You would think after routinely fasting over the last seven years that it'd be easy for me to jump right into it, but the truth is, it is not. I always procrastinate, even when I totally understand and love the health benefits I know fasting brings to me. At the end of the day, I know it boils down to one thing - emotional eating.
There is a vast difference between eating to satiate hunger and provide nutrients to our body and eating to satiate an empty feeling, boredom and anxiety. Or in most cases of emotional eating (like mine), eating to avoid feeling.
We all use food to cope with our emotions such as boredom, stress, anxiety, sadness and anger. Emotional eating is very much a learned behavior. We start tagging feelings to the foods we eat since birth. I think back to when I was a child - eating cakes at birthday parties - a time for fun, friends, celebration and comradery; having sweet popcorn at the movies - a time for quiet, anticipation and wonder. I'm not saying these are bad, that we should stop eating cakes or popcorn. It is merely to illustrate that associations are formed early on and may be used in an unhealthy way later in life.
People reach for food in much the same way one might reach for the bottle to deal with stress and emotions. These cravings, when we are not mindful, are largely driven by emotional rather than biological needs. There is also a biological component in cravings. Carbohydrate rich foods boost the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood regulation. By carbo-loading on things such as chips, we essentially develop a false sense of good mood and this gets reinforced over time.
If eating is purely emotional, then one will never learn how to deal with things or life in a healthy manner and the behavior will continue, while the mood generally remains unstable.
BENEFITS OF FASTING
- Reprogram food habits - Fasting provides the body a chance to reprogram previously learned food associated habits. It cleanses out your subconscious choices that governed your diet and shifts your diet choices fundamentally.
- Need less to satiate - I used to crave desserts and cake and would finish my slice and then reach for yours. After practicing fasting over the years, I still love cakes, but only need a few bites to feel satiated. My body just tells me it's enough. I don't even have to try or force myself to stop. I just, stop. Unlearning what we think we need and re-learning what your body really needs through an experience such as fasting enables us to make better, healthier choices from a deeper level.
- Handy skill to have for life - Practiced correctly, fasting will become a useful skill to have because our conditioning, strong habits and deep feelings accumulated since young are hard to break. Bad habits creep back up because it's human nature. We get complacent. Through fasting, we learn to listen to our bodies better and respond appropriately to its needs by catching die hard habits quicker and manage emotional eating with mindfulness. Fasting should not be abused as quick ibuprofen to ease one's pain. One should refrain from binge eating and then go on a fast to detox. That defeats the whole purpose of fasting.
- Experience more calm, patience & love - Often during and after I fast, I experience more calm, more patience, more love. I'm not spinning circles in my head trying to get things done on not enough hours in my day. I come back to my center and feel grounded and quite simply, just zen. The first two days of fasting usually brings up many suppressed emotions for me and I get easily triggered and go through lots of emotional detox. The physical food craving gets most intense for me on the third and fourth days. But past the fifth day, I usually feel renewed energy, less sluggish and more clear-headed. The longest I have done is 49 days on a juice / water fast.
- Emotional detox - Surpressed emotions is a major contributing factor to cancer. When we take away the one thing we use daily to surpress our emotions, we have no where else to go but to process and deal with our demons. Make the choice to acknowledge and be with your emotions and allow yourself to be vulnerable, cry, angry and sad. A sense of relief and peace often comes after a deep process. Through emotional detoxing, you may find your initial hunger merely a distraction from trying to avoid issues or feelings and the craving to eat goes away and you may find yourself not "hungry" anymore. It is important to note that fasting is a delicate process sometimes triggering strong emotions and you should fast in a safe place, amongst people you trust.
- Growth & Transformation - During fasting, emotions are intensified. Through the simple act of feeling and allowing pent up emotions like irritation, stress, sadness, anger, helplessness to surface so you may process them, inner transformation and growth can then happen. Allow your emotions to stay with you and share them with a close friend or writing in your journal. Sharing (with someone you trust and non-judgmental) is healing.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JUICING & SMOOTHIES
Drinking smoothies is not fasting. Fasting requires zero intake of fibres and proteins. Juicing is the extraction of liquid and nutrients from the fruit or vegetable. You drink only liquids without the pulp and do not consume the fibers during a fast. I toss the pulp into our compost pile.
