry fasting, and many accounts of people improving their health!"

Keep in mind that there are tons of books and videos about drinking your own urine, and the health benefits of eating meat and dairy products. There will always be "the next thing", and these things have the unfortunate habit of hanging around and becoming part of the zeitgeist. Just because something is a thing doesn't mean it's healthy for us to do it.

And to say in support of dry fasting that there have been people who've benefited from doing it is not evidence in support of dry fasting being the superior way to fast. Why? Because benefits of fasting can be experienced despite the downsides of dry fasting. When fasting incorrectly, there can be health improvements and injuries. Keep in mind that when you're dry fasting, you're still fasting, and that frees up lots of nerve energy because of the absence of digestion, and this can accelerate a healing process. So it can be true that a dry fast could have been even more beneficial if water consumption according to thirst was allowed. This is something not considered by the ardent proponents of so-called "dry fasting".

 

Another point to consider when fasting is that even if you are not thirsty, your body could still want water. Huh? Yes. In some circumstances, thirst can be blunted to where you don't notice it. This doesn't happen when you are in great health, and your body wants to fast, but many people who do a long fast don't go into it in great health. This underscores the importance of doing an extended fast with supervision, where there are people knowledgeable enough to check in on you to see if you need any hydration.

 

But Don, when animals fast, they don't drink! So it should be the same for humans!

DON: What's different about a human fasting and a sick animal in the wild fasting, is that a human today has lots more toxins sequestered away in fat cells than a wild animal. So when a human fasts and their body fat is used for fuel, more toxins become systemic than any animal living in the wild. This explains why sick dogs and cats are observed to need less (or no) water when fasting than a human.

 

So, just as I advise people to respect your body when it comes to fasting (fast when your body wants you to fast, and don't fast when it doesn't want you to fast), I also recommend to respect your body while you're fasting when it comes to thirst. And while "dry fasting" may be survivable (for some it wasn't), you need to decide if it squares with your body's recommendations, as opposed to the recommendations of someone who, although sincere and caring, may be miseducated and laboring under some misinformation regarding what is the healthiest way to fast. (And BTW, some fasting practitioners are not sincere, and care more about money than people.)

So, at one end of the fasting spectrum is "dry fasting". At the other end is "forced water fasting" (drink X amount of water whether thirsty or not). These are both in quotes because they don't respect the body, and are not true fasting. In the middle of this spectrum is fasting, which is not eating, and drinking only if thirsty or in need of hydration. Remember, the truth is often somewhere in the middle.

 

Q: Do you think dry fasting is a mistake or does it have its uses?

A: "Dry" fasting is misunderstood. When the name is taken to mean "do not water fast where you drink X amount of water every Y minutes whether you are thirsty or not" then yes, "dry" fasting is better when it says "drink water according to thirst". Robert Lockhart was promoting "dry" fasting at the Woodstock Fruit Festival. As one of his colleagues and a fellow presenter, I asked him if his definition of "dry" fasting was "drink no water even if thirsty" and he said a definitive "no". But many people have come to misunderstand what healthy fasting is, and the believe that "dry" fasting means no water even if the body wants water. But as this is VERY unhealthy, we really shouldn't be using terms like "water fasting" and "dry fasting". Why can't we just use "fasting", as it was used for centuries. And BTW, "juice fasting" is inaccurate also and should not be used... fasting means taking in zero nutrition, only water according to thirst.

So "dry" fasting as a lot of people understand it is an unhealthy thing to do. And just because people who've tried it got some positive results, doesn't mean those positive results were due to the abstention from water. In fact, if they had consumed some water, they might have had even more pronounced positive results.

There is TONS of inaccurate info and misinfo in the raw vegan community. The Ultimate Raw Vegan Fruitarian Healing FB group attempts to shed light on it all. And yes, it can be daunting to have to hear it, unlearn it, and relearn something different (especially if this calls into question a much beloved health educator's teachings), but if this process results in way better health throughout your entire remaining life, isn't it worth it?

 

 

A note about our water requirement

We hear that we're supposed to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. But it would be more accurate to say, "the admonition to drink approximately 64 ounces of water per day just means we need around that amount of liquid, and not that we need water per se, and the BEST way to get the hydration we need is twofold: 1) Get that water via fruit, 2) Stop doing the things that are diuretic in nature (cause the body to pull water from its cells to dilute toxins brought into the body like alcohol, spicy hot foods, etc, or to cool the body from abnormal physical activity like long distance running). And the exact amount of water anyone would need to drink should be dependent on thirst, assuming you're not too busy or otherwise distracted to "hear" that subtle call for water.

 

Don, fasting is great if you want to live long!

DON: Yes, fasts are great IF the body wants to do them and IF the body has the resources it needs to do them effectively and safely. But many people are not aware of this, so they fast when the body does not want to fast, or they fast when the body doesn't have the resources to fast effectively and safely.

 

 

Additional reading:

The Half-Fast by Albert Mosseri

If you'd like to see me discuss my 24 day body initiated fast-to-completion fast, the video is here.