By Dr. Karen Vrchota
Disclaimer: This is a book review, and should not be mistaken for medical advise. Fasting should be done only with supervision of qualified health care provider.
Prolonged Fasting has been heavily researched for 50 years, and has the potential to diminish and reverse many chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, and chronic infections. Periodic fasting can prolong life by as much as 30%. During the re-feeding phase and months to years later, people report and increased state of well being, and decreased cravings for foods they used to feel powerless against.
Involuntary periodic fasting has been practiced since the beginning of life's existence on earth, in times of deprivation due to war, famine, travel, winter. Humans evolved to this fasting stress by becoming rejuvenated, able to travel, fight, hunt, or plant for their next meal.
During times of fasting, one became acutely aware of their surroundings, and often a sense of spiritual enlightenment was felt. Deliberate fasting became practiced in many cultures in times of transition to help people find their way from adolescence to adulthood, during middle age crisis, at the loss of a loved one, and near time of death. A myriad of goals have included enlightenment, specific health goals, and a direction for their next move.
If only it weren't so hard to do...
"The Transformational Power of Fasting" brings forth the inspiration and information needed to intelligently decide if, when and how to do a fast that could save one's life.
Stephen Harrod Buhner, herbalist and earth poet, descends(ascends?) from a long line of healers, including surgeon general under President Eisenhower. But it was his great-grandmother, a midwife and herbalist, and great-grandfather Harrrod Buhner who inspired him to investigate the natural world as a source of healing. He has written numerous books on Healing Lyme and Co-infections that have helped move the world closer to alleviating the devastating effects of tick-borne illness. He writes with delectable wit and insight from broad and deep research, as well as personal experience on fasting.
He begins with the spiritual journey;
"There is a deeper self than the "I" that lives at the surface of our daily world. Each of us is born for a reason; there is a work we are here to do, some specific task that has been set before us. If we fail in the expression of this deeper self, if we do not find the work we are here to do, we find little in this life that can or will sustain us -- physical food alone is insufficient for being satisfied, for being filled or feeling full.
Given the nature of modern life, it is no wonder that the relationship between fasting, and the sacred, and the reason for which we were born has been forgotten."
"The soul has its own destiny, and the life of the "I" that we know as ourselves is only a small reflection of that larger destiny..... There is no memory or teaching in our culture that there is something special that our soul is here to do, that we live in the midst of the sacred, and the fact that there are processes that can help us remember this task and the sacredness of the world." Spiritual fasting is a pathway to discovering what we are here to do and for gaining appreciation for the world around us.
The emotional aspects of fasting are explored next. What is our relationship with food and how did it develop? Buhner explores his own relationship with food as an endearing example.
To be truly successful in changing our relationship with food, we must explore how our current relationship developed. How was food presented in our family of origin, and how did it change when we became responsible for choosing our own meals? How many of our interactions with others are around food, and how supportive are they when we make "healthy" changes that affect those interactions? When one is fasting, all of our relationships with food come to the surface, and they must be examined, contemplated, acknowledged. Only through awareness of our current relationship with food can we come to a new relationship that nourishes our body, emotions, and soul.
Lastly, Buhner embarks on the science of fasting, what happens at each stage and how it feels. This seems reassuring, when we feel dizzy and mentally slow as our body runs out of glucose to burn and starts burning ketones. Ketosis is different than diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be fatal. In ketosis, the body's natural buffering system continues to keep the pH in the optimal range. In ketoacidosis, the pH is shifted dangerously to metabolic acidosis, and the body begins to shut down systems. It's also different from starvation, in which the body digests its own muscles and organs to sustain life. In therapeutic fasting, muscle mass is overall preserved. He also answers the tough questions on detoxification and elimination that may need support during this time.
Most people can safely fast 4-30 days on their own (after consulting with their health practitioner) if they are reasonably healthy, and precede and follow the fast with two weeks of all plant diet. Medical supervision is advised for any one with a health condition.
Fasting has a number of contraindications, including anorexia and bulemia, fragile health conditions, with insulin dependent diabetes, pregnant women, and those with rare essential fatty acid enzyme deficiencies making them unable to burn ketones.
From a medical point of view, I disagree with some of his recommendations. He recommends a low fat starchy whole foods diet 10 weeks before a prolonged fast, and I would recommend a higher fat Keto Vegan diet (such as KetoFlex 12/3) that would ease one into and out of fasting by already being in ketosis. 70% fats (avacado, nuts and seeds), 20 %protein (will come in low carb vegetables), and 10% carbohydrates is one ratio mentioned in a diet that imitates fasting. This will increase ketones to 0.4-4 range and decrease blood sugar to 70-90 range. The fasting phase will keep blood sugars stable, and raise ketones to 4-8 range. The body will be running on ketosis for energy to some extent before and after fasting, and less transitional "icky" feelings will arise going onto and going off of fasting phase.
In Stephen Buhner's poetic summary:
“When we consciously alter our relationship with food, we begin to make friends with our
body and ourselves.
We begin to trust what the body can do, and let the body do what it has always been capable of doing.
We allow it to go where it uniquely knows to go.
We drop the reins on its neck and allow it to take us home.”
For further information on fasting, see links below.
"The Science of Fasting"
Documentary describes the scientific studies done in Russia and in USA.
Eat, Fast & Live Longer BBC Documentary
This video documentary BC Michael Mosely examines the science and the experince of fasting, and looks for easier ways to acheive same goals.