The Trouble with Folic Acid

We’ve all been told to supplement with Folic Acid by a doctor, nutritionist or other health professional, especially if you’re female and trying to start a family. As a woman doing just that, my fertility specialist as well as my general practitioner both recommended I start supplementing. Both recommended Folic Acid as an 800mg per day supplement, in addition to fortified foods and natural sources.

However, it doesn’t take much digging to realize that Folic Acid isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. So here’s the quick down low on what’s really going on, and why you probably should throw away those Folic Acid pills and multivitamins.

Folic Acid was first synthesized in 1943 and became mandatory in food fortification in 1998 in the USA, after being believed to prevent neural defects (NTDs) in newborns. It has since become a staple supplement for all women of child baring age providing support for red blood cell development, reducing levels of homocysteine in the blood, and supporting the nervous system. Instances of NTDs have indeed gone down as a result of all this Folic Acid making the rounds. Other signs of Folate deficiency are:

  • Anemia
  • Soreness/ulcers on the tongue
  • Skin pigment changes

However, when you ingest Folic Acid, it undergoes a process of reduction and methylation in the liver. Taking in too much of this supplement leaves unprocessed levels of it in your system that may cause harm. Studies from countries that do not fortify food with Folic Acid conclude a link to Folic Acid and numerous cancers, including prostate and colon cancer. Additionally, excess unprocessed Folic Acid in the system appears to mask vitamin B12 deficiency. In studies, combined B12 deficiency and Folic Acid overdosing has led to diagnosis of cognitive decline and anemia. Check out this article by Chris Kresser for more details:

The little known (but crucial) difference between folate and folic acid.

So what’s a girl to do? It turns out that Folic Acid is the synthetic version of Folate. Folate is the term for a group of water soluble b-vitamins otherwise known as B9. It is the natural tetrahydrofolate derivative of the supplement Folic Acid, and is found naturally occurring in food, unlike Folic Acid, which is an oxidised synthetic compound. Am I hammering that point home yet? Folate is naturally occurring and bio-available when ingested, Folic Acid is neither.

This article from Paleo for Women, claims that Folic acid cannot cross the placenta to the fetus, the way natural folate can. So a Folate supplement would benefit your unborn child too.

Natural Sources of Folate:

Romaine lettuce, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, turnips, cauliflower, beets, lentils, chickpeas, all types of animal liver, greens, parsley, okra, mushrooms, lima beans, papaya, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, raspberries, squash, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, avocado.

…and here’s a nice article on Foods high in Folate on healthline.com.

Solgar Folate
Solgar Folate

If you can’t get enough from your natural diet, you can still supplement with Folate. There are many brands making a Folate dietary supplement. My favorite is Solgar’s Folate 800 MCG (as Metafolin). I use this product as it is suitable for vegetarians. Here’s a link to get it on amazon.com .

Look for the terms “5-methyltetrahydrofolate” or “5-MTHF” on the bottle. Avoid labels that just read Folic Acid, and avoid multivitamins that contain Folic Acid too.

Water Fasting for Health – The down low.

As an ex-athlete, Personal Trainer, cancer survivor and Yoga fanatic, I encounter lots of comments and questions on the subject of fasting from friends and clients, and want to give you a little insight into my experience with this as an avid faster myself.

Why fast?:

Fasting has had controversial reviews over the years, mostly from Western thinking industries, as is the case with fitness professionals, whose goal it is to drive that metabolism every waking moment of the day, with small meals frequently to maximise your calorie burning potential and make sure your body doesn’t eat up that precious muscle tone you’ve worked so hard to get. Of course, these are all valid and accurate things to do, and I myself recommend doing all of it, most of the time.

But about twice a year, it’s good to reset that immune system and give your body a chance to flush out toxins, repair itself, produce new cells and start fresh. That’s where the fast comes in. New scientific studies are emerging reporting that fasting “kick-starts stem cells into producing new white blood cells, which fight off infection”. Check out this article from the British Telegraph on the findings.

