One question which persistently recurs on waterfasting.org is whether or not you should take supplements while water fasting. The majority of people want to know about vitamin supplements and, occasionally, even protein supplements. In this article I’ll deal with both, as well as other kinds of pills, powders and potions…
There are some people who take a hardline approach to water fasting – in other words water, water, only water. Personally, I do drink only water when I’m fasting, but I believe that everyone needs to find their own solutions, depending on the reasons that they’re fasting. This may include drinking herbal or green teas, or perhaps adding a slice of lemon to their water.
Taking supplements, though, is another step removed from the simple purity of drinking only water.
Many people believe that they need to take vitamin supplements in order to live a healthy life. When it comes to fasting, this belief often takes on an added urgency. The logic – at least on the surface level – is sound, and goes something like this: ‘If I need to take vitamin supplements when I’m eating normally, then surely I need them even more when I’m not eating anything at all!’
Yes, in one sense the logic is sound. The only problem is that it’s based on the logic of your everyday working digestive metabolism and not the healing metabolism of ketosis, which takes over during a water fast and works completely differently.
I would suggest taking another approach – one which instead follows the logic of your healing metabolism:
So long as things are going into your body, toxins can’t come out of your body.
Whenever possible, it’s best just to get out of the way, and let your body get on with the business of cleansing and detox.
Okay, it’s true: toxins can’t come out of your body while food and calories are going in. It’s equally true that most vitamin supplements don’t contain calories. They won’t affect ketosis or radically change the biology of your fast. And so, in this sense, there’s nothing wrong with taking them.
Nevertheless, even if taking vitamin supplements doesn’t adversely affect ketosis, what good does it do to the fast? The truth is: little or none. They only distract your body and get in the way of natural cleansing and detox.
I’ll come out with it plain and simple: so long as you’re healthy, there’s no need to take vitamin supplements while fasting, and this is certainly the case if you don’t normally take supplements in everyday life. It’s also the case if you’re considering an extended healing fast and are worried about chronic vitamin depletion. No-one has ever died from vitamin deficiencies while fasting!
Instead, try to trust your body. It really does know best.
Humankind has been fasting for thousands of years, well before modern science came on the scene with ideas about vitamin supplements :-). I doubt our ancestors on the African savannah or in ancient India worried about it. They just got on with their fasts, trusting that their bodies would get on with the business of cleansing and detox.
It simply wasn’t a problem.
There are those who rightly say that the nutritional content of food is much lower nowadays than before monoculture (mass cultivation of one particular crop) revolutionised agriculture after World War II. This also means specifically that the vitamin content of what we eat nowadays is much lower than in the past.
Sad but true. Nevertheless, vitamin content hasn’t decreased to the point that it affects fasting. While fasting, the body conserves its essential reserves, and this includes vitamins.
If you’re worried about vitamins, a much better solution would be to eat organic in everyday life than take vitamin supplements while fasting.
Vitamin supplements for health issues
Okay, so if you’re healthy there’s no need to take supplements, but what if you already have a chronic vitamin deficiency?
This implies that you’ve already discussed the matter with your doctor. My advice, therefore, would be to return to your doctor and ask if it’s okay to stop taking vitamins temporarily: for a few days or whatever the duration is of your planned fast. If you have no other underlying health issues, there’s no need even to mention the word ‘fast’ if you feel that your doctor might panic or throw a temper tantrum – because it’s certainly true that the majority of MDs still don’t understand fasting or the benefits of fasting. Most likely, they’ll simply oppose the idea point blank. However, the reality is that in most cases skipping your vitamins for a few days won’t be a problem. Why? Because if it’s a chronic deficiency to begin with, you’ll probably need at least several weeks to regain healthy levels anyway, which means that only a few days without vitamin supplements won’t impact significantly on the long-term effect. Even so, do check with your doctor, especially if you’re planning a longer fast.
If you do have other underlying health issues which require you to take vitamin supplements, my advice would be to find a doctor who does understand fasting and discuss the particulars of your case.
