DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor and don't recommend that you do a medically unsupervised water fast. Water fasting is not safe for anyone under the age of 18, on medication, addicted to any substances, have currently or a history of eating disorders, are pregnant or breastfeeding, have heart problems or any other diseases.
I’m not sure how you stumbled upon this blogpost, but if you have been with us for a while and are asking yourself why on earth Lou would consider doing something as extreme as a 7 day water fast - yep you read that correctly - he went an entire week without eating any food, then please read the next section on Lou’s health history. If you’re just here for the water fast info then skip to the next section!
How Lou Hurt His Back:
Well to explain Lou's health situation we have to go back over 6 years to when we were living in New York City. Lou had been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) a year before we moved in together and his doctor prescribed him the drug Enbrel, which he had to inject in his stomach once a week. Enbrel's common side effects are a headache, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, weakness, cough, and pain at the injection site. So besides some of those issues, the medicine was working well, managing his autoimmune condition and his joint pain, but Lou kept saying to his doctor that something didn't feel right.
No matter how much stretching and warming up he did, Lou kept straining his muscles and they would not heal. Our theory is that because Enbrel suppresses the immune system completely this was interfering with body's ability to recover from daily activity (though his doctor said that there was no correlation to muscle issues and RA).
The troubling thing was the pain came even with something as simple as going for a walk. Lou could end up with a twinge in his hamstring that would give him pain for months. Or sometimes it was far worse like when he carried our air conditioning unit up four flights of stairs with my older brother and ended up hurting his back badly. He couldn't carry anything for many months after that. It also meant no more soccer after work or rock climbing or really any form of exercise at all. For some people with arthritis this might be normal as the diagnosis is coming way later in life when they might not crave an active lifestyle. And for most after suffering years of pain, they might be happy just to walk without pain, but for Lou at age 23 it felt like the life he knew was over.
To try to heal the back problem he ended up going to weekly physical therapy sessions for a few months. He saw a chiropractor and got medical massages bi-weekly. And after the many months of rehab, and many dollars spent, Lou finally felt reasonably normal again.
However a year later when we moved to Berlin, he was carrying a large suitcase up another 4 flights of stairs, and the exact same spot in his back was injured. Another time it happened at a yoga class. And another time with a different suit case.
Each time has been a series of chiropractors, masseuses, patience, frustration, and a whole lot of inconvenience. It's made Lou feel like an old man at a time when he should be in his prime. And on top of physical pain, the emotional pain has been awful.
Back in 2017 though we found something that helped Lou with his RA better than anything we'd ever tried before. It was called the Paddison Program and I go into it all in this blog post. But ever since he started eating this way Lou has not had to deal with any back issues, but this past year and a half has been a little more hectic than our life in Berlin. There we had the luxury of a juicer, grocery stores with organic produce, time/space to make homemade sprouts and sauerkraut, a constant supply of clean filtered water, quality sleep, and just more space in our life for a healthy routine. I'm not saying van life has been bad for us, in so many ways this has been the most incredible time in our entire lives thus far, but when it comes to the level of health routine Lou needs to manage his RA it's hard to fit it all in. Health needs to be his top priority with a focus on limiting stress, getting quality sleep, eating only organic food, and making time for low impact exercise... and that's just not what the last 12 to 18 months have been for us.
So when Lou hurt his back in Spain, woke up at 5 am with sharp pain in the exact same spot that has been his kryptonite so many times before, but this time in worse pain than ever before, well we were terrified and knew that if he didn't do something drastic then he would be suffering for a long time. To set the scene, Lou woke up and couldn't get out of bed on his own. He couldn't get into the bathroom because that required him turning his body. He couldn't get out of the van because it required too much flexibility, and thus was stuck in our two feet long kitchen.
We had heard about the power of water fasting when it comes to auto immune diseases a few months prior and Lou had actually been planning on doing one at some point this year to manage his joint swelling, but the timing never seemed great. We were behind on a deadline, not in a comfortable parking spot, had a big video we wanted to film... but now it was clear he could not put it off any longer. We just pushed everything aside and made room for his healing and I am so grateful that we have a job that let us prioritize Lou's health because the water fast definitely would have been impossible if he had to go to an office every day. Rest is just as critical as not eating to reap all the health benefits when it comes to fasting, so Lou was basically on bedrest for an entire week.