Something fasting is NOT about, is weight loss. Weight loss inherently happens from a fast, but it shouldn’t be the reason you are fasting, and fasting should not be attempted if you are underweight, or fighting illness. Suffice to say, after you have fasted, it’s likely you’ll gain back every pound you lost in short order once your diet has been reinstated. Using fasting as a way of crash dieting is dangerous and foolhardy.

Fasting is linked with improvements in mental clarity, as well as boosting or resetting your immune system and reducing cell inflammation – a major factor in fighting things like cancer, hormonal issues and digestive concerns.

But what about my precious muscle tone you might ask? Aren’t I going to hit that caveman starvation level, rock bottom metabolism that everyone talks about? Isn’t my body going to shut down? Not to worry. The benefits of fasting are amazing. Although it is true that you’ll experience SOME muscle loss during a fast, the rate at which it happens is insanely slow, at 0.2kg per day after full Ketosis is reached (at around 3 days). You need to have some level of body reserves to be able to fast and endure muscle loss. If you’re too thin, a competitive athlete or body builder, a water fast might not be for you, and you should probably consider other options like a juice fast. Check out this article for more details.

Basically, for the minuscule amount of muscle tone you will lose in a short water fast, you’ll get so many more benefits. Water fasting 48hrs for women, and 72 hrs for men initiates Ketosis, a fuel burning system your body converts to in times of glucose shortage. Our brains and organs need glucose, usually stored in the blood, supplied by daily intakes of food to maintain our bodies. During a fast, the body switches to using Ketones as a fuel source instead. This happens already during high level workouts, and also during sleep in non-fasting individuals. It’s a naturally occurring process. It is recommended that you fast between 3-21 days for optimum results. Below 3 days, and your body won’t have reached Ketosis. After 3 days, every added day you fast allows your body to consume more dead cells and junk to convert to fuel, cleaning your body. Once you stop your fast, your body will create fresh white blood cells, resetting your immune system.

If you want to learn more about fasting, I recommend Dr. Fuhrman’s book, Fasting and Eating for Health, available on amazon, from which the second article above has also quoted from.

Before your fast:

Since everyone is different, your preparation and activities during a fast will vary, but here’s some tips from my own experience with it.

Choose a time to water fast when you won’t be under high stress, working a lot, under intense physical stress or subject to lots of social events. Your body’s response to fasting can include feeling weak, feeling exhilarated, having no energy, having lots of energy, sleeping better, having insomnia, finding mental clarity and needing to rest a lot. Until you’ve done it yourself, you won’t know what to expect. Apparently, if you are especially over weight, you experience increased levels of energy. I myself experienced weakness and lethargy most of the time during my first fast, but the second time I did it, I experienced clarity of mind and no feelings of hunger for 4 days. My body didn’t purge as expected either. I basically had a pretty uneventful time of it, and just worked, walked my dog and did Tai Chi throughout the fast with no problems.

Other side effects I’ve experienced are fat loss with improved muscle tone, decreased bloating, and lowered cell inflammation. I also believe that with my history of cancer, the resetting of my white blood cells is crucial to my longevity.

Prepare for fasting with fruit and veg
Prepare for fasting with fruit and veg

For my first fast, I chose to fast Friday-Sunday, to avoid social activities or stress. BY my second fast, I chose week days, so I could eat on the weekend. It’s largely psychological, so pick dates that you know are going to be easiest for you and your schedule.

Before fasting you may want to prepare a little. You can graduate into your fast by eating only fruit and vegetables for 1-2 days prior, or even just freshly prepared fruit/veg juices. But you don’t NEED to do this. I think it helps to eliminate at least meat/dairy a day or so before fasting, so your body isn’t so in shock when you drop to just water.

During your fast:

Definitely stay away from food related things. You’ll find yourself wanting to eat your face lotion if it smells nice.

Try to stay busy. Read, meditate, go for walks. Just don’t talk about food! There’s nothing worse than trying to fast if you live with other people who are not fasting. Your sense of smell becomes heightened and the smell of any food whatsoever becomes the best thing you’ve ever smelled. It becomes a moment by moment battle to stay on goal with the smell of delicious food wafting around hours after it has been cooked.

