Monday, April 28, 2014

Not So Fast, Maybe!

steamed broccoli and cauliflower

Here we are in the midst of springtime!  In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is the Wood phase with lots of planning and structure that has burst out from winter’s relative stillness and murkiness.  Plants rapidly shoot from the ground; many of us seem to be equally busy.

In TCM, we associate this phase with the Liver and Gall Bladder organ/meridian systems, sinews, ligaments, eyes, green colors, sour tastes, rancid or greasy odors, angry emotions, depressive temperament, and windy climates.

During this season, many patients ask me about a dietary fast as a way to internally cleanse.  Maybe it’s related to the old urge to do Spring housecleaning.  Fasting can rid the body of the heavy, fatty, and salty foods of winter and prepare it for summer.
Almost all modern, affluent people need to fast from a lifestyle of three meals a day plus in-between snacks.  However, the type of fast should be very much related to one’s constitution.  Otherwise, there may be no benefits and may even be harm.

When I recommend a fast, here are some considerations I make (with thanks to Paul Pitchford in Healing with Whole Foods, my basic TCM text for nutrition):
  • What type of food residues need to be eliminated?  They most often are from the acid-forming, high-fat, and/or mucus-forming categories.  Examples are meats, fish, poultry, eggs, most dairy, most grains and legumes, refined sugars, drugs and chemicals.
  • At what pace should one fast?  A quick, intense fast might involve only water or juices.  A more moderate fast on vegetables, fruits or grains can bring impressive results for those leading stress-filled lives.  Fasting with selected whole foods fosters a consciousness of patience and a faith in the wisdom of living with gentler cycles.
  • What is the patient’s overall constitution, as assessed by interview, observations, tongue and pulse readings?
  • If one has Heat signs (for example, feels too hot, dislikes heat, drinks copious amounts of cool beverages, has a red complexion) or Excess signs (for example, robustness, overweight, strong voice, and/or with allergies, Diabetes II, hypertension, high cholesterol or joint pain, the best fast uses raw vegetables, fruits or their juices.
  • If one has Cold signs (for example, chills, pallor, aversion to cold), the most appropriate fast might be cooked vegetables and grains that are augmented with warming herbal teas. 
  • Those with clear signs of Deficiency (for example, weak, thin, pale, nervous, anemic and/or with a weakened immune system) should not fast.
  • What are the goals of the fast? To improve mental focus, a whole-grain fast can benefit someone with a fairly balanced constitution. Someone with blood sugar imbalances and sugar cravings can benefit from a micro-algae fast, with or without cooked grains and vegetables, according to one's constitution.
From information gathered from these areas, an appropriate fast, or maybe just some simple dietary recommendations, is designed for each person.

For effective fasting, here are some tips:
  • Remove all non-foods such as alcohol, sugar and caffeine.
  • Use pure water and organic foods.  Freshly pressed juices are preferable to other juices.
  • Chew food thoroughly before swallowing.
  • Try to eat no more than twice a day unless very hungry.
  • Stay warm.
  • Exercise lightly.
  • Meditate at least five minutes each day.
  • Get adequate mental and physical rest.
  • Headaches during fasting can be due to stagnant intestines.  Enemas can be a speedy remedy.
  • Fast no longer than seven days on fluids or fourteen days on specific solid foods.  Otherwise, the discharge of toxins could be more than the organs of elimination can handle.  One-day or half-day fasts can be very helpful if done weekly.
If you have any serious medical condition, fast or cleanse only under direct supervision of a health care practitioner.

After a fast or cleanse, slowly re-introduce other foods.  Notice how your body reacts to each additional food.

Finally, plan a fast that maximizes your probability of meeting your goals.  Behaviorally, this often means to start with a small, achievable goal.  For many of us, a half-day fast once a week may be the way to go at first.  When there is success with this and you want to build on it, try a longer fast.  Be gentle with yourself and celebrate the season.

Janet Lee Cook
Licensed Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Prescriptions