After reading The Tao of Detox (and other books and testimonials) I came to better understand the philosophy behind fasting. I mean, there is a lot to know but basically (a) fasting will not kill you (b) it gives a much needed rest to the digestive system and (c) fasting and drinking water is (according to many) the single most effective way to remove toxins and unneeded wastes from the body. Because I’ve been detoxing from nicotine for many, many months (psychologically, not just physically), I thought fasting would be an interesting way to round out that detoxification while also testing my ever-growing will.
I would not necessarily recommend this method if you have just quit tobacco. When I was freshly quit I relied heavily on Original Red Vines licorice, carbonated waters and sodas, Kombucha, popcorn with hippie dust (nutritional yeast), sunflower seeds, and ice cream. Basically I treated and rewarded myself with treats in exchange for the “sacrifice” of rolled tobacco cigarettes (of which I only smoked one or two per day, but still). My motto was “you can do anything but smoke.” Like eat a whole pizza, if I wanted. But a lot has changed since then.
Throughout my journey I began to stumble upon books like “The Tao of Detox: A Practical Guide to Preventing and Treating the Toxic Assault on Our Bodies” and “Total Health the Chinese Way.” I found these books for next to nothing at a local library sale. Yet I have found their value immense.
In these books Western medicine practices are questioned and then replaced with simple suggestions like “skip the fancy juice cleanses and drink room temperature lemon water” and “scratch the free weights and opt for nature walks and gentle yoga.” These down-home, inexpensive, less-is-more approaches appealed to me as means of physical and mental rejuvenation during my major lifestyle transition.
So little by little I incorporated the Chinese way: I started paying attention to my yang and yin, making food choices based on what my body seemed to be saying; I went to a local tea shop and chose blends to target my poor circulation and Chai to cut my coffee intake in half (now I do half Chai, half coffee), I remained dedicated to taking detoxifying baths using Epsom salts, and I began to breathe deeply from my diaphragm; just to name a few ways that I brought mindfulness to my body after kicking smokes. And this goes without saying, but: yoga.
Call me crazy but, I started to get kind of “hooked” on wellness. I looked around and other folks were getting hooked on wellness too! But I was contentious to set boundaries, such as not getting judgmental with my smoking friends, or not getting so wrapped up in my workout group that my regular work and personal life suffered. I also declined to buy any fancy shakes or Miracle Cure All’s. I knew that the single best thing I could do for my health was this: stop smoking. I knew that everything I did short of that was fruitless. So I just focused on that.
And then one evening, after being clean of tobacco for many months (but still needing to be alert because I live with a smoker, and have been deeply addicted to tobacco for most of my life) I woke up from a short nap feeling nauseous and short of appetite, for no good reason. So I stumbled to the kitchen, fixed myself a warm mug of lemon water, and threw a few frozen blueberries into a bowl. I went back to bed and picked up the book “The Tao of Detox” which I had been reading before my nap.
The chapter I opened it up to was titled Detox Diet and Supplements and started “What you don’t eat is actually more important than what you do eat during a detox diet. In fact, the best diet of all is to eat nothing [during a detox]. The basic strategy for detox is to totally eliminate all acid-forming foods and beverages and consume only small amounts of a few simple alkalizing items (such as clear vegetable broth).”
I read the entire chapter and began to sense my gut and my body practically shouting out: stop putting things in me! I’ve had enough! as I choked down those innocent, frozen blueberries. Also, the sections I was reading about the average American colon were horrific. I vowed to go out and buy an at-home enema asap. I mean, we’re talking decades of toxins and gunk here that I sensed needed to be flushed out and pronto.
I went on to the next chapter, titled The Fast Lane: Fasting and Colonic Irrigation. It read, “Fasting is the perfect example of the hidden powers of nature that awaken when the ancient Taoist principle of wu-wei, ‘not doing’ or ‘non-interference’ is put into practice. ‘By doing nothing,’ notes the Tao Teh Ching, ‘the sage accomplishes everything.’ In dietary terms, doing nothing means eating nothing and letting nature take its course, and this abstinence awakens the body’s most powerful cleansing and healing responses.”
I had heard of wu-wei before, and I was into it.
