Fasting to achieve physical and psychological health benefits has been practiced for thousands of years. However, until recently, scientists had not systematically evaluated its effectiveness. Ongoing research is now confirming that fasting, in conjunction with other important healthful practices--such as eating a plant-based, SOS-free diet (salt, oil, and sugar-free diet)--offers tremendous benefits. As the director of TrueNorth Health Center, the oldest and largest inpatient facility specializing in medically-supervised fasting in the United States, I have seen how effective fasting can be in both building and restoring health. Over the past thirty years, I have supervised the fasts of over 10,000 patients.
Therapeutic fasting (also called “water-only fasting”) is the complete abstinence from all substances except pure water in an environment of complete rest. It is important to emphasize that simply abstaining from food—even for a few days—while continuing to work, exercise, and worry about day-to-day cares is not therapeutic fasting. Likewise, eating only certain foods or drinking only juices is not therapeutic fasting. Juice diets and “elimination” diets can be healthful, but they are not the same as therapeutic fasting. The physiological and clinical benefits are different.
When to fast
The clearest indication for fasting is the loss of appetite that characterizes acute disease. Fasting is extremely effective in helping to quickly resolve the problems that cause symptoms like fever, inflammation, and other temporary pains. It can be very helpful to stop eating until the crisis has resolved and hunger returns. That might mean skipping a meal or two, or it might mean skipping many meals. Fasting also has been proven to be effective in a variety of other situations, including helping the body to heal itself from high blood pressure, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, asthma, eczema, and psoriasis. Fasting gives your body the opportunity to purify and heal its tissues and to eliminate undesirable tissue accumulations and growths.
The most important advice for anyone considering a fast is this: If you are going to fast, do it right, or don’t do it at all. To maximize the benefits of therapeutic fasting, complete rest is essential. Complete rest is hard to get in a noisy, high stress, and/or nonsupportive environment, so finding a safe, supportive environment is necessary if you want to get the most from your body’s self-healing mechanisms.
Who should fast
The decision to undertake a fast should be made in consultation with a knowledgeable physician, ideally one who is certified in fasting supervision. The procedure we follow at TrueNorth Health Center is to review the patient’s medical history and perform a comprehensive physical examination, including appropriate laboratory and specialized diagnostic tests. The findings then are reviewed with the patient, and appropriate recommendations are made. These may include dietary and lifestyle changes, exercise programs, and, when indicated, fasting.
You don’t have to be seriously ill to benefit from a supervised fast. A fast can be of great help if you need to make lifestyle changes to achieve improved health. Fasting for as few as five days often will dramatically shorten the time it takes to make the transition from a conventional diet and lifestyle (with all of the associated addictions, pains, fatigue, and disease) to the independent and energetic state associated with healthful living. People who undertake a fast in a supervised setting tend to achieve health more quickly than those who attempt changes without a fast.
Where to fast
Once you have made a decision to fast, selecting a facility that will meet your requirements is paramount. TrueNorth Health Center provides an ideal environment for those undertaking a fast. In addition, it provides knowledgeable medical, psychological, and other therapeutic care as needed and (when you start eating again) healthful meals designed especially for you by expert chefs. As a bonus, TrueNorth Health Center provides daily lectures on healthful living that will teach you how to continue living healthfully when you return home.
For more information, visit the TrueNorth Health Center website www.TrueNorthHealth.com or get a copy of our book, The Pleasure Trap.
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About the author
Dr. Alan Goldhamer is the founder and director of TrueNorth Health Center, a state-of-the-art facility that provides medical, naturopathic, chiropractic, and psychotherapy services.
Dr. Goldhamer has supervised the fasts of more than 10,000 patients. Under his guidance, TrueNorth has become one of the premier training facilities for doctors wishing to gain certification in the supervision of therapeutic fasting. He is on the faculty at Bastyr University where he teaches the course on clinical fasting. He was the principal investigator in two landmark studies: “Medically Supervised Water-Only Fasting in the Treatment of Hypertension,” Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics June 2001 and "Medically Supervised Water-Only Fasting in the Treatment of Borderline Hypertension," Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine October 2002. Currently, he is directing a prospective study on cost and clinical outcomes in the treatment of diabetes and high blood pressure with fasting and a plant-based, SOS-free diet.
Dr. Goldhamer is a graduate of Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon. He is the co-author of The Pleasure Trap: Mastering The Hidden Force That Undermines Health and Happiness and the author of The Health Promoting Cookbook.