The reality of taking protein supplements while fasting
This one is really easy. The answer is no, no, no!
Protein contain calories – 4 kcal/g to be exact. This is, in fact, exactly the same energy content of carbohydrates, which likewise contain 4 kcal/g.
In other words, if you’re taking protein supplements, you’re not fasting!
Why are we obsessed by the idea of taking supplements?
What causes so many of us to agonise over protein and vitamin supplements while fasting?
If you really think about it, the whole idea is crazy. Fasting means not eating. Taking supplements is its own form of eating. The two are totally contradictory.
Americans, in particular, worry about protein intake, despite the fact that the average American consumes more protein than anyone else on the face of the planet! Isn’t this also totally contradictory?
When people think and act in a contradictory manner, invariably a strong emotion is directing the decision-making process.
Nine times out of ten, fear is the driving motivation behind the belief that you ‘need’ to take supplements while fasting.
Why? Because big business has a lot of money invested in protein and vitamin supplements. Which means they have a lot of money invested in you buying their products. They want to convince you that you ‘need’ them.
How? By implanting fear: fear that without vitamin and protein supplements, you won’t make it through the day.
It’s no wonder these vested interests succeed in brainwashing so many people. Of all emotions, nothing is stronger than fear in influencing our behaviour. And given the consumer messages constantly bombarding us from ‘Big Food’, of course eventually we take the bait.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, Americans spend $30 billion dollars annually on vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements.* If protein powders are included, this constitutes as big a market as the entire organic food industry. In fact, pills, powders and other magic potions make up 5% of all grocery sales in the United States. Isn’t that crazy too?
This isn’t the end of the story quite yet. Another issue attracts us to the idea of taking supplements while fasting.
The fears instilled by big business work in perfect harmony with and intensify the deeper fears already present in fasting.
It’s totally natural to feel a little fear when fasting. Going beyond your comfort zone in not eating begs the subconscious to carry this through to its logical end, which means playing with the idea of starvation and, ultimately, fear of survival and death (discussed further in my article Facing your Ego).
Even if it’s suppressed in your subconscious, the natural existential fear of fasting – that you won’t make it through the day – resonates perfectly with the fears instilled by Big Food, which likewise infer that you won’t make it through the day without spending lots of money on daily vitamin, mineral and protein supplements.
Supplements, therefore, feel like a way to cheat death. I know this may sound a little extreme, but it’s true. At the very least, anyone considering vitamin supplements while fasting does so because they fear for their health – which, in turn, is only one step away from fearing for their life. After, a total lack of health leads to a total lack of life. In other words, you fear death. Like it or not, the logic is plain and simple.
Water, pure water…
Whenever you’re water fasting and you find yourself seeking alternatives to drinking pure-and-simple water, it’s important to try and understand the reasons. This includes protein and vitamin supplements, but it also includes anything else, such as drinking herbal teas or lemon water.
There can be completely rational reasons for finding excuses not to drink water. For instance, if you have a caffeine addiction, you may find yourself attracted to the idea of green teas, as a means to prevent headaches from caffeine withdrawal symptoms. If you’re fasting for purely physical reasons, there’s nothing wrong with doing what you need to do in order to maximise the chances of finishing your fast. However, if you’re at all interested in what makes you tick, if you’re interested in understanding your subconscious and deeper levels of self, if you’re interested in trying to lead a conscious life, then you should know that usually the reason we look to alternatives besides water has nothing to do with clear logic and rationality.
We may try to justify supplements and teas through logical argument (and most of the time this isn’t too hard!), but deep down inside, there’s usually a deep dark emotion driving us instead. In order to truly make a rational decision about whether or not to take supplements, the best thing we can do is try to dig out those irrational forces inside us, bring them to light, and, making sense of them, act more consciously.
The vast majority of the time, pure-and-simple water really isn’t so bad.
In fact, it’s what we’re made of.