Many cultures observe some form of harvest festival. Few feasts, however, are as extravagant as Thanksgiving, which ushers in a whirlwind of excess, of overeating, and of unbridled consumption of comfort food that often stretches into the month of December and concludes with a massive hangover on January 1.
If you’re consuming large amounts of carbs, gaining weight around your belly, and experiencing mood swings and brain fog, it’s a good idea to spend a few days fasting. While most people in Western society think of fasting in terms of losing weight, that is a dangerous misuse of the practice. Fasting actually has significant health benefits (with weight loss being a small bonus).
We fast to detox, turn on the body’s repair mechanisms and clear brain fog. Fasting brings about cleansing at a cellular level by triggering autophagy – in which debris inside the cells is recycled into a form the cells can use as building blocks.
Research cardiologists at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute found that fasting lowers the risk of diabetes and coronary artery disease – the leading cause of death in America. Even during a very short fast, amazing things happen to the body and brain. In just 24 hours, the production of human growth hormone increases by a staggering 1,300 percent in men and 2,000 percent in women, repairing cells that make up our tissues.
Short bouts of fasting can help us overcome addictions to sugar and carbs. When we feel stressed, many of us tend to gravitate to comfort foods that we grew up on. The result is that over the decades, the flora in our guts become addicted to sugars, carbs and nasty fats, so when we fast for more than 12 hours, the digestive flora go into revolt and begin releasing chemical toxins that signal starvation to the brain. Even though we don’t actually need nourishment, we become ravenously hungry, simply because the flora want to feed. The gut microbes are extraordinarily smart, however, and they learn quickly. In just 24 hours we can break their food addictions and begin to establish a new balance in the colony, allowing good flora to flourish.
Fasting is a fundamental part of the spiritual practice to gain enlightenment. Muslims fast at Ramadan and Jews at Yom Kippur. In many indigenous cultures, seekers on a Vision Quest prime their brains with a combination of superfoods and fasting before going into a forest or other natural setting to open their minds to divine guidance.
Fasting for up to three days is perfectly safe for most people in good health. (If you have any concerns, are diabetic, taking medication, or dealing with acute illness, do not fast without first consulting a physician.) Along with hunger pangs during the first day or so, you might experience mood swings, low energy, and irritability. Most of the discomfort comes from the fact that your body is detoxifying. After the body burns through the stored glucose, it goes into ketosis as it starts burning fats. You can tell when you’ve switched to burning fats because your hunger pangs will go away.
It is imperative to drink at least four liters of water a day while fasting. If you are not urinating every hour, you’re not drinking enough water. If at any time you feel very sick, or your blood sugar is dropping dangerously, break your fast. It’s a good idea to keep chocolate and some basic foods like nuts and dried fruit on hand in case of emergency.
Learn more about fasting and healthy eating in my book, One Spirit Medicine.