People choose to fast for a variety of reasons. You might be fasting for weight loss or detoxification, or fasting might be part of your spiritual life. Whatever your reasons for fasting are, it can be a difficult process to get through. But with preparation, dedication, and self-care, you can get through your fast.
EditPreparing to Fast
- Visit a doctor before beginning your fast. Making dramatic changes to your diet can affect your body in big ways. Especially if you have underlying medical conditions that can prove dangerous with fasting — diabetes for example — you should always get a doctor’s approval before undergoing a fast.
- Many people fast for religious reasons rather than health, detoxification, or weight loss concerns. Rest assured, though, that most religions that call for fasting, including Islam, Catholicism, and Judaism, allow exemptions for those whose health won’t allow for it.
- Speak with your religious leader about your doctor’s concerns. Together, you can come up with a plan to practice your spiritual devotion without putting your health at risk.
- Hydrate well before the fast. Although the human body can survive for weeks — in one documented case, even months! — without food, it will shut down very quickly without water. Our bodies are about 60% water, and every cell in our body needs it to function properly. Without it, most people will die within three days. Fasting can take many forms, and you might allow yourself to drink water throughout your fast. But some fasts — the Islamic fast for the month of Ramadan, for example — prohibit drinking water for long stretches of time. No matter how much water you allow during the fast, it’s important to prepare your body for a long stretch of nutritional deficiency by “super-hydrating” beforehand.
- Drink plenty of water regularly in the days leading up to your fast. Then, drink at least two quarts of hydrating fluids before the last meal preceding your fast.
- Also avoid dehydrating foods with high salt and sugar contents, like fast food or salty snacks.
- Limit your caffeine intake. Coffee, soda, tea, and all those energy drinks we drink on a daily basis all contain high amounts of caffeine. Though you may not think of it this way, caffeine is considered a mood-altering substance that can result in dependence, if not outright addiction. If you drink caffeine regularly then remove it suddenly from your diet, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. When you’re eating a normal diet, those symptoms aren’t very noticeable. But even a very short fast — a day-long fast before surgery, for example — can worsen withdrawal symptoms.
- The common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include headache, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, depressed mood, and trouble concentrating.
- To avoid these unwanted side-effects, wean yourself off caffeine products in the weeks before you begin your fast.
- Limit your tobacco use. If you have an addiction to tobacco products, it may be even harder to give up than caffeine. However, it’s even more important to abstain from tobacco use than caffeine use. Not only will tobacco hit you harder on an empty stomach — making your head spin and potentially making you feel nauseous — it poses serious health risks. Tobacco use during a fast elevates both blood pressure and pulse rate, and decreases the skin temperature in your fingers and toes.
- If you’re having trouble finding a way to quit, even temporarily, talk to your doctor to learn more effective strategies.
- Eat carbohydrate-rich foods. The word itself — “carbo + hydrate” — essentially means “watered carbon.” Unlike proteins and fats, carbohydrates bond with water, helping your body stay hydrated for longer periods of time. This is very important when you’re preparing to fast! In the days and weeks leading up to your fast, eat plenty carbohydrate-rich foods to help your body hold onto its water:
- Multi grain breads, pastas, and cereals
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, parsnips)
- Vegetables (romaine lettuce, broccoli, asparagus, carrots)
- Fruits, (tomatoes, strawberries, apples, berries, oranges, grapes, and bananas)
- Control your portion sizes. You may think that you want to stuff yourself with as much food as possible in the days leading up to the fast. After all, that should help tide you over when you’re hungry, right? In fact, stuffing yourself regularly before your fast will acclimate your body to large meals. You’ll feel even hungrier when you stop eating. It may also help to vary your mealtimes, so your body doesn’t continue to anticipate food at specific times of the day.
- Eat a large meal before the fast, but don’t overeat. Many people choose to eat a large, protein-filled meal for their last meal before the fast. After days of eating small, carbohydrate-rich meals, this last meal can make you feel more satisfied for a longer period of time and ease you into the fast.
- Remember to take in a lot of hydrating fluids before your final meal to help your body get through your fast.
EditGetting Through the Fast
- Keep yourself busy. Hunger is a full-body, primal feeling, and can take over your mind if you let it. Obsessing over your hunger is the quickest way to letting yourself break your fast. Distract yourself by keeping yourself busy whenever possible.
- Distract yourself with light, pleasant activities like talking with friends or reading a good book.
- You can also take this time to catch up on chores and errands you otherwise put off. When you’re trying to keep your mind off hunger, vacuuming the whole house might not seem so bad!
- If you’re fasting for religious reasons, you might take this time to think about why you’re going through this process. Attend religious meetings, study your scripture, and reflect on your relationship with god.
- Lower your exercise load if you’re on an intermittent fast. Depending on your reason for fasting and the nature of your fast, high-energy activities may help or hurt your cause. If you are doing an “intermittent fast,” in which you regularly fast every few days for short periods of time, you are most likely trying to lose weight. When you exercise a carbohydrate-depleted body, it begins burning fat to fuel itself, which may be your goal. Note, though, that it will also begin burning through protein and muscle mass. Your best bet is to exercise at a low rate instead of running yourself breathless during cardio.
