Your step-by-step, science based guide to water fasting
Welcome to my science-based guide to water fasting. I put this guide together to give you step-by-step instructions you can easily follow during your next water fast.
I'll keep adding information to this guide, so make sure you bookmark it right away and return to it as needed.
Here's what you'll learn from this guide:
Let's kick things off with a couple of amazing benefits of water fasting that have actually been proven by science.
Science-proven benefits of water fasting
Before we get into the benefits of water fasting, I just want to say that I have zero intentions of painting a rosy picture about water fasting.
While I want to give full credit where water fasting deserves it, I also want you to be fully aware of any potential risks and complications.
Let's jump right in.
Weight loss of up to 3 pounds per day
Water fasting is one of the fastest weight loss methods in existence. I have personally lost almost 3 pounds per day (or almost 15 pounds in 5 days) with water fasting.
And while it's true that my own water fasting experiment was a bit extreme (I did a lot of stuff to boost my water fasting results even further), you can still count on losing at least a pound or two per day.
Unfortunately, as you burn away your body fat at such awesome speeds, you'll also lose some of your muscle mass as well. Fortunately, this can be avoided by modifying your water fast just a little, but I won't get into the details in this general guide to water fasting.
If you're primarily interested in boosting your weight loss results with water fasting, then I suggest that after you read through this basic guide to water fasting, you continue with my advanced guide to water fasting for weight loss.
Disappearance of hunger and cravings
If you're looking into water fasting to get rid of a couple of pounds, but you're thinking there's no way you could go completely without food, here's some surprising science for you:
In a study, where a group of people fasted for two weeks, they proved that hunger and cravings almost completely disappear during the water fast.
In another water fasting study, where people fasted for as long as 117! days, scientists also confirmed that "hunger was virtually absent".
From my personal experience with water fasting, I can tell you that as long as you can get through that first awkward phase (the first day or so), cravings and hunger DO become way easier to handle. During one of my fasts, I literally felt like I no longer care about food at all.
And while water fasting definitely isn't a walk in the park, it can actually be easier to handle than some of the less restrictive diets. While any diet (that actually allows you to eat food) might seem easier in comparison to water fasting, the hunger and cravings might actually be tougher to handle with a little food than with no food at all.
On to the next amazing benefit of water fasting.
Can water fasting really heal cancer?
If you've been a part of the water fasting community for a while, you've probably heard of a few miraculous cancer recovery stories. Personally, I've read about "terminal" cases (as diagnosed by modern medicine), who made a full recovery just because they lived off nothing but water for a few weeks.
First of all, I have no way of knowing whether or not any of those stories are true. Second, I'm not a qualified medical professional. So, if you've been diagnosed with cancer, make sure to discuss any water fasting options with your own doctor.
With that out of the way, here's some science that proves water fasting could actually be effective for cancer treatment:
In one study, they discovered that water fasting can be as effective as chemotherapy drugs in delaying tumor growth and that it can increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs in certain types of cancers.
Another piece of research looked at cancer patients who fasted for different amounts of time before and after chemotherapy. Fasting was able to reduce or in some cases completely eliminate the negative side effects of chemotherapy (fatique, weakness, hair loss, head aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness, tingling...)
While a lot more research needs to be done before the final verdict on treating cancer with water fasting can be reached, the current evidence certainly suggests water fasting could potentially replace, or at least boost the effectiveness of certain chemotherapy drugs in cancer treatment.
How to prepare for a water fast?
As a bare minimum, you should consult a qualified medical professional (your doctor) before doing a water fast. I'm not just saying this because I am required to do so by law, but because water fasting really isn't to be taken lightly.
This is especially true if you have any pre-existing health conditions, or taking just about any kind of medication.
With that out of the way, here are a couple of tips on how to prepare for a water fast.
Get used to the idea of fasting before you even begin
A proper transition into a fully blown water fast can make the whole fasting experience way easier on you. Plus, it will greatly improve your odds of actually sticking to the fast for as long as you decide to.
So, as one of the first things you can do to prepare yourself for a water fast, is to start reducing the size of your meals before you even begin your fast.
