I tried fasting once, from like 10 in the morning till suppertime. The original intention was to do it for a couple of days, but I wiped out. I swear, if anything ever depends on me going on a hunger strike, we're doomed. I'm eating right now.
Still, many holistic types swear it's good for detoxifying the body, clearing you out and giving the old digestive system a break.
They say you come out leaner, stronger, revitalized and refreshed - not to mention its use testing willpower or as a means of heightening spiritual awareness. My brother did it for, like, 10 days once.
There are many different forms of fast; water fasts, herbal tea fasts, juice fasts, single fruit or veggie fasts, the drinking-binge fast, where you forget to eat for two days. (That last one's no good.)
Know, though, that just stopping eating isn't going to do you any good if your diet is bad to begin with. And you have to stay away from things like caffeine if you want to do it right - so you can't not eat and still have your morning joe.
If you're going to deprive your body, prepare yourself. Do research and get advice from a profesh. Don't fast if you're pregnant or nursing, of course, and I should hope it would go without saying that it's not an effective weight loss solution.
And remember, lots of folks out there say it's nonsense - that all you'll get out of fasting is hunger.
What the experts say
"I do not recommend severe, austere fasting. The yogic fast is food as medicine. For example, if you want to become a vegetarian, we recommend a fast of eating only fruits, nuts and vegetables for two weeks or a month. Another kind of fasting is the green diet. You can eat anything that's green. This helps to shift the body balance from acid to alkaline, helps with certain skin conditions and is good for weight balancing. You do have to be careful, because a fast is a fast, and you will get a little spaced out at first as your body detoxifies. Make sure you have adequate time to rest. Spring is the best time for a fast. Don't crash from chips and beer into a berry fast. The 11th day after the new moon is the best day to drink water for one day."
YOGI AKAL , director, Centre for Yogic Arts and Sciences, Toronto
"Toxins get stored in the fatty tissues of animals, so when we eat those animals they wind up in our tissues. Fasting has been shown in multiple studies to extend lifespan in animals. A total water fast is the most effective. Juice fasting isn't really fasting. It's like a light diet. I would not recommend a water fast without knowledge, education or supervision. It's an adjunct to nutritional excellence. Used in the context of the American diet it will get people in trouble. If people are eating healthy before and afterwards, fasting can greatly assist recovery from medical conditions. It can aid with auto-immune conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma. It's especially helpful for high blood pressure problems. I don't recommend fasting as a means of weight loss."
JOEL FUHRMAN , MD, author, Fasting And Eating For Health, Flemington, New Jersey
"Fasting is natural. Animals do it instinctively. When cats, dogs or other critters get sick, they stop eating until they feel better. Their programming or intuition compels them to fast. So it is with human beings. Fasting is a good way to help break unhealthy habits like smoking or alcoholism. A three-day juice fast can also be a good way to jump-start a weight reduction program. Up to 3 pounds can be lost in the first 24 hours of a water fast, and somewhat less on a juice fast. Fasting stimulates growth hormone release, thereby boosting immunity. The hunger pangs that inevitably occur during a fast are stomach contractions that can easily be relieved by drinking more water. Due to rapid changes in mineral balances and metabolism, fasting can be dangerous for diabetics, underweight individuals, peptic ulcer victims, pregnant or lactating women and for those with heart or kidney conditions. Cancer patients, unless they are obese, should avoid water fasting.'
ZOLTAN RONA , MD, Toronto
"You must consume some carbohydrates during a fast. Nerves only use sugar; they can't use fat. During a fast, muscle protein is broken down to make sugar for the brain. Therefore, you must eat some carbs! An example is the 'master cleanser,' in which you drink a mixture of one part maple syrup, one part lemon juice, many parts water and a pinch of cayenne. Or a watermelon fast or apple fast.'
NORMAN ALLAN , naturopath, Toronto
"The dangers of fasting outweigh the benefits, especially if you're doing it to lose weight. The body needs nutrients every day, specifically protein, and what ends up happening is that people lose small amounts of muscle tissue. Every pound of muscle burns about 50 calories a day, whereas every pound of fat burns 2, so you can lower your metabolic rate by fasting. Some people fast to detoxify. There may or may not be something to this theory; I don't think anyone will ever do the scientific research on it. If you flush out your system, when you start eating again you replace those toxins pretty quickly. So unless you're willing to fast for the rest of your life, you'll always have them in your sytem."
BARBIE CASSELMAN , nutritionist, Toronto