Hello there, Asoka!
Q: Wanted to say I've been enjoying reading your column. My question is, are there some exercises I can do while water fasting? I exercise regularly and I'm worried about losing muscle while fasting. Also, I am hoping that the water fast will help me to lose weight and fix my chronic digestive issues. Any additional info on the water fasting process would help.
~Gettin' Jiggy while Fasting
A: Since water fasting can be an intense experience, rest is really what is emphasized during this time. You have to understand that water fasting means no calories are coming in whatsoever. This is a time when the body goes into detox mode. Indeed, the body has about enough stored energy (called glucagon) for 1-2 days. After this, the liver goes through a process called gluconeogenesis, which is where it transforms protein from the body into glucose. At around the 14th day, or about 2 weeks into a water fast, the body switches from using protein as its main source of energy and starts to use fat (it turns fat into glucose). Glucose is needed for proper brain functioning and the reason the body turns to fat stores is because of something called protein sparing. Protein sparing means that the body understands that it cannot continue to "eat" muscle from the body as the body must continue to move and function, plus fat is much more readily available as most people have adequate fat stores on their body. Interestingly, whether you're a man or a woman, a person needs 2-3% body fat to survive. Of course, it is recommended for women to have at least 12% body fat if she wants to conceive, but we are talking just figures here.
And in so speaking of figures, the goal of water fasting is to cleanse the body, not to get to a certain body fat percentage. In fact, even though weight loss occurs on a water fast, at about an average of 2 pounds per day, or about 20-30 pounds on a 28 day water fast, you can expect to gain about 10 pounds back (this will vary from person to person). These 10 pounds represent water that will be gained back, stool (the average person holds about 2-3 pounds of waste on any given day) and muscle.
Water will be the first few pounds that will drop from your body, followed by muscle. As noted above, it will be about 2 weeks into the fast that the body will finally dip into its fat stores. Remember that most people are advised and do go to a retreat center to do a water fast (you can check out The True North Health Center, Tree of Life Center or Tanglewood Wellness Center), and the goal is usually to help with a chronic health issue, not solely to lose weight. Generally speaking however (and this will depend upon the person), people who are obese or overweight should continue to benefit from their lighter bodies, provided that they continue to eat healthfully and for their body requirements.
Getting back to your question on exercise, muscle will be lost during an extended water fast. When you get back into exercising after the fast, you should fully expect to go slowly, adapt exercises and gain strength as your body gets stronger and you progress along. If you've been doing weight training steadily beforehand or were an avid cardio fan, your body will bounce back quite readily. The other good news is that with a continued healthy diet, any fat lost from water fasting should stay off. And a further good news still: chronic health issues, such as your digestive issues, should see a mighty big improvement, if not complete healing and remission.
Because muscle is lost during fasting, indeed because your body is converting muscle into energy (glucose), you don't want to be doing weight training during water fasting. In fact, your body will be experiencing detox symptoms which will most probably mean that you'll feel grumpy, tired and just not want to do much of anything. However, because toxins can tend to pool in the lower legs, especially with prolonged sitting, light exercise is recommended. Walking is one of the best ways of helping to clear toxins from the body. Very gentle rebounding, tai chi, chi gong and yoga are other suitable exercises. The health center where you will be staying will be able to provide you with more information and with all the necessary support that you need.
Again, rest is really what is advised during a water fast. So take this opportunity to enjoy the holiday, because you'll be back to the "old action" soon again.
Yours in cleansing harmony,
Q: Could you tell me about some detox symptoms that I would experience if I go on an extended juice fast? Or if I were to do a water fast?
~Looking to Fast
A: Detox symptoms while fasting can vary from person to person. The main organs that are responsible for detox are the liver, lungs, kidneys and skin. Detox, however, is systemic and is experienced by all systems of the body.
Common liver symptoms include:
Common lung symptoms include:
Common kidney symptoms include:
Other common symptoms include:
These are the physical symptoms, however emotional detox occurs as well. Anger and anxiety were two emotions mentioned previously, but sadness, grief, rage, fear or over-worrying could also be experienced.
Over-worrying is a TCM term for thinking that goes round and round, and many persistent thoughts revolve around food. Indeed, there is quite the psychology when it comes to the mind. While using Western psychological strategies can be most useful, meditation is the key technique to watching the mind and its array of mindless chatter.
Many who fast speak about the spiritual connection. On an extended fast, thoughts may turn to one's mortality and the existential angst that it brings up --- a shift in perspective about the road traveled, what one values and treasures in life, and the path yet to be lived but filled with the desire for appreciation and wonderment.
Do note that detox symptoms may be present on a juice feast of 3-5 liters of juice, but will most certainly occur on a juice fast of 1-2 liters of juice, and on a water fast. I am making this distinction between "feast" and "fast" in terms of quantity of juice consumed. Of the three types of fast, juice feasting would be the easiest as the most amount of calories would be consumed, followed by juice fasting, followed by water fasting.
