Extended healing fasts (14-40 days)

Dr Tallis Barker, water fasting coach

Why in the world would you ever want to fast for two weeks or more?

If only a tiny percentage of people in the Western world ever undertake a water fast of any kind, then only a tiny percentage of people who water-fast will ever undertake an extended healing fast of 14 days or more. Why? There’s simply no need. For everyday cleansing and healing, occasional 7-10 day fasts combined with regular short fasts such as the one-day (36-hour ) water fast should keep you in excellent health.

Benefits of extended water fasts (14-40 days):

However, in order to reach the deepest possible level of healing and reap the greatest benefits, it is necessary to dig deeper with a longer fast. For instance, certain serious physical illnesses – those often deemed incurable by Western medicine – require the cleansing of an extended fast in order to permanently heal. Despite what allopathic doctors may tell you, conditions as wide and varied as Type II diabetes, multiple sclerosis, chronic high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, as well as certain types of tumors are all potentially curable. Yes, these illnesses and many more can be healed permanently through water fasting. As a water fasting coach, I’m privileged to witness this miraculous healing potential of the human body!

Beyond physical healing, the deepest spiritual cleansing can similarly take place only through the sheer length of an extended fast. Although nowadays we tend to remember only the Biblical 40-day fasts of Moses and Jesus, the fact is that many spiritual traditions over the millennia have demanded 40-day water fasts. Even Pythagorus required potential students to undertake a 40-day fast before he was willing to accept them. As much as we balk at the idea of giving up food for such a long time, it’s mostly just a question of unwillingness to forgo the addictions and pleasures of life. Don’t believe the voice of your fears and reluctant ego. You won’t starve to death. Unless you’re seriously malnourished and underweight to begin with, you carry the better part of 100,000 calories on you, locked in your fat tissue and waiting to be released through ketosis. That’s enough to last you well over 40 days. If you’re overweight, you could potentially fast for much longer (although in most cases this is not advisable).

Experiencing a healing crisis:

Although in one respect an extended fast simply continues the notion of a 7-10 day water fast, it is also much more powerful because it gives you the opportunity to experience deeper ‘healing crises‘. As described in the article on the 7-10 day water fast, a healing crisis often occurs towards the end of the first week of water fasting, as the symptoms of old illnesses, injuries and traumas resurface, before being permanently expelled from your body. A similar process often occurs around the end of the second week of fasting – and this is the reason that if you decide to extend a 7-10 day water fast, it’s worth aiming for at least 14 days. This second healing crisis tends to call forth deeper issues than the first healing crisis, or, alternatively, finishes resolving those issues which were not fully cleared during the first healing crisis. In other words, it’s from the beginning of the second week of water fasting that your body can begin to heal from more serious health issues. Simply, up until this point, your body has been cleansing the toxins of everyday life (and especially so if you haven’t been fasting regularly).

For the deepest and most serious health issues, whether physical or spiritual, healing crises often occur much later into the fast, whether 20, 30 or even 40 days. There’s no way to accurately predict when they will occur. You can only trust your body and let nature take its course…

Occasionally, healing crises can be extremely intense, especially when they occur late into a fast. When this happens, it’s critically important to be able to (continues below)


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tell the difference between a healing crisis and a sign from your body urging you to stop the fast. This is where working with an experienced water fasting coach can really help. If it’s a healing crisis, you should ideally try and push through. If it’s not, you should stop immediately!

Not every healing is accompanied by a dramatic healing crisis. Sometimes symptoms of illness and trauma simply begin to disappear. In cases like this – when no clear sign indicates that you’ve obviously freed yourself from a health issue – it can be difficult to know when to end the fast. This is another reason why it’s advisable to consider conducting any extended fast under some kind of supervision: from (1) a fasting coach like myself and, ideally, also from (2) a medical doctor who understands water fasting. The other main reason for working with a professional is to make sure you don’t overstep your body’s nutritional capabilities, as a prolonged fast begins to reach its physical limits.

The dangers of fasting too long:

If you continue fasting indefinitely there comes a point where the fast turns into starvation. You obviously don’t want to overstep this mark! For when your fat stores are finally depleted, the body has no choice other than to devour muscle tissue, as well as feed from your inner organs. You’ll do yourself serious damage. Fortunately, though, the body sends a clear sign: extreme hunger. Although it’s unlikely you’ll miss this red flag, two other less obvious scenarios also demand the end of a fast – and it’s here, again, that fasting under supervision can help. The first possibility is that you run out of muscle tissue before you deplete your fat stores. In order to power your body as a whole, it’s true that ketosis is extremely efficient. The problem is that the brain demands another fuel entirely: glucose. And this cannot easily be metabolised from fat tissue. Instead, the body must extract it out of muscle. The second possibility is that you deplete your electrolytes (blood salts). Although unlikely, it’s extremely dangerous! For this reason it’s advisable to have your blood tested at relatively regular intervals after the first 7-10 days of fasting.

