Reprinted with permission from Dr. Julian Whitaker's Health & Healing newsletter copyright Healthy Directions, LLC. To subscribe, visit www.drwhitaker.com.
For the last 35 years, I've advocated a low-fat, high-fiber diet; exercise; and targeted nutritional supplements as the foundation of optimal health. For most of those years, I followed my own advice. My diet was pretty good, and I was very active, running marathons, riding a bicycle across the country, and playing tennis, squash, and racquetball.
But I fell off the wagon. Over the past decade, I've allowed salt, sugar, and fat-laden processed foods to sneak into my diet. If I'd just done what I tell my patients to do, this story would never have needed to be told. But I drifted away and paid the price. I was 40 pounds overweight, had high blood pressure and poor exercise tolerance, and was aging rapidly.
It was time for America's Wellness Doctor to get well. So I decided to do just that; I decided to fast.
My Visit to a "Fasting Farm"
My wife and I checked into TrueNorth Health, a facility in Santa Rosa, CA, that has treated thousands of patients with hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and other degenerative diseases using fasting as a primary therapy. For five of the seven days we were there, we drank lots of water, went to lectures, and read and slept a lot, but we had nothing to eat.
We'd been warned that the first two days of fasting would be the hardest, and indeed they were. Both Connie and I were irritable, grumpy, and uncomfortable. It wasn't really hunger that we were experiencing. It was more like the symptoms of withdrawal, which, as it turns out, is exactly what happens when you fast.
After two days, right on schedule, we felt much better. We were no longer anxious or ill-tempered, we slept well, and, incredibly, we weren't hungry. It was amazing that after three or four days of not eating, we could walk by a bakery filled with cupcakes, fruit tarts, and brownies and not even be tempted. We actually contemplated fasting for an additional three days because, at that point, it would have been easy.
Upon the completion of our fast, we eased back into eating, starting with juices. Then we gradually incorporated natural, organic, unprocessed foods low in fat, salt, sugar, and additives; a diet similar to what we recommend at Whitaker Wellness, except entirely vegan. (At the clinic we use modest amounts of low-fat animal protein.)
Fasting Yields Rapid Results
During our seven-day program, Connie lost eight pounds. (She didn't have much to lose in the first place and was there primarily to support me.) I lost 21 pounds. Most of it, of course, was excess salt and fluids; you simply can't lose that much fat in such a short a period of time.
Nevertheless, it had a huge effect on my health, appearance, and sense of well-being. My blood pressure dramatically declined. My blood sugar, which had been in the high-normal range, was lower; my cholesterol and triglycerides improved; and my energy returned. On a treadmill exercise stress test back at Whitaker Wellness, I performed as well as a healthy 30-year-old.
How is this possible? How could I have had such dramatic improvements in just a week?
The Scientific Basis of Fasting
Fasting has a number of unique attributes that no other therapy provides. It rapidly rids the body of excess sodium and fluids, which eliminates edema and lowers blood pressure. It promotes weight loss; water weight initially, but also fat loss; and it facilitates detoxification, mobilizing and eliminating toxins.
Fasting also gives the gut a break and allows it to repair itself, which often leads to improvements not only in digestive complaints, but in allergy symptoms and autoimmune disorders as well. It increases insulin sensitivity, which lowers blood sugar and eliminates virtually all aspects of metabolic syndrome. In short, fasting seems to reset your metabolism and break disease cycles, much like rebooting your computer.
Most importantly, improvements are maintained after the fast ends. Alan Goldhamer, DC, founder and director of TrueNorth, and the medical doctors who work with him have published two studies detailing fasting's effects on hypertension. In one of these studies, they followed 174 patients who came to TrueNorth with blood pressure in excess of 140/90. After undergoing a fasting regimen, 90 percent of these patients achieved normal blood pressure (the average reduction was 37/13 mm Hg), and all of them who had been on antihypertensive medications were able to get off their drugs. Moreover, the mean blood pressure of patients who were tracked for an average of 27 weeks after leaving the clinic was a perfectly healthy 123/77.
Fasting's effects on diabetes are enduring as well. John K. Davidson, MD, PhD, a retired professor at Emory University School of Medicine and founding director of the diabetes unit at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, describes in his popular textbook the use of seven-day fasts as initial treatment for obese patients with type 2 diabetes.
In addition to rapid and predictable improvements in blood sugar, blood pressure, and weight during the fast, Dr. Davidson reports that patients easily transitioned to low- to moderate-calorie diets. And, over five to seven months, they gradually achieved both their ideal weight and control over their blood sugar level without the use of insulin or other drugs.
The Pleasure Trap
What I find almost as remarkable as the health benefits of fasting is how it altered my food preferences. Prior to my fast, I knew I needed to clean up my diet, but, as I said, over the past decade I hadn't. Since my short fast, however, that has changed. I now find that highly processed, fatty, sugary, salty foods just don't appeal to me, and sticking with a good diet is not only easier, but, get this, more enjoyable.
According to Dr. Goldhamer, my experience is not unique. Fasting helps your taste buds adapt to lower salt, sugar, and fat intake. This process, which he calls "neuroadaptation," facilitates the adoption of a health-promoting diet. It also helps you escape your addiction to these unhealthy foods.
In his book The Pleasure Trap, co-written by Douglas Lisle, PhD, Dr. Goldhamer makes a convincing argument that many of the foods that contribute to our health problems create a physiological response similar to that of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and other addictive substances. These foods are pleasurable to eat; so pleasurable that we become addicted.
Think about all the people who are 40 or 50 pounds overweight, disgusted with the way they look, and suffering with diabetes and the many obesity-related diseases that are ripping through our culture. They know their current habits are contributing to their ill health and leading them toward an untimely death. Yet they cannot or will not change their diet. They're caught in the pleasure trap of food addiction, and the quickest way of breaking it is fasting.