Don’t brush your teeth with toothpaste and don’t oil pull. While on a fast, don’t put anything in your mouth that will stimulate your digestive juices. Brush with water and floss with non-flavored products. This is probably the most unbearable part of fasting for me. My mouth feels horrid. For the first 2 days, it just feels dirty. It is reported that after 4-5 days, your body starts expelling toxins through your skin and mouth. You can experience boils and your tongue will go white with gunk that your body is eliminating. After a couple of days of this, it goes away, and you begin to feel fresher and very alert.

Don’t take a hot bath. I’ve experienced doing this myself, and there are reports of similar responses from others describing dizziness, blindness, palpitations, nausea and shortness of breath. The experience is all temporary, but not pleasant, so best to avoid.  If you do experience this, just lay down, take deep breathes and ride it out.

DRINK LOTS OF WATER. Your body will start to die if you don’t drink enough water! I can’t stress this enough. Water is needed to flush out the toxic waste your body is producing. You also need it just to survive. Sip water constantly throughout the day if you can. I like to heat up water and drink it as if it is tea. My partner enjoys ice water. It’s said room temperature is best, but do what feels good to keep you on track.

Fasting can make me feel a little nauseous at times. Drinking water can make it feel worse. Usually this means I’m doing a lot more cleaning in my body than usual, and I need to stick with it. If I’ve been getting any acid reflux and heart burn, the nauseousness seems worse during the fast. It does however eliminate the acid reflux and heart burn once I return to normal, and my bloating subsides.

Exercise if you feel like it. I exercise gently, as I am generally weak in the legs during a fast. I stick to walking and Tai Chi. My partner will run and walk. He tends to be someone who feels pretty awesome on a fast. You can aid ketosis during a water fast by exercising, so it is worth doing if you have the energy. I suggest you don’t over-do it until you can safely say you understand your own body’s response to fasting.

Listen to your body’s signs to end the fast. Despite how your energy levels feel, your body may tell you when it is time to stop. Let’s not mistake this with your mind’s lack of will to continue. Understand the difference in yourself. Don’t fight your body when it lets you know to end it.

After your fast:

On completing your fast, it is important to gently reintroduce your body to food. Remember, your usual fuel burning systems have converted. You need to give your body time to change them back.

Drink freshly squeezed orange juice
Drink freshly squeezed orange juice

On day 1, drink something like freshly squeezed orange juice to give yourself a good vitamin hit, and introduce your stomach to regular fuel again. Do this first, and wait several hours, continuing to drink lots of water. Then introduce other fruit and vegetable juices throughout the day. Listen to your body. You may be able to convert back to solids by early evening.

On day 2, you can return to solids. I recommend sticking to fruits, vegetables and decaffeinated teas. I enjoy baking a plain sweet potato to sooth my stomach as it gets back to work again. I also like plenty of miso soup, as it is thin and gentle on my stomach.

On day 3, you’re back normal….whatever normal is for you.

If you’re considering a permanent change to your diet, like converting to vegetarian or vegan, doing so after a fast can be a great time to do it. You’ve cleaned up your system and reduced your habitual cravings already, making it easier to stick to your new dietary goals.

If you failed to reach your fasting goals…..not to worry, there’s always another chance to try again in a few months. And the next time around, you’ll know more about yourself, so you’ll be better prepared.

Good luck and enjoy the experience.

 

Review – Art Naturals.

I decided to review Art Naturals for you today because I’m continually impressed with their products and am now using several of them. This company have not asked me to write this review. My blog isn’t anywhere near popular enough to warrant enlisting me for such a thing anyway. I’m writing this simply because good brands need recognition!

Art Naturals Argon Oil Organic Conditioner
Art Naturals Argon Oil Organic Conditioner

I first came across Art Naturals when looking around for hair conditioner with organic natural ingredients. I choose a different brand almost every time I shop because not many of the natural brands are actually effective conditioners. After trying Art Natural’s reasonably priced Organic Argon Oil Conditioner at $14.95 with Prime on amazon.com I was so impressed with the quality, that I started buying other Art Naturals products.

This conditioner is so potent and thick, that I watered it down when the bottle got half way empty, which has made it last a long time, with just as much conditioning impact. In fact, I recommend you do this, as it started getting difficult to push the conditioner out the bottle. I felt like a kid again, trying to hit the back of a glass Heinz Ketchup bottle, patiently waiting for the contents to eventually make its to the neck and onto my plate….but this conditioner is even more dense and thick.

