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,
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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