Our Genetic Programming
Dr. Goldhamer also discusses the hardwired physiological forces that drive hunger, satiety, and food preferences. Have you ever seen an obese animal in the wild? Just imagine the spectacle of squirrels in your backyard, most of them with potbellies and puffy cheeks and many so fat they can't even climb trees. It just doesn't happen, even though they have all the food they can eat.
Are squirrels and other animals in their natural environment better disciplined or more expert at counting calories than you? Of course they aren't. Their caloric intake and energy expenditure are instinctively dictated. Humans have similar, inborn mechanisms governing food intake, and they, too, work like a charm; provided we eat the foods we were designed to eat. And therein lies the problem.
Our genetic programming evolved in the milieu of a natural, primarily plant-based, high-fiber diet. For more than 20 million years, there were no French fries, cupcakes, or ice cream available. To this day, indigenous people and others who eat a natural diet devoid of added salt, sugar, and fat get pleasure from their food, but they rarely if ever eat to the point of obesity.
Health Is Undermined by Our Unnatural Diet
Today's typical diet, however, is unprecedented in human history. Rich, high-calorie foods may have been available in centuries past to the royal and powerful (who were afflicted with modern diseases), but they were beyond the reach of most people. Only in the past 100 years or so have entire populations had unlimited access to meat, cookies, pizza, chips, and other fatty, sugary, salty foods.
Our bodies simply cannot handle these foods; they overwhelm our finely tuned genetic program. It's like watering your houseplants with a fire hose rather than a watering can that delivers optimal amounts of water! No wonder two-thirds of Americans are overweight, one third of them are obese, and millions upon millions of us suffer with horrific health problems.
You may blame yourself if you're overweight, but the truth is, you're simply following your genetic dictates. The problem isn't how much you eat; it's what you eat. We're not fat and unhealthy because we lack the discipline to keep our calories at a certain level. We have these problems because we're eating foods that the human body isn't designed to eat.
I'm not saying that personal discipline plays no role in making food choices. It most certainly does. However, my newfound ability to eat right does not stem solely from old-fashioned willpower. If it did, I wouldn't have wound up in such bad shape in the first place.
Jumpstart Your Journey to Health
I have never felt as confident about my current and future health as I do at this time. I'm back on track, and I'm convinced that I will stay on track for the rest of my life. In fact, I'm so enthusiastic about fasting as a medical therapy that we've started a fasting program at the Whitaker Wellness Institute.
We now encourage patients who are struggling with obesity, diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and other problems to jumpstart their one- to three-week Back to Health program at the clinic by fasting for three to seven days. They can then transition to our mini-fast with exercise program or simply adopt a healthy diet.
Although fasting is quite safe, physicians who condemn it as dangerous are simply biased and uneducated. It's much easier to do in a supportive setting such as TrueNorth or Whitaker Wellness. And I certainly wouldn't recommend that anyone who has a serious health problem or is taking prescription drugs undergo fasting without medical supervision.
That said, the "rules" are few and simple. Fasters need to drink a lot of water (eight or more eight-ounce glasses of water every day), relax and take it easy (walking is fine but no vigorous exercise), and avoid distractions that make the process more difficult (grocery shopping, cooking, etc.). Drugs should be stopped only by a physician. Fasts should be gently broken with fresh vegetable and fruit juices, followed by the gradual addition of whole, natural, unprocessed foods, which I guarantee you'll enjoy even if you never have before.
Do yourself a favor and seriously explore this safe, simple, proven therapy. Fasting can launch you into a healthier lifestyle and make your journey back to health easier, quicker, and more pleasant than you could ever imagine.
Fasting is best done in a medical setting. If you are taking prescription medications, have a serious health problem, or need to fast for a prolonged period, you should undergo this therapy only under medical supervision.
To learn more about TrueNorth Health Center, which specializes in short and prolonged fasts, call (707) 586-5555 or visit healthpromoting.com. You'll find a wealth of information on fasting on this Web site, and you can also order Dr. Goldhamer's book, The Pleasure Trap, which I highly recommend.
For information on the fasting program at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, call (800) 488-1500.
Davidson JK. Clinical Diabetes Mellitus, a Problem-Oriented Approach. New York, NY: Thieme; 2000.
Goldhamer AC, et al. The Pleasure Trap. Summertown, TN: Healthy Living Publications; 2003.
Goldhamer AC, et al. Medically supervised water-only fasting in the treatment of borderline hypertension. J Altern Complement Med. 2002;8(5):643,650.
McCarty MF. A preliminary fast may potentiate response to a subsequent low-salt, low-fat vegan diet in the management of hypertension, fasting as a strategy for breaking metabolic vicious cycles. Med Hypotheses. 2003;60(5):624,633.
Julian Whitaker, MD
Julian Whitaker, MD, America's Wellness Doctor, is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Emory University Medical School. In 1979, he opened the Whitaker Wellness Institute, which has treated more than 45,000 patients and is the largest alternative medicine clinic in the country. The author of the popular monthly newsletter Health & Healing, as well as numerous books, including Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks, Reversing Diabetes, and Reversing Heart Disease, Dr. Whitaker is a vocal proponent of freedom of choice in the medical arena and founder of the nonprofit Freedom of Health Foundation. For more about Dr. Whitaker and his natural approach to health and well-being, visit www.drwhitaker.com and www.whitakerwellness.com.
Health & Healing Newsletter
Dr. Julian Whitaker's Health & Healing is an eight-page monthly newsletter dedicated to alternative health and nonconventional therapies.