For those new to fasting, getting sick is relatively common; yet, so infrequent, that it’s rarely mentioned in fasting information.
So what would make one sick during a fast?
Simple: The cleansing crisis.
When one stops eating the body begins to change within hours (many have no doubt noticed this when a long time has occurred between meals). When on stops eating for 24 hours the body begins to eliminate toxins, which is the beginning of the cleansing crisis.
The symptoms of a cleansing crisis vary, but generally include headache and dizziness, shortness of breath, feeling tired or ‘crabby’, or general aches and pain is if one is on the verge of a cold. Again, among those new to fasting, this is relatively common.
The best way to start fasting is for a 24 hour period. Some religious and spiritual groups will fast from “sunset to sunset”, for example. If one has never fasted before, going more than three days is never recommended; and for some new fasters, two days is pushing their limit.
Think: ‘too much, too soon’, or that one’s body is not yet ready or familiar with such a drastic change. The occasional faster may or may not have similar issues, and the expert faster, never. It all has to do with experience, both body experience and mind experience.
If a newbie starts with a 24 hour fast, this gently introduces the idea of fasting to the body and mind. After doing several 24 hour fasts (and I recommend two 24 hour fasts a month), then the newbie can start branching out .. say, 36 hours, then 48 hours, and the like.
Other than experience, another reason those new to fasting may start to feel ill or get sick is hydration. It is important to not just fast on juice, for example, but to make sure one is fully hydrated; and if on a water only fast, to add some electrolytes to the water, by way of lemon or lime juice.
Another reason may be how the juice (or water) is drunk. Most of those new to fasting will simply drink their juice, mostly because they are hungry so want to get rid of the hunger pangs quickly. Drinking too quickly can unsettle the stomach, making one feel ill, but it will also make one feel hungry sooner.
In a juice fast, for example, it is very important that one CHEWS their juice. This simply means to swish it around in the mouth for 15-30 seconds. Not only does this activate the digestive fluids (saliva is a digestive fluid), but it helps the juice ‘sit’ better on the stomach. It also has the added benefit of making one feel fuller for longer.
Remember, the cleansing crisis is a time of detoxification, which means the body is working to get rid of all the unhealthy toxins. It is best to be patient during a cleansing crisis, which is why mindful activities and deep breathing exercises are often recommended. Both are especially helpful during this time.
Think of one’s self as a drug addict – addicted to the chemicals found in processed foods. So like any junkie, when the ‘drug’ is removed, the body experiences withdrawal. And like a junkie, realize that this time – though uncomfortable – is necessary to reach the ‘other side’ of wellness, and non-addiction.
Yet another consideration is that most newbies to fasting are not attuned to their body, so following a menu that may include fruits and veggies unfamiliar to their body may trigger an immunity compromise – so juice what is familiar to you! Couple that with not being attuned to the warning messages their body receives, and they get sick.
Those who have fasted a few times – the occasional faster – has more experience with what fruits and veggies work best for their body; likewise, the physical and mental messages their body and mind are sending. This makes them better equipped to Adapt, Adjust and Accomidate for their unique needs.
Whereas expert fasters .. well, speaking for myself: I give fasting little to no thought because I’ve been fasting for many years, with many different approaches. Couple this with mindful living and it allows me to put my attention where it should be during a fast .. on spiritual matters.
So what should the newbie faster do if they start getting sick?
Gently break the fast by introducing healing foods. One good example is miso soup – the Vegan’s version of chicken soup – with minced veggies added in, such as carrot or ginger. After this, another gentle healing meal is brown rice with steamed vegetables and any one or combination of these healing herbs (to personal tastes):
-Cinnamon (and/or sticks)
-Turmeric (powder or root)
In all – the combination of miso soup, then rice with veggies and spice – will ease the newbie faster back to health by being gentle on their digestive system, while nurturing the immune systems return to a higher level.
Another thing that must be considered is physical activity. Many new to fasting carry on business-as-usual, to often include their usual aerobics class or morning run. It is important that during a fast, one settles into a calming routine, one filled with stillness and reflection. Overtaxing the body when the blood sugar and other levels are lowered is simply not a good idea; and the definition of ‘overtaxing’ is most forms of exercise.
With the exception of Healing/Chikitsa Yoga.
Some 15 years ago I designed a Yoga class specifically for those who are ill or injured, who are fasting, and/or in need of healing. It is an internal energy routine that realigns the body’s energy centers (chakras and nadis / meridians), awhile assisting the body in what it does best – heal itself.
You see, fasting – akin to healing – is never a single activity. One must be proactive in the healing process, to begin with understanding how one’s body works, how one’s mind functions, and the nature of one’s spirit.
So too much physical activity for newbies and occasional fasters can have an adverse affect because, when fasting, not only does the body’s energy level drop – making it an excellent time to focus on spiritual matters – but the blood pressure and body temperature drop.
Regarding body temperature (most who fast, at every level) experience a drop in body temperature; which is yet another reason for deep breathing while fasting – especially Yoga Breathing. And for blood pressure drops, keeping exercise light and easy assures one will not get dizzy or otherwise feeling light-headed.
From all this, it can be seen why all fasting information comes with a disclaimer that one should ‘ask your physician’ before beginning. In lieu of that – and only if one is attuned to the processes of their body and mind – fasting is a safe and effective means of health management.
In all you do .. Be Well!
Shanit and Metta ..
Yogini Valarie Devi