Fasting is one of the best reset buttons I know of to regain physical vitality, emotional balance and spiritual reconnection. Some go to it for health reasons, some seek its spiritual benefits and many go for both. Health professionals have long recommended different forms of fasting as a physical detoxification or for treating acute illness or disease. Many spiritual traditions recognize the benefits of the physical and mental detox that lend to inner mastery and higher states of consciousness. They also recognize its important preparation in performing a ritual act or rite of passage. Interestingly many of these traditions fast on the full moon, which is exactly when this blog post is being written.
How are we designed?
We are homo sapiens, much like monkeys in the way we are designed to eat. We are designed for eating fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and occasional protein. We are not designed for pasta, bread, cookies and caffeine.
Purpose of Food?
Food is to be nourishing physically, emotionally and spiritually. The aim of our food is to enhance our vital life force energy and pass waste via principally the intestines and bladder. Junk food and excess intake oblige the liver, kidney, skin and lungs to also work in eliminating; they then can become overloaded and blocked. Tumors, abscesses and cysts form when this excess waste is stuck.
Fasting when Sick
Hippocrates said: “To eat when you are sick, is to feed your sickness.” The adage, “Feed a cold, starve a fever,” comes from the idea of the body detoxing and supporting it to do so. All animals, when sick, stop eating and even sometimes stop drinking water.
What Happens When We Fast?
Psychology of Fasting
- Feelings of deprivation may arise, which can be a process of grieving the love, protection, presence or nurturance from ultimately our primary caretakers that we ideally should have received, even if that is projected on a current partner (a related article), friendship or community.
- Frustrations, anger, loneliness and disappointment that we usually assuage with food and comfort eating will be naked in front of us and demand an alternative to working them through. Usually the bottom line is that we have not grieved something fully. In facing it, and processing it, we will develop emotional resilience and spiritual strength.
- Tools to use to process strong emotions we usually eat over, include writing letters we don’t send to the person(s) we are activated by, writing a letter to oneself, speaking to an empty chair of our unsaid and unexpressed, doing a Forgiveness Meditation (here is a link to one I lead), meditation, yoga, walks in nature, listening to music and taking time for long, deep breathing.
“The spirit needs to be so free [of anything, so that the soul] may hear the deep and delicate voice of God which speaks to the heart in this secret place.” ― St. John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love, Stanza 3
Physiology of Fasting
We have two sources of physical energy:
- Glucose (sugar)
8 hours after a meal – when fasting begins – the body enters fasting mode.
- The body then starts using the glucose/carbohydrates
- In modern times, there is too much intake to store, so cholesterol results.
- After 24 hours, the body uses up the storage, going from carbohydrate burning mode to fat burning mode.
- There is a 65% drop of insulin; the body feeds on toxins and stored energy.
- The body is then put in a post-absorptive phase, converting fat to glucose production by the liver and a switch from glucose utilization to fatty acid and ketone utilization by most tissues.
- Once fat reserves are depleted, the body begins to synthesize proteins from muscle tissue. As blood glucose drop, the rate at which the body secretes insulin slows and the pancreas begins to secrete glucagon.
- When glucagon is released it can perform the following tasks:
- Stimulating the liver to break down glycogen to be released into the blood as glucose
- Activating gluconeogenisis, the conversion of amino acids into glucose
- Breaking down stored fat (triglycerides) into fatty acids for use as fuel by cells
- KETOSIS results 2 days later.
- Ketone bodies are produced and used by the brain; they go through the brain cell membranes.
- Cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimers diseases are supported in greater healing.
- Ketosis begins 48 hours of fasting for women and 72 hours for men.
- Natural loss of appetite.
- Ketosis feeds on fat deposits and abscesses.
- A greater energy is available when we begin to burn fat.
- Ketosis breaks down diseased tissues, cells and tumors, using them to feed on! (This is why certain treatments of cancer and other diseases respond well to fasting and the raw food diet. This is to only be followed with competent medical supervision.)
- Ketosis repairs cells and amino acids are reused.
- Stem cells are regenerated. This is why the more youthful look appears.
4 Days of Fasting
- 75% of energy used by the brain is provided by ketones
5 Days of Fasting
- The fasting process goes into tissues and extract the toxins and fat
- True healing
- High levels of growth hormones maintain muscle mass and lean tissue.
- The toxins of fat stores are used up.
- The body doesn’t burn muscle until all fat reserves have been used.
- Fasting should be stopped when “Wolf” hunger returns.
- Will I gain the fat back? An Invitation for a cleaner diet.
- Reintroduce food gradually
Types of fasting
- Water Only
- 30 days for serious medical condition
- 10 days – a “reboot “
- 2-3 day reset
- Nutritional Fasting – includes juicing, black grape fast, apple fast; bringing in nutrients.
- Low Intake – for e.g. 600 calories a day
- Intermittent Fasting – Ramadan* or alternate fasting. Time restrictions – eight hours only of eating for e.g.; gives time for detoxing. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity observe forms of this.
*Ramadan is not always practiced as it ideally was conceived to be, given the excess food consumed, the cultural and social pressure to overeat and the lack of support in certain settings or lifestyles to manage the emotional content that emerges.
For any health concerns, one must consult with a physician for any fasting. Epilepsy, diabetes, pregnancy, children, the elderly, mental issues, malnourishment and other sensitive health conditions are obligatory considerations.
“In a fast, the body tears down its defective parts and then builds anew when eating is resumed.”
― Herbert M. Shelton, Fasting for Renewal of Life
To Support the Fast
- Use Detox teas.
- Drink copious amounts of water to flush toxins.
- Flush the intestines with colonics.
- Use magnesium salts with enemas.
- Rest – sleep, nap and just Be, to allow for the integration of all that arises.
