“When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the smartest thing he could do.” – Herman Hesse, Siddhartha.
Earlier this morning I went shopping for the ingredients for a homemade bone stock which I’ll use as a base for a wholesome chicken and brown rice soup to be partially consumed sometime this evening. It was a thrilling experience. My sense of smell could rival a truffle-seeking French pig. Even my other senses seemed more acute– the carrots a brighter orange, the more expensive garlic perfectly shaped. It was kind of a Lao Tzu experience. I have had nothing but water to drink and not a spoonful of food for 9 days, 13 hours (as I begin writing this), and I decided that this evening, at about 10 full days into my fast, is a good time to break it. I mean, it’s my fast, right?
Although I should be working (translating) I’ve decided to reward myself for my diligence by lecturing my faithful readers about why water fasting is anything but insane, talk a bit about nutrition, and as your reward for putting up with me I will take you through the composition of my first meal after 10 days, a model of healthy food the way it was made in the old days before MSG, though it will take 8 or more hours to make. Eaten regularly, it could add years to your life.
The last time I mentioned fasting was in my article “Gandhi-Inspired Aquaponics” back in May, 2012. It was just a quick warning that “I may at times sound a little bit less delusional than usual,” because I was into my 4th day of that particular fast. Despite the fact that the article was chock-full (never used that word before) of useful, if not inspiring information, all I got was comments about fasting. Mike in Phana (outside Ubon) seemed to think I should at least take in some salt. MeMock wrote: “I think the project you are planning is quite amazing and I look forward to seeing it first hand. That is of course if you are still alive! Please tell me more about this fasting thingo. I mean, how do you get to 4 days drinking nothing but water voluntarily? How long do you plan to go for? Have you done this sort of thing before? I can skip a meal, sometimes even two but I have never gone a whole day without food, let alone four!” But by far the greatest comment, which I didn’t allow because that would have dragged me into a full-fledged fasting debate, was from my sister-in-law’s charming mom, Lisa. It’s kind of flattering so here it is in full:
During the relatively brief time I spent with you while you were in Stow I was delighted with your wit, energy and curiosity but occasionally startled by your unbridled goofiness. This fasting falls into that category. If you’re doing it to sober up or lose weight you’ve undoubtedly already done so (bravo!) but if you continue your teeth will fall out (probably will anyway due to your aversion to dentists), you’ll lose muscle tone and coordination, and your brain and toe nails will be permanently adversely affected. Love your writing, even if I often don’t understand it. Fondly, Lisa
That was a real “ahh” moment. What is this almost religious, anti-fasting zeal, not just from Lisa, but from all directions? I mean, do you think the human race would be here today if we couldn’t go two days without twinkies? I guess I’m just following in the footsteps of the other fools suffering from “unbridled goofiness,” such as the early great philosophers, thinkers, and healers who used fasting for health and as healing therapy. Hippocrates, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and Galen all praised the benefits of fasting. Paracelsus, one of the three fathers of Western medicine, is quoted as saying, “Fasting is the greatest remedy–the physician within.” Early healing arts recognized the revitalizing and rejuvenating power fasting promoted (nicked from http://www.allaboutfasting.com). I’m not going to go looking for the source, but I read somewhere that one of these great philosophers would not accept a new student unless he had just fasted for a month or so, as fasting is essential for the mind, physically and mentally. And, interestingly enough, there is more than just a little something to that. Researchers at the National Institute on Ageing in Baltimore recently discovered that fasting for regular periods could help protect the brain against degenerative illnesses. Professor Mark Mattson, head of the institute’s laboratory of neurosciences, and also a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, states that they have “also worked out a specific mechanism by which the growth of neurones in the brain could be affected by reduced energy intakes. Amounts of two cellular messaging chemicals are boosted when calorie intake is sharply reduced, said Mattson. These chemical messengers play an important role in boosting the growth of neurones in the brain, a process that would counteract the impact of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. He goes on to say, “The cells of the brain are put under mild stress that is analogous to the effects of exercise on muscle cells. The overall effect is beneficial.” There are sound evolutionary reasons behind this. “When resources became scarce, our ancestors would have had to scrounge for food,” said Mattson. “Those whose brains responded best – who remembered where promising sources could be found or recalled how to avoid predators — would have been the ones who got the food. Thus a mechanism linking periods of starvation to neural growth would have evolved.” (see this article in The Guardian, 2012).