WHAT KIND OF FAST IS BEST WHILE CARING FOR A CHILD
Through the years, I have tried different types of fasting. From extreme water fasts to juice fasts to broth fasts. I've tried different juice recipes, drinking frequencies and my fasting practice have evolved into a sweet spot and routine that is a much gentler approach compared to the extreme ones I used to dive into. Read here, if you want to know what kick-started my fasting practice. Motherhood in many ways balanced my approach towards fasting. I now apply a mix of detox techniques while still having nutrition during the fast so the cleanse is gentle enough for me to handle because I still need to remain sane caring for Kyan. I cannot handle an intense detox like a water fast and care for a child too. I needed to find a way to fast and give proper care to Kyan. It was a challenge, but with the right pace of fasting, appropriate nutrients and cravings-channeling-methods, fasting and caring for a child can now happen for me at the same time.
Fasting is a time for our bodies to slow down, detox and heal, and for our spirit to go inward. Therefore, distractions and strenuous activities are not recommended.
HOW TO START
- Get a juicer - We use this. Because the juice taste good and the nutrients are preserved. Plus it's easy to clean up.
- Ease into it - I used to eat full meals one day and go right into a full fast. I've learned that it is a huge shock for our system and quite stressful if I do it that way. The food cravings and blood sugar crash can drive you bats. I now ease into a fast, which is a much gentler and easier approach for our bodies. Two days before a full day juice fast, I start replacing one meal with juice or water, normally breakfast. One day before, I replace two meals with juice or water, breakfast and dinner works for me. And on the day of fast is juice and water only.
- Set a realistic goal - If you know you have travels coming up, dinner parties to attend or guests visiting, don't do it. Make time for the juice fast so you have ample time to rest when your energy is low while your body is working hard to detox. Start with making past three days. Once you get to three days, access your emotions and physical and decide to proceed or not. I recommend 14 days for each fast session to fully benefit and reprogram. For beginners, 7 days is a great start.
- Put away comfort foods - Keep them in your pantry, throw them away, stock up on fresh fruits you are juicing. Out of sight, out of mind (easier).
- Plan ahead your child's meals - Prepare meals that are nutritious but easy and quick to whip up. A good balance of proteins, fats and vegetables. Make extra for dinner so he can have leftovers for lunch the next day. My favorites to make that's quick and healthy are Brown Rice Pesto Pasta with Shrimp, Xiao Mao Fan, Steamed Dumplings and Vegetable Fried Rice.
WONDERJUICE FAST (7-14 DAYS)
Each Morning (within 30 mins of waking up): Drink one 8 oz cup of warm water with half lemon juice. This washes down the mucus that's accumulated in our mouths, throats, intestines during the night.
Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner: Drink one 12oz cup of WonderJuice for each meal.
Snack (between lunch & dinner): Almond Coconut Milk
Drink lots of water throughout the day. I find keeping a bottle of water with me works best in reminding me to drink water. Often, I forget to drink when I don't have a bottle close by, and by the time I'm thirsty, I'm also hungry and craving food.
Take probiotics everyday.
Optional: Sometimes when my detox feels very intense in the beginning, I drink another serving of Almond Coconut Water before I go to bed. The intensity usually tapers off by day 3 or 4 and I find I stop reaching for the Almond Coconut Water for the rest of my fasting.
Doing coffee enema during a fast helps ease "die-off" or detox reactions and I highly recommend. Coffee enema has helped me through all my fasts. Here's a great article to read if you are interested.
We also do oil pulling with coconut oil once in the morning during the fast for detox and reducing the amount of harmful bacteria in our mouths. It also helps to whiten teeth, keep bad breath at bay and has been know to reduce double chins. Hold one tablespoonful oil in your mouth and "pull" it through your teeth repeatedly for at least 20-30mins. Spit and rinse.
Feel free to play and experiment with your juice recipe. I have a base recipe that I use and put seasonal ingredients for different mealtimes.
