Water Fasting: What is it, Who is it for, Why do it?

02.05.18

Health

Hi guys! Happy, happy Monday!

This weekend was amazing. I got to meet so many of you at The Good Fest, and after a long crazy week in NYC and a full day at the festival when I got home, I got to cozy up with my love yesterday and do NOTHING. ALL. DAY. except for soak in each other’s love, make kitchari (yes, my recipe is coming this week!), and chill the heck out.

We needed it, so so much.

And now it’s today, Monday! I posted on Instagram today about my Monday water fasts and the 3 day water fast that I did at Surya during my Panchakarma. I figured I would dive right in with this post and tell you guys all about it, because there were a lot of questions… amazing questions, at that!

WATER FASTING FOR HEALTH //

Some background info!

I’d like to start with a disclaimer… I know I have so many amazing readers and followers who found me during and even before my eating disorder recovery journey (which you can read all about here if that is total news to you!). It was brought to my attention on Instagram today that the idea of a water fast could be triggering to those in recovery from eating disorders, and I always want to be extremely sensitive to my readers & my loves who are in that stage of their healing process.

Hopefully what I am about to say here will clear up any triggers you may have reading this, and if it doesn’t… then by all means don’t read this post! We are in charge of the content we consume, in every way. Here are my thoughts:

1. I am water fasting for pure, true, real, HEALING. This has absolutely zero to do with weight loss. My physical body is not in a healthy place right now, and it hasn’t been for about two and a half, almost three years. My hormones have been very imbalanced, I’ve developed a fibroid tumor on my uterus, I have so many parasites in my gut that I am working to get rid of, I suffer from terrible candida that I learned more about during my Panchakarma, and not to mention — the FULL. BODY. HIVES. I have been suffering from for the last 6 weeks, and the terrible, debilitating eczema I have had for almost 9 months. Oh, and cystic acne all around the lower half of my face (hormone zones), and who wants to live with that?

2. I wouldn’t recommend a water fast to someone who is in the thick of an eating disorder recovery, or maybe ever. For me, it’s been nearly four years since coming forward about my orthorexia, and for three and a half of those years I have felt downright heartbroken about my gut health issues and my declining health in other areas. I have been a true blue wellness junkie from day one, and for a long time (mainly because of a lot of social pressures to do what other people wanted me to do in the midst of my recovery) I felt like I wasn’t allowed to embrace that wellness-loving, holistic healing side of me freely. Now, I am getting back to my true nature of exploring holistic healing and I can’t even tell you how amazing it feels from the inside out.

I believe that my health issues this time around were a blessing from the universe, because it was my time to dive back into healing holistically and learning about these age-old, Eastern medicine methods. Sharing that with all of you sets my soul on fire, but even more than that… healing myself naturally is an unparalleled feeling of calm, bliss, relief, and triumph.

3. Water fasting is a very alternative but very proven, safe method for healing. It is something that has been used for tens of thousands of years in indigenous cultures and in Eastern medicine, but it is a practice Western medicine has ignored and not hopped on board with. Western medicine has failed me time and time again with my health issues, ESPECIALLY with my recent skin inflammation and gut health concerns. Fasting is one answer amongst many, many, many answers to various health issues so I would never, in a trillion years, tell someone else to do something just because I am doing it. I am sharing my journey, because it’s my passion and also my job to do so. 🙂 Take what inspires you from the journey, leave the rest!

4. I got this email from a reader who I will keep anonymous for her privacy, but this really hit home for me. She did a 10 day water fast a few years ago because of a lymph swelling in her legs that could very likely have lead her to developing leg tumors. Her water fast changed her life (and saved her health!), and she doesn’t tell people about it for this reason (her words in quotes): “As a woman, I feel like whenever you try to better yourself and it involves eating or not, there’s always this weird stigma that you’re trying to lose weight. Maybe I’d tell more people if I was a guy – who knows!”

