Overcoming addictions

Water fasting is an extremely powerful tool to overcome addictions caused by smoking, drinking and drugs in general, as well as any addictions relating to food, such as sugar, caffeine, chocolate, flavour enhancers…  Unfortunately, the list is almost endless.

Addictions are composed of both physical and emotional elements.  Physically, addictive substances cause changes to your biochemistry which induce your body to demand more of the given substance in order to sustain homeostasis – that is, the stability of your metabolism.  Emotionally, addictive substances manipulate the way you relate to food, drink or drugs by playing on the ego’s tendency to become attached to objects in the world around you (more info here).  In short, you feel you need the given substance.  Sounds familiar?

All too often, addictions end up dragging you into a downward spiral with seemingly no way out…

Water fasting works like a “reset” button to bring addiction to an end.  As your body’s healing metabolism catalyses and intensifies the natural process of detox, the biochemical cycles which cause addiction are cut short in their tracks.  It is the ultimate cold turkey.  This means that, in order to reduce any unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, it’s usually a good idea to try to reduce the consumption of addiction-forming substances prior to a water fast.  For most people this simply means adjusting their diet to avoid too much caffeine and sugar.

If you use a water fast specifically to tackle a physical addiction, tapering the given substance prior to the fast can definitely help.  I won’t lie to you.  Withdrawal symptoms are inevitable – it’s the price you pay for any addiction.  Often this manifests purely emotionally, with simple cravings for the given substance.  Of course, physical withdrawal symptoms are also possible.  Although these can be nasty, causing headaches, nausea, blurred vision and severe swings of mood, they are rarely dangerous.*

In order to maximise the chances of success, I would definitely recommend that anyone suffering from a serious addiction – whether drugs, alcohol or food – consult with an expert, and then carry out the water fast under the personal supervision of a mentor.  This applies especially to those suffering from eating disorders.  If applied wisely, water fasting can certainly help to alleviate and, in time, even overcome the abuse of food.  But it is also all too easy for such a person to abuse water fasting, thereby leading to a deterioration of the situation.  There are several ways for this to happen, such as attempting to undertake too ambitious a fast, thereby leading to failure.  Or it may simply arise from the fact that abstaining from food through a water fast already too closely resembles the illness itself – for in a way the withholding of food in an eating disorder already constitutes a kind of fast, albeit misguided.  There are many potential pitfalls along the way, but a mentor can help you from falling into them.

Once you’ve cleansed the addictive substance from your body, your endocrine/hormonal system has a chance to fully re-balance during the remainder of the water fast.  In other words, since you aren’t ingesting anything during this time (except for pure water), no external factors are able to influence what your body already knows is best for you.  This hormonal “reset” capability is also one reason why water fasting can resolve issues as wide and varied as infertility, insulin intolerance and Type II diabetes, not to mention resolving chronic cases of both obesity and underweight malnutrition (assuming a healthy diet after the fast).

The length of fast required to clear an addiction depends on the given substance, as well as the degree of severity of the addiction.  Once you’ve succeeded, though, you’ll be able to experience the substance for what it is.  After a water fast, alcohol tastes like poison, tobacco is noxious, refined sugar is sickly sweet.  Of course, for anyone with a serious addiction, it’s best to avoid the given substance altogether at this point – but a successful water fast should reduce or even eliminate the temptation to fall back in the first place.  You’ll simply be able to enjoy the gifts of mother nature without the need for anything more.  The gift of simple food.  The gift of life itself.  The joy of freedom from the physical and emotional chains of addiction.

What can be better than that?

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*A few drugs, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines (eg. Xanax, Valium) and certain opiates (eg. Methadone) can cause serious complications and even death if detoxing takes place too rapidly.  ALWAYS consult your doctor before undertaking a fast to tackle a serious addiction!

 

32 thoughts on “Overcoming addictions”

  1. As someone who is 5’5”, female, and 230 lbs, would it be safe to fast for 10 days or even more? My doctor approved me for intermittent fasting up to 36 hours, but I want to do more. I have high insulin resistance, food addiction, and PCOS, so I was thinking a prolonged fast could possibly improve these conditions. My doctor told me that my body can NO LONGER digest/process carbohydrates AT ALL, so those foods and intakes are poisonous for my body, and hikes up My insulin resistance. She said if I don’t change my diet I will create type 2 diabetes. I am taking metformin daily to help my body, but I know that during a fast I don’t need to take it at all. However I am also taking antidepressants, birth control, and an allergy medicine daily to cope with other issues in my body. During a prolonged fast, what should I do about these medications? Do I stop taking them altogether or still take them during the fast?

    Also during these shorter water fasts, how often can you safely do them? Once a month? Every few months? For these fasts is the max number of days 10?

