Last week, I wrote about “cleansing” and who it might be appropriate for. We established that it’s often difficult to know whether your symptoms are the result of depletion (being worn out or deficient in some manner) or accumulation (carrying around something “extra” – infection, phlegm, inflammation, toxins, etc.), and that cleansing doesn’t really make sense for a person in the former category. If you’re depleted and you do a demanding cleanse, you’re quite likely to feel worse.
I can’t effectively help you (through an article) to determine whether you’re a good candidate for a cleanse, but I can share my opinion on a few forms of cleansing, and give you a few cleansing options that are gentle enough to be appropriate for almost everyone.
Fasting is the oldest form of cleansing. It is the deliberate reduction or abstinence from some or all food and drink. Fasts range from the very gentle (for example, avoidance of sugar and processed foods) to the very intense (for example, no food or drink for a prolonged period). I believe there’s no good reason to avoid water as part of a fast, so the most intense that a fast should ever be is the total avoidance of food, but as much water as you want. (Water avoidance just impairs the effectiveness of the fast by dehydrating you and slowing eliminatory mechanisms.)
I was taught that the longer the duration of a fast and the more lacking it is in basic nutrition, the greater the risk of its eventually causing depletion. However, the depletion caused by such a fast is considered by some practitioners in certain circumstances to be an acceptable price to pay for the elimination of an accumulation that wouldn’t have otherwise left the body.
Many fasting advocates believe that a more complete fast should involve a “fasting” from activity – allowing the body and mind to rest so that all of your energy can be devoted to elimination. Whether you choose to abide by this advice or to continue with your routine as usual, if your body tells you it’s exhausted, you’d do well to curtail your activity.
My feeling is that unless you’re pregnant, nursing, or severely depleted to begin with, fasting is usually harmless – if not beneficial. The depletion it causes is usually quickly reversible when we resume healthy eating, and the digestive mechanisms are often restored to greater effectiveness.
However, it’s always a good idea to start gentle. A mild fast might consist of simply avoiding the most commonly problematic foods, such as wheat, corn, dairy, eggs, and soy. If you want to take it further, you could also eliminate alcohol, coffee, yeast, all grains, beans, nuts, sugars, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers), meat, processed foods, and commercial salt. To take it another step further, you could consume only liquids (broths, juices, and water), to make it easier for the digestive organs to process. If you regularly experience digestive upset, you can also eliminate all high-FODMAP foods. FODMAPs are fermentable sugars, which include those in most fruits, honey, corn syrup, milk, wheat, beans, garlic, and onions (search for FODMAPs online for a more complete list).
Gradually, you can try fasting on a smaller range of foods or liquids and increasing the duration of the fast for a more challenging and effective “reboot.” There’s an increasing body of research indicating health benefits from short-term fasting (on only water). For instance, a recent study – Prolonged Nightly Fasting and Breast Cancer Prognosis – showed that overnight fasting of more than 13 hours reduced the recurrence of breast cancer. This form of “intermittent fasting” may also improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin (improving type 2 diabetes), lower blood triglycerides, reduce inflammation, improve human growth hormone production, and normalize hunger signals.
In honor of all the new green growth around us, consider trying a fast of a day (or more) on Bieler Broth – a green “soup” developed by Dr. Henry Bieler. There are a few variations on this recipe (you can find them online), so here’s the most common one:
Ingredients (ideally, organic):
- 3-4 medium zucchinis, chopped
- 1 pound of string beans, ends trimmed
- 2 stalks of celery, chopped
- 2 bunches of parsley, stems removed and leaves chopped
- Place all the ingredients into a large soup pot and cover with enough water to thoroughly submerge them.
- Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. Simmer until tender with a fork (no longer than 30 minutes). Don’t overcook.
- Transfer all the liquid and vegetables to a blend and puree until liquefied.
You can drink this broth warm, with a little sea salt or pink salt of desired. Dr. Bieler used this to help cleanse the liver, restore the endocrine glands, and promote alkalinity of the body. It can be used as a substitute for one or more meals, or as your sole sustenance while fasting. If you desire a more liquid diet for your fast, and especially if the digestive organs are really taxed, you can give away the vegetables to someone else, and simply drink the water they were cooked in.
The re-entry process after any fast – but especially one lasting a few days or more – should be gradual. Now that your system is cleaner, introduce solid and complex foods slowly. If it’s done too rapidly, you can undo much of the benefit of the fast. When planning a fast, include the re-entry process in your plan. If you were on a water fast, first eat broths and/or juices, then simple solid foods, before diving into a bag of Sour Patch Kids. 😉
Let me know about your experience if you decide to try this – and remember, it’s always a good idea to check in with your healthcare practitioner before a fast, especially if you have health problems.
Dr. Peter Borten