#247 Spring Cleansing

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If a man has nothing to eat, fasting is
the most intelligent thing he can do.

Hermann Hesse

10 Reasons to Fast

By Steve Edwards

YogaFasting isn't a trend. It's one of the oldest therapies in medicine and its recorded practice dates back thousands of years. But these days, it's hard to peruse the magazines at your local market without being provided a myriad of "trendy" fasting options promising greater health, spiritual enlightenment, and most of all, weight loss. It's also pretty easy to find literature warning of the dangers of fasting. So let's have a look at fasting, its history, benefits, and whether or not you might want to make it part of your lifestyle.

If you've read any historical literature, you know that fasting has been around a long time. Many of the oldest healing systems have recommended it as an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, believed fasting enabled the body to heal itself. Paracelsus, another famous healer, wrote "Fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within." Sounds good. So just exactly what is fasting?

ShakeBy definition, anytime that you don't eat, you are fasting; hence the word "breakfast." But most therapeutic fasts last longer than one night, usually from one day to a few weeks. Juice or liquid fasts, while not traditional, are quite common because many of the desired results are achieved without as much stress on the body (see 2-Day Fast Formula® for one option). It's also common to begin a fast with a period of cleansing foods, such as veggies or soups. A modern fast is often synonymous with a cleanse; or a very restricted diet designed to reprogram your body. The majority of fasts only last a few days. Provided that you stay hydrated, the body can function without food for this long with little stress (though it may not feel like it to you, especially the first time). Those wanting to participate in the longer and more traditional fasts should have medical supervision, or at least be certain they are in condition to undertake such an adventure. While strict nutritionists rarely recommend such things, most alternative medicine practitioners, such as homeopaths, naturopathic doctors, and ayurvedic doctors are well versed at supervising and monitoring patients during fasts. Monitored fasts are almost always safe, but should be entered and exited with care.

We'll get to the different types of fasts in a moment. First, let's look at 10 reasons why you might want to try a fast or make them part of your lifestyle.

  1. Drinking WaterTo cleanse your system. Most of us eat more than we should, take in more toxins than we'd like, and are subjected to many other things, like pollutants, that we'd rather avoid. Furthermore, the majority of us carry around a lot of undigested food in our system that comes from eating more than we can process. A fast will, essentially, flush these things from your system. Yes, you'll lose weight. But more importantly, your body will run better than it did before.

  2. CoffeeTo change bad habits. When you don't eat, your body craves sustenance and becomes more sensitive to toxins. Most habits are based on cravings, but when you completely change how your system is running, those cravings change also. Coffee is the easiest example. During a fast, your body is too sensitive to tolerate highly acidic substances and caffeine very well. Things like coffee will often make you feel terrible, when it has the complete opposite effect normally.

  3. To change your health. Many chronic conditions have used fasting as an effective treatment, including allergies, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, depression, diabetes, headaches, heart disease, high cholesterol, low blood sugar, digestive disorders, mental illness, and obesity. It is thought to be beneficial as a preventative measure to increase overall health, vitality, and resistance to disease.

  4. SleepTo reset your body clock. Fasting gives you a clean slate. Without nutrients, you become more sensitive and sleep and other patterns change. It's an easy time to revamp your schedule and get your body clock working in your favor.

  5. To bring your body into homeostasis. This is the balance point your body prefers to be at but is rarely achieved with our hectic lives. When the intake of food is temporarily stopped, many systems of the body are given a break from the hard work of digestion. The extra energy gives the body the chance to heal and restore itself, plus burning stored calories gets rid of toxic substances stored in the body. Essentially, you force your body to work efficiently and, thus, bring everything into balance.

  6. ClarityFor increased mental clarity. Most of us probably first heard of fasting as a religious exercise. There are examples of it in most spiritual texts. It's a great tactic for mental and spiritual rejuvenation because it forces focus on important thoughts and frees the mind from everyday clutter. When you are deprived of nutrients, your body—in a survival mode—begins to focus on things of true importance.

