Sharing what I learned doing a 7-day water fast; what to do, what to avoid, and how to prepare.
First, decide why you want to do this. If your main goal is healing and detoxing, then your approach will be different to that of someone who is focused on weight loss. More on this later.
In my case, my priority was detoxing and healing so that I could be more productive and creative.
The Research Stage
Juice cleanses and water fasts are not suitable for everybody all of the time. Furthermore, there are various common pitfalls that you need to avoid. Since this post is not a comprehensive guide, I recommend you first do research. There are lots of books, audiobooks, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc. available.
Be aware that there are many unqualified people giving advice and tips. Some of it is excellent, others are missing important points or downright wrong. Don't just believe the first good-looking and charismatic YouTuber you stumble across. Get information from multiple sources and plan your approach.
Personally, I resonated with the advice of this vegan doctor, Dr. Kaplan, who has decades of experience, including guiding people through water fasts:
I also listened to several other vegan YouTubers, most of whom gave similar advice.
Once you have formulated your plans, consult a doctor to confirm it will be safe for you. However, note that not all doctors are familiar with fasting so you might need to get a couple of opinions.
Your body may react in different ways depending on many variables. Some people can continue their daily lives as usual (minus eating meals) and not suffer any side effects. However, others may feel like they've been hit by a truck and need to take it easy. Furthermore, this may fluctuate.
For these reasons, it's ideal to schedule your cleanse and/or fast for days off and just stay at home. That way, if you feel fine, you can work on something. But, if you feel off, you can just lie down.
I live in Japan. In early May, they have several national holidays lined up together. Most people take off the other days and use it as their main mid-year holiday. This year, we had some additional days due to the new emperor acceding to the throne and so ended up with a full 10-day break. This was the perfect timing for me to do a water fast.
Before and after the fast, I used green juice. Going in, it was to cleanse my digestive system before shutting it down with the water fast. Coming out, it was to re-start my digestion with something gentle.
Stage I: Winding Down Your Addictions
Once we get into the water fast, that's literally what it is - a WATER fast. You can't have anything else. This means that if you're addicted to sugar, caffeine, alcohol, or other things, you'll go into withdrawal.
If you're tough and can handle the pain, then read on. If not, perhaps you had better consider first winding down your consumption of these substances to a small amount before embarking on the following regimen. Start tracking your consumption and then make sure each day to have less than the previous day until you're down to a minimal amount.
Stage II: The Green Juice Cleanse
Your colon and intestines may have remains of foods that it found hard to digest lurking in them. If you suddenly start a water fast without first doing a juice cleanse, these remains may be stuck in there and give you problems once your digestive system shuts down after a few days.
As for how long to do the juice cleanse, I'd recommend at least three days before starting your water fast. However, you could go for a whole week if you feel the need for a deeper cleanse.
Juice cleanses sound simple, but, depending on your constitution, you may find it quite challenging. If you feel like you're almost dying when trying a one-day juice cleanse, then you're not yet ready for a water fast. Keep trying it, and you'll adapt.
- One week, try going for just a single day on just green juice.
- The next week, try three days.
- Wait a week and then try going for a full week.
If you don't feel so good, it may be better to do it on your days off.
What Juices to Drink
When you hear the words "juice cleanse" you may start fantasizing about all the fantastic smoothies and fruit juices you're going to drink, but I recommend against them because they contain so much sugar. You also want to avoid anything with dairy in it.
Drink juices full of green leafy vegetables (called "green juices.") You can have a touch of fruit or banana in them to take off the edge, but the main focus should be the green veggies.
If this is not practical, you might be able to order a box or two of a suitable pre-made juice via Amazon. It's not ideal, but it should do as long as it's not sugary.
When and How to Drink
If it's a good-tasting green juice, you'll be tempted to slam it down fast, but don't. You want to drink juices s-l-o-w-l-y. While we may have the technology to whip up these juices in blenders nowadays, your digestive system was designed in pre-historic days, back when the only juice we would get would be from first chewing the plants we digested.
As for how much to drink, take it slow and see how you feel. If you've had a reasonable amount for the day and don't feel like having any more, then switch to water for a break or the rest of the day.
Gas and Bloating
Another thing you might struggle with is gas and bloating. This is caused by your digestive system not being used to what you are now consuming. It will take a while to adapt.
