In daily life, we’re often unknowingly taking in all sorts of harmful toxins and chemical additives through the air we breathe or the food we eat. Or, in many cases, we’re consuming these things knowingly – we can’t all be perfect all of the time! Over time, though, a lot of the bad stuff can build up and result in major imbalances in our body, eventually resulting in disease. That’s why it’s so important to periodically clean out and rest our systems with a detox. And there’s no quicker way to detox the body than with what’s known as a ‘water fast.’
What’s a Water Fast?
As the name suggests, during a water fast you consume nothing but water. That means eating absolutely no food and consuming zero calories. It’s completely up to the individual when it comes to how long they want to fast, but most people go for at least 48 hours if they want to see any noticeable benefits.
Some people take it further and water fast for five days, a week, or much longer. This is definitely not advisable for first-timers to jump right into, though.
The general public is largely ignorant about water fasting. Many people associate any type of deliberate abstention from food with eating disorders, but they’re not the same thing at all.
Water fasting has actually been prevalent in cultures throughout the world for much of human history. While some cultures fast purely out of a sense of religious obligation, others, such as the Greeks, were fully aware of water fasting’s powerful detoxification benefits.
Even animals naturally abstain from food while recovering from an illness or injury. Many people today are simply ignorant of how long our bodies are able to function without calorie intake, which is around three weeks. A couple of days without food is not going to kill you, but definitely consult a physician if you have any concerns.
Detox: One of The Main Benefits of Water Fasting
We may not realize it, but our bodies spend an enormous amount of energy on the act of digesting food. By finally giving our digestive systems a rest, the body can then focus on self-healing.
“Within 24 hours of curtailing food intake, enzymes stop entering the stomach and travel instead into the intestines and into the bloodstream, where they circulate and gobble up all sorts of waste matter, including dead and damaged cells, unwelcome microbes, metabolic wastes, and pollutants,” writes Shirley Lipschutz-Robinson. The water that you drink during the fast will then help flush these toxins out.
Eventually, after 2 or 3 days with no food, your body will then enter a state called ‘ketosis.’ When you enter ketosis, your body will begin using your stored fat cells as fuel. Man-made chemicals like pesticides can get stored and kept in our fat cells, which is why burning fat is an important aspect of detoxification.
(Yes, this is the same ketosis that those on the ketogenic diet strive for, but they do so by strictly limiting carbohydrate intake rather than fasting. There’s no denying that the ketogenic diet is great for burning fat. It’s very far removed, however, from a proper ‘detox diet’ unless you mainly stick to nuts, avocados and raw vegetables.)
How You’re Going to Feel During a Fast
As waste matter, either organic toxins or man-made chemicals, gets released into the bloodstream, you likely won’t feel too great. This can cause first or second-time fasters to panic, thinking that the fast is causing them harm.
Remember, these detox symptoms are often a sign that those nasty toxins are finally being flushed out. Once they’re gone, you’ll likely be feeling much better than before you started the fast. It’s also important to remember that the more toxins built up in your system, the worse you’re going to feel. That’s why it’s beneficial to keep your first few fasts relatively short.
Other things you will likely notice are things like acne outbreaks, body odor or bad breath. As unpleasant as these may be, these are also good signs that your body is successfully detoxifying.
As mentioned above, one of the most difficult aspects of a water fast is fatigue and zapped brain power. This is the one I struggle with the most, and I’ve done plenty of fasts where I was completely unable to get anything productive done for 2 or 3 days. Sometimes I can barely even focus on a movie!
So what do I do? I try to pass the time by taking long, slow walks and then listening to music later in the day. But let’s face it: water fasting is BORING. At least for most people. Fortunately, I feel so good after a fast that I’ve never looked back and regretted doing one.
Other people, on the other hand, report feeling energetic and alert during a fast, with little difficulty getting work done or even exercising. I envy these people, but that’s just not the way I, or many others are.
There are numerous factors at play which could affect how you’re going to feel during a fast. For example, your current state of health or your body fat composition. As mentioned, since you don’t always know how your body will react, it’s best to attempt a water fast during a holiday or weekend.
