For the last three years, I have done some sort of nutritional fast in the Spring. The urge usually begins when I am dissatisfied with my weight or lack of energy, and Spring is an obvious time for all things new and rejuvenating. I blogged recently about de-cluttering as a tool for mental clarity. Cleansing the body is even more important from a health standpoint, but it also triggers the urge to make positive changes across the board.
I have tried different fasts over the years. Once I attempted The Master Cleanse, a juice fast consisting of lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. This proved too hard-core for me and I don’t think I made it two days; the headaches, nausea and hunger were too much for me. Three years ago, my friend Sarah recommended Pamela Serure’s 3 Days to Vitality: Cleanse Your Body, Clear Your Mind, Claim Your Spirit, which prescribes a three-day juice fast. With all fasts, there is recommended prep time and downtime as you gradually eliminate foods from your diet and later re-introduce them. I had some success with this fast, losing some weight and kick-starting some better eating habits. Then two years ago, I read an article in a health magazine which I pretty much bought because Mariska Hargitay was on the cover. In the article, Mariska recommends the book Clean by Alejandro Junger, M.D. Naturally, I bought the book right away, because I adore Marriska and if she recommends something, it must be great. And she was right!
The Clean program is a gentle, blended fast consisting of juices, smoothies, raw soups and one meal per day. All ingredients come from what Junger calls “the elimination list” in that it omits the most common allergens (wheat, dairy, soy, certain fruits and nuts, some meats) as well as refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol. It really helps to stock your kitchen and prep for this fast by eating from the elimination list for about a week before starting the fast. Eliminating these foods and then re-introducing them is a great way to discover allergies and sensitivities. Some sensitivities and discomfort come from excess mucous in the system. The most common mucous-forming foods are wheat, dairy, refined sugars and red meat.
The Clean fast works for me because of that one mid-day meal. If I have that to look forward to, I am OK. Drinking a lot of water is important, and helps to fill you up. Also, if you find yourself extremely hungry, Junger allows for light snacks of fruit and nuts. Very important is to make sure to have a full twelve-hour period of fasting each day. That means there should be twelve hours between dinner and breakfast with no snacking in between. According to Junger, eight hours after we eat, a “detox signal” is triggered. Once in detox mode, the digestive system ideally require four hours to get rid of toxins and restore healthy bacteria. This is something I try to remember even when I’m not fasting.
Clean contains recipes for 21 liquid meals (juices, smoothies and soups) and 21 solid meals. A typical day for me would include an Apple, Ginger, Lemon and Spinach Juice for breakfast (pictured at top of page), Halibut Baked in Parchment with Olives and Thyme for lunch, and Easy Pineapple and Avocado Gazpacho for dinner. I like to use my nice Belleek china or Nicholas Mosse pottery to make my meals special.
During this fast, it is important to drink a lot of water daily. The recommendation is at least two quarts. I like to add lemon, lime or cucumber. There are some supplements that also support the detox process. Fiber helps to enhance elimination. Natural fiber products such as psyllium husks or flax seeds can be added to smoothies or diluted in water. Two tablespoons of olive oil followed with water and lemon before bed helps with elimination. Probiotic supplements restore good intestinal bacteria and antimicrobials such as concentrated oil of oregano or a clove of garlic each day helps kill bad bacteria. A liver support supplement such as milk thistle is also suggested.
Several books on fasting suggest other great ways to support detox: exercise, at least 7 hours of sleep each night, deep breathing, skin brushing, saunas, and hot/cold water plunges. I have incorporated all of these into my fasting schedule, and have added meditation, journaling, and making art. During a fast, I get a real good sense of how body and mind work together holistically in everything I do. Last year, I was able to do the Clean program for three full weeks, and after that, I tried to adhere to the diet for one day every week. This year, I am on Day 12 and am feeling great. Confession: I did not give up coffee this time. Coffee is always the hardest for me to give up, which is probably a sign of how insidious and addictive it is. I have, however, cut down to a cup or less a day, with almond milk, diluted with water.
Thank you again, Mariska! (oh, and Alejandro Junger, too, I suppose ;^)) I am down five pounds, and feeling great! I am hoping to continue eating consciously; slowing down and appreciating each morsel, rather than mindlessly eating leftover scraps of pizza off of my son’s plate or snacking just for the heck of it. It is incredible how much we eat without thinking about it. I’ve identified some of my poor eating habits such as excessive late night sweets. Maybe it’s the addictive nature of fat and sugar, but for me, one small dish of ice cream doesn’t cut it, and I always find myself going back for more. Now, I keep the twelve hour window in mind, and if I’m hungry outside of that window, I stick to some almonds and blackberries. It’s amazing how I am not craving the fatty, starchy foods I used to crave. Hopefully, the next time I have a serving of ice cream, I’ll try very hard to enjoy each spoonful, and to wait before going back for more. I’m sure I will backslide occasionally, and that’s OK. I plan to do the Clean program every Spring. It creates some good habits that last throughout the year.