You can take your time and gradually decrease your portion sizes in the weeks before you begin a water fast, but I suggest you do it for at least a couple of days before you start.
If you do this, both your mind and your stomach will already be better prepared to go completely without food once your fast begins.
Another thing you can do, is use intermittent fasting to make the transition into a full water fast easier on you.
How does that work?
It's simple. You could, for example, kick things off by not eating until 12:00 every day. As you get closer to your fast, you could start going without food till 16:00. After a few more days, you could fast until 19:00, and so on...
If you've never done a water fast before, this will give you an excellent insight into how things will go down once you start your water fast.
If, for example, you're having a really tough time staying away from food until 19:00, then you might want to give yourself some more adjustment time before diving into a full water fast.
I already have a couple of fasts under my belt, and I can tell you that a few weeks of intermittent fasting before the real thing can be a real game changer.
Once you get fully comfortable with the idea of not eating until 19:00, your mind and your stomach will be almost fully prepared to go completely without food.
Now, let's take a look at a pretty stubborn myth in the water fasting community.
Do you need a colon cleanse before a water fast?
One of the first things people learn in the water fasting community, is that you need to do a colon cleanse before starting your water fast. Or at least, that you need to do a colon cleanse after you've already fasted for a couple of days.
This idea is based on a very old theory of autointoxication. Physicians in ancient Egypt believed that stools should not stay stuck in your digestive system for too long, or the bacteria in your colon will start producing toxins from them.
During a water fast, those unknown toxins could be absorbed into your bloodstream, which could supposedly poison or "disease" your body.
Modern science, on the other hand, has found no evidence that supports this outdated theory of autointoxication.
The only thing that's actually been proven, are the health complications that were brought on by many different colon cleansing procedures on the market today.
Since no evidence supports the idea of having to do a colon cleanse before or during a water fast (while plenty of evidence exists that colon cleansing procedures can be dangerous) I would definitely advise against cleansing your colon before or during a water fast.
On top of that, I personally read through dozens of scientific studies on water fasting, and none of them used colon cleansing before or during the fasts. Not a single person in those studies suffered from autointoxication, self-poisoning, or any other disease.
If the medical professionals who conducted those studies felt a colon cleanse is unnecessary for water fasting, then that's good enough for me.
In other words, as far as modern science is concerned, you can start a water fast without any special preparations or invasive colon cleansing procedures.
Time to take a look at how to actually do a water fast.
How to perform a water fast?
Going through with a water fast isn't exactly rocket science. There's literally just one rule you need to follow:
Don't eat or drink anything else but pure water.
While you could get away with some other stuff without breaking the fast, your fast couldn't be called a pure water fast anymore.
So let's kick things off with how much water you need to drink every day during a water fast.
How much water do you need to drink every day?
The officially recommended water intake for adult men stands at about 3 liters (13 cups) of water per day. Women, on the other hand, should drink about 2.5 liters (11 cups) of water every day.
Since you won't be eating or drinking anything else during a fast, you can't go wrong if you just stick with the recommended daily water intake.
The easiest way for you to tackle this is to pre-fill the bottles with the daily amount of water every morning.
If you fill three 1-liter (33.8 fl oz) bottles and place them on your kitchen counter, they will serve as a nice visual reminder of how much water you have to get through by the end of each day.
Oh, and don’t drink too much water at once. I know this is common sense to 99% of people, but you’d be surprised...
Just try to drink down all the water slowly and evenly throughout the day.
Personally, I don't think we really need to drink that much water during a water fast, mostly because we won't be eating any dry/dehydrating foods during the fast.
In words of one of my precious reader, drinking the recommended daily amount of water will make you "piss like a racehorse". But who am I to go against the official recommendations (oh, my).
Now, let's take a look at another unpleasant thing that can catch you off guard during a water fast (but it won't surprise you, cause you're reading this guide).
Avoid feeling lightheaded/dizzy during a water fast
Water fasting has been proven to cause something called "orthostatic hypotension", which is a temporary drop of your blood pressure that can happen if you stand up too quickly.
This won't start happening before you reach full ketosis (so at least 2-3 days into a fast), but even then, a lot of people never run into this issue.
