Fasting blinds the body in order to open the eyes of your soul.Rumi
Fasting has been around for thousands of years and legendary for a range of physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual benefits so it was a hands-down fit for my criteria for my ‘Finding Clarity’ experiement . Each strategy needed to be;
A stillness practice.
A gateway to slow down and be present.
Able to dislodge negative emotional energy.
Able to create ‘space’ for clarity.
It also adds a new criteria that I now understand is critical if you’re wanting increasesd clarity and you live in a body.
Removes biochemical blocks to clarity
In this experiment it has become obvious to me how integral the body is to our experience of life. And how unaware of that we can be. It the partner we cannot live or experience life without. It’s how we perceive the physical world. Any practice to increase clarity must focus on the quality of this lens.
Fasting cleanses the body; of cellular debris, waste products and toxins that are a result of interaction with the environment and the body’s natural processes. Both create consequences that impede our perceptual experience such as a decrease in energy, negative impacts on brain functioning, interference with digestive and immune functioning and hormone levels to name a few. Cleaning up these physical impediments becomes is a first step in creating clarity.
Fasting is the greatest remedy — the physician within.Paracelsus
Look up ‘fasting’ today, and you get an avalanche of articles, podcasts and several new documentaries based on the explosion of interest and research about whats really happening when we fast. And the anecdotal evidence increases daily as more and more people share how fasting has become for them, a significant tool for transforming illness, weight, overall health and it seems, longevity.
I was looking forward to several benefits; the cleansing and rejuvenating benefit, the mental clarity that could come from the cellular cleaning and rebuilding process, giving my body a ‘rest’ from the work of digestion, and losing those few extra pounds that sometimes show up to annoy me. What I didn’t know about was this impressive list of proven and/or potential benefits currently under investigation, too amazing to be ignored.
Developing Body of Evidence Re Benefits of a Longer Fast
Cleanses the Body– cleaning up toxins, cellular debris, cancerous cells and intracellular pathogens leaving more optimally functioning cells.
Boosts Mitochondria –Repair and clearing of damaged mitochondria. Longer fasting further stimulates the growth of NEW mitochondria boosting energy.
Improves Gut Health- healing gut tissues and rebalancing gut microorganisms.
Reduces Inflammation- That accumulation of damaged cell parts and waste is an inflammatory signal. Clearing away waste reduces those signals.
Reboots Immune System– Triggers stem cell regeneration of a damaged immune system.
Maintains bone and muscle mass- Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is secreted into the bloodstream throughout the day while fasting, rather than just the morning, which maintains muscle and bone mass.
Genetic Repair- HGH during fasting speeds the body’s ability to repair damaged tissues and DNA. This also has important implications for cancer, and anti-aging.
Normalizes insulin sensitivity– Fasting reduces overall insulin levels, increases insulin sensitivity (reducing diabetes risk, cardiovascular disease risk) and improving blood sugar regulation.
Creates Metabolic Flexibility– This means your body can easily switch between different fuel sources (sugar and fats) to quickly meet the current energy need, quickly and comfortably. (No more sugar crash).
Weight loss- Your body burns stored fat for energy by converting it to ketone fuel. Ketones are a ‘cleaner’ and ‘higher yield’ energy and stored in a much greater abundance in the body than glucose.
The philosophy of fasting calls upon us to know ourselves, to master ourselves, and to discipline ourselves the better to free ourselves. To fast is to identify our dependencies, and free ourselves from them.Tariq Ramadan
Landing On the 5 Day Water Fast
I had planned a 24 hour fast each Sunday of this month. I wanted to see how I would like it, after a couple of years practicing Intermittent Fasting. I had forgotten that I had included a long fast (7 days) on my list of strategies for this ‘finding clarity series’. I now I repressed that idea, since I really didn’t want to do it. But my unconscious mind created the opportunity to drive me in that direction anyway.
I stopped eating the Saturday before Easter Sunday, at 4pm, intending to fast the next day for 24 hours. I could have broken the fast at Easter dinner, but something told me to keep going until Monday. At 4am Monday I woke up with my mind chattering about when I ought to break the fast. I listened to the dialogue for a while, and then came the realization that I was already 36 hours into a fast. Why not keep it going and do the long fast this week? I felt like a genius, but quickly understood what was going on. This is how journaling, the writing of goals and clarity seeking practices work together to move you in the direction of your intentions. It’s just how it works.
What I Did Not Do
No time to choose a special fasting protocol, although this was essentially a water fast.
No attention to timing of the fast; no time off or planning the fast for a week with less activity.
No bio-measurements of any kind were taken. Not even keeping a close eye on my fluid intake.
No coffee. I had already given up coffee over a month ago.
What I Did Do
Chose 5 days instead of 7. I only weighed 106 pounds at the time of the fast, so 7 days didnt make sense.
Went about my regular activities for the week.
Drank throughout the day carrying around a 1-quart Ball jar full of sparkling water.
Took Epsom salt baths at night, absorbing magnesium through my skin.
Chewed sugarless gum-lots of it
The Fast Days
Sunday was surprisingly easy. No hunger. No thinking about food. That evening at Easter dinner I noticed the absence of thoughts like ‘what’s for dinner’, ‘will like it’, ‘what time will we eat’… Instead my attention was free to sit back and enjoy people and listen to stories.