Art Naturals Vit C Serum
Art Naturals Vit C Serum

After loving the conditioner, I ordered some Vitamin C serum, to use under my face lotion. I’ve been using an expensive spa brand at $60 a vile. The serum does wonders for my skin texture and quality, but at $60 a vile, wasn’t so wonderful on my bank account. So Art Naturals to the rescue! Art Naturals Vit C Age Defying Serum retails on amazon.com for $10.95 with Prime shipping. It’s the same size as the $60 brand I’ve been buying, and also contains the same additional ingredients of Amino Acids, Hyaluronic Acid, Vit E and Ferulic Acid. The serum feels very similar to it’s spa equivalent and has been giving me the same results. Once again, I was really impressed at the quality for the price point.

Art Naturals Oils
Art Naturals Oils

But today, I decided to write this review because my Art Naturals Essential Oils pack arrived. I ordered the Art Naturals 3-Piece Lavender Oil Set with 10ml Lavender Oil Bottle and 10ml Signature Zen Bottle, 4 fl. oz selling at $14.95 with Prime, a little cheaper than it costs on Art Natural’s own website at $18.00 with free shipping, though this is still a reasonable price. I bought this to use on a lavender/flax seed eye pillow to help me sleep and repel spiders and other bugs while I’m sleeping. I don’t use artificial chemicals and sprays for insect repellent and I don’t believe in taking prescription drugs to aid sleep. Oils are my go-to option for many mild symptoms and ailments, like congestion, aches and stress, as well as insomnia. Recently I’ve been using DoTerra Oils. This brand is exceptional, with quality products and a huge range of proprietary blends. But their prices are very high. They claim incredibly high standards of oil, and high potency, so this is their reason for high prices. Although their products are wonderful, I feel their prices are too high to make their value worth while for most people’s budget.

Art Naturals packaging
Art Naturals packaging

So, following the success of my Vit C Serum, I decided to give Art Natural’s Oils a try. My package arrived in the usual amazon packaging. When I opened the shipping box, this little box was inside. This beautifully designed, high quality, recycled box. I was pleasantly surprised and couldn’t wait to open it.

When I looked inside, I was delighted at the attention to making sure my oils arrived intact and in perfect condition. The bottles were packed in custom formed foam, including the pipette. I’ve snapped these images to quickly show you how well the viles were packed.

Art Naturals packaging inside
Art Naturals packaging inside

Usually oils in this price range arrive in a small, flimsy, cardboard box that is exactly the same size as the bottles themselves, offering little cushioning. These are usually wrapped in a piece of bubble wrap or a padded envelope, but never arrive so carefully and beautifully presented. It was a touch I couldn’t help but be impressed with, as a designer.

I immediately tried the Signature Zen oil and was treated to a wonderfully refreshing blend of Citrus, Rosemary and Lavender. The Lavender Oil on it’s own also smelled fantastic and is perfect for using on my eye pillow. Since this oil came in such a large bottle, I’m also able to indulge with it and use it in an oil burner for extra relaxation mode.

Art Natural’s website sells their entire range of products and claims that they’re 100% organic and made in USA. They have an ambassador program and a money back guarantee. Definitely a brand worth checking out!

Kale Super Salad

I love this hearty salad, packed with vitamins, minerals and protein, not to mention fibre. Remove or replace any of the ingredients to suit your own taste. It’s a great basic recipe to play with.

Ingredients:

  • Shredded white cabbage
  • Chopped Radicchio
  • Chopped Kate
  • Fresh Cilantro
  • Hemp Hearts
  • Sliced almonds
  • Cracked Pepper
  • Sea Salt
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Honey mustard dressing
Kale Salad
Kale Salad

Mix all the ingredients, adding spices to taste. Enjoy fresh!

Lightly spiced, roast potatoes

One of my favorite ways to eat potatoes.

Ingredients:

  • Diced White Potatoes (Russets are great for this recipe.)
  • Diced yellow onion
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • Cracked Pepper to taste
  • Your favorite curry powder (I like it with Garam masala mix)
  • Coconut Oil
  • Chives
Lightly Spiced Potatos
Lightly Spiced Potatos

 

Preheat over to 400F/220C.

