The holiday season is over and you may find yourself thinking about how you can become healthier, have a higher quality of life and live well in the upcoming year.
In the Naturopathic world, optimal health and prevention take a leading seat in our approach to health. Over the past few decades we have a heard a great deal about dieting and caloric restriction to decrease weight and avoid things like obesity, cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation and cancer to name a few. Is caloric restriction a good idea?
Mechanisms Behind Calorie Restriction
Yes, however this new scientific name makes me want to run in the other direction. Traditionally it has been referred to as fasting or detoxifying. Ancient societies as well as religious groups including Christianity, Muslim (Ramadan), Ayurveda and Native American Indian fast for spiritual or health reasons on a regular basis. Fasting or caloric restriction means avoiding solid foods completely or lowering your caloric intake for a given number of days.
Why is fasting so important? Fasting has the ability to decrease the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic illness and some research shows the aging process. It accomplishes this by decreasing fat, cholesterol, blood pressure, obesity and the effects of stress. It also lowers IGF-1 and inflammatory molecules, increases BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) leading to repair of the brain and rest for the other organs in your body (think liver, gall bladder, kidneys, heart).
Which Fast is Best for You?
This is a difficult question, and as you know, naturopathic doctors treat the individual and situation at hand. If you are over 70 years, pregnant, seriously underweight, have anorexia, have kidney disease or severe hypoglycemia you should not fast or only do so under the guidance of your doctor.
For others, it depends on your current diet, liver health, co-morbidities and experience with fasting. It is also important to prepare yourself for a fast and reintroduce food carefully. One to three weeks of healthy whole foods eating prior to a fast is always recommended. If you have a standard American diet and choose to do a 3-day water fast it could be a shock to your system and the release of toxins from the organs could make you feel quit sick including nausea, headaches, fatigue, skin rashes and/or achiness. After a fast, you should introduce whole foods for a few days and gradually return to your full diet.
Some common fasts you can find out about on line include:
5-Day Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD) by Dr. Longo. 700-1100 calories (Strict guidelines) for 5 days. Recommends 5 days out of every 3 months if healthy, every month if in a disease state.
One- to three-day water only fasts.
Time specific eating. Examples include no food after 8pm at night, food only for 8 hours per day (typically between 8am-4pm) or Ramadan where you fast from dawn until sunset for 29 days out of the year.
At The Bodhi Clinic, we offer a 3-week whole foods-based detox each year where we practice many of these techniques during the second week based on your situation. The results from fasts like this can be quite amazing if done appropriately.
It is important to assure healthy phase I/II/III detoxification pathways in your liver and utilization of techniques to improve the organs of elimination. You will release toxins during a detox/fast and as long as you are moving them out, it will be an enjoyable and life changing experience.