A Diabetic's Journey with Fasting

Ann Bartlett Health Guide
  • I would like to be clear that I'm not advocating fasting. Anyone considering fasting should consult your doctor before starting any program.


    In the late 1980s, I was spending time at a yoga ashram in the Northeast. Places like Kripalu have sprung up across the country with gusto as the demand to find a healthier lifestyle drives people into the doors of these retreats for well being. While there, I learned that to be involved in yoga meant learning to care for body, mind and spirit. For example, your life won't be different if all you do is focus on yoga; the experience needed to be whole body. If you focus just on yoga, you are probably missing the fact that you have to look at the food that feeds the energy for yoga. So among my workshops were several talks on food and diet.

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    Most of the Kripalu residents lived a vegan lifestyle. No meat of any kind, many were also no dairy, and some chose macrobiotics as their standard diet. Among the rituals of yoga is fasting. Many guests chose to fast for a day, and most residents for several days, to cleanse the body. Fasting can take many forms. Some drank nothing but lemon water (lemon helps detoxify the liver). Some people fasted on freshly squeezed vegetable juice and/or fruit juice several times a day. Some fasted on short grain brown rice. The choice of how to fast was often decided by what you were willing to dredge up, and I'm not kidding when they say dredge up! There was a program called Inner Quest Intensive. It was a weeklong program where you would be guided by a therapist to look at your inner self. During this introspection, they would start to restrict the participant's diet, eliminating carbs, sweets and caffeine. The participants often sank into a deep place within themselves and often what emotion lay hidden came out with a bang! By day five they would begin to reconstruct your will power and banned foods were reintroduced. Anyone I knew who had participated said it was the most intense emotional experience that it had profoundly changed them, and what encapsulated the experience was the food restriction. Many never went back to previous eating habits. Our relationship with food is not an obvious one, until you start to restrict it.


    My own experience with food is about struggle. I had my gallbladder removed a couple of years ago, and since then I have a harder time digesting certain foods. I also made the decision to remove all things processed, and recently I have started to reduce coffee, and suspect that in a year I will leave coffee behind all together. My husband is distraught over our potential loss of Starbucks on the weekend!


    I never felt confident in a method of fasting that would work with both my lifestyle and with diabetes constructively. When I'm recovering from the flu, I automatically reach for simple foods like cooked veggies and rice. These are choices I have learned nurture me physically and emotionally and are in some respect a type of fast. Dr. Weil advocates a one-day fast. (http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA400178) Recently I had a friend who decided to do a 20-day fast on molasses and cayenne pepper water, so he could cleanse his body of impurities. After he realized I was staring at him, he said, "what?" and I barked, "What possessed you to be nutritionally stupid? He quit after 10 days. Fasting is not about weight loss, in my opinion, it is about a deeper understanding of food and our relationships with food.


    A few months ago, I had a client who came into see me that had started a 13-day fast. As she talked about it, I became intrigued. It was a whole-food fast. As it turned out the company Whole Food Farmacy offered several options for fasting, weight loss, internal cleansing and snack options. It consisted of sticking to all unprocessed foods, or whole foods. My husband had wanted to try fasting for years, but he didn't want to do it alone. With my encouragement, we checked into wholefoodfarmacy.com http://bibc.wholefoodfarmacy.com/2005/ga_home.asp and tried a program called Liquithon.

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    It was comprised of seven packets of ground up nuts, fruit, veggies, grains and some sweeteners like evaporated cane juice, peach powder, orange powder, raspberry powder and/or Guava powder. You have a smoothie made of 2 tablespoons of smoothie mix and about 8 to 10 oz water or milk every two hours. My husband started it on a Friday and I decided I would try it and see how I felt and stop when I needed to.


    The first day I wasn't hungry and my energy was perfect. My blood glucose was in normal range all day. I went out for a walk instead of a run, as I didn't know how all of this would affect my body and more importantly my diabetes. These little smoothies provided 78 calories and 13 grams of carb. What cracked me up? At 6 p.m., neither of us knew what to do with the time that we normally spent snacking in the kitchen as we made dinner. We ended up watching a movie, but had to select something that didn't have food associated with it. Try finding a movie that doesn't have a scene with food!?


    On day two my blood sugars rose. I wasn't sure if it was due to changing my quick set on my pump, or if it meant something else was awry! But for the entire day my numbers were off and so was my attitude! I could have bitten off someone's head! After reading the literature again, I came to find out that often high blood glucose can appear on the second day for people with diabetes... and one of my holistic practitioner friends told me when the liver cleanses it can produce the feelings of anger; maybe I certainly felt anger all day. Day three and day four I fell into low energy, but my feeling of hunger had disappeared and I was attuned to the psychological part that now wanted crunchy food.


    Day five became a struggle! I wanted to feel like I was doing more than resting. I tried walking, but 20 minutes into it, I returned home with a 50 blood glucose and realized that in order to workout and stay on my whole food fast I needed to adjust my pump well in advance of exercising.


    By the end of day six, I began to snack on carrot sticks, and I had a vivid dream with salmon and salad. I was acutely aware of how mental my food relationships are; and if not my own, everyone else's! Day seven and day eight my energy level was coming up, but I thought this was not a test and it was time to stop. So on day eight I bought my salmon and salad! The most interesting part of the experience was I never felt physically hungry, but psychologically I was hungry all the time!


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    In comparison, my husband's non-diabetic body was able to run and fast -- he felt better everyday and he lost about 10 lbs, but he too suffered the psychological hunger. For me it was not normal weight loss; I usually lose weight through exercise. In the end, I did feel better and with the exception of day two, my blood glucose readings were on the mark. I will probably try it again, only this time add in my normal routines of yoga and running and adjust my basal and bolus rates to accommodate fewer calories and carbs and see what happens.


    In my case, it certainly wasn't done to loose weight, but more of a psychological experience. Do I feel internally cleansed? No, but I eat so well that may be part of the problem. Many people eat prepackaged food, snack mixes and processed foods -- I don't, therefore I had very little to detoxify from my organs. The liquithon smoothies were packed with healthy ingredients, and I still use some of the smoothies for supplements in yogurt, oatmeal and, of course, to add to my morning yogurt, fruit, flaxseed and OJ smoothie!


    Fasting is something I would take a lot of time to study the process, choices and examine what you expect carefully. It's not meant for long-term diet control. But as a short-term experience, what you feel internally and what you learn about emotions and food is wildly exposing! Even now, I'm aware of marketing and the subliminal messages that we receive because it was so blindingly clear when I cut back on food. I'm more dubious about supermarket foods and more conscious of the marketing they present to us.


    The farmers market, where I buy most of my week's worth of produce, gets my full attentions these days. I like supporting my local growers and I love the freshness. It's odd to say this, but living with diabetes has made my life about healing the whole body, and I believe that my relationship with food needs to be a top priority!

Published On: July 09, 2007