I’d wanted to state that if you do a search on Google for “fasting for weight loss” all you will get are are a bunch of amateurs out to make a buck who say you have a death wish and all you are losing is water, anyway, and, by they way, how about buying this book on low-carb diets or some of these vitamin supplements I sell? I’d long given up such searches because I’ve studied the subject in-depth off and on over probably 3 or 4 years. You see, there’s no money to be made by anyone if all a person has to do to lose weight, “detox,” and rejuvenate, is stop eating. The doctors on the internet tell you to only do it under a doctor’s supervision, and usually they mean their own, expensive supervision. So, I was a bit surprised to see that a really well-done, informative article “Why Fast? Part One– Weight Loss” was at the top of the search results. It was so good I stole the author’s Herman Hesse quote. His article starts of with the story of a 27-year old Scotsman back in 1965 who weighed 456 pounds. Long story short, he fasted for 382 days and lost 276 pounds, reaching his target weight of 180 pounds. He was observed for 5 years during which time he regained only 16 pounds. There’s convincing evidence that weight lost by fasting is more likely to stay off than if you were dieting. So, if you are interested in this, read the article. If you want to know more about fasting, read the rest of his articles about fasting which you can link to from the same page.
Fasting is not starving. Think of it as sleeping. When you sleep, your body goes about rebuilding itself, and when you wake up, if you’ve had a good sleep, you feel rejuvenated. The amount of repair that goes on is just exponentially greater. The first phase is called the gastrointestinal phase. Basically for about 6 hours since your last meal your body just carries on as usual. Lots of stuff that I don’t really understand happens, but it’s the same stuff involving hormones and insulin and glucose and your liver that always happens. At half a day, it’s the shortest phase. The next phase is the glycogenolysis phase. During this 2-day phase your liver does a lot of neat stuff to keep your brain satisfied. The next phase is gluconeogenesis. This is an important one, so I’m going to quote my source (just one of hundreds): “Although it begins a few hours after the last meal, in two days gluconeogenesis, the process of converting amino acids into glucose, becomes the major source of glucose for the brain. Non-essential proteins [emphasis mine] found in muscle and digestive enzymes are broken down into their individual amino acids which are then transported to the liver. The liver converts amino acids into glucose and urea. Urea is excreted by the kidneys, and the glucose is used mainly by the brain for energy.” The fourth and final phase is ketosis. “By the third day, ketosis becomes significant and increases up to the second week of fasting. Due to the low insulin levels and increase release of fatty acids from adipose tissue, the liver, under the influence of high levels of fatty acids, begins converting them to ketones to be used by muscle and brain for energy. As the concentration of ketones increases in the blood during the first two weeks of fasting, more is able to cross the blood brain barrier and supply fuel to the brain. In this way, the brain can use less glucose, and therefore, the demand for gluconeogenesis and breakdown of protein becomes less.” (http://naturalhygienesociety.org/articles/fasting1.html).
The whole thing is extremely efficient and without it we wouldn’t be here today. People who’ve not looked deeply into it say fasting ravages your muscle tissue, but in fact it uses about 75g of non-essential protein a day at the beginning then tapers down to just 20g a day by the second week. When you break the fast, everything goes in reverse. Amino acids are taken up by muscle cells to replace proteins broken down during the fast. This takes time and something called “appropriate exercise.” I think I’ve finally got it through my thick head that overindulgence, especially in the form of beer, after a fast is counter-productive.
Now, why aren’t my teeth falling out? One reason I like fasting is that it’s counter-intuitive. I don’t eat fruit and should be deficient of vitamin C already. Why don’t I get scurvy? This subject is truly fascinating. I will rely mostly on the writings of Herbert M. Shelton (1895-1985), a guy who oversaw more than 40,000 fasts in his lifetime. He was a controversial figure– his contemporaries didn’t appreciate his advocating fasting over medical treatment. When he was a kid, he took an interest in animals, especially their habits when sick as compared to when well. He was especially intrigued by their fasting when the farm animals became sick. Of the great many books he wrote, The Science and Fine Art of Fasting, exerted an influence on Mahatma Gandhi, who consulted the book before undertaking public fasts. Chapter 18 of one of one of his books addresses the issue of deficiencies and is titled “Fasting Does Not Induce Deficiency ‘Diseases.'” What follows are a few quotes so you can get the gist. And, although I can’t be bothered to look for the source, there are numerous “modern” studies on the same subject. Researchers know it’s true, and they are trying to figure out why.
“In experiments with animals fed on mineral free diets, it was found that they became weak, dull, listless, had fits and died. They reached a point where they refused to eat. Forced feeding was resorted to. It was found that the animals that were forced to eat the mineral-free diet, after their instincts had put out a stop sign, died quicker than animals not fed at all.”