Mix all ingredients together on baking pan and bake for 30-45 mins.

I recommend keeping potato skins on, so you can benefit from the nutrients in the skins.

Turn frequently to get an even brown. Add canola oil or ghee instead of, or as well as coconut oil. All options taste great.

Curried Parsnip & Lentil Soup

Something I made up for those cold winter evenings.

Ingredients:

  • Ghee
  • 3 cups water
  • 2-3 Parsnips
  • Cup of Lentils (brown or red are good)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped small
  • Dash of Salt
  • Dash of Pepper
  • 1 Tsp Turmeric
  • 1 Tsp Garam masala powder
  • Chives
Parsnip & Lentil Soup
Parsnip & Lentil Soup

Heat ghee in pan.

Make a paste with a small amount of water, garam masala and turmeric powder. Add it to the heated ghee and stir. (this is the most important step in cooking a curry. Skip it, and you will waste the flavors in the spices.)

Add onion. Sweat until golden.

Add chopped parsnips, lentils and water, along with remaining spices. Bring to boil, then simmer for 45 mins.

Serve with chopped chives.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

This is one of my favorite dishes!

Ingredients:

  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Ghee
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh Cracked Pepper
Brussel Sprouts
Brussel Sprouts

The simplest of recipes, just wash and cut the sprouts in half. Cover in ghee, salt and pepper, and roast on 400F/200C for about 45 mins, checking every 15 mins and turning sprouts so that they cook evenly.

For the non-veggies out there, adapt this by adding/replacing ghee with butter and/or canola oil. Bacon bits also work a treat cooked in to the sprouts.

Sprouts in roasting pan
Sprouts in roasting pan

Kitcheri with Chinese Leaf

This is a modified recipe from Tara Sukhu’s book, “Simply Divine: Sampoorna Yoga Cook Book”, available on amazon.com.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup Basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup yellow split mung Dahl
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 pinches cumin seeds
  • 4 dashes turmeric
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 2 tbsp fresh fine chopped ginger
  • 1 lime cut into 4
  • Ghee
  • Chinese Leaf
  • Scallions
Kitcheri
Kitcheri

Boil rice and dahl in water until both are soft. Add more water as needed to keep mixture wet. Reduce to simmer and add spices to taste. When it starts to look soupy, you’re done. Add Chinese leaf and scallions on low heat. Serve.

This mix is still delicious on day 2, even though Aryuvedic practitioners will tell you not to eat left overs, as they have already begun to decompose. Day 3 is my personal limit for rice dishes, as after 2 days, rice begins to form a poisonous mould that you can’t see.

Product Review – The Eva Cup (alternative feminine product)

 

The Eva Cup
The Eva Cup

By now, if you’re a woman, you may have read somewhere about a Diva, Luna, Iris, Lena, Blossom or Eva Cup – the eco-friendly, super hygienic, reusable silicone tampon alternative for those times of the month. I was curious about it for quite some time and took about 6 months to finally pluck up the courage to buy one and another 3 months after that to finally use it. So let me tell you how that went.

I first heard about the Diva Cup on a Yoga ashram. One of my bunk mates was raving about it and sported it around the room excitedly, explaining all about it and how awesome it was for the environment, and also how it claimed to prevent toxic shock. We were all a little embarrassed but intrigued and I vowed to get one and give it a go. Recent news has also brought light to cotton/plastic products leaching toxins into the blood stream, and that inside the body where tampons go is a high risk area. Here’s a Huffington Post article detailing some recent finds.

The months went by after I left the ashram, and period after period hit. I had a back supply of tampons and had been travelling, so didn’t feel comfortable ordering one for delivery at my various short stops. For some reason, the idea of dealing with fumbling around with this thing for the first time, while not in the comfort of my own home just didn’t motivate me to make the jump.

So I waited six months until I had settled down. But this wasn’t the end of the wait. I bought the Eva Cup from amazon.co.uk,  while staying here in UK at my parents’ home. It arrived three months ago. Here’s a link to a reasonably priced Diva Cup  in USA, available on amazon Prime.