Monday and Tuesday I thought I must have already been ‘keto adapted’, meaning I had no problem during the transition period from burning glucose reserves for fuel and burning ketones from fat. I had been following a ketogenic diet before the fast. I did get colder on Monday to the point where I was wearing a jacket while others were in shirt sleeves. I still felt mentally sharp, and happy I still had no issues with hunger. I didn’t even recall I was fasting when I was engaged in my day.
Wednesday- I was moving slower in the morning, and had some lightheadedness getting up due to low blood pressure. But once my day was rolling I was focused and engaged again. However that evening I headed for the couch when I got home. I felt a little stomach discomfort that I couldn’t identify so I had some warm water and it went away. I was definitely in conservation mode, but I felt clean inside, light and satisfied. Still cold. Still no hunger. I noticed a little cognitive decline, a lack of sharpness, and was without my typical motivation for activity, but I felt clear overall, and calm. I missed my energy level.
Thursday- Lowest energy point. I didn’t like it. Same bit of lightheadedness getting out of bed, and not as mentally sharp. If I had thought this fatigue meant I was getting sick, I might have stayed home. I finally felt a little hunger, as if my body was saying ‘enough’. But I had a huge sense of satisfaction knowing I was almost at the finish line. All it would take was the right kind of refeeding and I’d be back. It wasn’t a fun day but I knew I’d be fine soon.
The Special Attention to Refeeding
Finally, my 120 hours was up. I was 5 lbs lighter and out of energy. I wanted my energy and strength back. My eating plan was designed support the regenerative process, not interfere with it by eating the wrong foods at the wrong time, or too much too fast.
At 4pm I ate 2 tablespoons of plain fermented yogurt (for gut flora), each hour for 2 hours. In the evening, 1 cup of watered down bone broth. Nutritious ingredients, easily digested and salty. I added Apple Cider Vinegar, which increases the rate of mineral uptake after a longer fast. I added MCT oil to my bone broth because I wanted quick fats introduced without any side effects.
Friday morning I repeated the bone broth, adding grass-fed butter. I added a small piece of smoked salmon mid-morning. Midday I ate fatty black olives and more bone broth. By evening, I was fine. No gastro-intestinal distress or symptoms of any kind. I was aware of thoughts suggested I could just return to eating normally, and I saw how easy it would be to revert back to previous habits. Those thoughts came back surprisingly fast.
By Saturday, I did not restrict myself. I felt this refeeding process had positive effects well beyond the introduction of eating, including setting up new eating habits going forward.
My Experiences and the Clarity They Revealed
“Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goals, if he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is able to fast.”Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
1. The Experience- Spaciousness: I loved not eating for 5 days! The days felt less cluttered. I noticed and enjoyed the absence of food and the physical and personal energy demand (and ‘busyness’) that goes with it. I enjoyed noticing even the absence of thought related to food and ‘food culture.’
The Clarity Moment: I need to take a very close look at unimportant things in my life that I have allowed to take up and squander my energy and attention.
2. The Experience- A Sense of Accomplishment. I kept my word to myself, I followed through on my intention to fast for 5 days. What is strengthened is the confidence to do what I intend, manage the hard parts, finish what I start, and stay present to the process.
The Clarity Moment: Continuing to challenge myself is sometimes like play, sometimes like working out, sometimes very scary. But all are experiences of expansion and create who I am. Note to self; embrace them all.
3. The Experience- More Time Reflecting: Because the fast ultimately slowed me down, I spent less time ‘doing’ and more time ‘being’ and contemplating being. I made different choices in my present moment.
The Clarity Moment: How much of my ‘doing’ is truly essential to my purpose and how much is actually not in alignment with my stated goals? How much is distraction and resistance?
4. The Experience- The vision for the rest of my life expanded: I reflected on this last year and all the changes I had made, and my goals for this year. And as I did my vision began to expand. I started to dream on a bigger level.
The Clarity Moment: I have been thinking too small in two areas. I had been thinking ‘bigger’ from where I have been, rather than thinking ‘bolder’ and ‘creating’ completely differently from where I am. It’s time to revise these 2 specific goal, and take them into the bold zone.
Fasting in My Future
Everything you do matters. That is the definition of a meaningful life.Jordan Peterson
Don’t get me wrong, I love food. And I sometimes eat a lot. But I love feeling great, better. Fasting makes sense to me so I am expanding my current intermittent fasting practice to include some longer fasts.
I decided on designated fast periods throughout the year; a 3 day fast each month and a 5 day fast at least once a year.
I will make every effort to do my fasts outside of my regular routine, to remove those routine-related distractions from the experience.
And I’ll make way more space for reflection in my day.
The Wim Hoff Breathing Method, followed by cold showers. I have been wanting to get cold adapted ever since I starting going outside first thing in the morning to ‘ground’ in bare feet to get mellow, full spectrum light in my eyes (the mind-blowing work of Dr. Jack Kruse). Cold Thermogenesis is another longevity hack, but more importantly it apparently allows for some epic clarity.
For more in this series:
On Removing Blocks and Creating Space for Clarity: An Introduction to the Finding Clarity Series
Finding Clarity Series #1: PEW-12, a Free Writing Technique for Releasing Blocked, Toxic Emotion
Finding Clarity Series #2: The Sensory Deprivation Flotation Tank Experience
Finding Clarity Series #3- Beginning a Meditation Practice for Clarity Using the Muse Meditation Headband