I remembered when I was a child my father used to periodically force fasts on me (24 hours) for religious purposes. So I knew that fasting was deep rooted in spirituality as well, though forcing is not in line with wu-wei. But if I could benefit from physical detox and connect with the little girl me that used to “starve and pray,” well then all the better. I guess you could say I had a calling. It all just made sense to me in that moment. So I went with it.
I bumped into my boyfriend in the kitchen while filling up my 16 ounce mason jar with water. “I’m going on a fast,” I blurted “for three days.” I gave the potato, leek and ham soup boiling on the stove a sideways glance, wondering just how much I’d miss it.
Well, it’s been 36 hours now so I’m half way through my fast. I’ve consumed nothing but water and non-caffeinated herbal tea. As predicted, my underarms smell just a little funk (even though I’ve showered) and there is a white film on my tongue. These symptoms are supposed to mean its working: my body is releasing toxins. Below is another quote from The Tao of Detox explaining the science behind a fast:
“When fasting, all of the energy and enzyme power that the body must normally use to digest and process food is diverted instead to digesting toxic debris and acid wastes, while the digestive system itself remains dormant and produces no new wastes in the body. Fasting also triggers the production of human growth hormone (HGH) and releases it into the blood stream where it circulates throughout the body to rejuvenate the whole system.”
Of course with all alternative therapies (such as acupuncture and onions on the feet when you’re sick) it can be difficult to pin point and measure the results. Alternative therapies are all about steady, consistent applications and gradual growth. Western medicine adheres to the “get it done quick” mentality and really just masques the symptoms while piling on chemical after chemical, all working against the body in some way. Something deep within me understands that the true, effective medicines are in step with nature. And the more basic the application, the better.
The Tao of Detox even suggests that many common American ailments, such as depression, and even more severe, cancer, can be linked to something as simple as dehydration and prevented by, you guessed it, water. Water is in fact what most effectively detoxes and replenishes the entire body. However it should be noted that water quality plays an important role and only pure alkaline water can effectively neutralize acids in the bloods and tissues and carry them away for excretion. Although I don’t know the pH level of our water at home, I do know that we live in an area free from major environmental polluters and that we use well water rather than city water, so this was enough validity for me. The Tao of Detox suggests that anyone with questionable city water use a reputable bottled water or a strong water filter during a water detox or fast.
For the rest of the day and leading up to breaking my fast sometime tomorrow (concluding a fast pushing on 72 hours) I will continue to bring mindfulness to my body. The way I see it is that my body has been storing up emotions and toxins, all of which have been working against my mental clarity and physical stamina for years. I am in fact the type of person who sometimes takes extreme measures in search of personal transformation and fasting is proving to be one hell of a way to break through to the other side of myself. Aside from the natural wonder of a water fast detoxification (my skin is already clearer, my pits do in fact smell odd) there is the simple fact that this was even possible for me.
Short of one year ago I thought kicking smokes was going to be the most difficult transition of my life, and no doubt it was. Not to mention that I’d kicked the habit many times before, though I suppose never fully liberating myself from it. For a time I was severely ashamed that kicking smokes was something I even had to go through (wise girls don’t smoke). But my past, and my destiny, showed me something different: my problem is what makes me human, and addiction is a human condition and nothing to be ashamed of. Shame can sometimes promote denial and denial is what keeps folks smoking and abusing other substances.
Now, through fasting, I am finding the universe shining light on the fact that nicotine was and will continue to be my demon in life. It is in fact what makes me human. Through fasting I’ve realized that I actually have little emotional attachment to food, other than for sustenance and cultural enjoyment. But food serves a massive place in my heart, mind and soul, for sure. I welcome it to replace the need I once coveted for tobacco, though I only invite whole, decent foods into my diet. Fasting has allowed me to recognize my own will power and to reinforce my distaste for harmful habits like smoking and mindless eating. If I can go without food for three days, well hell I can kick anything. In addition I’ve outlined a new, simple diet for myself which includes vegetables and locally raised organic meat, the heavy use of tumeric spice and raw garlic, and the limitation of dairy and sugars. And of course: a shit ton of water.
In the words of Jesus, “Renew yourself and fast. Seek the fresh air of the forest and of the fields, and there in the midst of them shall you find the angel of air. Then breathe long and deeply, that the angel of air may be brought within you.”
Air. Water. Fire. Earth (nature). These are the irreplaceable antidotes of life, no doubt.
And yes, food is too – but perhaps slightly less so than we think.