Fasting for some people can mean improvement in health or weight loss, a deeper connection to religious beliefs, fulfillment of a personal goal, or experimenting with a trendy diet. What about using fasting as a way to [explore and observe] what happens to your mind and body when taken out of their habitual state and learning from it?
I’ll spare the details of what my poop looked like and how many pounds I lost. Although, I will share that they were both drastically impacted!
This article is about my personal journey with fasting and my 10 days experience with the Master Cleanse. A liquid fast that required a daily consumption of lemonade made with maple syrup and cayenne pepper, laxative teas, and 1 liter of water and sea salt every morning. There are plenty of websites that provide instructions on how to do it. This article is divided in 3 sections: the first part contains the lessons and how I came to learn them, the second part is a dynamic comparison of my experience with other’s, and the third part is what I call “the raw source” which is basically extractions of my 10 day journal and the mini interviews that were part of the source for my comparison.
Before we continue, I encourage you to ask yourself two questions: If you had control over every area of your life (i.e routine, activities, schedule, people, places, situations, you name it) what adjusments would you make or did you make during the fast in order to successfully complete it? How and why each of these adjustments would be helpful to you or how were they?
Take your time to think and go beyond the obvious. An obvious answer would be: Well, I would stop running 5 miles every morning because I don’t want to faint!
There were three areas of my life that I thought of adjusting and were the most impacted by the fast. The 7 lessons emerged from the observation on this areas.
Area 1: The Daily Tasks and Errands
Before the fast, I asked myself: What am I going to eat while working on auditing that long spreadsheet full of data? How am I going to have the energy to run those annoying errands? How am I going to run these errands without rewarding myself with food?
At this point I discovered the 1st finding, Food encourages me do the things that I dread doing by making them less boring and becomes a reward for doing them.
Quite a disappointing finding; I thought that since I had already eaten a piece of truth, I may as well eat the whole cake so I dug into my finding. My 2nd finding showed me that food dissipates the feeling of lack of satisfaction in merely living day-to-day. After all, eating is easier than working towards one’s happiness. Noticing this was not pleasant but I am grateful for it, after all, how do we get to a better place? First, by understanding that we are not there yet. Let’s say that by removing food, I was able to understand that.
Area 2: Social Settings
When I thought about the changes that would occur while fasting in a social setting, it became challenging for me to figure out how to make the adjustments. I am not talking about casual meetings, work conversations, or random interactions with a stranger. I am talking about a night out on the town or gathering with people for socializing or celebrations. I thought to myself, Wait! what’s the point? followed by a feeling of disappointment and emptiness. My third finding is: Food was replacing something that was missing in my connection with other human beings. It was soothing, and helped me to overcome the fatigue I would experience sometimes in my efforts to connect with others, which prevented me from fully enjoying the moment and being present in their company. Long way to go in regards to this area but at least now I am aware and I know there is some work to be done.
The previous realization occurred during the preparation for the fast. Surprisingly things shifted while I was fasting and faced the social events that I anticipated as challenging. I decided to do this fast without realizing that it was December. The potential for potlucks, holiday meals, and food conversations reached the sky. Around day 6th I was at a lunch meeting with some coworkers; I looked at their food, the Sushi looked beautiful, I wanted to taste every inch of it; Then I noticed that there was a window right next to me, which may sound vague and obvious but the point is not the window, the point is the choice, I could chose to look by the window instead of gazing at their food a desiring it terribly. I also realized that my 3 coworkers were talking so I intentionally paid more attention to what they were saying instead of paying attention to my stomach. I was not in my stomach nor in my head, I was out there, listening to them. Finally I realized that I had a mouth, yes, a mouth; Instead of using it to salivate while desiring the food in front of me, I could use it to engage in conversation and speak with intention. I was aware of every choice I made at that moment and yet still present in the moment. 4th finding: You can choose what to pay attention to. If you are around others you can choose to focus your attention in their words before you even turn it to your head or in this case “to your hunger”, and you can choose to talk with intention.
Area 3: The Perception of the Body and its Surroundings
I thought to myself “I need to find something that distracts my mind from the desire for food”. Some of the activities that came to my mind were activities that in the past I had an intrinsic motivation in trying out I but never took the first step because they were “too easy”, “there was no point” or would not give me any type of monetary or tangible result. Something that made the fast really meaningful to me was the act of allowing myself to do whatever I wanted to do without justifying or judging it. Here are the activities I allowed myself to explore. Thanks to them I learned two other lessons.