Refeeding:

After you break an extended fast, it’s extremely important to follow a well structured meal plan. If you return too quickly to a normal diet, you risk encountering both digestive problems as well as ‘refeeding syndrome’. This is a potentially fatal complication caused by the change from ketosis back to your everyday metabolism. After an extended fast, the body cannot be rushed in this process. If you have any doubts, I offer a downloadable PDF which covers refeeding for any length of fast (link here).

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175 Comments

  1. River says

    Hey Tallis, thanks for all the resources and knowledge you provide for us! Quick question, what are your thoughts on contrast showers during a fast? Are normal, milder temp showers preferable? Thanks!

    • Tallis Barker, D.Phil. says

      Hi River,
      Thanks for your question. It’s really quite individual: some people love it while others hate it! I’d start out slow first, to gently discovery what works best for you, starting with only minimal contrasts and then building up to what feels like your limit. You don’t want to overly stress your body while fasting, so go easy – it should feel comfortable!
      All the best,
      Tallis

  2. Randy says

    I’m three days into a water fast, I plan on fasting away my excess weight, I’m 250lbs and plan on about 185 or so, what is said is normal for my height, 5’8”. I’m going to download your refeeding paper hopefully my sleepiness/fatigue issue will go, no allopath been able to find anything wrong, I eat it makes it makes me very fatigued, sitting is bad at that time, like driving.

    • Tallis Barker, D.Phil. says

      Hi Randy,
      Thanks for writing. I wish you all the best on your fast! In general, I wouldn’t recommend trying to lose 65 lbs on a single fast. This can make it difficult for the skin to adapt to your new shape, which, in turn, can lead to flaps of skin. It’s usually more advisable to think of about half of that weight loss, over a maximum length of a 40-day fast. Of course, diet and exercise will be at least as important as the fast itself in sustaining your weight loss afterwards.
      Tallis

    • Cian says

      What about water fasting for chronic knee issues?

      • Tallis Barker, D.Phil. says

        Hi Cian,
        It’s all going to depend on the issues underlying the knee problem. If there are structural issues with bone or cartilage, this is where fasting has the greatest difficulty. If it’s more a question of inflammation, then fasting is more effective at dealing with this, as well as softer tissues in general.
        Tallis

  3. Nicole says

    I am filled with much gratitude for all of the information that you have shared Tallis. I have found not only your articles and videos to be very informative but also the communication between comments to be a very valuable tool as well. I have just completed 36 day water fast with around 42 hours dry fasting each week. I ended my water fast due to falling (I was standing to feed a ginger bug and I went straight down and landed on my bottom and didn’t know what had happened). I waited another 24 hours and while I was out gardening I was aware that I had to be careful as I am bent forward to not fall the entire time gardening, I then knew it was time to end my fast. I am about 1 week after my water fast and the refeeding process has been more challenging. I have immediately gotten abdominal swelling. I have been working on finding a balance of water intake and nutrition intake. I forage on my homestead, make all my food from scratch, eat organically, truly listen to my body’s needs, make my own teas, ferments, eat dairy free, gluten free, corn free, soy free, alcohol free, no sugar, etc… but my body continues to struggle with the swelling. I do not want to confuse my body as it is working on refeeding with going on a shorter water fast but at the same time I wonder if a shorter water fast could help “recalibrate or reset” my abdomen swelling again to try and refeed again. I have been measuring all of my food and eating only when “hungry” which I just am not hungry. I am able to eat 1/2 cup of broth but it is hard to finish because I feel so full. I find I am able to eat 1-2 TB of nutrition at a time and then i will feel full. I have been having soaked seed water(Zyme water) to aid in digestive probiotic/zyme/prebiotic. Along with homemade cocoyo for a good culture to benefit my digestive track. I will weigh myself and it has been 15lbs each day. Go up through the day(15lbs) then lower each morning(down 15lbs). Which is good that it is not going up more but just a lot of discomfort with such changes in a day. I know I am not over eating nor taking in too many calories. I am just shocked at the amount of swelling in this refeeding compared to the refeeding process from prior 15 day water fasts. But every fast is very different!:) I also know my nearest menstrual cycle is nearing which may not be helping with the swelling. I keep up with moving, walking, gardening, lawn chores, classical stretch,etc… to make sure I keep moving. I would appreciate any suggestions that you would have. Many Thanks!

    • Tallis Barker, D.Phil. says

      Hi Nicole,

      Thanks for writing – and sorry for the slow response (I’m on my annual vacation right now). First of all, congratulations on your 36-day fast! As you’ve discovered, though, refeeding can often be the most challenging part of a fast. When a healthy person fasts, refeeding is likely to go smoothly (so long as you follow a sensible protocol in terms of quantity and food groups). However, when a client has fasted in order to address health issues, the odds of problems during refeeding dramatically rises – and this is one reason why it’s so important for coaching to continue through this entire period. Without an external perspective, it’s very hard to understand what is going on. It’s also very hard for me to say anything meaningful here without knowing the specifics of your case both before and during your fast. What is certain, though, is that prior disruption to the gut biome – especially if a history of chronic stress or PTSD/trauma is involved – is the most common culprit in causing a difficult refeeding period.