Yields one 10 oz cup
1 red apple
1 green apple
4 cups spinach / kale
Add one or two of the following for different taste, (or all of them if you really want, like one of my friends did):
Lemon & Basil (light and refreshing for summer)
Ginger (love for cool mornings and nights)
Beets (wonderful tonic for the liver, great for detox - check your pee during the fast, if it turns pink, you have low stomach acid, if your pee is still clear, then ratchet it up and juice more beets, high in betane which helps relies our mind and create a sense of well being - similar to chocolate, high in potassium, iron and vitamin B and minerals)
Broccoli (if you can stand it)
Orange (folic acid boost)
Grapefruit (Makes your juice super bitter!)
If you're using the same juicer as mine, I like to alternate the soft mushy vegetables like cucumbers, beets and spinach, with the harder vegetables like carrot and celery so my juicer doesn't get stuck and I get a better yield.
I use this citrus juicer for oranges and lemons.
For those who prefer to juice for the whole day and want different flavors for each meal:
Juice the base recipe for 3 meals and portion out into your glass mason jars. Juice one orange, for example, and add into lunch juice and one beet for dinner juice. That way, you get different flavors each meal so it's not so boring.
Stock up on herbal teas. Detox, Sleepytime - my current favorite after my dear friend made it for me at her house and added fresh spearmint from her herb garden, non caffeinated teas are helpful in soothing cravings, flushing out toxins and winding down for a relaxing night's rest.
ALMOND COCONUT MILK RECIPE
Makes one serving.
500 ml Coconut Water (no added sugar)
18 Raw Almonds (soaked for at least 4 hours or overnight)
Blend coconut water and almonds together. Strain and store in glass container in refrigerator. Drink same day for a snack between lunch and dinner. Keeps for 24 hours.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING THE FAST
Tiredness, moodiness, anger, weakness, light-headedness, skin breakouts, irritability are among the more common ones. If you have recurrent health issue (i.e. eczema, acne, sinusitis), be aware that may get worse before it gets better.
It is important to be patient and gentle with yourself and breathe.
TIPS FOR PROCESSING EMOTIONS
- Start a journal - Writing down your feelings and cravings during your fast is therapeutic. You will likely notice a pattern to your cravings and soon see what you are trying to avoid through eating. Journaling is a great tool to have in empowering ourselves to become our own friend. It builds inner strength. Acknowledge your emotions, breathe and this too shall pass.
- Channel your stress - in a healthy way. Not sitting in front of the TV and binging on Downton Abbey. Tell someone you trust, that you're fasting and may need to talk. Sharing your experience and struggles during your fast is key to potential inner growth. Even just talking or texting about how you can smell fried chicken, dim sum, laksa can help you pull through a tough craving. (My girlfriends have been doing that with me.) When you can't find anyone to talk to, share on your journal.
- Manage distractions - Instead of going on the internet and browsing or going window shopping, notice when you are seeking distractions and become aware of them. Acknowledge yourself seeking distractions. Make the decision to come back to your breath. Take a moment to slow down, close your eyes and stop to breathe. Do some gardening, go for walk, do some light exercise, gentle yoga. The idea is to catch yourself seeking distractions and letting these distractions go so you may come back to your center.
- Be in nature - It's easier to feel calm when we are in nature. The elements naturally calm us down. The breeze on your face, the sun on your skin, the smell of grass and trees. Direct sunlight on our bodies give us energy and Vitamin D which boosts our immune system and helps kill of bad bacteria, fungi and parasites. Try to get at least 15 mins - 30 mins of sunshine nature time (without sunscreen) and take note to avoid peak UV periods to avoid sunburn.
- Allow your emotions - When I say allow your emotions, it doesn't mean go ahead and lash out at everyone who has been upsetting you. Allowing your emotions simply means feeling it in your body where the emotion exists and allowing that emotion to be with you. This is key to experiencing emotional detox. Breathe through your emotions, write in your journal, share with someone how you feel to help complete the feeling of your emotions so that it may then transform into a deeper peace.