“Years ago Dr. Foster’s experiments proved that pigeons and dogs develop symptoms of auto-intoxication and die sooner when fed on foods artificially deprived of their minerals, than when given no food at all. Dogs fed on demineralized food died in twenty-six to thirty days; whereas dogs completely deprived of all food lived for forty to sixty days.” Sorry dog lovers.
“A diet of white flour and water, or white sugar and water, will result in death much sooner than a diet of water only. If no food is eaten the body feeds upon its own food reserves, but it has no provision for meeting the exigencies created by prolonged subsistence on one-sided diets.” You may wonder how they strip food of minerals. Well, they just process it the same way they do the processed foods that have become the staple of the Western diet.
“But nature has made no adequate provision for properly nourishing a body that is fed indefinitely upon half-foods. The body does not contain within itself the elements needed to compensate for the deficiency created by denatured foods. Indeed, as pointed out elsewhere, one may starve to death much quicker on some diets, than one will if totally abstaining from food. One will die quicker on a diet of white bread than from fasting, and the more bread one consumes, the more severe will be one’s suffering and the sooner will one die. Such foods draw so heavily on certain of the body’s reserve elements that these are soon exhausted and body chemistry badly unbalanced.”
Got the point? Now, let’s see what he writes about teeth.
“Without additional quotations about the effects of deficient diets (partial inanition) upon the teeth in rickets and in scurvy, let us point out that dentists who have studied the effects of inadequate and deficient diets upon the teeth and do not know that fasting does not produce the same results as such diets are likely to conclude that fasting injures the teeth. Indeed, there is a tendency in all who study the effects of dietary inadequacies and deficiencies to run away from fasting; for, they reason, ‘if a defective diet produces such undesirable results, no food at all should produce much worse results.’ They are blissfully unaware that fasting not only does not produce any of the so-called deficiency ‘diseases,’ but that it is actually beneficial in everyone of them.”
After a lengthy and somewhat gruesome discussion of the symptoms of scurvy and pyorrhea, Shelton continues, “Not only do such conditions not develop during even a prolonged fast, but they are improved and many of their symptoms completely removed by a fast. This remarkable evidence of the value of fasting is explained by the fact that there is a disproportionate loss of the various constituent elements of the body during the fast and a redistribution of some of these, which results in a near approach to normal body chemistry.”
And, in conclusion, Shelton states, “We have no means of knowing how much of a reserve store of vitamins the body possesses, nor do we know where all of these reserves are stored; still less do we know about how much of these vitamins are lost to the body during a fast. All of this is as unknown to Kellogg and to the writer as to the reader, but we may be sure of one thing:–namely, these stores are sufficient to outlast the most prolonged fast. We know that scurvy and beri-beri never develop on a fast. We know that rickets is positively benefited by fasting. Kellogg overlooks an important difference between fasting and a polished rice diet–namely, that, whereas, in both, the body is deprived of its daily supply of vitamins, fasting makes little if any demand upon its vitamin reserves, while the polished rice diet rapidly consumes these. If he could show that fasting, even the most prolonged fasting, ever produces ‘deficiency disease,’ then his objection would have some weight. As it is, the facts of experience must silence the voice of his theory.”
Cool stuff, huh? I wish I could write like that.
I’ll mention a few things about my fast, then get on to the life-extending soup I’m making. There are websites and forums out there where people fasting give each other support and log the progress of their fasts. A lot of people break out in rashes and get pimples on their faces. This is due to the toxins that are built up in the body being released. A lot of them, if not most, feel like shit at first, which is a bad combination at the beginning if you are still feeling hungry (hunger, as you know it, dissipates after a couple of days). Since they feel like shit (but more likely because they are hungry), they break their fast. But they shouldn’t, because feeling like shit is a signal that fasting is doing something good for you (no pain no gain?). A lot of people try to turn the fast into a spiritual thing, which seems to me only equates being spiritual with feeling like shit. I glided through this fast (2 more hours to the 10 full-day point) as if nothing had happened. Cavemen continued to hunt antelope. I spent less strenuous days working at the computer, and in the evenings I watched TV in bed. Sleep, however, never came easily, probably because the fast itself is carrying out the tasks that sleep usually does. No signs of built-up toxicity at all. In fact, the persistent ulcer on one of my shins healed (again) and a cracked molar that’s been giving me trouble seems to have at least partially mended. Then I started thinking about my diet. My meals usually consist of slow cooked fresh meats and vegetables with an unusually large amount of garlic. The primitive cooking process I use creates a broth, of sorts (I’ll write about this one day). I don’t eat sweets or drink soft drinks– I’m a beer drinker, after all. I just need to drink less of it (I could not possibly drink as much water in one day as I was drinking beer). That was my New Year’s Resolution, to cut my beer drinking in half, which still allows me to drink more than the average beer drinker does. This fast was intended to spur this resolution into effect. My conclusion about beer, then, is that it’s not bad for you (in the sense that there were no built up toxins in me), but too much makes you fat (duh!).