I relate to her SO MUCH on that level because when it comes to detoxing, there is so much judgment from others who are part of the anti-diet, anti-detox culture. I am not anti ANYTHING, and I never have been. I am all about balance, listening to our bodies, and eating real, whole foods from the earth, as local and organic as possible. I am also all for alternative methods of healing, and the proof is in the pudding… I feel ridiculously amazing right now for the first time in THREE AND A HALF YEARS. Not because I am water fasting alone, but because of my overall lifestyle and because fasting is now a part of my all around healing regimen. Clearly my body needed it, and my intuition responded.

5. Lastly, because this isn’t a widely known method of healing in the West, I know it can come across as very extreme and even unhealthy to some. But until you’ve done the research and immersed yourself in the incredibly healing benefits of water fasting for healing… you truly are not in a position to judge.

I understand that it’s easy to judge, especially if something makes you feel uncomfortable, but instead I would recommend looking into it and doing the research if you are interested. There are countless books and resources on the subject, many of which I will refer to in this post. Judging is more unhealthy than any diet or detox or way of life — it truly is what makes us sick — that and stress.

My lifestyle includes non-judgement for so many reasons, and in this stage of my healing journey… I will say that if you feel compelled to judge my choices to go the alternative medicine route, then I may not be the person for you. No hard feelings if that is the case! I get it, we are all different. Until the research is done, water fasting is a big thing to wrap our heads around.

My experience //

As I mentioned on Instagram, I did a 3-day water fast during my Panchakarma a few weeks ago. It was prescribed to me by my amazing Ayurvedic doctor Martha at Surya Spa, the moment she took a look at the detrimental rashes all over my body, felt my pulse and all of the HEAT in my system, and picked up on the extreme stress I was feeling from my daily life.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard about water fasting, though — many of YOU amazing souls reached out to me on Instagram, email, etc. to tell me that water fasting can be an incredible healing method for skin rashes and inflammation. 

In true spiritual fashion, hearing about water fasting started popping up EVERYWHERE for me. You guys were telling me about it, I got tons of incredible books recommended to me so I could learn about it before I dove into the practice (books referenced below), and it was popping up in conversations right and left with health-conscious friends of mine in this space who are up to date on the latest and greatest in healing modalities and curing diseases in radical, holistic ways.

During the 3-day fast I was amazed by how much mental clarity I gained, and how I truly didn’t feel hungry at all once my body got into a rhythm. The hardest part of the fast was that my legs were incredibly sore from the lack of potassium / magnesium, so I was glad I had the luxury of resting and not having anywhere to be. At one point the leg cramps were so bad they kept me up through the night, but that is a normal reaction to water fasting and once I told Martha about it she said that was a sign of detox and would go away in the next day or so — which it did.

The only other difficult part was that the thought of food had me salivating! While my physical body felt fine, my brain was still wrapping itself around the idea of not eating food for three days. I had to keep reminding my brain that this was for radical healing, and that to reap the benefits we could get through this!

My brain was more alert and on fire than ever before! I am typing this on a one-day water fast as we speak, and I can tell you I am so in tune with what I am writing that it just FLOWS, and my brain feels so nourished with this BREAK my body is taking from digesting food.

My rashes were definitely helped from the 3-day fast, but it was only the beginning. I knew I would have to regularly incorporate this method into my routine if I wanted to see lasting results. That was a few weeks ago in the thick of my terrible rashes, so they needed time and space to continue to heal.

I continued reading books like Dr. Steven Gundry’s The Plant Paradox (which talks about the mitochrondria in our bodies and how much more efficiently they can communicate with each other when they are able to take a break every so often… which is why for 6 months out of the year he water fasts for 22 hours PER DAY, EVERY DAY! And you think I’m extreme ;), but really… he is brilliant and so cutting edge), and Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Fasting & Eating for Health.

