Food Friday: Fasting and What To Do Instead

Fasting and cleansing make headlines. They are dramatic trendy measures taken by those seeking improved health. But do they work ? Are they safe ? 

Fasting is generally regarded as going off food for at least a day. Cleansing involves the same but with some sort of liquids and juices added back. Sometimes enemas are part of the “cleanses”.

Proponents state that they get past their hunger, and that they eventually feel good, even high. They state their bowel movements show they are getting cleaned out. Their stomachs flatten and they feel light. Who wouldn’t want all this ? 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t last. Our physical and mental vitality depends on a flux of matter and energy through our body. It is true that our body is designed to weather the temporary hardship of relative drought or famine, but under these conditions it cannot thrive. 

So many people participating in cleanses or fasts are doing so to achieve optimal health and high performance. However, to really thrive, we need optimal nutrition and optimal activity as much of the time as possible. Fasting and cleanses are not compatible with this. 

What do fasting and cleanses really do ? In many cases, they are dehydrating. This can be dangerous, especially if subjects are very young, old, or unwell. The body does burn fat and glycogen for energy, but in more prolonged fasts, muscle mass is lost. This types of metabolism actually produces more “ toxins”. It does not detoxify. 

All this provides a substantial stress on the body. Stress hormones are activated. Neurotransmitters  which help us cope with stress are activated as well, accounting for the feeling of elation and capability. 

Weight does indeed get lost, but mostly in the form of water, stool, fat and and muscle. When a normal dietary and fluid intake is resumed, most of the weight is regained. Muscle of course can be rebuilt, but this requires exercise and surplus protein in the diet. 

Colon cleanses can be dangerous. The colon has a normal bacterial flora. The importance of the balance of this flora is becoming better understood these days. Colon cleanses disturb this balance and can lead to problems with digestion, dehydration and serious electrolyte abnormalities. 

I have noticed that purveyors of these unproven and dangerous methods charge high prices. I have also noticed that they advertise to vulnerable populations, including those undergoing cancer therapy. I find this very concerning. 

The answer to all of this is very simple. It is common sense evidence based medicine and health maintenance. It is Friday, and I am thinking about the weekend. So instead of going on about this downer topic, I would like to tell you my alternative version of a quick health boost. 

I call it a “spa weekend". To me, this means I will arrange to do several key things this weekend in a concerted spirit of boosting wellness. They are as follows: 


  • Get the ideal amount of sleep all weekend. 
  • Do morning yoga. 
  • Drink green tea each day. 
  • Drink 3 liters of water each day. 
  • Do longer afternoon workouts each day. 
  • Have 3 ideal meals and 3 ideal snacks each day all weekend, heavy on protein, veggies and fruit. 
  • Soak in the tub each day. 

I might even do my own pedicure. 

That is my idea of a plan to boost wellness. I hope you can take a spa weekend sometime soon.