Okay, I stopped writing to focus on my cooking, so it’s now the following day. I broke my fast last night after 10 days, 1 hour, and 30 minutes (roughly) with a small bowl of mineral-rich soup, while watching “Starship Troopers.” I slept better. I now weigh 91.5kg, down from 100kg. At 191cm, my BMI (Body Mass Index) sits contently right on the edge between “normal weight” and “overweight.” I’m drinking my second cup of coffee from my farm, and feeling excellent.
I encourage you all to read the article “Broth is Beautiful.” There are all sorts of “flavor enhancers” these days that make food taste good and save a lot of time in the kitchen. They can chemically imitate the taste of a good chicken broth, but not the nutritional value of one. Simmering bones for hours and hours releases minerals and such that our bodies need and are generally severely lacking. So, here’s my broth with a never-tried twist.
Step 1: I wanted some egg shells because they are an excellent source of usable calcium (plus small amounts of something like 24 other trace minerals). There were some free-range duck eggs some relatives brought here in the fridge, so I boiled two of them. I really only wanted the shells, but there’s nothing wrong with bits of egg in a soup, so I’ll add those. If you boiled the eggs, you can crush the shells as is, but baking them for 5 or so minutes makes the crushing a bit finer. I added 2 tablets of bio magnesium, 200mg each. Magnesium, which most people lack in their diets of processed foods, aids in the absorption of calcium. So, although the optimum ratio is debated, it’s good to get some magnesium. Add fresh-squeezed lime, and watch it bubble. The calcium and magnesium dissolve, releasing CO2. I’ll have to experiment with this more, as even after 8 or so hours the egg shells hadn’t completely dissolved. Next time I’ll try red wine vinegar.
Ingredients for the calcium/magnesium supplement.
Step 2: Make the stock. Stock is easy. Don’t let the amount of time it takes worry you. It requires very little attention. In just 3 or 4 hours you’ll have a great tasting stock, but it takes longer than that to extract the minerals from the bones. I used 2 chicken carcasses, 2 chicken thighs, and 4 chicken feet (I would have used all 7 that were in the package, but Megan’s aunt wanted to eat some). Chicken feet release natural gelatin. The ideal ratio of bones and such to water is 2:3, by weight. Give them a good rinse, let them soak in water for about 10 minutes for good measure, drain and add water again. Don’t heat the water then throw the stuff into a boiling pot. You want it to get hot slowly. As it approaches a boil, a lot of foam and scum will rise to the surface. Remove it with a spoon. You’ll need to do this a few times. Just before it boils, lower the heat to a simmer.
The base ingredients.
In the pot and ready to go.
Step 3: Remove the thighs (or whatever you use with meat on it). They want to be just done, so the pieces are full of flavor when you bite into them. Too long and the flavors will go into the stock and the chicken bits will be kind of dry. When you are doing a soup, I guess this isn’t so important, but if you’re using the chicken meat for sandwiches or something, then it’s pretty important. After I removed the meat and put it in the fridge, I rather thoroughly cracked the thigh and leg bones with a pestle, retrieved them from the 4 corners of the kitchen, and put them back in the pot.
Step 4. At about the 6-hour point, add the aromatics. A lot of people add them from the beginning, but they don’t need much time to release their flavors and nutrients. Too long and they get mushy, absorbing a lot of that delicious stock you are trying to make. I suggest you add the egg shell mixture at this point, too. I added it to the soup but a lot of the egg shell hadn’t dissolved completely, making the last few spoonfuls in the bottom of the bowl kind of gritty.
Step 5: At about the 8-hour point, drain the stock. Return it to the (rinsed) pot and add the vegetable ingredients and rice. Before doing this I seasoned the soup base with salt and crushed pepper. The chicken and duck eggs are already cooked through, so add them during the last 10 minutes, adjust seasonings, and you are done.
Finished soup, next day– I never said it would be pretty.