Last winter, I began to think about taking some time off to personally experience a medically supervised water-only fast. I am fortunate to have been raised in a family that followed a healthful lifestyle, so I never really got sick. Sure, I had a cold from time to time, and I had chicken pox as a kid, but my health has always been strong and recovery has always been quick. As I've grown older (I'm 37 now), there have been the more frequent winter colds, the low-back pain from sports and work at the computer, and the occasional exhaustion from burning the candle every way I can. Work and play have taken the center stage, and I know I haven't been getting enough sleep.
I decided to schedule time for some real rest. For most of us, we wait until we're forced to take some time off by a health crisis, but in my case, I just needed a little push. I had been snowboarding in the mountains out in Lake Tahoe in December, got a winter cold, bruised my body falling, and was exhausted by too much work and play. It was time to do something. So, I set aside about three weeks from my busy schedule, and traveled to the TrueNorth Health Center in Northern California for a fast.
In preparation, around the beginning of February, I started taking processed foods out of my diet, and I tried to get more sleep. On Feb 9th, I moved to an all raw foods diet and diminished the quantity of food at my meals. I arrived at the Center late in the afternoon on Feb 12th, checked in, and had my last supper - whole salad with lemon juice and some fruit. It was a lovely meal.
My room was just off the kitchen (big trouble!) and overlooked the backyard. I settled in, listened to instructional audiotapes on fasting, and started drinking distilled water (my only "food" for the next two weeks). I setup my laptop computer on the desk, wrote a few emails and went to sleep. In the morning, I received a physical examination from Peter Sultana, MD, and began to settle into my daily routine. Wake up in the morning by the physician doing morning rounds, vital signs are taken, weigh myself, blood tests and/or urine tests as indicated, spend the day thinking about food, drink some water, go to educational lectures, watch videos on health topics, take a nap, think about food, take a walk in the garden, get a little late afternoon sun, notice the food being served for dinner to those that are eating, drink more water, get an checkup by the physician doing evening rounds, watch a movie, do some emails and writing, and go to sleep.
There were about 20 patients at the Center while I was there, each one at a different point in their fast. When I arrived, I was the new kid on the block, and I learned a lot from the wonderful friends I met who shared with me their wisdom and experiences from their fast. We talked about food, a lot. As time passed, I would become the seasoned veteran, providing encouragement and guidance to the new arrivals. I found the friendships and social interactions to be a wonderful part of the experience. As patients, we were all sharing in the journey being guided by the physicians, staff, and each other. With the daily educational lectures, there was an excellent support system assisting everyone in their health recovery. Some people were there with challenging health conditions, and others were there to tune themselves up. Some were on their first fast, and others were fasting veterans. For me, I was venturing headlong into a new experience, confident of the benefits I would receive, and excited at the unknown. So, I put on my nightshirt and bathrobe and started on my journey. Here are some notes I took along the way:
Tue Feb 12. Arrived and had dinner, yum. Weighed in at 161 pounds, blood pressure around 110/70. I was probably nearly 170 pounds at the beginning of Feb.
Wed Feb 13. I'm feeling hungry already, but planning on fasting 12 days. Looking forward to complete rest, trying to do less email. Working on drinking eight glasses of distilled water each day.
Thu Feb 14. Down to 157 pounds. The smell of food from the kitchen is tantalizing me. Many naps today.
Fri Feb 15: Still hungry, feeling a bit weak and nauseous, and moving slowly. Distilled water tastes disgusting. Found out my blood type is A+, which sounds like a good grade. Cholesterol is up at 188, higher than I expected, but nothing to worry about. Blood pressure down to around 90/60. All ok.
Sat Feb 16. My fast is continuing fine, sleep a total of 16 hours today. Still hungry.
Sun Feb 17. Take lots of naps to avoid thinking about food. Most people aren't hungry after the first few days, but I'm still hungry. In good spirits, enjoy visiting with the other patients.
Mon Feb 18: I'm hungry, I'm weak, I'm tired, and I'm bored. Low motivation and energy, and I get dizzy if I move too fast. I'm down to 149 pounds, lowest weight since college. I can't believe I'm forcing myself to fast, when I'm completely healthy. Am I insane? I remind myself that this feeling will pass, and I can do this. But, I couldn't drink eight glasses of distilled water today. Yuck.
Tue Feb 19: Seems my constant focus on hunger is subsiding. Kitchen still smells delicious, though. Six days till I break my fast. Yeah!
Wed Feb 20. Decided to take a shower today. Exhausting, but refreshing. Starting to count down the number of hours till I will break my fast. Watching movies.
Thu Feb 21. Just found out that ice is legal during fasting! Now, this adds an entire new dimension to my distilled water ritual. I find this very satisfying. Feeling energetic and alert, although I fatigue if I do too much. Down to 146 pounds.
Fri Feb 22. I'm feeling really hungry, and have light naps today, restless. Looking forward to watermelon juice next Monday.
Sat Feb 23. Low energy, and sleep most of the day. Not too social.
Sun Feb 24. Excited to be in my last day of fasting. This is an enormous understatement.
Mon Feb 25. Down to a low point of 143 pounds, and I have a small glass of watermelon juice at breakfast. Amazing!! A glass of carrot/celery/apple juice for lunch, then a glass of celery/apple for a snack, and finally carrot/celery/parsley for dinner. The flavors are beyond words, and I'm very satisfied. Went to bed early.
Tue Feb 26. More juices, then I had a small whole salad with fresh fruit. Wow!! My energy level seems back to normal, and my taste buds are awake as never before. Work on my spring garden planting schedule and order organic seeds on the Internet.
Wed Feb 27. Noticing how thin I appear down at 145 pounds, looking forward to building up from here. Raw fruits and vegetables today. Shaved today, and put on real clothes which were very baggy.
Thu Feb 28. I had steamed vegetables for dinner. Carrots, broccoli, peas, zucchini, red chard, corn, and more. Each flavor was more exciting than I could have imagined.
Fri Mar 1. Back up to 150 pounds with full energy. Eating delicious food, taking walks, and preparing to return to the real world tomorrow morning.
Upon returning to Chicago, I had plenty of energy to attend to my regular life. Over the next month, my weight slowly increased to about 155, where it has stayed pretty steady. Reflecting on my fasting experience from a distance, I consider it one of the most significant events of my life. I now have a firsthand understanding of the innate ability of my body to rebalance itself and express vibrant health when given the opportunity.
I'd like to thank all the new friends I met at the Center during my fast. My fellow patients were supportive (and entertaining), the physicians and staff motivating, professional, and attentive. The environment is well suited for health-recovery, and watching everyone going through the process of regaining his or her health is wonderfully inspiring.
Mark Esptein lives in Chicago, is a gentleman famer in North Carolina, and is the President of the Board of Directors of the National Health Association.