In terms of safety, juice feasting is pretty safe to do on your own. You may feel hungry because no meat, dairy, grains and fat are consumed, however sufficient calories are coming in. Juice fasting borders on being unsafe, depending on the duration of the fast and your previous experience with fasting. Water fasting is usually done at a retreat center, where your vital signs can be monitored. Water fasting for a short duration of time (1-3 days) could be beneficial for you or for others experiencing an acute health issue, such as severe digestive distress (e.g. severe bloating and gas), flu or food poisoning. Since extended water fasting has been shown to be an excellent method of ridding the body of toxins, as well as helping with a host of issues, including edema, high blood pressure and digestive disturbances, you may want to further investigate The True North Health Center and Tanglewood Wellness Center.
To your happy detox adventures,
I was wondering, how long can a person fast for on a juice fast and water fast? Are there some people who shouldn't do a fast, like a juice fast?
~Lookin' for Fastin' Info
A: Fasting is practiced by all major religions and is one of the oldest ways of healing the body. Fasting is an excellent way of purifying the body from overeating and to aid in removing toxic buildup in the body. In Europe, it is common to fast at a health center for an average of 14-21 days. However, fasting health experts consider a supervised water fast of up to 40 days safe and a juice fast up to 100 days safe. Short-term juice fasting of 7-10 days and water fasting of 1-3 days done on your own is considered generally safe by many health experts.
When you fast at a health retreat center, you will be able to get the support that you need. This means that if you are taking medication, the center can assess your situation and advise you on your individual condition. Indeed, at the True North Health Center, they do an assessment of your situation to see if you are a candidate for fasting before venturing to their center.
In general, the following people should not fast:
Unless you have sufficient knowledge of and experience with fasting, for chronic diseases and for extended fasting, you might want to work with a health care professional who can better guide you (this could be locally, online or at a retreat center). Being at a health center, however, means that you don't have to worry about the usual stresses in life, such as preparing meals for your family, doing household chores or having to be at work. It also means being surrounded by other people who are undergoing similar experiences as you and who can support your goal to a more healthful you (friends and family may frown upon your fasting efforts as it's not such a common occurrence in North America).
There are various health centers that support fasting. The True North Health Center, Tanglewood Wellness Center and the Tree of Life Center Us might be some great places for you to explore.
To a more healthful you,
Q: When is the best time during the year to do a fast, such as a juice or water fast (or even a green smoothie cleanse)? How many times per year should a person do a cleanse/fast?
A: The ideal time to do a cleanse is in the spring time. The heavier and darker days of winter hibernation now past, the longer and sunnier days of spring beckon a time for lighter meals to recalibrate the body. Spring is a time of rejuvenation and is associated with the liver/gallbladder in TCM. As you may know, the liver is a major organ that is responsible for performing over 500 functions in the body and it is also one of the few organs in the body that can regenerate itself. A rest is most welcome during this "spring cleaning" time, whether it be in the form of green smoothies, green juices or green soups.
Indeed, green is the color associated with the liver, and both bitter and sour foods, such as leafy greens and citrus fruits, respectively, help with detoxification of the liver. Other beneficial foods (that can be juiced, made into a smoothie or soup) include the Brassica family, micro-greens, beets, and wild spring greens such as Violet leaves, Plantain leaves and Dandelion leaves. To help with fatty liver or to help clear out the gallbladder, radish and daikon radish are highly beneficial. Apart from citrus fruits, low glycemic fruits such as berries, green apples and pomegranates are good choices.
Besides the yearly spring cleaning of the house, there are 3 other times of the year that one can cleanse/fast. In TCM, the 7 days before the start of each season is a transitional time governed by the Earth element of the Spleen/Pancreas and Stomach, which rules over all matters of digestion. Since we currently understand the crucial importance of a healthy microbiome, we can also understand why doing a fast during these time periods can be highly valuable. However, some do rely more on the actual temperature of the season to assess when is the best time to fast. For example, with global warming, snow might still be making an appearance in the spring month of March, so one might wait until the warmer days of Spring have truly arrived.
Besides the spring cleanse, the next most common time to fast is during the fall. Just as you cleanse yourself from the winter with spring cleaning your windows and walls and preparing the garden with seeds to sow, fall is a time to reap in the harvest and lay down the garden, in other words, to prepare the body for rest during the colder months ahead. During the cooler transitional days of fall, when days can be either warm and sunny or cooler and windy, some people might fast on cooling green juices or smoothies while others might prefer warmer and lighter fare, such as pureeing the bounty of fall into warming soups (e.g. doing a soup fast).
The third time to cleanse would be during the 7 days before the summer solstice, however some do use the hotter and humid days of summer to eat lighter fare, such as refreshing salads or cooling juices and smoothies.