      Whatever the cause of your problems, it sounds like the most sensible thing to do right now would be to move to a juice diet until your symptoms resolve, and then re-introduce solids very carefully – possibly working together with an expert in order to avoid the problems you’ve already encountered. If you need to set up a consultation, all the information is here on the coaching page of the website: https://waterfasting.org/online-coaching-and-consultations-for-water-fasting/

      All the best,
      Tallis

      • Nicole says

        Thank you so much Tallis for your response. No need to apologize for being on a vacation!:)
        I do realize I have done water fasts without coaching due to being on disability and such a low income I could not afford such coaching. Yet trying to find ways to heal myself. Although, I can see why this would be of the most helpful of tools!
        I did find your information regarding the “PTSD/trauma could be a common culprit causing difficulties in refeeding period” very insightful. I always seem to be neglectful in the thoughts of how such issues affect our physical bodies and not just psychologically or adrenal system.
        I have put great intention for the past few years towards my gut biome due to dealing with chronic lymes and other co-infections. In my past 15 day water fast I had expelled many biofilms along with hook worms. I have put great attention to getting a good gut flora by eating and drinking nourishing foods with natural pro biotics and prebiotics and enjoying fermented foods such as fermented burdock root, krauts, beet kvass, etc… along with dandelion, chicory, and burdock teas. Cistus tea has been so critical with the Lymes. I also use many herbs for anti inflammatory such as turmeric, ginger, cayenne, spirulina, astragulus, ashwaghanda, bacopa, triphala, and mushroom extracts. I tend to think of myself as healthy (I am healthier than I have been in the past) but I do have dis-ease. It is funny what I thought could heal during this longer water fast and what got the focus was very different than what I thought my body should be focusing on healing!:) I have just continued to listen to my body and take it slow. I am feeling like I am getting a better understanding of water intake and nutrition intake. I am finding I am a bit more grounded now that I am about 12 days after fasting; less of a fog. I have increased my activity along with restrengthening. I am understanding how the healing truly does continue into the refeeding process after a water fast. I also have an OMT appt in a week or so to see if getting any stagnant lymph fluids to move and help my system adapt and keep my fluids moving. Slow and Steady. Such great turtle medicine!
        Thank you again for your input and for all of the information you have shared so freely!
        Well wishes!

        • Tallis Barker, D.Phil. says

          Yes, that’s a good way of putting it: “great turtle medicine”. Actually, I often say to clients that you need to remember the Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare :-). So I’m glad you’re not being impatient! Things will improve, they just need time.
          Tallis

  4. Naomi Johnson says

    Thanks for the response! I may want to do coaching with you some time in the future for a 21 day fast, as I didn’t get past day 3 on my own. Thanks again, Naomi

    • Tallis Barker, D.Phil. says

      Hi again Naomi,
      Well three days is still some very deep cleansing, and it’s great metabolic preparation for longer fasts, so well done anyway :-). Very happy to support you next time around!
      Tallis

  5. Naomi says

    Hi Tallis, thank you for sharing your water fasting journey. It’s nice not having to going into this blind. I’m on day 3 of a 21 day water fast and I was just wondering if taking minerals is necessary. I have been drinking distilled water. I think it was Dr berg that suggested taking minerals, but I was wondering what your thoughts on it where. Thank you!

    • Tallis Barker, D.Phil. says

      Hi Naomi,
      Thanks for your question. For the vast majority of people, taking minerals is not only not necessary, it’s also counterproductive especially when it comes to getting the most out of a healing fast. Homo sapiens had been happily fasting for millennia before supplements became a big business.
      To make your fast as smooth as possible, it’s always a good idea to prepare for your fast with good nutrition beforehand – but this shouldn’t come as a surprise!
      All the best,
      Tallis

      • Ramona says

        Yes, but people were drinking well water or spring water. She stated that she is drinking distilled, which will leach minerals out of the body. Do you stand by no minerals in this case?

        • Ramona says

          Also, I think she means salts and trace minerals.

        • Tallis Barker, D.Phil. says

          Hi Ramona,
          I would always urge people to drink the closest thing to natural water. However, drinking distilled water really shouldn’t make much difference, because the main question revolves instead around the kidneys’ ability to reabsorb electrolytes. In fact, to my understanding, the protocol at the fasting center True North actually involves drinking specifically distilled water (often in large quantities) with no electrolytes supplemented – even over 40-day fasts.
          Hope this helps,
          Tallis

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