- Engage your child - As hard as it may be sometimes to want to engage them, when you really just want them to leave you alone, engaging them is actually going to work in your favor and help you through your detox. Children are sensitive to our feelings and emotions. When they see you embracing your own emotions and just being, they actually display more calm. Involve your child in the juicing process, let them help with cutting and juicing the fruits and vegetables.
Before you know it, you are Day 7 into your fast. And then you wonder if you want to keep going for the whole month or you are done. Congratulations and great job for making it this far. Breaking fast is more important than fasting. It is also the time when your newly cleansed body re-learns food habits and associations.
Stay away from wheat, sugar, dairy and meats. The key is to light foods only because you do not want to tax your digestion by eating heavy foods right away.
On Day 1 & 2 - Eat only fruits for breakfast. Salads, sprouts and fermented foods like cultured vegetables can be included in lunch. Cultured foods are pre-digested and easier for our bodies to digest and absorb. They also have lots of good bacteria. For dinner, drink broths with cooked vegetables. Continue eating this way for two days.
On Day 3 - Continue to eat light meals and you may re-introduce healthy fats (nut milks) and gluten-free grains (quinoa, amaranth, brown rice or millet).
On Day 4 - Add fish or seafood proteins, or if you don't eat fish or seafood, add animal proteins like eggs or meats in the white meat family such as chicken breasts, if you like.
On Day 5 - You may re-introduce dairy and other meats if you desire. Take note dairy should be raw and any meat should be grass fed and non-hormones.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER?
Following an alkaline diet for four to six weeks after breaking fast helps our body continue to learn healthy choices. Balance is fundamental in good health and spirit. Thinking you will never eat something again is not helpful in helping our body learn to make healthy decisions. Be gentle with yourself and balance what is healthy for you and indulge in cravings once in a while. Treat yourself to the one thing you've been craving during your fast and ask yourself how you feel and notice the difference in the amounts you eat before you feel satiated.
Having been through a strict nine months raw vegan diet and getting tremendously bored with my choices and tapering out of that to a 50% cooked, 50% raw for another year and then finally eating without consciously wondering how much raw am I eating today? I like to look at my nutrition on a weekly basis and try to find balance. If I had IN-N-OUT today, I know i'm not going to eat it for another month. M O D E R A T I O N.
HOW DID MY 3 YEAR OLD DO?
Kyan, my 3 year-old son, wanted to fast with me. Of course, he wants to do everything I do. I agreed and explained to him what fasting is and invited him to try with me. He replaced his lunch for some juice and ran off to play after drinking. He came back within the hour and told me he's hungry. I explained to him about fasting again and asked him if he wanted to keep fasting or break his fast. He decided to drink more juice. We kept doing this until he came and told me I want something to eat and chew on. So I told him he can break fast and I served him his meal. He looked at me, and at his lunch, and then back at me, not quite sure if he should eat the Xiao Mao Fan in front of him. I gently told him it's alright if he wants to eat. He dove into his food eventually.
The key here is to allow your child to participate and allow him to discover for himself at his own pace, the fasting process. It is important to note that a healthy 3 year old does not have any suppressed emotions. They are completely pure and display emotions as they come. When he's really hungry, he's hungry. Allowing him to fast with me was a way of including him and showing him how fasting is. I never intended to starve him. I am interested to see how our fasting practices will influence Kyan later on in life.
I often tell myself to take this slowing down time to go inward. Be aware of my child and notice how I respond to his needs. Our kids are often a direct reflection of ourselves, often one we don't want to see or admit. Fasting to me is also a time to nurture my attachment with Kyan. How I engage him during my fast is challenging and gives me a chance to work on myself to effect a positive influence on him. Everything I do create an everlasting memory and emotional tag and I strive to make my fasting practice a positive one by always deciding to look inward first.
All experiences are my own and while fasting and other detox techniques mentioned here might work for me and family, it may not work for you. Individuals who are suffering from illness(es) should take caution in experimenting with fasting and always consult a physician when in doubt.
Thank you very much for reading! xoxoxo
P.S. You might be interested to find out Why I started fasting
( Journaling image via here )