It’s also important to remember that there are different stages to a fast, and once you reach the full-on ketosis stage, your body will be using your stored fat sources as energy. This gives some people a major boost, even if they were feeling low and lethargic in the initial stages.
Water Fast Troubleshooting
If your normal diet consists of heavier foods, try going all raw vegan for at least a day or two before your fast. This will make the fast go smoother.
Otherwise, it will be like suddenly slamming the breaks on your digestive system out of the blue. To get the full benefits of water fasting, allow your body to ease into the fast.
As we will discuss shortly, you also want to break the fast with raw fruits and vegetables. I’ve learned from experience to keep these on hand in advance.
I’ve had a couple of rougher fasts in which I started feeling a little dizzy and nauseous by the time my fast was over. Though I could still function, going out to the grocery store in that state was not a pleasant experience, so I learned to buy the foods in advance. Of course, you also have to make sure that you don’t give into temptation too early!
The Importance of Water
Remember that one of the most important aspects of a water fast is, well, water! Don’t think of water as something that you’re merely limited to during the fast, but something that you need to be consuming a lot of.
Our bodies need water to flush out toxic waste and during a water fast there’s going to be significantly more of that to get rid of than usual. Try consuming one or two liters, or up to 2 quarts of water per day during your fast.
Make sure that the water you’re drinking is fresh mineral or spring water and not coming from the tap. Tap water is often filled with chemicals that you do not want to be putting into your body while you’re trying to detox.
Sticking With It
If you’re someone who struggles with giving into temptation or who has difficulty sticking to goals, you might have an especially hard time with a water fast.
Try writing down why you want to water fast and what you hope to get out of it on a piece of paper before the fast. Whenever you consider quitting, read over your mission statement again for a quick motivational boost.
If you have a psychological dependance on certain things like sweets, meat or coffee that you can’t imagine going for a few days without, a water fast will surely be a challenge. With that said, a water fast is also one of the best ways to break your bad habits for good.
If you have certain food addictions, you may want to experiment with cutting these things out from your normal diet in advance of the fast, or try a long-term raw food diet before attempting your water fast if possible.
Though they may be difficult to find, a supportive friend or family member can be of great benefit during a water fast. Having someone cheer you on can help keep you focused and motivated. If you don’t know anyone like that in real life, you may want to seek out an online community for support. Or, feel free to post on the Holistic Health for Life Facebook page!
As mentioned, feeling tired, nauseous and just a little bit sick are normal parts of fasting. But if you feel too awful to function normally, then it’s time to break the fast. Some people just have a lot of toxins built up in their system which can make detoxing especially unpleasant.
There are things called ‘controlled fasts,’ which are water fasts under the supervision of a licensed practitioner, but these are generally for longer-term fasts of a week or more. For a basic 2 to 3 day fast you should be fine on your own, but don’t hesitate to contact a professional if you’re concerned about anything.
Again, if you’re even feeling like you might need to do that, then it’s probably better to just break the fast and not push yourself too hard.
Breaking the Fast
As mentioned above, it’s important to ease into a fast with natural, raw foods to allow your body to adjust. The same holds true for breaking the fast.
Breaking the fast is actually one of the most difficult aspects of a water fast. Why? Because you’ve likely been daydreaming of nothing but food for the previous 2 to 3 days, and now you’re finally allowed to dig in!
Some people get carried away by immediately rushing to their old favorite heavy foods and stuffing their face. This could wreak havoc on your digestive system and potentially ruin any of the potential benefits of water fasting you hoped to experience.
One of the main reasons to go on a water fast is to reset your system and to get back into healthier eating patterns once the fast is over. That’s why it’s so important to be sensible with how you break the fast.
Here are a few tips:
For the first meal, stick to raw fruits and vegetables and nuts. I like to eat like this for the entire day that I break my fast, although it’s not always easy.
Later in the day, if you desire, gradually start eating more cooked vegetables or grains if those are what you plan to eat as part of your normal diet.
If you’re non-vegetarian, wait at least until the next day to eat eggs or fish again, and at least a couple days before going back to meat.
