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Fast: On Not Feasting

April 2, 2011

Let me start by saying two things:
1) I think I’ve made it abundantly clear on this blog that I like to eat everything. And often.
2) I don’t really believe in dieting, but I do believe in eating a healthy diet (despite my proclivity toward baked goods and bacon).

I also believe in fasting. I started juice fasting when I got into the natural food business, and now I try to do it a few times each year, usually at the change of seasons. And I’ve found that something I used to regard as truly crazy is actually pretty rewarding.

There are different thoughts on juice fasting, but most programs recommend a period of 1-3 days, during which you eat just the juice of fruits and vegetables (and water). The idea is that the juice is so quickly digested and burned off, it kicks your body into a detox. In my case, the detox rids me of all of the pork, wine, and cake I’ve been consuming over the winter season, and gives me a fresh start for spring. 

I like this kind of cleanse because it doesn’t involve taking supplements or buying a lot of extra stuff. It’s incredibly simple, and natural- all you need is produce, a blender, and willpower. By the morning of the fourth day, if you can make it, you feel accomplished and energetic. (And ready to eat massive quantities of anything solid.) Below, a brief guide to what to expect- good and bad – if you decide to try a 3 day juice fast:

What To Expect When You’re Juice Fasting:
Some programs recommend drinking juice steadily throughout the day, but I prefer to have three juice “meals.” I also prefer to schedule my juice fasts for a period of time when I’m not planning to go out to dinner or be around a lot of good looking food - there is no easy way to request a smoothie for dinner at say, Hungry Mother. I also try not to schedule any heavy athletic activity- a nice walk or some light yoga is good if you need to move around, but any prolonged running or sports will make you way too hungry to keep up a fast. Remember, this isn’t 3 days of anorexia- it’s a gentle detox. Don’t set yourself up for failure by planning a fast two days before your 10K race or during the Thanksgiving binge season.

Day 1:
Start your morning with your first dose of juice- delicious! You’ll be surprised at how quickly your body kicks into detox, especially if you are a coffee drinker. That’s right- when I said just juice, I meant it. No tea, no coffee- no caffeine. And to be clear, when I say juice, I don’t mean Odwalla or any of the packaged, sugar-laden smoothies out there. You need to either find a smoothie made from just fruits and vegetables – Whole Foods has them in their Produce departments – or make them yourself.

At about noon on the first day you’ll still feel pretty good. “Look at me being healthy!” you’ll think. But in two hours you’re going to feel really hungry, and really tired. This is the point at which some of my fasts have derailed, so plan to have some juice close at hand at 2pm. You’re also going to get a headache, especially if you are a coffee drinker, so have plenty of water- try not to take painkillers.

For most people, myself included, dinner time is the worst on a fast. The evening can seem like a long stretch of time without food, so I recommend planning some kind of activity so you’re not just staring at a wall dreaming of macaroni and cheese (not that I do that). See a movie (run past the popcorn), read a book at the park (not Starbucks), or take a long nap and then go to bed. That last one is actually not a joke- you’ll be really tired.

Day 2:
The best part about Day 2 is the scale- it’s normal to lose 3-4 lbs the first day. The worst part about Day 2 is the results of the detox. I won’t get too graphic, but check out some of the side effects here. However, if you eat fairly healthfully most of the time, the worst you’ll probably get is more headaches/body aches and some teenager-ish skin issues.

Of course, not feeling very well doesn’t really help when you’re fasting and can’t soothe your pain with a snack. Which can lead to just the tiniest bit of crankiness. On Day 2, much like when Mercury is in retrograde, the moon is full, or you wake up with an itchy nose, you should avoid serious conversations with loved ones or the signing of any legal documents.

Around noon on the second day you’ll start to realize just how much you had been eating. You’ll think things like “this is normally when I have my third cup of coffee and some candy from the jar on my desk.” Later, you’ll say “damn, I can’t have my usual 3pm muffin break” or “ugh, I want my pre-dinner snack, and also dinner, and also dessert, and maybe something afterwards.” This is what I appreciate most about the fast- it reminds me where I might have gotten off track with my eating and makes me much more aware of where I may need to cut back.

You will still be tired on Day 2, though not as exhausted as Day 1.  For dinner on Day 2 I usually splurge and eat actual fruit instead of juice- it just feels good to chew on something by that point.  Plan to go to bed early on Day 2 as well.

Day 3:
Yay for Day 3, the best of all days. Not only is it the LAST day, but the side effects from the detox will start to lessen and you’ll actually begin to feel good. You will be far less hungry, but you’re still in the danger zone- you might start rationalizing.

“Oh, but I already did 2 days- that’s a LOT. I should just eat today.”
“Well, this fast probably isn’t that good for me anyway. I should just eat.”
“I’m sure I’ve gotten all of the benefits I can out of this already. I’m just going to eat.”

And frankly, there are plenty of people who only do two days, and it’s perfectly ok to stop here. It’s perfectly ok to stop after 1 day as well. But from experience, I know that I feel really accomplished when I make it through three days. Remember- it’s just one more day, and the worst is over. Keep it up, drink your juice, grab some flavored seltzer (not the kind with added sugar or sweetener) for a treat. Don’t quit now!

Day 4:
Day 4 is not a fasting day- this is the day that you finally get to eat! I mention it because it is on this day that you will feel great- energized and excited. I wrote at the beginning of this post that by Day 4 you’ll be ravenously hungry – that’s not really accurate. The truth is that you’ll want to eat, but won’t be dying to break your fast with a dozen Krispy Kremes.  Your body will be craving fruits and vegetables at this point, and be much less reliant on refined sugar. You’ll be excited for food, but much more cognizant of what you’re eating, and why.

So there you have it. It might seem insane, and I don’t blame you for thinking so. But after a juice fast you really do feel more energetic, more aware of your body and what you eat, and more committed to a healthy diet. And all it takes is three days and a blender.

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