When it came to doing something that would make the experience more pleasant, the first thing that came to my mind was Coloring Mandalas. I’ve had the urge to color mandalas many times throughout my adult life, but refrained and told myself “this is too easy”, “I am not a child”. So, aside from learning that I am judgmental of myself and just about everything else, this helped me uncover my 5th finding: food compensates for the satisfaction that I receive from not allowing myself to do as I please. I now welcome these inhibitions and allow myself to explore.
Window shopping, getting in touch with the sense organs
By the 2nd day I was looking for something that would shift my attention away from the hunger. It is important to mention that I was very hesitant about mentioning this activity because I do not intent to perpetrate consumerism or encourage anyone to go shopping as a form of therapy. At the store, I found joy in merely smelling candles, seeing colors, patterns, touching products, and even hearing whatever was going on around me. I was enjoying the act of exploring with the sense organs, especially sight and smell. I did not need to buy all the products, I just wanted to absorb their qualities like if I went to a museum. By restraining the act of eating I was able to magnify the perception of the world using my other sense organs. I will use a popular saying to describe my 6th finding: when one door closes, another opens. You have 4 other sense organs. Get acquainted with them.
Yoga, maybe this is what “listening to your body” really means
I came upon the website yogajournal.com and decided to check it out. I knew nothing about yoga and just like in coloring mandalas I was always hesitant to explore because “it was too easy” ha! yes, I thought it was easy (shaking my head and rolling my eyes at myself as I type this) The truth is that I was always driven to explore and I finally found the perfect excuse to do it.
I picked a few basic to moderate poses to practice. I organized by level of complexity and their assisted preparatory poses suggested in the website. Initially I thought I would read simple directions such as “lift both arms over the head and bend your knees”, easy right? Well, I ended up spending 10 to 20 minutes learning a single pose which involved memorizing a motion sequence and detailed instructions on how to position muscles and bones, where to point the gaze, when to inhale or exhale, and finally holding the pose for as much as I could. I had never tried to follow instructions like “lengthen the tailbone toward the backs of the knees. Lift the pubis toward the navel”, “Gaze softly at your chest”, “imagine a line of energy all the way up along your inner thighs to your groins, and from there through the core of your torso, neck, and head, and out through the crown of your head”.
After fully performing a few poses I understood why following the directions in detail was so important. Hadn’t I done this I don’t think I would have experienced body sensations that were new to me such as feeling the sweat dripping from the soles of my feet while holding a shoulder stand and my noticing the heat generated in my pelvis while bending forward in another pose. This is how I got my 7th finding: You are lucky to have a body, this is an amazing tool to explore and to nurture. It was like someone was telling me, “here it is, taste a piece of raw existence”
The most important thing that I’ve learned from this direct experience is what motivates us to eat beyond the necessary nutrition for daily survival; what eating habits can be considered circumstantial or habitual and what is profoundly concerning and requires further evaluation; and the relationship with food in which the act of eating plays the role of compensating and soothing.
I hope to leave you inspired knowing that you can condition your mind and body to help create possibilities. Approach it from a learning perspective and the experience will change from torture to adventure. Observe the change, embrace each challenge, and share what you are feeling.
HOW DO I RELATE TO OTHER’S EXPERIENCE
In line with my own learning experience but consciously trying not to skew their answers, I compared my experience with other’s experiences.
Pollyanna, MA – Polly is a nursing student. She has not direct experience with fasting or is interested in doing it for the time being.
Me: If for some reason you were going to fast for two weeks, what adjustments in your daily life would you make in order to make this experience more pleasant or less painful.
Polly: I don’t know. I would need to know what is motivating me to do this in order to know what would make it easier. If I have no purpose I won’t last one day so you have to tell me what I would be doing this for.
Me: Think about any purpose. Just tell me what changes you would make in order to successfully complete 2 weeks of fasting
Polly: I would do any activity that would redirect the mind somewhere else, I think meditation. Anything that would help me refocus on the purpose. If I know the purpose then I can direct the mind to the purpose.
Diane, CA – Diane normally fasts for spiritual purposes. The longer she’s done it is 9 days and she tries to fast for periods of 24 hours to 3 days here and there.
Me: If we talk about your longest fast, the 9 days one. What were your motives for doing it?
Diane: My motives where mostly spiritual. In my faith background I was thought that you should fast and pray when you want to focus in something particular for your life. At that point it was a career goal so I tried to focus on that.
Me: If you were going to do a similar lasting fast right now, what adjustments would you make to your life during the fast in order to successfully complete it?
Diane: I would probably work half of the time. I would also restrict TV and outside interferences. If I don’t work I would get to focus more on what I want and have time to meditate more.
Me: Is there anything new or relevant during your fast experience where you said “hey this is interesting” Something that you were not expecting before the experience. Let’s focus on thoughts and emotions more than the physiological part of it.