- Gentle exercise – Walking, yoga and stretching are excellent.
To Break Fast
- An Islamic saying to remember: “It’s not the fast, it’s how the fast is broken.”
- Small portions
- Warm water (optional with lemon)
- Enzymes to break food down
- Juices: ideally 20% fruit, 80% vegetable, so sugar is minimal
Rumi quote: “Fasting is the first principle of medicine; fast and see the strength of the Spirit reveal itself.”
Worldwide Traditions of Fasting
Hunters and gatherers would eat periodically and go for long periods of fasting. 1 billion Muslims fast a lunar month. Jesus fasted 40 days in the desert. Buddha and Mohammed also fasted for extended periods of time. When one fasts for these longer periods, the ego is starved and the Higher Self is permitted to take the lead. Insights, visions, dreams and inspirations come when the heightened states of consciousness are enhanced with fasting. The brain goes more readily into Alpha and Theta brainwaves.
- Yom Kippur is a culmination of a ten-day process with 24 hours of fasting.
- The Focus is on Forgiveness and Atonement, which are significant ways of detoxing and cleansing emotionally and spiritually.
- There are 74 mentions of fasting in the Bible.
- When one fasts, it is believed God reveals his purpose for you.
- Jesus fasted 40 days in the desert, wrestling with the Devil or the Ego within.
- Lent is a period of 40 days of restrictive fasting (no meat and other items) in preparation of Easter, or symbolically, a Rebirth.
- Islam –Ramadan fasting is one of its required five pillars
- Ramadan was inspired by the influence of Yom Kippur, originally 10 days, extended to the entire lunar month.
- Taqwa, or God consciousness, is gained.
- Fasting promotes chastity, humility, patience and self-control.
- For my podcast interview and article on my fasting Ramadan as a non-Muslim, please go here.
- The Middle Path is encouraged in fasting, avoiding total deprivation or gluttony for the non-monastics.
- Theravada monks and nuns abstain from eating solid food after noon; many eat one small meal per day.
- In certain meditation retreats, there is total food fasting.
- Lay practitioners fast alongside monastics on the “uposatha” day, or the full moon. One day per week, many lay-practitioners avoid eating meat or eating after noon.
- Water is always permitted.
- The goal is to understand craving in an experiential way and to reach a state in which the mind is at peace in spite of the body’s discomfort. The goals are to purify the body, increase mental clarity and cultivate wisdom while experiencing the effects of craving on the mind.
- Vegetarian diet
- Ekadasi is the 11th day after the New and Full Moons, where fasting, worship and meditation are practiced. The moon’s position during Ekadasi, puts the mind at optimal efficiency, giving the brain a better capacity to concentrate.
- Purnima (Full Moon) and Amavasya (New Moon) fasting days are from sunrise to sunset. Water is usually not drank in that period. The influence of the moon’s cycle can cause restlessness, irritability and ill-temperament. Fasting reduces the acidic content of the body, restoring the body and mind balance. One is lent more to prayer and meditation, bringing greater body, mind and emotional control, facilitating greater spiritual illumination.
- On the full moon, the ‘yagna’ or ‘havan’ ritual is practiced, which culminates in asking for forgiveness for any misdeeds since the last ‘havan’. A physical, emotional and spiritual detox takes place.
- Karwa Chauth is when married Hindu women completely fast for the prosperity and longevity of their husbands from sunrise to the first sighting of the moon on the 4th day after the New Moon in October-November (or the ‘Karthik’ month). In its most evolved form, I see it as a form of devotion and support of a wife’s husband and symbolically to her Divine Husband. Diwali, the Festival of Light, follows 9 days later.
- Fasting believers are required to wear bright clean linen clothes and to change his or her food.
- Fasting is encouraged for a set time during the mourning of a death, to help evacuate the strong grief.
- Indigenous Traditions
- In many indigenous groups, shamans, who conduct healing ceremonies, may prepare themselves by fasting.
- Puberty rituals also include a major fast without food or water.
- In the Native American tradition, during a Vision Quest, fasting is the primary means to stimulate ecstatic experiences. A Vision Quest, traditionally four to eight days, is a rigorous, sacred ritual of purification and realignment. The ego is quelled and the person is opened to the higher messages of the Quest they seek.
- For two articles on Vision Quests in a modern day context, please go here.
“Fasting from any nourishment, activity, involvement or pursuit—for any season—sets the stage for God to appear. Fasting is not a tool to pry wisdom out of God’s hands or to force needed insight about a decision. Fasting is not a tool for gaining discipline or developing piety (whatever that might be). Instead, fasting is the bulimic act of ridding ourselves of our fullness to attune our senses to the mysteries that swirl in and around us.” — Dan B. Allender, PhD”
Overall Benefits of Fasting
- Mind is clear
- Intuition is more accessible and refined
- Buzzy, zippy energy
- Diabetes – regulated insulin
- Growth hormone doubles
- Hormone regulation
- Weight regulation
- Growth of new stem cells
- Repair of DNA – there can be 90 percent of bacterial DNA when on a bad diet
- Allergies improved or eliminated
- Life span extended
- Age-related diseases are retarded
- BDNF increased – Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor
- Blood pressure lowered
- Stress reduced
- Depression, anxiety and neurosis are alleviated.
- Schizophrenia had a 80% success rate where 7000 patients cured in a study by Yuri Nikolayen
- Body chemicals rebalanced
- Agoraphobia – known to be cured in 9 days of fasting in Russia
- Emotionally – once the body begins detoxing, the unhealed emotions rise to also be detoxed. Forgiveness results.
- Spiritually – higher, clear vibration; an open channel
“If your prayers remain unanswered, start fasting”
― Sunday Adelaja
“I believe that there is no prayer without fasting, and no real fast without prayer.” ― Mahatma Gandhi