Like I said, you can completely avoid this problem if you're simply careful about getting up slowly. But just in case you do get caught by surprise, here's what you need to do:
If you just stood up too fast from a sitting or lying position, and suddenly felt lightheaded or even dizzy, you need to bring your head back down as quickly as possible.
Either immediately sit or lie back down, or just bring your head down by bending forward. With your head down, hold onto your knees for a second or two, and everything should return to normal. You're ready to (slowly) stand up again.
What's the absolute worst thing that could happen? In a highly unlikely scenario, if you really sprung up on your feet from a lying position with full force, you could lose consciousness for a few seconds, and possibly hurt yourself as you fell to the ground.
The bottom line is, just take it easy when you're getting up and you should be alright.
How long can you safely water fast for?
If you're completely new to water fasting, I'd say your first water fast shouldn't be longer than 3 days (or 72 hours).
But even with some fasting experience under your belt, people in the water fasting community agree that if you're going to do a water fast longer than three days, it's best to check in to a fasting retreat and do the fast under medical supervision.
And I couldn't agree more. A fasting retreat can make the whole experience of fasting indescribably easier on you, because 1.) countless distractions and temptations of your everyday life simply don't exist, 2.) you're surrounded by likeminded people who are also interested in fasting, and 3.) you have a medical professional that can answer any of your questions handy at all times.
The only downside to a fasting retreat is, not everyone can afford the price and/or to leave their own lives behind for a week or two.
No matter how long you ultimately decide to fast for, always be mindful of any warning signs. It's normal to feel a bit weaker than usual, to feel lightheaded when getting up, or even run into some temporary heart palpitations during a water fast.
But as soon as something starts feeling too extreme, do yourself a favor and end the fast by following the instructions below.
How to properly end a water fast?
Because you won't be eating any solid food during your water fast, your digestion might not be ready to handle your normal diet right off the bat.
Eating too much, especially of the hard to digest foods right after you end a water fast could cause some unpleasant issues.
Here's a list of foods you can easily follow to properly end a water fast and avoid any potential complications along the way.
A list of foods to break your water fast with
- fruit juices
- vegetable juices
- raw fruits
- raw leafy green vegetables (lettuce, spinach...)
- vegetable soups
- cooked vegetables (potatoes, rice...)
- raw vegetables (celery, carrots...)
- cooked grains and beans
- milk, dairy, eggs
- fish, meat
- everything else
The foods on this list are already sorted according to how tough they will be to digest. The easily digestible foods are on top of the list, while the hard-to-digest ones are at the bottom.
At the end of your water fast, you can simply start with the foods at the top of the list and slowly make your way down. With every meal, you can include more and more foods from the list.
EXAMPLE: Break the water fast with some orange juice (food group #1). Eat a banana (food group #3) a few hours later. If everything feels ok, you can make a small salad with yoghurt topping (food groups #4 and #5) as your next meal. And so on...
Just make sure to end your fast with small meals, spaced at least two hours apart. As you include more and more foods from the list, you can also start slowly increasing the size of your meals.
What can happen if you ignore the food list?
In one recorded case, a "professional faster" ended a 30-day water fast with fruit, one of the most easily digestible foods on the planet. But because he ate a little bit too much, he had to deal with some pretty severe stomach pains and cramping for a while.
Now, 30 days is a LONG water fast, and I strongly advise against ever fasting for 30 days in one go (unless you have a ton of fasting experience and you're doing a supervised fast).
If you fasted for "just" a couple of days, it's highly unlikely you'll run into any trouble as you end your fast. In fact, you'll probably be able to return to your old diet right off the bat. But if you fasted for a week or more, you'll need to slowly transition back into your normal diet.
The general rule is, the longer you fasted, the more careful you need to be about how you break the fast. But no matter how short you water fast was, you simply can't go wrong if you take some time to ease back into your normal diet.
Depending on how long you fasted, it could take anywhere from 1-4 days for your digestion to get up to 100% again.
The bottom line is, most people won't need to follow the food list to the letter. It's ok to skip a step or two as you go through it, but it can never hurt to keep it in mind as a general guideline.