Usually this blog sticks to topics of leadership and personal development in the realm of business. Occasionally, posts will stray into the realm of Coffee Table Books, or dogs as role models. In this post, I’ll relate my experiences with seasonal fasting. The intent is to inform the reader, to make a better decision about whether to start the practice.
Why fast every season?
The person who suggested the idea to me claimed that it gave his immune system a “boost” and helped him avoid getting sick during the change in weather. I have no way of proving this. I have, however, maintained good health since starting the practice of seasonal fasting.
The more important benefits to me are mental stamina and empathy for starving people. It doesn’t take many hours without a meal to notice that we are completely surrounded by food and food messages. Advertisements–TV, print, billboard, internet–bombard us with temptations. Magazines declare which dietary choices will lead to culturally valuable body shapes. Going a few hours without a meal puts hunger right in the front of your consciousness. Cravings for every flavor and texture of food will crowd out other thoughts.
And for most of us, satisfying (or preventing) these cravings is easy. Grab some food from your well-stocked home pantry. Snacks and treats decorate office desks, conference rooms, and break rooms. For city dwellers and suburbanites, a restaurant, supermarket, or convenience store is rarely less than 10 minutes away. Duck inside, grab something delicious, swipe/tap/pay, and you’re sated. That convenience can cause us to forget that as of 2016, 795 million people, or 1 in 9 globally, suffered from chronic hunger. In every city, homeless and impoverished families can’t buy food. The problem is most severe in developing nations, but the problem exists everywhere.
Yes, I also tend to lose about 5 pounds with each fast, but that is an ancillary benefit. The main benefits of each seasonal fast are honing my mental discipline to overcome cravings, and developing a deeper sense of empathy for people who have no choice but to suffer through the effects of hunger.
What is a seasonal fast?
Other methods are possible, but my technique is to:
- drink 3 pints of cold pressed juice each day; 1 green, 1 red/blue, and 1 orange/yellow
- drink up to 12 fl. oz. of almond or cashew milk beverage
- drink unlimited cool water, decaffeinated tea, and lemon cayenne water (1 T lemon juice plus 1/4 t cayenne powder per pint of cold water)
- eliminate alcohol and caffeine
- sleep and meditate more than usual
- reduce volume and intensity of exercise, e.g., walk instead of a daily run, gentle yoga instead of dynamic yoga, etc.
I follow this routine for four days at a time, three times a year around the change of seasons. My fall-into-winter fasts have been delayed until January, after the holiday chaos, but I tend to skip that season. Disclaimer: this is not medical advice, consult your doctor before changing your diet or exercise, etc.
What is my experience during a seasonal fast?
Day 1 is transition: Headaches from caffeine withdrawal. Rumbling stomach and initial cravings. The juice is novel but not particularly delicious.
Day 2 is the worst: shorter attention span, shorter temper. Cravings can stop a stream of thought or cut off a sentence. Practice acknowledging the craving, picking it up (in my mind), and putting it aside. Need to rest often, physically and mentally. Juice is a welcome respite from the cravings. Drink it slowly and taste each mouthful.
Day 3 is quiet: No longer hungry, sometimes forgetting to drink juice. Energy levels are stable and lower on average. I speak less, but my mind is more active. Bowel movements have ceased. Sense of smell has sharpened: all smells (food or otherwise) have turned up to 11. Each mouthful of juice has intensity and depth of flavor, making me wonder if it was the same juice I drank the day before.
Day 4 is boring: I don’t crave food, I miss the act of eating and the variety of tastes and textures. Juice is satisfying and I feel that I could continue the fast for a few more days, if needed. Normal personality and cognitive function, but still tire more easily than normal.
Breaking the fast: I like to have a “favorite” meal with family if possible. I often tour the kitchen, taking one bite of every type of food we have, again not out of hunger but the for joy of experiencing tastes and textures again. I am more cautious about my meal selection, and tend to drink less caffeine and alcohol for a few weeks after the fast than I did leading up to the fast.
Seasonal fasting: is it right for you?
If you seek to hone your mental stamina and develop more empathy for starving people, then seasonal fasting might be a good fit for you. If you are primarily interested in losing weight, don’t fast but try modifying your diet (for example: eat food, not too much, mostly plants) and finding an exercise routine that you can sustain. If you have questions or want to relate your own experiences with fasting, please leave a comment.