The fourth time to engage in a fast would be the 7 days before the winter solstice (again using TCM timing), and this would be a time where warming soups or congees would figure in most prominently. Some people do find that doing a cleanse before the holidays helps them with the overabundance that occurs during the holidays, while others find that doing a cleanse after the holidays helps them to reset the body. A cleanse during this time could take the form of a soup fast or could be something as simple as eating less calories, say for a week's time, with the specific goal of rebalancing the body. In general, fasts during the winter time are not encouraged in TCM as it is a time of the kidneys, and many people lack strong kidney energy (one of the reasons why many catch colds and flus during this time).
One last word about fasting: while fasting can follow the seasons, as described above, if a person has an excess or full condition (in other words a chronic degenerative disease such as cancer, fatty liver from alcohol abuse, etc.), then a fast can occur at any time during the year. While one's personal "eco-system" takes priority over what season it is, the goal is to have a healthy body that can enjoy the bounties and beauties that all seasons have to offer.
To your fasting success and health,
Q: My friend recently did a juice fast. It was her longest yet, she went for 10 days. To be honest, I think she cheated a bit by taking in some smoothies. I don't think she understands the difference between a green juice and a green smoothie. She eats organic but like most people it's meat, dairy, etc. She says she wants to go vegan but that it's a work in progress. Can you tell me what's the difference between a green juice and a green smoothie and whether she should do another fast (she says she wants to)?
A: Your friend seems to be taking some positive steps in the right direction, congratulate her! It seems her green juice/smoothie experience was her attempt of getting herself onto a more vibrant path towards health. Indeed, many turn to plant-strong nutrition to fuel that feel-good vibe.
Green juices are different compared to green smoothies because juices don't have any fiber. They are made using a juicer with leafy greens and often low glycemic fruits such as apples. In comparison, green smoothies are made in a blender with greens, water, and often medium glycemic fruits such as bananas and mangoes. The fruits in a green smoothie tend to be "slippery" and are hard to juice, such as with peaches or kiwis.
On a juice fast, it's common to juice not only greens but other veggies as well. Beets, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery and green herbs like parsley and coriander are often used to help with detox and cleansing.
Because juices don't contain any fiber, a juice fast is a much faster way of getting the body to detox. Faster doesn't mean better, however. A juice fast can be a pretty intense experience, especially if the quantity is reduced (1-2 liters of juice) and/or if the juice fast goes for an extended length of time (e.g. 21 days). Usually, 3-4 liters of juice is consumed, with the emphasis being on juicing veggies. Even a 3 day-weekend juice fast might be a lot for some people, which means if you are new to fasting, you want to take it slow and easy (1 or days to start) to give your body a chance to adapt. Once your body adapts, you might be able to go for longer, such as 7 days, 10 days, 14 days, etc. There are many resources online where you can juice with other people, share your experiences and your recipes (this is one resource).
In comparison to juice fasting, a green smoothie fast is a much gentler approach to fasting. The body is able to get in a sufficient amount of calories and will feel full because of all the fiber. However, since no meat, dairy or fat is consumed (as with juice fasting), it is therefore possible for someone to experience detox symptoms on a green smoothie fast, especially if the person has been eating poorly (i.e., junk & processed food). Detox symptoms are also more likely to occur the longer you are on the fast (e.g. 14 days).
Whether your friend wants to pursue another fast is up to her. You can tell her that a person doesn't have to fast in order to be healthy and that many health practitioners recommend a whole, real foods approach to food, that is, just eat real food (no junk, processed or packaged food).
A few things to try and consider when doing a green smoothie fast:
I wish your friend a happy journey on her path to vibrant health :)
PS. You might be interested in Supercharging your green smoothie with superfoods, probiotics, herbs and more. You can find out how HERE.
Q: Could you tell me more about the concept of fasting?
A: The acronym FITT stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type, and I've used these 4 categories to discuss fasting. If you'd prefer to find out what fasting is and what are some different Types of fasts to better understand, scroll down to the Type section first, then go and read on about the other parts of fasting (Frequency, Intensity and Time).
Frequency. How often should you fast? How many times per year/month/week? Depends on the Type of fast (e.g. intermittent fasting is every day vs. doing a spring detox 1x/year).
In general, most health practitioners advise doing a fast 1x a year, during the spring time (the spring detox). This is to cleanse the body from the harsh winter and to eat lighter foods, which could take the form of a liquid fast such as soup, smoothie or juice, or it could simply mean laying off heavy and fatty foods. Since the liver does over 500+ jobs in the body and is one of the major detox organs and since spring is ruled by the liver in TCM, spring is the ideal time to do a fast.