Once again, I decided to wade through my back supply of tampons before attempting the Eva Cup. For some reason this was a good excuse to not use it. The idea of dealing with the cup brought back memories of puberty and learning how to deal with tampons back then. I remember that being a not-so-smooth process of trial and error that I will spare you the details of, suffice to say, it took practice. The cup also reminded me of the old diaphragms they gave out in the 90’s for birth control and I remember not so fondly the difficulty I had inserting that thing correctly and how many times I didn’t get it right.

I got down to my last handful of tampons, and thought, that’s it, I’m giving it a go next month. Then low and behold, I got one of the heaviest and most painful menstrual cycles I’ve ever experienced. The kind of period that leaves you doubled over with a hot water bottle and pyjamas on, eating chocolate and snapping at anyone who gets in screaming distance. So I left the Eva Cup locked away once again.

By now, I’m sure you’re picking up on my apprehensive, unenthusiastic desire to give this thing a shot. I had every intent of giving it a go, but like an out of shape procrastinator with an unused annual gym membership eating fast food on a Monday night, I just kept making excuse after excuse to not use it.

So this month’s period arrived on schedule. Hmmm…..I’ve run out of tampons. I’m down to a handful of sanitary towels, which I hate and that feel like diapers between my legs…and cramps…hmmmm, not the worst I’ve ever had. I had run out of excuses. There was only one thing left to do. Go forth and conquer the Eva Cup once and for all.

Menstrual Cup.I read the pamphlet cover to cover and followed the directions to wash the cup with soapy water, then sterilize it by boiling it for 5-7 minutes before use. It says to do this at least once before use and after use when your period is over. …and more if you can, but that soapy water suffices between uses. You can use it for up to 12 hrs at a time, including over night.

They come in 2 sizes: pre-birth / under 30, and post-child birth / over 30. I am over 30, but haven’t had kids and know I have a smaller than average body in all areas, so went for the pre-birth version. They come in a variety of colors and have cute little sacks for storage. They price anywhere from $15-$25. I decided to go for one that said it was made 100% in the USA, as this instilled some assurance for me that the materials used were all they said they were.

I sat in the bathroom double reading the instructions carefully before folding it in a ‘U’ shape and giving it the old heave ho! It went in surprisingly easily. I was sure I had done it wrong, but with no point of reference, I decided to see what happened. I had a pretty heavy flow this month, so was apprehensive that the cup wouldn’t take the heat, so I decided to wear a sanitary towel as a back up. I wore it for half the day. I had no spotting. The thing seemed to be working. I couldn’t feel it on, I didn’t feel uncomfortable, and going to the bathroom felt much cleaner and didn’t involve yanking tampons seemingly every hour of the day. Things were going well.

I decided it was time to rinse it out. This was challenging. There’s some fumbling around required to reach in and grab it, give it a bit of a Kegal push and release the suction created in there to get it out. The first time I did it, during the heaviest part of my period, it was easy. As the flow lightened, the suction made it a little more challenging and it took me a few minutes to get it out. This wasn’t a super awesome experience, but still beats dealing with mostly dried out tampons at the end of a cycle. Ladies you know what I mean.

Rinsing the cup out between applications is easy, as long as you have access to a private bathroom. It’s not the kind of thing you can change in the public bathroom without causing a scene. But luckily, if you apply it before you go out, you probably won’t have to rinse it out until you get home. Just be aware of your timing and the weight of your flow.

I have to say, after much procrastination and apprehension, I give the Eva Cup 2 thumbs up, so does my pocket book. I’ve now eliminated hundreds of dollars worth of tampons from my regular expenses, and know I’m doing something healthier for my body, and the environment. I highly recommend giving it a go. It was definitely a daunting experience to over-come to start with, but I’m so glad I finally did it and I won’t be going back to tampons again.

Special thanks to Jocelyn Ramirez for introducing it to me so enthusiastically!

Update: It’s been about four months since I wrote this, and didn’t have time to post it, so just reaffirming that I’m still delighted with using the Eva Cup. Now I’m used to it, I don’t have any problems or discomfort with it at all. Very happy!

