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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