- Avoid high-energy activities if you’re on a long-term fast. People on an intermittent fast only fast for short periods of time. Although they should do less cardio, they can still exercise because they’ll refuel their bodies soon. However, if you’re planning to fast for a few days or more, it’s best not to engage in high-energy activities. They will tire you out far more than they would when you were eating regularly. If you’re fasting over a long period of time, rather than intermittently, you won’t be able to refuel your body for some time.
- Get plenty of rest. You may feel relaxed while you sleep, but your body is hard at work taking care of itself. When you’re knocked out, it gives your body time to repair muscles, form memories, and regulate both growth and appetite through hormones. When you’re fasting, you may find it harder to concentrate from the lack of food. Regular naps taken during the day have been shown to improve alertness, refocus the mind, and improve moods.
- Make sure to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night, and nap regularly throughout the day.
- Spend time with other people who are fasting. Those who are fasting for spiritual reasons will find this easy. You may have friends from your place of worship who are fasting at the same time and for the same reasons. But even if you’re fasting for health or detoxification, try to find a friend who will fast with you to keep you company. Being around someone who’s going through the same thing will keep you from feeling alone in the experience. Hold each other accountable and motivate each other to reach your goals, whatever they may be.
- Avoid talking about food. Don’t put yourself in situations where you’ll let yourself feel sorry for yourself. Even if you’re around other people who are going through the fast with you, don’t let the conversation turn to all the foods you miss eating. You’ll obsess over it long after the conversation is over, and you may let yourself cheat when you’re alone. Instead of talking about what you’re missing out on, frame your conversations around the positives: what are you getting out of this? Or, talk about something completely different, like the movie you just saw or a recent event in the news.
- Until your fast is over, politely decline invitations to meals with non-fasting friends. Even if it doesn’t tempt you into breaking your fast, watching other people eat will be a miserable experience.
- Keep a fasting journal. Even if you have an accountability partner who’s helping you stick to your fast, you may find yourself frustrated in ways you don’t want to share with others. Keeping a journal to hold your private thoughts is a great way to both vent and record your experience for later insight. You can treat it like a normal diary about day-to-day life or focus it only on fast-related topics. Either way, your fast will likely find its way into your private thoughts.
- Don’t censor yourself! Even if you’re fasting for religious reasons, don’t feel bad about questioning whether you want to finish the fast. Just writing it down will help you confront the feeling, then flush it out of your system.
EditBreaking Your Fast
- Have a plan for breaking your fast. No matter how hungry you are at the end of your fast, you have to fight the urge to stuff yourself at your first opportunity. When you fast, your body adjusts to make up for the lack of food by slowing down the production of enzymes that help digestion. If you gorge immediately after a fast, your body will be overwhelmed by food it can’t process, leading to stomach cramping, nausea, and vomiting. As you draw closer to the end of your fast, you should put together a plan for how to ease yourself back into a regular diet.
- Drink juice and eat fruit to come off a water fast. Obviously, if you’ve been on a juice fast, drinking more juice isn’t really “breaking” your fast. But if you’ve been allowing only water during your fast, juice and fruits, which have high water content, are the best way to ease your body back into a normal diet. Your stomach will have shrunk in size during your fast, so you may even find that juice and fruit can satisfy your hunger at first.
- Ease into very small meals. Rather than sitting down to a lavish feast to celebrate the end of the fast, eat snacks or small meals throughout the day. Stop eating whenever your hunger is satisfied — overeating before your body is ready to handle it can lead to digestive problems. It’s best to stick to foods that have a high water content at first:
- Soups and broths
- Raw fruits
- Chew food thoroughly.Chewing your food well serves two purposes when you’re breaking a fast. First, if prevents you from wolfing down your meals. It takes your brain about 20 minutes to process the information it’s getting from the stomach and realize that your stomach is full. Eating too quickly leads to overeating, which is dangerous after a fast. The second benefit of thorough chewing is that it breaks the food up into smaller bits that will be easier for your body to digest.
- Chew each bite of food about 15 times.
- Drink one glass of water before your meal and one glass during your meal to slow down the pace of your meal. Take a small sip between every bite of food.
- Introduce probiotics into your system. Probiotics are “good bacteria” that are found naturally in the mouth, intestines, and vagina. They help your body digest food efficiently, which is something you need help with after a fast. Eat foods that have live cultures of lactobacillus; common sources are yogurts, sauerkraut, and miso. You can also take probiotic supplements in capsule, tablet, or powder form to help your body digest food better.
- Listen to your body. No matter what you read about the best way to break a fast, your body will let you know what it’s ready for. If, after transitioning from fruits to vegetables, your stomach starts cramping or you feel like throwing up, don’t push yourself! Go back to eating fruits and drinking juices for another meal, or even another day. Let your body progress at its own pace. Eventually, you can work back up to harder-to-digest foods and larger meals without feeling any negative side effects.
- If you feel weak and unable to continue fasting, it’s best to have a few sips of water and eat something small, depending on the fast or religion. If you are Jewish, speak with a competent rabbi about what to do if you don’t feel well during fasting, which fasts you are not allowed to break by scripture (unless under certain circumstances).
- You should put cucumbers on your eyes and have a spa day .
- You should never fast if you are, or may be, pregnant.
- Your life is more important than fasting, and many religions agree. If you begin to feel weak, starving, thirsty, and exhausted, get fluids into your body, eat something, and talk to a doctor.