By: Root Acupuncurist, Casey McCullough
Fasting for purification can be a great way to kickstart a healthier you by enhancing your health, attitude and getting you on track after holidays or vacations where we tend to overindulge. When I talk about “detoxing” or “cleansing”, I’m not talking about it in the literal sense of purging all of the toxins or waste from the body. Rather, I like to think of a cleanse or detox as a way to support our body’s natural ability to do the amazing work it already does, just a little more efficiently. It’s like giving your body a break from multi-tasking, allowing it time and space to strengthen and rebuild.
There are many reasons to fast, include overcoming emotional attachments to food, curing poor appetite, reducing fatigue, clearing mental fog, and helping reduce the incidence of aches and pains. Globally, almost every religious or healing tradition recommends fasting for therapeutic and spiritual advantages. Historically, many of our primitive ancestors fasted at certain times of the year (in response to seasonal changes in the availability of a steady food supply). Many authorities agree that modern day humans can still benefit from taking a break from a schedule of 3 meals a day with snacks in between.
If you and your healthcare provider agree that a fast or cleanse could be beneficial, here are some basic guidelines to adhere to:
Start small. If this is your first time, do a 3 day trial. If you’re experienced you can try up to 2 weeks. Beyond that, consult your healthcare practitioner.
Avoid alcohol, recreational drugs, caffeine, meat, dairy, eggs, sugar, most grains and legumes.
Drink plenty of water
Slowly reintroduce regular foods back into your diet after the cleanse is over
Get plenty of physical and mental rest while fasting. Don’t engage in heavy exercise or other taxing activities.
With fasting, a one-size-fits all approach is usually not the best approach. There are many different types of fasts to consider, and each should be adjusted to the individual’s needs and physiology. When in doubt, I advise my patients to follow a milder version of a fast or cleanse consisting of simple meals of cooked vegetables. I tend to be wary of raw or juice fasts as in my experience, too much cold, raw food can weaken our digestive function, causing bowel irregularities, indigestion and weight gain after the fast has concluded.
Some of my favorite fasts/cleanses:
Kichadi Fast: This is a favorite from Ayurvedic traditions consisting of a complete, satisfying meal that is easy to digest. Kichadi is essentially a rice and mung bean or lentil stew with a variety of herbs and spices mixed in. This is a good one to try if you are hesitant about fasting and want a milder fasting experience. You can find many recipes online, but my favorite is from My New Roots. Click their recipe image below for instructions.
Steamed Vegetable Fast: A great option if you’ve over consumed rich foods. Choose no more than 2-3 vegetables. Strive to incorporate green vegetables such as spinach, kale, peas and broccoli and also include another colorful option like beets, carrots, bell peppers. Try to avoid eating too many starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and squashes. Drink water or herbal teas regularly throughout the day.
Micro-Algae Fast: Ideal for those with blood sugar imbalances and sugar cravings. Also a good option for people who have to maintain a busy schedule while fasting. Unless you are accustomed to taking a micro algae, begin with 2.5g of spiruline, .75g of chlorella or 3/8g of wild blue-green algae with fruit or vegetable juice, herbal tea, or another liquid, or add it to cooked grains and vegetables. If you take micro-algae regularly, or after day three of the cleanse, you can increase the amount to 5g of spirulina, 1.5g of chlorella, or ¾ gram wild blue-green.
Often we associate detoxing and cleansing with losing weight or moving our bodies away from a “toxic” state. Starting from this negative space and self judgement is often not the healthiest mindset when considering a fast or cleanse. In fact, this perspective can even lead to unhealthy behaviors and eating disorders. Our bodies are not toxic. They are amazing vessels that perform astounding functions for us, most of which we are unaware of, every second of every day! We should always be gentle with ourselves and beware of fads. An experiment in fasting or cleansing is an opportunity to exercise mindfulness and awareness and to consider key questions. What is your relationship with certain foods? What is your relationship with your body?
There ARE circumstances in which fasting should be avoided…
Fasting for an extended period in cold weather can be harmful
Avoid fasting if serious physical or mental degeneration is present
Avoid fasting if starving or deprived of proper nutrition
Avoid fasting during pregnancy or lactation
If think a cleanse might be right for you, but you have questions or concerns about how to proceed safely and effectively, or you have questions about whether a cleanse or fast is the right option for you, make sure to consult your licensed healthcare provider.