It’s day five and I haven’t eaten any solid food during that time, and yet I feel fine. Sure, my tongue is coated and gross, and I’m trying to keep my distance when talking to people because I know my breath is Limburger central, but other than that I’m fine. I feel good, even. My energy levels are normal and I’m not hungry. I think about food sometimes, but it’s more of a “Oh yeah, that would be tasty right now,” rather than a “Oh my God I have got to eat something NOW!”
On the Master Cleanse, one subsists for a minimum of 10 days (but up to as many as 40) on nothing but a mixture of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water. The Master Cleanse fast recently enjoyed something of a revival when Beyonce used it to lose 22 pounds for her role in Dreamgirls, but it’s been around for decades.
I tried this fast years ago when I was fresh out of university; long before my cooking career or nutrition school. Friends of mine were doing it so I joined them on a lark. I wasn’t adequately prepared it, not having read any of the literature, and I was following instructions second-hand from my friends. As a result, I made a lot of mistakes, such as using bottled lemon juice instead of fresh squeezed (a big no-no) and breaking the fast by jumping into a plate of pita and hummus instead of coming off of it slowly by ramping up to solid food over time. I paid for that one with a night of digestive cramping and very little sleep.
But this time out I was more prepared. I did a lot of reading about the cleanse, including first-hand accounts — some from beginners trying it out for just a few days, others from seasoned fasters who do 30 days and more twice a year.
A recent road trip across the U.S., with limited roadside food choices, had left me feeling heavy and gross, as well as experiencing cravings for the offending foods — counterintuitive but true. In short, I knew my body was out of whack and needed some time to clean out the crap (literally) and heal any damage the past few months had done. Having spent several weeks thinking about it and reading info from both the pro and con side of the fence, I knew I was ready.
Fasting is possibly one of the oldest healing modalities known to man. The logic that a sick body needs to rest in order to heal is probably as old as language itself. It’s even older if you consider that animals are often observed to stop eating when they are ill.
Fasting involves putting trust into the notion that our bodies are self-healing organisms and that healing will occur naturally if allowed to do so. This is not a notion typically adopted here in the west, where relief from symptoms is valued over actual deep healing. “Although therapeutic fasting is probably one of the oldest known therapies, it has been largely ignored by the medical community despite the fact that significant scientific research on fasting exists in the medical literature,” write Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno, the naturopathic doctors who co-authored the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.
They site journal articles in which fasting was used in the treatment of obesity, chemical poisoning, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, psoriasis, eczema, thrombophlebitis, leg ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, impaired or deranged appetite, bronchial asthma, depression, neurosis and schizophrenia.
And while purists may consider a water fast (yup, just water for the duration) the only true fast, there are many ways to give your digestive system a break.
First off, there is the fasting we all do every time we stop eating in the evening until the start of eating again in the morning (hence the term breakfast for breaking your fast. Annemarie Colbin, author of Food and Healing says that ideally this should be 10 to 14 hours from about 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. “This practice allows the body enough time to cleanse waste products of metabolism; it also facilitates the release of the hormones that stimulate the immune system, which are released by both fasting and sleep.”
Other types of cleanses include juice fasting, where fresh vegetable juices are consumed several times a day as well as mono-dieting, where one type of food is eaten for a period of time, such as in the Ayurvedic “Kichari Fast” or the macrobiotic “Number Seven” all-grain diet.
The type of fast one undergoes has a lot to do with one’s state of health, time of year and purpose for fasting in the first place. Colbin writes that first-time fasters should seek the help of an experienced practitioner.
By day 8 on the Master Cleanse I’m still feeling fine. I’m actually starting to entertain thoughts of extending the fast to 15 days as much of what I’ve read states this is when the real healing begins. My partner, who is undertaking this with me, eventually shoots the idea down, and I agree. It’s her first time fasting and I think 10 days is enough for a rookie.
And at this point I’m getting a little giddy at the thought of eating again and start to fantasize about what that meal will be — this despite the fact the first day off I’ll be switching over to a diet of fresh-squeezed orange juice followed the next day by vegetable broth and then, eventually, steamed veggies. Not exactly the foods I’ve been dreaming of, most of which I won’t be eating for another week.
And despite not eating for 8 days I’m amazed at what is still “coming out of me” every morning. Even after day 10 there is still obviously “stuff” left to clean out of my digestive tract. I spare one thought for possibly continuing on until nothing remains in my morning evacuations, but decide to leave it for future fasts. At this point I’m ready to eat again.