Water Fasting for Health – The down low.

As an ex-athlete, Personal Trainer, cancer survivor and Yoga fanatic, I encounter lots of comments and questions on the subject of fasting from friends and clients, and want to give you a little insight into my experience with this as an avid faster myself.

Fasting has had controversial reviews over the years, mostly from Western thinking industries, as is the case with fitness professionals, whose goal it is to drive that metabolism every waking moment of the day, with small meals frequently to maximize your calorie burning potential and make sure your body doesn’t eat up that precious muscle tone you’ve worked so hard to get. Of course, these are all valid and accurate things to do, and I myself recommend doing all of it, most of the time.

But about twice a year, it’s good to reset that immune system and give your body a chance to flush out toxins, repair your body, produce new cells and start fresh. That’s where the fast comes in. New scientific studies are emerging reporting that fasting “kick-starts stem cells into producing new white blood cells, which fight off infection”. Check out this article from the British Telegraph on the findings.

Something fasting is NOT about, is weight loss. Weight loss inherently happens from a fast, but it shouldn’t be the reason you are fasting, and fasting should not be attempted if you are underweight, or fighting illness. Suffice to say, after you have fasted, it’s likely you’ll gain back every pound you lost in short order once your diet has been reinstated. Using fasting as a way of crash dieting is dangerous and foolhardy.

Fasting is linked with improvements in mental clarity, as well as boosting or resetting your immune system and reducing cell inflammation – a major factor in fighting things like cancer, hormonal issues and digestive concerns.

But what about my precious muscle tone you might ask? Aren’t I going to hit that caveman starvation level, rock bottom metabolism that everyone talks about? Isn’t my body going to shut down? Not to worry. The benefits of fasting are amazing. Although it is true that you’ll experience SOME muscle loss during a fast, the rate at which it happens is insanely slow, at 0.2kg per day after full Ketosis is reached (at around 3 days). You need to have some level of body reserves to be able to fast and endure muscle loss. If you’re too thin, a competitive athlete or body builder, a water fast might not be for you, and you should probably consider other options like a juice fast. Check out this article for more details.

Basically, for the minuscule amount of muscle tone you will lose in a short water fast, you’ll get so many more benefits. Water fasting 48hrs for women, and 72 hrs for men initiates Ketosis, a fuel burning system your body converts to in times of glucose shortage. Our brains and organs need glucose, usually stored in the blood, supplied by daily intakes of food to maintain our bodies. During a fast, the body switches to using Ketones as a fuel source instead. This happens already during high level workouts, and also during sleep in non-fasting individuals. It’s a naturally occurring process. It is recommended that you fast between 3-21 days for optimum results. Below 3 days, and your body won’t have reached Ketosis. After 3 days, every added day you fast allows your body to consume more dead cells and junk to convert to fuel, cleaning your body. Once you stop your fast, your body will create fresh white blood cells, resetting your immune system.

If you want to learn more about fasting, I recommend Dr. Fuhrman’s book, Fasting and Eating for Health, available on amazon, from which the second article above has also quoted from.

Before your fast:

Since everyone is different, your preparation and activities during a fast will vary, but here’s some tips from my own experience with it.

Choose a time to water fast when you won’t be under high stress, working a lot, under intense physical stress or subject to lots of social events. Your body’s response to fasting can include feeling weak, feeling exhilarated, having no energy, having lots of energy, sleeping better, having insomnia, finding mental clarity and needing to rest a lot. Until you’ve done it yourself, you won’t know what to expect. Apparently, if you are especially over weight, you experience increased levels of energy. I myself experienced weakness and lethargy most of the time during my first fast, but the second time I did it, I experienced clarity of mind and no feelings of hunger for 4 days. My body didn’t purge as expected either. I basically had a pretty uneventful time of it, and just worked, walked my dog and did Tai Chi throughout the fast with no problems.

Other side effects I’ve experienced are fat loss with improved muscle tone, decreased bloating, and lowered cell inflammation. I also believe that with my history of cancer, the resetting of my white blood cells is crucial to my longevity.

