Is fasting a safe way to detox and drop pounds?

Q:

After weeks of holiday indulgence, I'm considering starting the new year with a juice fast. Does tasting really have a detoxifying effect, and is it safe? Most importantly, could it help me lose a few pounds?


A:

Yes, if done cautiously, fasting is safe, and you certainly could lose a few pounds. For many people, a short fast is like a punctuation mark signifying an end to your less-than-healthful habits and a start on a new and better path. Fasting can also help certain medical problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

But fasting has limits. Some ways of going about it are better than others, and some people shouldn't even consider it. And don't expect a brief fast to cause dramatic weight loss. In fact, if you're not careful, fasting can often be followed by feasting, and you'll end up regaining everything you've lost. To be successful, you'll want to pair the fast with a decision to permanendy improve your eating habits.

Q:

How do I start a healthful fast?


A:

Here are a few guidelines: First, you'll want to introduce healdiful dietary changes before you begin fasting. If you have not yet set aside animal products, this is a good time to do so. Several days before the fast begins, focus on eating more vegetables and fruits and more raw foods. Avoid sugar and refined flour products. And plan to eliminate alcohol and caffeine, either now or when the fast begins.

A brief, three-day juice fast is easier and safer than a water fast (water fasts should always be carefully supervised). A juice fast allows you unlimited quantities of juices, typically about one or two quarts a day. But be sure to get plenty of water too. Either have a glass of water before each glass of juice or dilute the juice in a one-to-one ratio.

The best choices are vegetable juices, such as carrot, celery, cucumber, kale, cabbage, zucchini, romaine lettuce, or beet. Fruit juices are often too sugary, sometimes leading to mood changes, such as depression, aldiough you may do well with apple, pineapple, or cranberry. Juices should always be freshly made, not bottled or frozen.

Citrus juices should be avoided, since they can trigger arthritis or migraines. Grapefruit is well-known for interfering with liver enzymes that eliminate certain medications, such as cholesterol-lowering drugs, so the blood levels of these medicines can climb to dangerous levels. The same has been reported with other citrus fruits and juices.

As the fast comes to an end, it helps to reintroduce solid foods gradually. For a day or two, focus on vegetables and fruits, particularly raw varieties, as well as light soups and broths, and have smaller portions than your hunger might call for.

Q:

Are there negative side effects?


A:

Yes, fasting can have side effects: It may cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness, low blood pressure, and constipation (or the opposite), although a brief juice fast is much less likely to trigger these problems than a juice fast that lasts more than a few days or a water fast (both of which should be done only under the guidance of a qualified professional who knows your health history).

Fasting is not for growing children or for pregnant or nursing women. It's also not generally recommended for people who are underweight or who have diabetes, hypoglycemia, low blood pressure, eating disorders, liver or kidney diseases, anemia, immune disorders, cancer, or seizures. It's also not appropriate before or after surgery.

Scientific studies of fasting are relatively few and far between. However, several have shown that people with arthritis often see dramatic improvement in their symptoms during a fast. It's unclear whether this is because fasting cuts out common arthritis triggers (dairy products, com, and nightshade vegetables such as potatoes or tomatoes), or because of fasting's larger effect on body chemistry. While many people experience changes in tongue surface, digestion, or skin that suggest a fast is helping the body eliminate toxins, scientific studies have never proved it one way or the other.

Q:

What's better: a three-day juice fast or a 10-day master cleanse?


A:

A three-day juice fast. The master cleanse is a much more challenging fast that has been popularized by celebrities seeking rapid weight loss. It includes no solid food, and consists of lemon juice, water, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. It is normally prescribed for 10 days or longer and should always be supervised by a health professional.

SOURCE: Neal Barnard (2008, January). ask the doc. Vegetarian Times,(355), 22-23.