  7. VegetablesTo make changing your diet easier. When you fast you become more sensitive to what you put into your body. It's easier to understand how nutrients affect you and, hence, how bad foods make you feel worse. Exiting a fast is the easiest time to change your diet for the better. Your body will crave healthy foods. All you need to do is give it what it wants.

  8. RunTo get a better feel for how exercise and diet make your body work. When you take away nutrients your body can't function as well as it did from a performance standpoint. When you add nutrients back, you'll feel your energy increase and how exercise affects you and utilizes nutrients. This understanding can be a great dietary aid. Most of us have a hard time understanding what fats, carbohydrates, and proteins do for us but coming off a fast you'll more easily understand their functions, especially if you are exercising.

  9. To improve fat mobilization and physical efficiency. Many physiological changes occur in the body during fasting. Your body turns to stored fat for energy, and this process becomes more efficient under the stress of a fast. Furthermore, the brain, which has high fuel requirements, still needs glucose (sugars converted from glycogen) to perform well. To obtain glucose for the brain, the body finds two sources of fuel, ketosis and muscle, so the body begins to break down muscle tissue during a fast. But to fuel the brain, however, the body would need to burn around a pound of muscle a day. So we've developed another survival mechanism to create energy that saves important muscle mass, a process called ketosis. In ketosis, the liver converts stored fat into ketones, which can be used by the brain, muscles, and heart as energy. Those of you versed in the Atkins diet my have a negative association with this process but Atkins-ers somewhat abused it. It's another survival mechanism the body has that can be developed and utilized. Where Atkins may have overdone it was promoting it as a way of life, not a phase towards improving the body's functionality.

  10. Yoga 2To get a forced rest phase. Our bodies do better when we train periodizationally. This is in phases of intensity, one of which is rest. Since we tend to skip this phase because we feel like we'll regress if we don't exercise (either that or over-embrace it to the point of not exercising), fasts force a recovery phase because you can't do hard exercise. The most exercise you should attempt is very—low intensity movements, like walking, hiking, or easy yoga or stretching. During this time, the body heals its cumulative microtrauma that has resulted from exercise. When you come off of a fast, your body will be slightly deconditioned. However, its capacity for conditioning will have increased. This means that once your catch up to the fitness level you were prior to fasting you will more easily exceed this level, instead of hitting a plateau.

What are the different types of fasts?
There are many fasts on the market, which sounds funny because if you're not eating, it begs the question why do you need the market? But most fasts contain some sort of strategy that includes some nutrients.

    2 Day Fast Formula
  • The simplest are the "beginner" fasts, such as with Beachbody's 2-Day Fast Formula. These usually provide some liquid nutrients, like fruit and veggie juices or a shake, to make things less stressful. You still get most of the benefits of fasting and, well, you still get to look forward to some meals.

  • More complex are things like the Master Cleanse diet, in which you still get some nutrients—though very few—and you're supposed to continue this way for a longer period of time, usually at least 10 days. These fasts require that you have a lot of self-knowledge. It's always recommended to begin with a shorter fast to see how it affects you.

  • WaterReligious fasts are traditional and strict. They often mean going for long periods with no nutrients at all; just water. Since their aim is more spiritual than fitness oriented, they're rarely—if ever—recommended by the fitness and nutrition industry.

How often you fast depends a lot on what type of fast you do. Longer fasts should not be done often, but one-day fasts can be done regularly. An old common religious practice was to skip eating one day per week, which can be easily done without associated fitness loss. So it's fairly easy to make fasting a regular part of your "diet."

SoupTo enter a fast, no matter which type it is, it's best if your diet is gradually lightened over a few days. First, heavy foods such as meats and dairy products should be eliminated. Grains, nuts, and beans should then be reduced. The day before you begin, eat only easily digested foods like fruits, light salads, and soups. Likewise, you should break your fast gradually also, going from lighter to heavier foods progressively. The diet after a fast should emphasize fresh, wholesome foods, which is easier because junk and convenience foods will usually make you feel awful. It's also vital that before, during, and after a fast you drink a lot of plain water. This keeps you hydrated and helps flush your system.