In those books I learned that not only is fasting a great alternative healing method for what I am going through, but also for serious, life threatening diseases and injuries. Dr. Fuhrman himself was told by many doctors he would never be able to walk on his foot again after a terrible ice skating injury, and after 40 days of water fasting he was completely fine and healed. (After a YEAR of being screwed by the Western medicine system.)

If anyone is planning to water fast for more than a couple of days on their own, I would highly recommend doing it with a doctor or a trained professional monitoring you (unless you are super well-versed in research on the subject). I am doing weekly water fasts on Mondays while I heal, and when I do a longer one at the end of this month I will have my dear friend & nutritionist Kelly Leveque monitor my blood sugar levels and my urine to make sure I am in ketosis — so that I am burning fat for fuel rather than glucose.

Addressing your questions //

You guys asked me a bunch of questions on Instagram today so I am answering the most repeated q’s here!

How do you keep from feeling STARVING?! And how do you regulate your hormones when fasting?

Our body has glucose reserves that are basically reserves of nutrients from foods we have eaten yesterday, last week, last month, last year, and even throughout our lifetime. When we take a break from eating and digesting foods and instead drink only water, our body dips into those nutrient reserves for energy and fuel.

We also go into ketosis after a couple of days, which is when our body burns fat for fuel instead of relying on glucose. Between being in ketosis and using the nutrient reserves for energy, our brain and blood sugar levels are completely fine and stable. This is also why our metabolism is not affected negatively (but rather it’s affected positively, because our organs and glands can get the healing they need rather than digesting foods!), and why people who have serious illnesses, injuries, and diseases to heal from can fast for around 40 days monitored by a health professional without having their bodies go into starvation mode.

Our body also dumps excess hormones in this process so rather than having hormonal imbalances from not eating — we are detoxified and in far better balance than we were when we began!

How do you distract yourself if you get hungry while water fasting?

Honestly, your body gets used to the fast and evens out hunger cues rather quickly. If you’re drinking enough water (at least 64 oz per day) everything will run smoothly and efficiently and you won’t be obsessing about food. That is why it’s important to go into a fast with a stable mental state and true clarity on what you want to get out of the fast (i.e. it’s NOT about weight loss, or a fun “challenge,” it’s about true healing) because when you are focused on the benefits… it’s hard to even think about being hungry. In a more practical sense, I keep myself busy by making sure I get in a lot of self-care, from massages to bodywork with Lauren Roxburgh, to working from home and laying low / relaxing, taking baths, reading, etc.

It is strongly advised not to exercise on a water fast, so without that energy output your body will be focused on restoring, rejuvenating, and reactivating from the inside out.

How much water should you be drinking?

It’s different for everyone, but bare minimum is one half of your body weight in ounces per day. For me, that’s about 60 oz of water minimum (or 8 full glasses) but I find I end up drinking more than that on days when I am water fasting, because the water is fueling me and nourishing me from the inside out. And a girl gets thirsty, ya know! When we’re fasting, we can really appreciate the taste of water and what it does for us… I find that it makes me appreciate the beauty of hydration in a whole new, very beautiful and symbiotic way.

What kind of water should you drink?

Well of course as natural of water as possible… I like to buy glass bottled water at Whole Foods or from another natural source that I really trust. Absolutely not tap water (full of chlorine), or water from a plastic bottle or container. I am still working on finding the purest sources in the most affordable, sustainable way so I will keep you posted on what I find! I have a few phone calls and meetings this week to look into that further, actually!

Who can or can’t do this?

Well, technically anyone CAN do it, but the people I would advise not to do it are those who feel like they are not at a stable place mentally or physically with food. If you have a history of starving yourself, your nutrient reserves would be smaller and it wouldn’t be safe to continue a fast for very long. If you mentally have issues or disordered patterns with food, it would not be a smart idea because it could trigger the desire for more detoxing and more cleansing. Technically you are not starving your body (at all) on a water fast because of your nutrient reserves, but if it triggers the feeling of starvation and you have had a history with that, it could be mentally not a good idea.