Other health practitioners may advocate doing 4 fasts a year in order to help with the transitions between each season. For example, one might do a juice, smoothie or soup fast to transition in from the hot days of summer into the cooler days of fall. Fasting in this way can help the body to adjust to the new season and the new foods that will be eaten.
Intensity. How intense is the fast in terms of detox symptoms? How are you managing your detox symptoms? Detox symptoms will depend on you personally, but will also depend on the type of fast as well as how long it goes for. More intense the fast (e.g. water fasting), more intense the detox symptoms. Fasts which involve liquids (juice, water) will be more intense than those involving solid foods (e.g. mono fruit fast).
Common detox symptoms include: headache, irritability, dizziness when standing, lack of concentration, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, skin rashes and nausea. The 4 organs of Detox are the liver, lungs, kidneys and skin and you can experience physical symptoms in all 4 of these. You can also experience mental and emotional detox symptoms.
Time. How long is the fast (hours/days/weeks)? How long the fast will run depends on the type of fast, your previous experience with fasting and how intense the fast is (in other words, how you are managing your detox symptoms). Short fasts are 1-3 days, medium fasts are 7-14 days and long fasts are 14+ days. A specific type of fast that focuses on time is intermittent fasting, which is when a person does not eat for an extended period of time between meals e.g. last meal at 7pm then no eating until breakfast 7am, so fast lasts for 12 hours.
Resources: Intermittent fasting by Dr. Mercola and general article on fasting by Dr. Mercola
Type. What is fasting? In theory, anything can be construed as a fast. Fasting involves some type of caloric restriction and/or only specific foods/solids are consumed. Detox symptoms can range from mild to severe and are commonly experienced during a fast.
Junk food-------SAD-------Wholefoods-----Vegetarian/Vegan/Plant Based
One way someone can be on a "fast" and experience detox symptoms is just by cleaning up their diet. Someone who eats junk, processed or fast food or is eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) can experience detox symptoms just by moving to a whole foods diet (or even a plant based diet). A whole foods diet includes meat and examples are Paleo diets and TCM diets. As well, someone who eats meat and who incorporates more plant based foods in their diet (more vegetarian and vegan meals, such as meatless Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) could also be on a "fast" where they might experience detox symptoms. In comparison to other types of fasts where caloric restriction is the rule (or where only certain foods are allowed to be eaten), these detox symptoms will be mild.
Another way of looking at fasting is moving from eating foods which create acidity in the body to eating foods which create an alkaline balance. You want to get in a ratio of 80% alkaline foods to 20% acidic foods. Here's a chart for your reference :)
Fasts involve either solids, where you are chewing food, or liquids, where you are swishing/drinking some kind of beverage. Fasts which involve solids are easier than liquid based fasts and symptoms will be more prominent on liquid fasts.
Types of Fasts
-> from Solid to Liquid, from Fiber-filled to Fiber-less, from Less Intense to Most Intense:
About Juice Fasts
Juice, herbal tea and water fasting are liquid fasts which contain no fiber and are the most intense in terms of detox symptoms.
Juice feasts/fasts involve freshly made juices. The difference is in the amount of juice drunk: 5-6 liters is a "feast" where one has adequate calories coming in vs. a fast of 2-4 liters of juice where there is caloric restriction. The majority of the juices are made using veggies while 1 of the juices can involve just fruits or fruits and greens (too much fruit feeds parasites and candida, which is one of the reasons why people fast in the first place).
About Herbal Tea Fasts
Herbal "tea" fasts can be almost as intense as water fasting. The amount of calories in herbal infusions and decoctions is low (e.g. 30 calories in 1 liter of infusion) however there is nutrition in the form of vitamins and minerals (sometimes carbs and protein) whereas in water fasting there is none. The infusions and decoctions that are most helpful are those that help with detox symptoms while being tonifying and nutritive. There are many herbs which can be helpful (TCM, Ayurvedic and Western herbs) such as:
About Water Fasting
If you are fasting on your own, 1-3 days is doable (in European countries where fasting is more recognized 10 days is seen as being doable---but do use your judgement!) . Otherwise, unless you are a health practitioner, you are best to go to a water fasting center. Most people with chronic health issues will benefit from doing a 21+ day fast, with 30-40 days of fasting being considered safe.
Resources for where you can get assessed to see if you are a good candidate for water fasting and where you can water fast:
Tanglewood Wellness Center
True North Health Center
On Colonics and Enemas
Some people choose to do colonics and enemas while doing a juice, herbal tea or water fast. Because there is no fiber in these liquids and because toxins/parasites bind to fiber and are then evacuated out, detox symptoms can be greatly reduced through the use of colonics and enemas. Since many people have parasites and candida (and are often constipated), I recommend using them and have personally found benefits in their usage during such types of fasts.
is a Health Practitioner with a Background in Chinese Medicine. Get in Some of her Savvy Adivce When She Answers Your Health Question.
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