Every once in a while, I’ll get a call from someone who wants advice on how to go on a short-term fast. My first response is always the same – “Why?” Usually, I’ll hear one of two things: there are those who want to drop a couple of pounds quickly, and then there are those who – for want of a better analogy – want to “clean out their pipes”. In either case, I suppose part of the appeal of a short-term fast is the sense that, in effect, you’ve “wiped the slate clean” – kind of like changing the oil in your car, or cleaning out your closet.
A short fast – that is, not eating for a day or two - probably won’t do you any harm as long as you’re healthy and you keep yourself well hydrated. Most people will sip on water, broth, herbal teas and 100% fruit juices in the process. And yes, you might drop a couple of pounds along the way – not unexpected if you eat little to nothing for a couple of days – but most of the weight loss is water, and your weight will probably bounce right back when you start eating again.
I’m not sure why the idea of giving your digestive tract a rest is so appealing, unless perhaps you feel like your system has been abused or overused. I suppose if you’ve been eating recklessly, then simply not eating is going to bring the bad behavior to a screeching halt. Of course, not eating badly in the first place makes a lot more sense to me.
So here’s a thought: rather than putting your digestion on hiatus for a couple of days, you could adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle every day, for life. Start with a diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and high fiber whole grains to help keep the digestive tract running smoothly, and make sure to give your body adequate fluids to help your kidneys do their job. Then take a regular trot around the block to give your cardiovascular system a workout, and help you work up a sweat.
We don’t ever consider giving our heart or our lungs a time out, so why do we feel the need to shut down the digestive tract for a day or two? Cleaning up your act temporarily to atone for your dietary sins doesn’t make much sense if you’re just setting yourself up to do it again. Rather than swinging wildly between ‘feeding and fasting’, wouldn’t it just make more sense to put the right stuff into your system in the first place?
Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.