Dealing with Hunger
Whether you're doing a juice cleanse or water-fasting, there may be stages where you have cravings for food. This is natural. The thing to keep in mind is that these cravings come in waves - your hunger isn't going to increase over time linearly. So, just learn to drink some more water and distract yourself when this happens.
If you are doing an extended cleanse and start losing your mind with hunger, it's ok to have a fresh salad - as long as it's entirely vegan, oil-free, and free of anything processed. If you have one covered in meat, cheese, oil, or sauces, it's going to defeat the purpose of your cleanse. Whether or not it can include fruit is a matter of debate, but the sugar in them may set off your conditions, so best to avoid them during this stage.
A nice clean vegan vegetable soup is also excellent.
If your goal is fitness and weight loss, then it's ok to exercise during the cleanse and water fast. However, listen to your body and don't over-do it. Be sure to keep drinking water.
If your goal is healing and detoxification, then avoid strenuous exercise. This is because our muscles produce waste products when we use them and it just adds to the work your organs must do. I recommend you limit physical activity to light housework, taking strolls around the block, and light stretching. I'd advise you do these minimums because it's not healthy to be sedentary all the time.
During a juice cleanse or water fast, the body switches into fat-burning mode once it has depleted glycogen stores. It won't start consuming muscle tissue until all fat has been burned off.
Muscle mass decreases over time if we don't keep working them. But the muscle loss during a juice cleanse or fast is only the same as what you would experience during a standard period of physical inactivity.
Stage III: The Water Fast
The First Few Days
Everybody will react differently, but, generally, the first few days are the hardest. This is because the digestive system is still running and expecting food while burning your glycogen stores. In my case, I was unable to focus on anything or do anything physically active during days two, three, and four.
What to Drink
WATER! ONLY WATER!
Diet sodas are technically zero calories, but the artificial sweeteners stimulate your body in similar ways to sugar, knocking it out of ketogenesis. It's holding you back. Plus, your body has to process all the nasty chemicals they contain. And, when fasting, your body reacts much more strongly to drugs, including caffeine. Avoid these.
You've likely heard that it's ok to drink unsweetened tea without any milk. For example, green tea won't hurt the fasting process, it might even help it along somewhat. However, you're still forcing your system to have to process something and deal with the caffeine. Thus it is taking away physical resources that could otherwise be devoted to healing and detoxifying. Avoid teas. Come back to your teas later once you've recovered from the fast. Similar for coffee.
Yes, you're going to get bored with just water, I get it. But, keep plowing forward drinking water and distract yourself with something.
Day Five Onwards
Once you get into ketogenesis, probably around day four or five, you'll start burning fat, and, for the most part, begin to feel better. You focus will return, and you'll have a little more spring in your step.
As for how long to keep going, it all depends on your goals and how you feel. Also, you don't want to lose weight to the point where you are underweight.
For my body type, excess fat is primarily stored on my belly, so it was easy to track my progress in the mirror and not take it too far.
Breaking the Fast
You have to wake up your digestive system gradually. Don't start eating solid food immediately or slamming down big smoothies. You will have undergone a great reset and can rebuild your eating habits to be healthy.
Start out day one back on green juice. Then gradually introduce light, clean, and easy to digest liquid forms of food such as soups. Let the liquid stay in your mouth for a while before slowly swallowing it. This is how we are supposed to consume our calories; by giving our mouths time to detect the composition of the food and send the appropriate signals to our stomach.
Gradually introduce healthy, clean, and easily digestible foods. Since you'll be eating slowly and mindfully, you shouldn't have the issues with over-eating.
Resist the urge to wolf down your meals while watching TV mindlessly. This is what got you in trouble in the first place.
We talked about how whenever you ingest something with calories (or something that your body thinks has calories such as artificial sweeteners), it raises your insulin levels. It also taxes your digestive system.
We are not designed to graze all day mindlessly. We're not even designed to have three large meals per day. Limit your eating to just lunch and dinner with no calories consumed before, in between, or after. You'll find your digestive system has far less work to do and your body is more oriented towards burning fat.
For best results, switch to an OMAD (one meal a day). Throw in the odd one-day fast to break things up. This keeps our metabolism high and rests our digestive system.
Effects on Creativity & Productivity
What and how we eat has a huge effect on our mindset, including our creativity and ability to focus. Fasting can be a great way not only to reset and cleanse our digestive system but also our mind and thus our whole lifestyle.
If you've been slacking regarding exercise and meditation, fasting can help wipe the slate clean and let you reintegrate these practices into your life. The result can only be improved creativity and productivity.