Also, someone coming from eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) would want to clean up their diet before they started a water fast. Switching over to a (mostly) plant-based diet full of veggies, fruits, leafy grains, grains, and legumes and then going into drinking all water for a day is the way to go, to ease your body into it. Get a massage… get the toxins flowing and releasing before you begin. Start small. These lifestyle changes will be lasting and longterm, so there is no need to start before you are ready.

Also if you have T1 diabetes and have to watch your blood sugar levels, I wouldn’t recommend a water fast.

For everyone else, it is safe to try it out IF you feel mentally and physically stable, and if you have done the proper research. This isn’t a tool for weight loss if you don’t need to lose weight. For those who are overweight and/or obese, it is a great tool for weight loss and healing — that is a different approach and I would recommend you find an amazing center or doctor to do this with, because your fast would be longer and more in depth with more elements and moving parts (i.e. enemas, nutrient IV’s, therapy, etc.)

Are the benefits immediate?

Certain benefits are immediate, yes. After 24 hours the body goes into a state of apoptosis which is the state of dead cell die off (thanks to my homie Kelly Leveque for teaching me about this). So after 24 hours, dead cells that aren’t supposed to be in your body (like fibroids, in my case) will begin dying off, shrinking, etc.

Your skin may experience immediate relief, but it depends on how severe your skin issues and inflammation are to begin with. My rashes took DAYS to show any sign of relief, but I could tell on the inside immediately that the inflammation was going down. I stopped feeling my fibroid pushing against my bladder, for instance… which was a HUGE PLUS.

Like with anything, consistency is key. Certain health concerns will show improvement sooner than others. If you are inspired to add this into your routine weekly like I am, then you will surely see benefits over a matter of weeks and months. And imagine how you’ll feel after a year of consistency! If the full year works for you and is serving your mind, body and spirit, of course.

What are the spiritual benefits?

Oh my goodness, the list is huge! There is a reason why every major religion and our wise, wise Buddhist monks fast for spiritual reasons. For one, removing the digestive process for a period of time enhances the gut-brain connection and allows us to draw deeper into our soul and our solar plexus chakra to get answers to our deepest questions. I found that during my 3 day water fast at Surya, I was able to fully connect with the plants, the ocean, and nature in a WHOLE new way. In a way, I feel like it removes the filter between us as individuals and us as a collective whole. I believe we are all one at the end of the day, and when I am on a water fast I can tap into that oneness with more ease.

It also clears up brain fog, which is ideal for meditation, yoga, and all around spiritual healing. This is a great time to practice automatic writing, meditation, self-care rituals, crystal healing, and more. Your work will also be on POINT because your mental clarity will be amazing!

How can water fasting help the gut heal from parasites, candida, SIBO, and more?

First of all, our bodies have the power to heal themselves. Our gut has the power to heal itself. All we have to do is get out of the way, and let it do its thing. But we never get out of the way… like, EVER in our normal daily lives.

There is truly no faster or more effective way to reduce inflammation and jumpstart healing than by fasting. Fasting works wonders for so many health conditions, but is especially restorative for leaky gut because it provides a break from digesting food, allowing time for the gut to “heal and seal” its lining.

When our energy can be used to go toward healing our bodies instead of digesting food, true healing can take place. This is what really spoke to me, because it makes so much SENSE that when we are not working to digest and process our food… our bodies can use their natural resources to HEAL and release what no longer serves us.

Fasting also allows for the body’s enzyme system to focus on detoxifying and breaking down toxins in the body quickly and efficiently without the job of heavy food digestion — so any toxins, parasites, candida, bacterial overgrowth, etc. will be lessened or eliminated by consistent water fasting.

Is there anything you can do along with water fasting to enhance the process?

Yes! I know at many water fasting centers they offer a range of therapeutic practices from coffee enemas, to therapeutic massage, light yoga, meditation, light therapy, psychotherapy, the list goes on. I personally like to give myself a coffee enema (a full post to come on this soon!) during a fast to stimulate the release and detoxification process of anything that no longer belongs in my body. That is how I have had PARASITES released from my body, among other things!

