Every spring, Dr. Elson Haas supervises a group of 25 to 100 people who participate in a 10-day fasting program. He does it himself too, a ritual he has followed since 1975.
“I was two years out of medical school with chronic allergies and way overweight,” recalled Haas by phone the other day after a day of seeing patients at his natural health clinic in Marin County, Calif. “I needed something.”
Fasting clearly worked for Haas, as he returns to it every spring (“the best time of year for detoxification, autumn is next”). He disbursed with the allergies and managed his weight despite a self-professed liking for food. Last week, Haas was drinking his version of a “master cleanser” drink while eating light (mostly fruit and veggies) as a modified fast he follows when he feels the need. His energy level is Haas’ usual guide.
Perhaps more impressive are the percentages associated with success among the spring fasting groups. Haas is into supervising thousands over 30-plus years and the vast majority benefited from the experience.
“Somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the group members feel invigorated and report a profound experience,” said Haas. “They feel stronger, clearer, more energetic. That’s what we hear.
“The other 10 to 20 percent don’t do as well. They feel weak, have headache and sometimes nausea. Usually that means they need to slow down what foods they eliminate from the diet.”
American research on fasting is not plentiful, though the “calorie restriction” body of medical literature is sizeable enough to show that eating less food is a way for cells and organs to get a break from digesting food to otherwise maintain health. Calorie restriction diets, as defined by scientists, involve eating roughly 70 to 80 percent of a typical diet over long periods; the research literature points to an arguable extended life span.
Haas and other health practitioners, including proponents at medical school ranging from Seattle-based Bastyr University to Harvard, warn against undertaking any prolonged fast without medical supervision. A naturopathic physician is an ideal choice, though you can certainly find qualified—and enlightened—M.D.s who don’t discount a centuries-old healing technique out of hand. Some nutritionists might also be competent to oversee your fast, but never fail to ask any practitioner questions about his/her experience in this area.
Haas said those of us who can’t quite shift from our usual day of meals and snacks to fluids-only can start with pulling wheat and dairy products from their diets.
It’s worth considering a mini-fast sometime this holiday season. Who knows, you might even make it an annual ritual.
Bob Condor blogs for Alternative Health Journal every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.