For my first fast, I chose to fast Friday-Sunday, to avoid social activities or stress. BY my second fast, I chose week days, so I could eat on the weekend. It’s largely psychological, so pick dates that you know are going to be easiest for you and your schedule.

Before fasting you may want to prepare a little. You can graduate into your fast by eating only fruit and vegetables for 1-2 days prior, or even just freshly prepared fruit/veg juices. But you don’t NEED to do this. I think it helps to eliminate at least meat/dairy a day or so before fasting, so your body isn’t so in shock when you drop to just water.

During your fast:

Definitely stay away from food related things. You’ll find yourself wanting to eat your face lotion if it smells nice.

Try to stay busy. Read, meditate, go for walks. Just don’t talk about food! There’s nothing worse than trying to fast if you live with other people who are not fasting. Your sense of smell becomes heightened and the smell of any food whatsoever becomes the best thing you’ve ever smelled. It becomes a moment by moment battle to stay on goal with the smell of delicious food wafting around hours after it has been cooked.

Don’t brush your teeth with toothpaste and don’t oil pull. While on a fast, don’t put anything in your mouth that will stimulate your digestive juices. Brush with water and floss with non-flavored products. This is probably the most unbearable part of fasting for me. My mouth feels horrid. For the first 2 days, it just feels dirty. It is reported that after 4-5 days, your body starts expelling toxins through your skin and mouth. You can experience boils and your tongue will go white with gunk that your body is eliminating. After a couple of days of this, it goes away, and you begin to feel fresher and very alert.

Don’t take a hot bath. I’ve experienced doing this myself, and there are reports of similar responses from others describing dizziness, blindness, palpitations, nausea and shortness of breath. The experience is all temporary, but not pleasant, so best to avoid.  If you do experience this, just lay down, take deep breathes and ride it out.

DRINK LOTS OF WATER. Your body will start to die if you don’t drink enough water! I can’t stress this enough. Water is needed to flush out the toxic waste your body is producing. You also need it just to survive. Sip water constantly throughout the day if you can. I like to heat up water and drink it as if it is tea. My partner enjoys ice water. It’s said room temperature is best, but do what feels good to keep you on track.

Fasting can make me feel a little nauseous at times. Drinking water can make it feel worse. Usually this means I’m doing a lot more cleaning in my body than usual, and I need to stick with it. If I’ve been getting any acid reflux and heart burn, the nauseousness seems worse during the fast. It does however eliminate the acid reflux and heart burn once I return to normal, and my bloating subsides.

Exercise if you feel like it. I exercise gently, as I am generally weak in the legs during a fast. I stick to walking and Tai Chi. My partner will run and walk. He tends to be someone who feels pretty awesome on a fast. You can aid ketosis during a water fast by exercising, so it is worth doing if you have the energy. I suggest you don’t over-do it until you can safely say you understand your own body’s response to fasting.

Listen to your body’s signs to end the fast. Despite how your energy levels feel, your body may tell you when it is time to stop. Let’s not mistake this with your mind’s lack of will to continue. Understand the difference in yourself. Don’t fight your body when it lets you know to end it.

After your fast:

On completing your fast, it is important to gently reintroduce your body to food. Remember, your usual fuel burning systems have converted. You need to give your body time to change them back.

On day 1, drink something like freshly squeezed orange juice to give yourself a good vitamin hit, and introduce your stomach to regular fuel again. Do this first, and wait several hours, continuing to drink lots of water. Then introduce other fruit and vegetable juices throughout the day. Listen to your body. You may be able to convert back to solids by early evening.

On day 2, you can return to solids. I recommend sticking to fruits, vegetables and decaffeinated teas. I enjoy baking a plain sweet potato to sooth my stomach as it gets back to work again. I also like plenty of miso soup, as it is thin and gentle on my stomach.

On day 3, you’re back normal….whatever normal is for you.

If you’re considering a permanent change to your diet, like converting to vegetarian or vegan, doing so after a fast can be a great time to do it. You’ve cleaned up your system and reduced your habitual cravings already, making it easier to stick to your new dietary goals.

If you failed to reach your fasting goals…..not to worry, there’s always another chance to try again in a few months. And the next time around, you’ll know more about yourself, so you’ll be better prepared.

Good luck and enjoy the experience.