What is going on with your parasites? How do you know you have them, and how can you get rid of them?

I learned that I had parasites first though a stool test with my functional medicine doctor, and I was hesitant to take the antibiotic regimen because as you have now gathered… I prefer to treat things holistically! When I got to Surya Spa, Martha the doctor took one look at me and said, “You definitely have parasites.”

So after a few days of the detoxing abhyanga massage, enemas, the kitchari diet, and more… my body started to release parasites through my stool. Sorry if this is TMI, but you guys deserve to know because you’ve asked — they look like worms when they come out. Because they are worms! And yes, they are dead when they come out because they are only released once they’ve died.

I could have picked them up from anywhere. My theory is that when you have a super sensitive system… you are more susceptible to getting parasites, and more susceptible to experience the health concerns of having them. Water fasting, taking a supplement called HumaWorm, and eating a very strict Ayurvedic protocol is helping a lot. Plus certain herbs — will do a whole post on this!

Can you drink coffee, tea, or have lemon in your water during this fast?

According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book, no. Some sources will tell you yes on some of these substances (like lemon especially), but he says that true, pure water fasting is only water. That is when the body goes into apoptosis, and that is when the cell die off and healing happens. In my opinion, if you’re already fasting… having a little lemon is neither here nor there. I would go all in and do the true process if you feel it calling to you.

How DO YOU water fast?

Basically… you wake up, and drink water all day! You don’t eat food. You can do it for 24 hours, or if you feel well-versed on the subject and ready to take on more… you can continue. A typical fast lasts anywhere from 24 hours to 7 days, and many people who have serious ailments to heal from do them for longer (under medical supervision).

Resources to check out?

Dr. Fuhrman’s book is a game changer, and will teach you everything you need to know. I read it cover to cover and that’s where I learned enough to feel versed enough to do this on my own!

Dr. Gundry’s book talks about the mitochondria gut connection and fasting. The book is about something else (still very interesting) but skip to the fasting part if that is what you want to learn about.

I have been looking into facilities in case I want to go and do a full water fast retreat at any point… and this place looks like a great option in California.

To read more about the science of fasting, check out my friend Whitney English’s blog post on the Fasting Mimicking Diet. She also made this video!

I also loved the documentary Heal on all things holistic healing. They only touch on fasting, but it’s an amazing intro to the world of alternative medicine so that you might find this type of healing more legit if you’re currently skeptical.

Lastly, there are tons of YouTube videos walking through people’s personal accounts of water fasting and what it has done for them. As Whitney so eloquently says in her post, if you think this is about weight loss — then you’re entirely missing the point. This isn’t a fad diet. It’s a healing method that extends our life span, and has the ability to heal us from the inside out.

How do you FEEL?!?!?

There are no words for how happy I am with this stage of my journey. I feel like I am back in line with why I started a blog in the first place. To share my health and my passion for wellness from a place of TRUE WELLNESS and healing is… above and beyond, setting my soul on fire. I had a rough, dark few years trying to figure my own health out and it was really hard for me to find as much purpose in my blog because this is, after all, a wellness blog. I feel like I am finally getting back to my roots of true wellness and it feels exciting. My friend Lauren Roxburgh (the epic body whisperer) saw me today and couldn’t get over how much I am glowing — from the inside out. I look like a different person because I am radiating true happiness, true health. I have a long way to go but this is the most beautiful and exciting place to start.

I will share more on this soon, and would love for you to keep your questions coming! I will be water fasting every Monday that I can (minus when I am traveling, or when I am doing other healing treatments like an Ayurvedic liver cleanse next week) so I will continue documenting my journey to share with you all. Keep in mind, this is MY journey and I am not suggesting you try this if you don’t feel it calling to you. The beauty is — we are all different! We can all find what works for us. I believe that now and always. XO