If you’re like many people, the end-of-year holidays often mean some less-than-optimal dietary choices as you spend time with loved ones who may not share or understand your choices.
Or perhaps you continue to make the best choices you can (or know how to), but are ready to take your health up a notch. Or a few notches.
If either of these scenarios describes you, the start of the new year may be the perfect time to give your body a chance to really cleanse and heal itself. And I’m not talking about an herbal cleanse, a juice feast, drinking salt water or some other concoction designed to clean you out.
Although some of these protocols may have the intended effect, they all pale in comparison to the single most powerful cleanse available: water-only fasting.
Water fasting is the single most powerful thing we can do to allow healing on all levels: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
So what makes fasting so incredibly powerful? Like every other species, the human body is completely self-cleansing and self-healing. But if that’s true, why doesn’t the body cleanse and heal itself all the time? Well, to a certain extent, it does and couldn’t survive long if it didn’t.
The issue is that cleansing and healing both require a significant amount of the body’s energy, and when we’re processing even the best food, most of our energy—more than 50 percent daily—is tied up in processing that food through the system, so little energy is available to cleanse and heal.
When we chew, the body determines the composition of the food on the tongue. Information is carried back to the brain to prepare the rest of the body for what’s about to follow. It’s been estimated that roughly 30 percent of the body’s energy is immediately shunted to the digestive tract to create the ideal environment for the digestion of the food when it reaches the stomach, to prepare the liver and gallbladder for any work that needs to happen to emulsify any fats and deal with any toxic substances in the food, and to ensure that the small intestine is ready to receive whatever’s coming in.
Next, the actual work of digestion, as well as the out-processing of wastes, the assimilation and distribution of nutrients and the reabsorption of any excess water from ideal high-water content foods occurs.
In the case of less-than-optimal foods, other things must happen, including the addition of water into the system in the case of any substance that is either too low in water (as is true with most “foods” commonly consumed on a standard American diet as well as any dried or dehydrated foods) or those that contain vinegar, salt, alcohol, spices and other substances that act as diuretics and steal water from the body.
Even when we drink smoothies, juices or coconut water, the body has a lot of work to do because the high (and in two of three of these, unnatural) density of nutrients requires more of the body’s energy to process than with whole foods.
So water fasting is as powerful as it is because it’s key to minimizing energy use; it’s simply the most effective and efficient way to get out of the body’s way so the body can do what it’s always been attempting to do: cleanse and heal itself.
When we fast, the body moves through a series of beneficial physiological processes. In the first phase of the process (the first eight to 12 hours), the body looks for any calories or nutrients it may need from whatever is still sitting in the digestive tract. In the second phase (the second eight to 12 hours), the body converts its glycogen reserves from the liver into glucose to meet the body’s energy needs. In the third phase (through up to 84 hours after the last meal), the body begins to convert muscle into sugar through a chemical conversion process called gluconeogenesis.
And while it may seem strange that the body would cannibalize its own muscle before consuming its long-term fat stores, that this happens is an excellent demonstration of the Law of Efficiency—which says every species always attempts to get the most benefit for the least amount of effort—in action.
And throughout the process, the body will break down and use anything it can for fuel, eliminating the rest. This makes fasting the most effective and efficient way for the body to rid itself of stones, lipomas, cysts, tumors, worms and anything else that doesn’t belong in the body.
Understanding that the body is completely self-cleansing and self-healing and that fasting simply allows the body to invest as little energy as possible into unnecessary tasks so that its energy can be marshaled for cleansing and healing, it may be easier to see how almost regardless of the condition, fasting is the most powerful way to heal the body.
Does fasting work in every situation? No, it doesn’t. There may be cases in which the body is simply incapable of healing because it no longer has sufficient vitality to deal with the underlying conditions. There may be severe damage to the body that the body is incapable of overcoming.
But in the vast majority of situations, the body can heal; and if it can, fasting is the single most efficient and effective way to allow for that healing to occur.
Hypertension, lower GI tract issues, chronic fatigue, Lyme disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, systemic candida, digestive disorders, multiple sclerosis and migraines are all some of the many conditions that we regularly see success with at Tanglewood.
And while many people seem to think that one cannot fast if he or she is too weak or too sick, this is almost never true. Remember that fasting correctly is about providing the body with complete rest; the sicker or more exhausted we are, the more that complete rest is critical.
In fact, the amazing power of fasting suggests that we use real caution. Power, after all, is neutral. Whether a fast is beneficial or not depends entirely on how we accomplish it. When we do what we need to do correctly, the power of the process is harnessed to our advantage. When we don’t make the best choices either because we’re unwilling or unable to or simply because we don’t know better, the power of the process is harnessed against us, and we can actually harm ourselves.
So how do we fast to ensure we stay safe and maximize benefit? The first step is to recognize that “not eating” is only the first requisite. The real point of the process is complete physiological rest, and as I explained above, because nothing uses more energy than processing food, if we want to rest completely we must stop eating.
But many people make the mistake of thinking that as long as they’re not eating, they’re fasting and, therefore, benefitting from the process. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily true. In any given moment, there’s a finite amount of energy available to the body. The more energy the body is using to move you from one place to the other, to read, play on Facebook, watch videos or do anything else, the less energy is therefore available to your body to cleanse and heal.