It's also important to note that fasting is not appropriate for everyone—especially pregnant and nursing women—and, in some cases, could be harmful. Those with health conditions should always have medical support during fasting.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Steve EdwardsCheck out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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6 Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Kitchen

By Joe Wilkes

KitchenIt's springtime, which means for a lot of us, it's time to do a deep clean of our homes—throwing out the old, organizing the new, storing the winter clothes, and getting ready for warmer weather and a fresh start. For others, it's the beginning of another season of denial about how squalid our living conditions have become. Even more than New Year's, spring is a good chance to make some new resolutions and to create an environment that will make us want to keep them. Here are some ideas for getting your kitchen into shape.

  1. OldOut with the old. I like to think of my refrigerator as a cabinet of hope. Most times it's full of fruits and vegetables, purchased in a fit of confidence that I was going to steam and stir-fry my way to a slimmer me. Then I end up going out with friends to restaurants and my Sunday produce is looking pretty bad by week's end. Yet, unbelievably, I leave it in my refrigerator with the hope that it will return to a state of edibility. Similarly, expired dairy products and condiment bottles litter my shelves, products of my misguided optimism that they, too, will come back in fashion like my '80s wardrobe—if I only wait long enough. I am here to tell you, there has been no grocery miracle in my refrigerator these many years. And now it's time to give its expired residents a proper burial.

    First thing to do, get rid of everything that even looks old. Be merciless. If it's past the expiration date, throw it out. If it doesn't have an expiration date, throw it out. Another scourge in my fridge is the many plastic containers filled with leftovers. I don't remember exactly what meal they are left over from, but I can't recall anything that included hair as an ingredient. Much of the reason the containers languish in the back of the fridge is I'm avoiding the horror of having to wash out the science experiment they've become. This year, I'm going to throw money at the problem, and throw out the leftovers in their containers without ever lifting the lid. Then I will treat myself to shiny, new plastic containers as a reward for my new hygienic lifestyle. Additionally, if my plastic cutting boards are beyond bleaching, it's a good annual tradition to replace them.

  2. Ice CreamOut with the bad. While I'm gripped in the mania of throwing away all the food that has literally turned to garbage, I'm also going to throw away the food that is metaphorically garbage. All the unhealthy snack foods that lure me off my healthy eating plan are going to have to go. I'm evicting the half-full bags of tortilla and potato chips from my cupboards. Ben and Jerry are moving from the freezer to the dumpster. Any empty-calorie snacks that I can steal a spoonful or handful of and pretend that it doesn't count have to hit the road. Once I clear the cupboards and refrigerator, I can go to the store and load up on healthy staples, whose temptations I won't have to resist.

  3. FruitIn with the new. Now that the refrigerator is clean and the cupboards are bare, it's time to shop. Stock up the larder with delicious, healthy foods from the first two tiers of Michi's Ladder. And make sure to get lots of easy-to-prepare snacks that are within easy reach when hunger pangs hit. Great snacks include cottage cheese, nonfat yogurt, hummus, salsa, or raisins. Instant oatmeal, whole grain cereals, and egg whites are good to have on hand for breakfast. And foods like brown rice, dried beans, canned broths, water-packed tuna, and frozen fruits and vegetables are good staples to always keep in supply for mealtime. Of course, you should try and eat plenty of fresh produce, seafood, and lean meats to eat as well. Just don't be like me and go crazy at the Sunday farmers' market only to have to throw food away at the end of the week. Buy enough perishable items to last a couple of days and then make short trips to the supermarket or farmers' market during the week. Your food will taste better, fresher, and you won't have a CSI episode in the crisper drawer at the end of the week.