Diane: I could focus on the things I was reading and on my purpose. The purpose was to pay attention to what I wanted
Me: Are you saying that you were able to pay more attention because there was an intention?
Diane: Yes, exactly… When you finish the fast there is a sense of relief but not because you are able to eat again, it is the relief that you would feel when accomplishing something. Knowing that you were able to focus in your purpose.
Me: What did you do when hungry?
Diane: Feeling hungry and tired is part of it so I would think “I am doing something good for myself. This if for a good cause”
Me: When do you find yourself eating but you know you don’t really need to eat at that moment?
Diane: When I am bored, when I am bored I crave things.
Quintessa, CA: Quintessa fasted for 10 days in the lemonade also called Master Cleanse cleanse. She did it several years ago so I asked her to recall the experience and to also think of this questions as if she would do it again in the present time.
Me: What were your motives for doing this?
Quintessa: Resetting my body. Get rid of the physical and emotional clutter.
Me: What adjustments you made to your life during the fast? What adjustments would you make now?
Quintessa: Working, I think I would not work. I wasn’t working at the time so that helped.
Me: How would working make the experience less pleasant or more painful
Quintessa: At work you have good days and bad days. When the bad days come this is when you stress out and you may say “ugh this piece of chocolate, I just want this piece of chocolate”! In this case you are eating for emotional reasons.
Me: Is there anything you noticed during the fast that was new or interesting to you? Maybe something that you did not anticipate?
Quintessa: Calmness overall. I did not get as disappointed when facing disappointing news. It was disappointing but the anxiety was not experienced so intensively. I was also able to work out and my sweat was no salty, it was pure water.
Anonymous: I just thought that a random comment from an anonymous person while I was listening to a conversation in emotional eating and self harming coping patterns was interesting:
Person 1: So she would then stuff herself with a gallon of ice cream
Person 2: This is like “If I can’t be perfect, then I will be the most bad”
The lemonade dissipated the actual hunger but the thoughts about food were unavoidable
I took a nap. When I got up I was feeling still tired and getting a bit sad so I decided that I would not let that “affect me”, and I started cleaning the bathroom. Cleaning the bathroom was an interesting exercise as I consciously tried to stay focused on the task despite my emotional and physical feelings. No! it was not easy! I wanted to quit and cry but the feeling went away eventually
It was a bit hard to focus at work. I I smelled the food everywhere. I tried to be a productive and nice person at work as usual and I did, however I felt anxiety and sadness.
I did get hungry but not frustrated. Feels like I am getting used to that feeling…
…I was not tired or weak at any point today. My mood was still a bit down but eventually I stopped giving a f*** and felt my feelings without worrying to lose composure and eloquence. This helped a lot…
…This cleanse has helped me a lot in so many ways, I am extremely proud of myself and grateful for the people that I share this with and supports me…
I got used to the feeling of hunger. I don´t get desperate about it. I noticed that anxiety levels decreased. Maybe because I don´t have enough energy to get anxious. I listen more and talk more fluently
At first it was hard to see all that delicious sushi in front of me but then I looked by the window and I thought, “This is not the last meal in the world and there are other things I can focus on” so I decided to pay greater attention to the conversation with my coworkers. I was more of an active listener than normal and my speech today was more relaxed and less rushed. I loved it, I love when things are fluent and smooth. Anxiety was not present! not at all, I felt fluid and happy all day, it was like walking on clouds without being careless. Like the feeling you get when you walk in your house after you have cleaned everything…
For the past two days I felt really tired physically but not mentally. My body felt heavy and getting up from the chair was difficult. I got a bit dizzy. My mind was calm and attentive… In conclusion today was my focused day.
During the last 3 days I was surrounded by food that aside looking delicious was free. 3 consecutive days of free delicious food at work. Instead of running away from it I looked at it, I admired it, and yes! I craved it but I decided to enjoy its smell and admire its beauty. I enjoyed the talk about food with other people, I got curious and started asking how it tasted. I know, it sounds like torture but the truth is that there are many ways on which we can appreciate things. There is a time for everything… one day I will enjoy a bite of it with no regrets but today I will look at it and understand that it is not the moment. It is nice to choose where to focus and appreciating that area of focus as much as I can. It is nice to welcome the discomfort and accepting it, like right now, if I think about a nice diner with pasta and mushrooms I won´t say I don´t desire it, I want it! but I can breathe and wait for the moment while gently shift my attention from the feeling of discomfort to the typing of these words.
…I can now say that I successfully completed 10 days of this cleanse…
Alexandra Gomez, April 2017