The brain and central nervous system use about 35 percent of the body’s daily energy, and processing visual information is responsible for much of that. When we lay down and close our eyes, our respiratory rate, heart rate and brain waves all slow down and normalize, allowing the entire body to move into a more restful state.
And if we observe animals fasting to heal their bodies, we see them doing exactly the same thing: eliminating all extraneous activity in favor of resting as completely as possible.
As I pointed out above, muscle is a more efficient source of fuel than fat. Because of this, anytime we increase our body’s caloric needs when fasting, the body will revert to consuming more muscle than fat. This is true whether by being more physically active or by spending more time talking, reading, online, etc.
The key is to emulate the example of nature and rest as completely as possible so that the body can conserve its energy to apply it to cleansing and healing. After all, 800,000 other species can’t be wrong.
And complete rest has additional benefits: We can create a much higher level of emotional balance via fasting when we are willing to eliminate all the normal distractions of life and simply be with ourselves and whatever comes up when we get quiet and still enough. Dealing with these long-suppressed emotions is often the most difficult part of the process but can have enormous benefits to us. Not only is it nice to feel better emotionally, but I would suggest that virtually every physical disease has an emotional root cause. Creating a high level of emotional poise allows one to optimize physical health, something that may not be possible otherwise.
Next, we must ensure that we are sipping appropriate amounts of water. Water is the universal transport medium, and regardless of which of the five primary channels of elimination (urinary tract, colon, breath, skin or mucous membranes) the body is employing, nothing moves without sufficient water.
Sipping is critical because when we drink water slowly this way, the body has a chance to actually take it into its cells. When we drink it quickly, it moves quickly though the system without being absorbed, and we pee it right back out. Sipping is also important because two healthy kidneys can process only a maximum of about a quart an hour, and if we drink more than that, we tend to dilute our electrolytes, eventually to the point that our bloodstream can no longer provide what we need, and death occurs.
Having guided more than 2,000 people through fasts averaging 25 to 26 days, I’ve virtually never seen anyone not eliminate old, hard waste at some point. This material has often been sitting in the digestive tract for years. When we fast, the body finally has a chance to begin to break it down. Once broken down, it will begin to absorb water, finally becoming soft enough for the body to evacuate it. Without ample water, this is very unlikely to happen and, instead, the old waste will continue to sit there, ensuring that we don’t ever maximize our potential.
So how much water do we need to drink? Well, most need between 3 and 4 liters a day, often much more if we’re not sipping. But can’t we just listen to the body and drink when thirsty? Unfortunately, most people have lost touch with the body’s signals and so experience “thirst” only when the body is already severely dehydrated. The only way we can know for sure whether we’re getting the water we need is to take and properly interpret daily vital signs.
And having measured the cellular hydration of more than 2,000 people, I’ve seen that dehydration is a significant issue. Out of more than 2,000, only three people (besides myself) have been even close to properly hydrated, with more than 99.6 percent averaging about 15 percent dehydration, including those eating mostly fruit or drinking lots of juices or smoothies.
This is a significant issue as dehydration negatively impacts every aspect of our being from how efficiently the body and its organ systems operate, how quickly and efficiently we can eliminate toxins, how flexible we are and how quickly our muscles recover, to how quickly and well we heal, to how clearly we think, to how we feel and to how much we age.
And while fasting without water is common in nature (possible because metabolizing fat liberates water, now available to the body), it’s simply not enough water for a typically dehydrated person. Animals, on the other hand, are indeed connected to their natural instincts and so are typically well-hydrated when they begin fasting. Not so for the vast majority of people.
So how long a fast should you plan on? Well, different conditions tend to require different amounts of time for the average body to deal with them. Wound healing may be essentially completed in as little as two weeks, depending on the nature of the wound. One with hypertension, chronic fatigue or systemic candida usually needs a minimum of 21 days. Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease respond best with between 26 and 30 days of fasting.
Having said all that, let me point out that Herbert Shelton—the late Texas naturopath and modern father of fasting, who’s said to have supervised more than 40,000 water fasts—as well as most of the other fasting experts of our time have always suggested that fasting more than one week should be accomplished only with experienced supervision.
My own experience is that very few people are able to fast successfully on their own. Most don’t complete the process that they set out to do, and of those who do, many likely harm themselves because they don’t really know what they’re doing.
So if you’d like to make 2014 the year that you take your health to an amazing new level, consider giving yourself the gift of fasting for a week, month or even longer.
And if you want to really experience the highest level of health possible, get yourself to Tanglewood or one of the world’s other real fasting centers where the experience and knowledge of a fasting supervisor and the optimal environment created for fasting can provide you with the most successful, powerful and beneficial experience possible.
Consider that fasting is like a giant reset button; it will allow your body to cleanse and heal in a way that it often cannot otherwise—and so “miraculous” healing is the norm. But long-term success—that is, maintaining the gains created by fasting—depends on making excellent long-term choices after the fast. This is one of the reasons Tanglewood features education while our guests fast.
Knowing how to best meet all of your body’s needs as well as is possible is critical to creating and maintaining the highest levels of health possible, so I spend six hours a week educating my guests how to do exactly that.
We are each virtually infinitely powerful beings—part of that divine creative energy of the universe. If you’d like to manifest all your amazing gifts, consider fasting to allow your body to cleanse and heal itself as completely as possible, and then watch yourself flourish like never before.