  4. LemonsWhen life gives you lemons . . . I know I've talked a lot about throwing all your produce away. But some of it can do a little cleaning work for you before it hits the compost bin. Lemons are very acidic and their juice is naturally antibacterial and antiseptic, and you can use it to bleach countertop stains and shine up metal. And it makes your kitchen smell lemony fresh, to boot! Instead of throwing them in the trash, throw one or two in the garbage disposal and grind away. It will help get rid of food dried on to the blades and fill your kitchen with the smell of lemons. (If the lemons are really old and the rind's turned hard and leathery, don't try this. The disposal blades might not be able to chop it, and then it'll just rattle around in your disposal forever. Trust me, I know.) Another great tip a friend gave me is to cut a bunch of lemons in half and put them in a big microwave-safe bowl and fill with water. Then microwave the bowl of lemons on high for a few minutes, until the water steams. Keep the microwave closed and the lemon juice-infused steam will permeate all the stuff cooked onto the microwave walls from various exploding culinary attempts. The crud will wipe off easily and will smell great. Best of all, no toxic cleaners to accidentally find their way into your meals!

  5. VinegarVinegar—not just for salad. While you're cleaning and staying nontoxic, try using Michi's Ladder's top-tier favorite, vinegar, to spruce up your kitchen. Diluted with water, white vinegar can be used to clean windows, wash floors, and wipe countertops. It cuts grease and removes stains from cookware and if you run a potful through your coffeemaker, you'll be amazed at the kind of hard water deposits it removes. It also is good for removing hard-water stains on your glassware. It even cuts soap scum and kills mildew, so you might give good, old-fashioned cheap white vinegar a try, before investing in expensive cleaners that can introduce toxins into your kitchen.

  6. Baking soda—not just for baking. Here's a fun fact. Did you know that baking soda mixed with grease makes soap? It's true. So it's a great, cheap, nontoxic way to wipe off your stovetop and the surrounding areas that have been spattered by a season's worth of stir-fries. An open box can absorb odors in the refrigerator, and a little sprinkled in your garbage will do likewise. If you have a grease fire, you can put it out with baking soda. If you have pots with burned-on food, let them soak in baking soda and water overnight. Also, if you have plastic storage containers that are a bit stinky from their previous occupants, try soaking them overnight in baking soda and water. You can make a baking soda paste with water and polish your silver. It's a miracle product—nontoxic, and cheap!

Joe WilkesIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your Fasting IQ!

By Joe Wilkes
  1. ChurchWhat are the only two days of fasting required by the Catholic Church? Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On those days, the fast is observed symbolically by eating only one meal on each day. In 1966, Pope Paul VI changed the policy of the church that refraining from eating every Friday was now only encouraged rather than required.

  2. PepperWhat are the four ingredients in the Master Cleanse diet? Maple syrup, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and water. According to the plan, that's all you drink for at least 10 days. It professes to detoxify the colon, kidneys, gall bladder, and liver. Needing to be less bootylicious for her role in Dreamgirls, Beyoncé Knowles claims to have lost 20 pounds on the Master Cleanse.

  3. Cesar ChavezHow long was Cesar Chavez's longest fast? Chavez, the labor leader and cofounder of the United Farm Workers, fasted for 36 days in 1988 to protest pesticide use. Other famous leaders who have used fasting as a political tool include Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

  4. Islam TempleHow long is the Islamic fast of Ramadan? Muslims are not supposed to eat or drink during daylight hours for one lunar month. Almost every religion involves fasting in some manner. Jewish people fast on Yom Kippur as atonement for their sins. Mormons are supposed to fast the first Sunday of every month and donate the money they would have spent on food to the poor.

  5. David BlaineHow long can a human being survive without food? Generally, the average human being can survive almost a month without food. Illusionist David Blaine managed to survive 44 days in a glass box in London in 2003. The Guinness Book of World Records refuses to keep "fasting records" so as not to encourage people to try to break them.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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