A lot of my research came from the True North Health Center's website, which is a facility in Northern California that has been fasting patients to treat different ailments for over 30 years, and also coaches patients on how to eat a plant based, salt, oil, and sugar free diet for optimal health post water fast. Here is a wonderful and inspiring interview with Dr. Alan Goldhammer that Lou and I watched during his 7 day water fast.
I highly encourage you to do your own research when it comes to anything health related, but especially when it comes to water fasting. Especially if you are a female, and have a menstrual cycle, it is really really important that you take fasting seriously. Even intermittent fasting can in some women disrupt the natural hormone cycle and cause amenorrhea.
How Water Fasts Can Be Used as a Tool To Heal:
Humans have been fasting for over 2,000 years and recently there has been some promising science showing that when done properly water fasting can be an effective tool used to heal the body from many diseases, especially those caused by dietary excess like high blood pressure, type two diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases.
Water Fasting puts the body into a state called ketogenesis - which means that once your body has depleted all of its glucose, it starts to burn fatty acids for fuel. All the energy that your body would be putting towards digesting food and running around your normal activities can now be diverted to healing the body. Fasting is linked to lowering inflammation, strengthening the immune system, lowering blood insulin resistance, decreases oxidative stress, hormone modulation, overall stress resistance, as well as autophagy. Autophagy is a common buzz word in the fasting/intermittent fasting community and refers to the process where the body starts to repair molecular damage, regulating cell activity, even potentially fighting cancer.
Someone on our Instagram asked me to include successful human trials showing the link between longer fasting and rheumatoid arts and I searched long and hard but came up empty-handed. There's been a lot of promising animal trials (though I don't support this cruel practice), but there is just not enough money to support human trials. Most medical studies are funded by pharmaceutical companies, and they have an obvious interest in funding science that stresses the use of their medicine. Fasting is basically free, which makes it very hard to study in the current system.
Common Water Fasting Mistakes
Preparation for the Fast
To avoid painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, it is important to not be addicted to any substances when you start a water fast. Substances to remove are nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, dairy, sugar ideally for a few weeks before you get started.
If you are used to eating three meals plus three snacks a day it might be wise to start incorporating intermittent fasting into your routine slowly so that your body gets used to less regular feeding before a complete stop out of the blue.
Not Taking Rest Seriously
The whole point of a water fast is to give your body the space to heal and if you are over-stressed at work, exercising vigorously, or surrounded by toxic people, you are not creating an environment that is health promoting. Getting time off of school or work is very difficult, and in countries like America vacation time is very limited, but it does not make sense to put your body and mind through the stress of not eating, if you are not going to take it seriously.
Post-Fast or the Re-Feeding Process
True North Health Center recommends that patients include 1 day of only juice for every week of water fasting, then 1 day of only raw fruits and vegetables for every week of water fasting, and then 1 day of raw and steamed veggies for every week of water fasting. For example, since Lou did a one week long water fast he followed that up with Day 8 = juice, Day 9 = papaya, strawberries, blueberries, apples, and some carrots. Day 10 = similar fruit/veg, plus steamed cauliflower and pumpkin. Then Day 11 he returned to a simple plant based vegan diet with oatmeal, potatoes, quinoa, and salad.
When you finish a fast, your body will crave very calorically dense food, but your digestion is not prepared to be overwhelmed. In fact, the first few days re-feeding is when the body is getting rid of tons of toxins that were released during the fasting process and if you eat too much too quickly then they can not exit your body effectively.
True North Health Center also recommends patients eat a SOS vegan diet low in fat after the fast for the foreseeable future. SOS stands for sugar, oil and salt-free. Below is a TedTalk where one of their doctors explains how those substances affect our brain.
I hope that our video and this blog post were able to give you a little more insight on the power of water fasting.