Therapeutic, water-only fasting is the complete abstinence from all substances except pure water in an environment of complete rest. We recommend that people who want to fast for more than a day or two, undertake it at an appropriate facility under the care of a physician certified for fasting supervision. Careful monitoring to ensure physiological stability is an integral part of a medically supervised fast. Intake laboratory tests enable your physician to monitor changes as you progress during your fast. Supervised refeeding is also an important component of a well-conducted fast.
Because not everyone has the opportunity to go to a facility for a medically supervised fast, short periods of intermittent fasting may be sufficient to resolve problems.
It is important to understand that simply abstaining from food - even for a few days - while continuing to work, exercise, and worry about day-to-day cares is not the same as therapeutic fasting. Likewise, eating only certain foods or drinking only juices is not therapeutic fasting. Juice diets and “elimination” diets can be healthful, but they cannot be considered therapeutic fasting. The physiological and clinical benefits are very different.
The "Lost" Adaptation
In the world of our ancient ancestors, fasting was a common practice, but not by choice. Humans went without food when calories were scarce, such as when spring came late. The ability of humans to go relatively long periods without food was a biological necessity during our natural evolution. Were it not for the biological adaptation we call fasting, humans would never have survived when they left the consistent food supply of the tropics to migrate across the world. Other primates continued to live in very limited environments where abundant food is constantly available.
Fasting, like many other behavioral characteristics and bodily responses, is a component of our natural design, and also a health-promoting adaptation. It is now well-known that things like fever, inflammation, coughing, and vomiting (unpleasant as they may be) are adaptations that help the body heal more quickly. Loss of appetite when ill is yet another adaptation. But unlike fever or inflammation, which occur spontaneously when necessary, a therapeutic fast can be started at any time, with or without the loss of appetite, to take advantage of the benefits of this complex, multifaceted healing adaptation.
The environment of scarcity our ancestors faced has been largely eliminated in the industrialized countries and has been replaced by an environment of excess. Fortunately, the physiological process of fasting, which once kept us from dying of starvation, can now help us overcome the effects of dietary excess that have resulted in an epidemic of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and cancer. We can use the natural process of fasting to counteract the effects of poor dietary choices and to help make the transition to a health-promoting diet. Changes that might take months or years to accomplish typically take place more rapidly when a fast is utilized.
Fasting also results in weight loss and the elimination of excess cholesterol, triglycerides, uric acid, and accumulated environmental toxins. Often, growths and tumors associated with dietary excesses, such as fibroids and cysts, are reabsorbed. Inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, colitis, and asthma, often are improved or resolved. Many enzymatic functions of the liver and other organs, including the insulin-resistance characteristic of diabetes, can rapidly normalize. For most adult-onset diabetes patients, medications can be reduced or eliminated. Hypertension, the leading cause of doctor visits and of prescription medication use in America, frequently resolves during medically supervised, water-only fasting.
Fasting also assists in an extremely important normalizing process called taste neuroadaptation. Most modern foods are not the normal foods of our species - they are foods that have been altered to create unnaturally intense taste responses. As a result, most of our modern foods are high in processed sugar, fat, and salt. Our taste buds adapt to these abnormal - but very appealing - foods, making whole natural foods less palatable by comparison.
Scientific evidence suggests that the re-sensitization of taste mechanisms can take between 30 and 90 days of avoiding overstimulating foods completely. This means that for several weeks, most people attempting this change will experience a reduction in eating pleasure. This requires more motivation - and more self-discipline - than many people can muster.
Fortunately, a properly supervised period of water-only fasting is a safe and effective way to very quickly re-sensitize taste mechanisms so that whole natural foods can be fully enjoyed. People report that after a fast, healthful foods taste better, and that they thoroughly enjoy their new diets.
Who Should Fast?
The decision to undertake a fast should be made in consultation with a knowledgeable physician, ideally one who is certified in fasting supervision. The ideal procedure is for the physician to review the patient’s medical history and perform a comprehensive physical examination, including appropriate laboratory and specialized diagnostic tests. They should then be reviewed with the patient, and appropriate recommendations made. These may include dietary and lifestyle changes, exercise programs, and, if indicated, fasting.
You do not need to be seriously ill to benefit from a supervised fast. A fast can be of great help if you want to make lifestyle changes to achieve improved health. Fasting for as few as five days often will dramatically shorten the time it takes to make the transition from a conventional diet and lifestyle (with all of the associated addictions, pains, fatigue, and disease) to the independent and energetic state associated with healthy living. People who undertake a fast in a supervised setting, tend to achieve health more quickly than those who attempt changes without a fast.
Where to Fast?
Once you have made a decision to fast, selecting a facility that will meet your requirements is essential. The facility should provide a conducive environment for undertaking a fast and be staffed by knowledgeable medical, psychological, and other therapeutic professionals as needed. When you start eating again, healthful meals should be provided. Ideally, the facility should also provide lectures or other educational programs on healthy living that will teach you how to continue living healthfully when you return home.
Taking the Next Step
Now that you have been introduced to the basic requirements of fasting, we encourage you to explore further and to obtain more detailed information on therapeutic fasting according to the health condition links to the right: Water-Only Fasting, Autoimmune Diseases, Cancer, Chronic Pain, Diabetes, Digestive Disorders, Hypertension, Obesity, and Other Health Conditions.
The articles and videos within this Medically Supervised Fasting section relate to water-only fasting. If you are interested to know more about Intermittent Fasting, click on the link here.
After the Fast
It is extremely important to understand that the processes of healing, repair, and maintenance continue long after the fast, but only if healthy diet and lifestyle practices are conscientiously and permanently adopted.
To learn more about how to support a healthy lifestyle after your fast, please go to the How to Get Well and Stay Well section.