Zero-calorie fasts fall into two basic categories: water fasts and dry fasts. Although many of the same processes take place during both types of fast, there are nevertheless some fundamental differences in the way that cleansing/detox and healing take place. It’s important to take these into consideration in order to get the most out of your fast.
Before actually comparing water and dry fasts, I’d like to take a moment to clarify two key terms. Cleansing/detox is essentially a subtractive process, as your body removes (more below)…
toxic, damaged and otherwise undesirable molecules, cells and tissue. Healing is essentially the opposite: an additive process as your body becomes ‘whole’ again. (It’s no coincidence that the words ‘heal’ and ‘whole’ are etymologically related.)
There are several distinct layers of cleansing/detox which take place during a zero-calorie fast. (These are described more fully in my article ‘Cleansing and detox: how water fasting works and why it benefits you’.)
1. Taking a rest from digestion
Both water fasts and dry fasts benefit from the fact that you ingest no calories. This frees up the energy normally invested in digesting food. It also frees up a large part of the immune system, which is otherwise tied down in the gut in order to prevent the absorption of pathogens along with digested food.
However, the cleansing/detox catalysed by taking a rest from digestion begins sooner and intensifies more deeply with a dry fast. This is because dry fasting allows nothing, absolutely nothing, into the body. Water fasting may be zero-calorie, but it does still stimulate the digestive system to a degree (albeit minimally compared to any fast containing calories).
Both water and dry fasts activate ketosis, your body’s fat-burning metabolism. This releases the toxins normally ‘quarantined’ in fat cells, after which your body can cleanse/detox them.
However, ketosis during a dry fast begins sooner and intensifies more deeply compared to a water fast. The biggest risk of a dry fast is dehydration. Fully aware of this, your body initiates ketosis as soon as possible – even before the usual depletion of glycogen stores, as would normally happen during a water fast. This is because the process of breaking up fat molecules into burnable ketone bodies creates so-called ‘metabolic water’. In other words, ketosis can slow down the process of dehydration, thereby allowing the dry fast to continue for longer than otherwise.
3. Dehydration as detox
This layer of cleansing/detox obviously applies to only dry fasts, and allows your body to reach its full potential, beyond anything a water fast can offer. (For more detailed information, see my article: ‘2.5 day dry fast: dehydration as detox’.)
Although we usually think of dehydration as something negative, such a blanket judgement is misguided. Yes, dehydration is to be avoided when it takes place too quickly and involves the loss of mineral salts, such as that caused by sweating or diarrhea. In a dry fast, though, the process is much slower, and is significantly offset through the creation of metabolic water. In fact, dehydration facilitates the removal of toxins, which are flushed out as water is lost on an inter- and intra-cellular level. In this sense, dehydration is detox. Just think of the classic hangover headache, which is caused by your body detoxing the alcohol.
In every respect, dry fasting offers a more powerful cleanse/detox than water fasting. When it comes to healing, though, it lacks a crucial element: time. Precisely because of the dangers of dehydration, a dry fast can last only hours or a few days, whereas a water fast can last much, much longer: for several weeks or even a month or two.
The process of becoming ‘whole’ does take time, and if healing is the primary goal, then an extended water fast is often the only solution. However, the process of healing usually extends beyond just healing, and also inherently includes elements of cleansing/detox. For example, ‘healing’ scar tissue also involves ‘cleansing’ the damaged tissue out from the area concerned.
The same often applies to more serious health issues. For example, ‘healing’ a tumor or fibroid also involves ‘cleansing’ it from the body. In such cases, an extended water fast with periods of dry fasting within the water fast is almost always the most powerful form of fasting. I witness this time and again among clients who fast with me. Precisely because this combined wet-dry method is so strong, though, it is best practised under the supervision of an expert like myself.
Other factors in deciding between a water fast and a dry fast
Before experimenting with dry fasts, it is always advisable to become comfortable with water fasting first. Precisely because of its cleansing power, a dry fast is liable to cause more severe detox symptoms, so doing some preliminary cleansing through water fasting will facilitate a smoother dry fast.
2. Time available for fasting
If you only have a very short time available for fasting, then a dry fast clearly gives you more ‘bang for your buck’. (This applies to periods of up to five days, given that dry fasts longer than this should take place under medical supervision.)
3. Time of year
Dry fasting during intense summer heat should be avoided because of the potential for sweating (and the accelerated dehydration this causes). Otherwise, pleasantly warm weather is best for dry fasting, because the air can hold a greater degree of humidity than when cold. Especially during long dry fasts, this can help slow down the rate of dehydration.
For most people, pleasantly warm weather is best for water fasting too. In contrast to dry fasting, though, winter is usually the time least comfortable for water fasting. This is because many people already feel subjectively cold when water fasting, and cold weather only exacerbates this. Interestingly, dry fasting usually does not cause the chills.
4. Natural inclination
Many people discover that they simply find either water or dry fasting easier. Those who favour water fasting tend to appreciate the fact that they can drink, putting at least something in their mouth (if only fluid). Psychologically, drinking can also be used as a substitute for eating. Those who prefer dry fasting tend to find the black and white situation of putting absolutely nothing into the mouth simpler to follow. The complete lack of eating and drinking also usually allows hunger to subside more quickly.
5. Reasons for fasting
Perhaps more than anything, it’s important to know the reasons why you’re fasting. Dry fasting favours cleansing/detox, while water fasting gives you time to heal.
In actual fact, though, both cleansing and healing are important to the vast majority of fasts. Just as fasting is itself a holistic practice, both cleansing and healing form indispensible elements of that whole.
Ultimately, my advice would be to try them both out and see what works for you!
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