*It must be stated that these are tips for breaking a 2 or 3 day water fast. If you fast for even longer, allow even more time to get back to a regular diet.
Graduating to Longer Fasts
You do not want your first water fast to be longer than 2 or 3 days. If you successfully completed your first water fast, then congratulations! You’re now ready to try longer-term fasting if you want to get even deeper detox benefits.
Or not. It’s totally up to you! The verdict is still out, but some people say that multiple 2-3 day water fasts are just as beneficial as single longer term fasts.
I think that this is likely true. This would largely have to do, though, with how healthy you ate in between fasts and how much your body was able to detox during your shorter fasts.
After the Fast: Noticeable Benefits of Water Fasting
You’re probably wondering how you’re actually going to feel after finishing your water fast. Surely, people would only go through all that suffering if they’re going to come out of it feeling great, right? Fortunately, the answer for most people is yes.
The main benefits of water fasting are more subtle and long-term – namely a strengthened immune system as well as cleaned and repaired organs. There are some things that you should be able to notice right away, though.
As mentioned, many people experience acne outbreaks during a fast. Once it clears up, however, your skin will be looking better than ever. Some people notice other blemishes or weird patches of skin they thought they’d have forever disappear for good.
From my experience, I’ve also had joint pains suddenly go away after a fast. I wouldn’t expect too many miracles, though.
Some of your aches, pains or blemishes might only go away with repeated or extended fasting. Other problems, of course, might not be cured by fasting at all, so don’t set your expectations too high.
Another noticeable benefit is simply feeling fresh, rejuvenated and energized. This is not an easy one to describe, but you’ll know it when you feel it.
The Psychological Benefits of Fasting
As I documented in my book ‘Quit Smoking by Eating Right‘, I tried water fasting for the first time during my first attempt to quit smoking. I decided to do this for a number of reasons. Not only would it help detoxify my body from some of the harmful chemicals I’d been intaking over the years, but it would also allow me to take a break from food and coffee – major triggers for nicotine cravings.
Another significant benefit I experienced from water fasting was psychological, and even after quitting smoking I continue to water fast from time to time.
A water fast forces you to reflect on your relationship with food as well as coffee, alcohol or sugary drinks. We often eat as soon as we’re hungry in order to avoid the unpleasant state known as ‘hunger.’
We also tend to eat to reward ourselves for accomplishments or to help us deal with negative emotions. Few of us actually stop to think when and why we’re doing this, however. A water fast will put your food cravings and eating habits in perspective.
In today’s world, we’ve conditioned ourselves to spend as little time as possible in a state of discomfort. Feeling unwell? Take a pill. Feeling hungry? Eat whatever’s in front of you. Feeling sad or upset? Have a drink or a bowl of ice cream.
By looking for the quickest and easiest ways to alleviate our symptoms, we end up ignoring the signals that our bodies are sending us.
And even if we do listen, we’re often unable to interpret them. This only perpetuates unhealthy habits and addictions, leading to potentially serious health consequences down the road.
As unpleasant as it may be, water fasting forces you to take a deep look at your true relationship with food on both a physical and emotional level. Coming out of a water fast, it will then be much easier to adopt a healthier daily lifestyle for a while after.
Water fasting is a somewhat complex and often misunderstood topic. There’s no denying, though, that it has been a common healing method for much of human history and remains popular today.
If you simply don’t have the time to set a few days aside to attempt a water fast, you could always try a longer term juice fast instead. I have written a book on the topic, and plan to go into juice fasting in more detail on this web site soon.
Even if you don’t try a water fast yourself, learning about why a water fast is so effective is beneficial in itself. What lies behind the power of a water fast is nothing more than the power of our own immune systems. By water fasting, we’re simply letting our bodies do what they do best: self-heal.
 Lieberson, Alan D. “How Long Can a Person Survive without Food?” Scientific American. November 8, 2004. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-long-can-a-person-sur/.
 Lipschutz-Robinson, Shirley. “Fasting and Detoxification for Humans and Animals.” Shirley’s Wellness Cafe. Accessed March 22, 2016. https://www.shirleys-wellness-cafe.com/Detox/Fasting.