Fasting is probably one of the oldest approaches to self-healing. In this article you will learn what fasting is, its principles, the different types of fasting, the history and benefits of fasting, and finally how to practice it.
Even in nature, animals instinctively stop eating when they are sick or injured. Complete fasting consists in abstaining for more or less time from all foods (solids and liquids), except water, in order to rest, detoxify and regenerate the body. According to its advocates, fasting contributes to maintaining good health together with a healthy diet, physical exercise and emotional balance.
The fundamental principles of fasting
Fasting is above all a means of detoxifying the body. It allows the digestive system to rest and other organs to cleanse themselves, eliminating toxins and bad fats.
Thus, people who fast usually do this to “cleanse” the body or to give it ideal conditions for healing. It has also always been associated with spiritual or religious practices. It is supposed to convey a sense of spiritual clarity and “spiritual cleansing”.
Full or partial fasting?
Although the term “fasting” is used loosely to cover various types of fasting, it is important to distinguish between complete and partial fasting. During a complete fast, only water is allowed and complete rest is recommended. Partial fasting is more based on various restricted diets, including fruit juices, vegetables, or wheatgrass and sometimes some other nutrients (cereals, shoots, infusions, broths, food supplements, etc.).
These partial fastings, which are often intended to be therapeutic, can be adapted to the specific needs of fasting patients and vary according to the approach of the stakeholders. They are suitable for people who have special needs, cannot practice complete fasting because of their health, or who wish to initiate fasting through a gentler approach.
The Benefits of Fasting
A series of studies to determine the effectiveness and safety of complete fasting, alone or in combination with other treatments, have reported positive results in treating a variety of problems. Although the authors conclude that it could be an interesting complementary treatment, they generally state that further studies are needed to validate its efficacy. Some of the benefits of fasting are listed below:
Reducing chronic pain
An observational study published in 2005 evaluated the feasibility and efficacy of integrated fasting therapy in 2,121 patients with chronic pain syndrome (rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, musculoskeletal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, lung disease, migraine, headache, etc.). All patients received acupuncture and hydrotherapy treatments, practiced various mind/body approaches and attended courses on nutrition and lifestyle. In addition, they were offered to participate in a modified 7-day fast. The exclusive consumption of 2 liters of liquid per day (mineral water, fruit juice, tea, vegetable broth) provided a total of 350 calories. After discharge from the hospital, fasting patients reported a significantly greater reduction in their main symptom than other patients. No serious side effects were reported.
Relief for rheumatoid arthritis
Several studies have shown that dietary changes can have a positive effect on the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis patients. Regarding fasting, a systematic review in 2001 identified 4 controlled studies, including a total of 143 subjects, evaluating the effect of fasting from 7 to 23 days, followed by a vegetarian diet. Long-term improvements were observed in subjects in fasting groups (reduced pain, increased functional capacity) compared to control groups.
Contributions to the treatment of hypertension
Two studies have been published to evaluate the effectiveness of medically assisted fasting in the treatment of hypertension. In both cases, the patients consumed only fruit and vegetables for 2 to 3 days and then only water for the next 10 to 11 days. They supplemented the program with a vegetarian diet for 6 to 7 days. The 174 patients in the first study had high blood pressure and were not taking any medication. The 68 patients in the second study had borderline blood pressure. The results of both studies indicate a statistically significant drop in blood pressure. In addition, 89% of the subjects in the first study and 82% of the subjects in the second study had normal blood pressure values at the end of the procedure.
To induce weight loss
Of course, fasting helps you lose weight. However, in the long run, fasting does not seem to be an effective way to achieve this. The emphasis should be on lifestyle changes, healthy eating habits and physical exercise. A study was conducted on 207 morbidly obese people who were hospitalized during a fasting period of about 2 months with the goal of losing weight. The results indicate that fasting (average duration of 47 days) was effective for weight loss (average of 28.2 kg). However, of the 121 subjects who participated in the follow-up visits, 50% had recovered weight after 2-3 years and more than 90% after 7 years.
Improvement of sleep quality
A pilot study of 15 non-obese subjects aged 19 to 59, observing a complete fast of 7 days, showed promising results. This study showed that fasting had no effect on total sleep time, but reduced the number of awakenings during the night. Moreover, improvements were also observed in the subjective quality of sleep, in daily energy, in perceived emotional balance, and in concentration.
Contributing to the treatment of acute pancreatitis
In acute pancreatitis, fasting is often necessary due to the patient’s pain and digestive intolerance. A clinical study compared the effects of 3 treatments: total fasting alone, a combination of total fasting and cimetidine (a means of reducing the amount of acid produced by the stomach), and nasogastric suction (aspiration of gastric fluid through a tube inserted through the nose). Both fasting alone and cimetidine fasting worked better than nasogastric suction. The return to normal bowel function was faster and the intake of analgesics was reduced. Finally, fasting alone significantly reduced the duration of abdominal pain.
How to fast?
Some professionals, according to different traditions, recommend transition periods in spring and autumn, but this is not an absolute rule.
We recommend respecting the food reduction period during the preparatory phase in order to avoid secondary symptoms (headaches, insomnia, nausea, dizziness, skin irritation, body odor and muscle pain).
Fasting, step by step
You should not fast without preparing your body for it. Here are the steps to follow:
The diagnostic phase: Before starting with a total or partial fast, it is advisable to check your state of health with a doctor, especially for people on medication. The person who accompanies the faster must do a health check before the start of the fast, followed by a daily check (pulse, blood pressure, weight and temperature).
The preparatory phase: this phase consists of gradually reducing food consumption and, ideally, choosing a vegetarian diet, avoiding refined products.
Fasting: Decide whether a Complete or partial fast is what you need.
Food re-integration: this phase consists of a gradual return to a normal diet: some specialists recommend stopping fasting when the body is completely free of toxins, that is, when the tongue is clean, the urine is clean and hunger reappears. This usually means having to fast for a long time, which is not recommended for inexperienced fasting enthusiasts.
Who can I contact for information on fasting?
To determine the length and type of fasting you can go to specialized institutions or trained fasting specialists (such as certain doctors, osteopaths, chiropractors or naturopaths). Health care professionals will ask questions about your mental state and biological factors such as age, gender, weight, fitness, degree of intoxication, and severity of illness.
Contraindications for fasting
Fasting is contraindicated in cases of fatigue, eating disorders, weak immune system, heart problems, nutritional deficiencies, kidney disease, cancer, pregnancy. Fasting is also not recommended in cases of psychosis, diabetes and addiction.
If you are taking medication, ask your doctor for advice before you start fasting.
History of fasting
Although tradition recognizes the virtues of fasting, the first scientific foundations date back only to the late 19th century. Dr. Isaac Jennings (1788-1874) was one of the first American doctors to defend it. In 1822, he abandoned drug use and opted for a new health science based on natural principles, including fasting, which was later called Orthopathy or Natural Hygiene. Other practitioners imitated him, but we owe it primarily to Herbert M. Shelton (1895-1985), a chiropractor and naturopath who was recognized as the father of the hygiene school, for he developed a protocol based on rigorous fasting with water, without exercise. It was a complete physiological rest – which Socrates recommended 2,500 years ago! – that would sharpen the mind. The promoters of Fasting are members of several associations. These include the International Association of Hygienic Doctors (IAHP), an international group of doctors and health professionals specializing in the supervision of therapeutic fasting; the International Society of Natural Hygiene and the National Health Association, previously directed by Herbert M. Shelton and known as the American Society of Natural Hygiene.