    I am also concerned with eating again once the fast is over. For someone who can’t eat carbs of any kind (avoid them as much as possible) what would be a good food to introduce to the body after a long fast? Yogurt? Milk? Tea with honey?
    I figure meat of any kind would be too hard to give to a fasted body. Is that so?

    Sorry for all of my questions!
    I will also consult my doctor as well, and continue reading more on this subject.

    Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Kat,
      Thanks for writing.

      Definitely: insulin resistance and PCOS generally respond well to prolonged fasts. Prolonged fasts also often re-balance the hormonal environment which may have something to do with your current inability to digest carbs. Without knowing specific details, though, I can’t say more than that here.

      Given the many serious medical factors involved here, and given the prescription medication you’re on, I would say that it’s critically important to keep a medical doctor fully involved in your case, if you do decide to fast. For example, many antidepressants are highly toxic. Due to the strong cleansing effect of water fasting, they can cause potentially life threatening complications if you’ve been taking them in high doses immediately before a fast. However, it’s also important to balance a doctor’s medical knowledge with that of someone who can more knowledgeably guide you through a fast. You should know that the vast majority of doctors really know very little if anything at all about water fasting (and this may well be the reason that your doctor has ‘approved’ you for intermittent fasting only). I’d highly recommend seeking out an MD who has more knowledge of fasting, or at least is open to the idea of fasting while you also work with a fasting expert.

      Because of the dangers of detoxing certain prescription medication, I’d rather not get into that subject here in this public forum, where other people might misunderstand or misapply what I say, causing injury to themselves in the process.

      Suffice it to say, though, that in general what you would want to do is reduce the dosage and/or get off as much medication as possible before a fast, so that you already clear a lot of it from your system before the fast. Again, though, this must be done with a doctor’s knowledge and approval! Some medications can be taken while fasting, but it depends on the individual drug for the individual condition.

      Again, in your case, if you’d like to seriously apply fasting to heal your body, I’d recommend working with BOTH a doctor and a fasting expert.
      Hope this helps :-),
      Tallis

    2. Hi Kat,

      Thanks for your post. I felt the need to share because I was once in your shoes, and my experience with fasting may be of benefit to you.

      At my highest I weighed 242 lbs, standing 5’5″. I did many fasts over three years, ranging from 4 to around 20 days. In 2009 I did a rather long fast (I don’t necessarily recommend) for 50 days. You can read my daily journal while I went through it here:

      my.sparkpeople.com/AL3XNDURAH

      I never experienced a slowing of my metabolism, and the weight stayed off. Unfortunately, the last two years I’ve picked up some bad food behaviours again (lots of processed, ‘junk’ food, high carbs, etc) and have gained some weight back. Instead of fasting I did caloric restriction and exercise, which only made things (aka weight gain) worse.

      It’s been almost 10 years since that long fast, and I currently weight 160 lbs (my “new” high). I’ve had a baby in there too, so all-in-all I’m happy with my fasting. I tried dieting before and it never worked, and I tried it recently again to the same result. I am now considering fasting this year to shed the excess lbs and kick the sugar/processed food addiction. You may find the work by Dr. Jason Fung of interest as well.

      If you want to talk more, you can find me on instagram under the same username (al3xndurah) and message me there.

      Best of success!

      1. Thanks for sharing, Alex. It’s important just to add here that although you and Kat may have been in the same shoes in terms of weight, the big difference here is the list of medical issues which Kat has to deal with – especially the question of not being able to digest carbs. This is the main reason for her to proceed with more caution than you.
        Nevertheless, I’m glad fasting worked for you :-), and I hope that in some shape or form it will work for Kat too.
        Tallis

    3. Yoghurt and milk contain lactose / glucose for certain yoghurt, both of which are sugars which is are carbohydrates. Honey has fructose which is also a carb.

      Didn’t your doctor explain that sugars, starch, grain and fibres are the common carbohydrates.. For weight management I recommend a ketogenic diet as this limits carb intake thus since you are carb free for now it will work nicely.

      Moral of story: Sugars are the worst carbs. Fibre and carbs that also offer antioxidants and nutrients are mainly best.

      1. Hi Kristel,

        What you say is true about sugars. Just to be clear, though, this doesn’t mean that all sugars are “bad” in all cases. The fructose in honey (which you give as an example) is a lot “better” than the sucrose in refined sugars. Also, the sugars in honey are offset by the benefit of antiviral enzymes. And despite its sugars, yogurt has the benefit of containing a lot of flora necessary for maintaining a healthy digestive system.

        Depending on their natural predisposition, different people respond differently to different diets. I agree with you that ketogenic diets can be very effective in controlling weight. (The problem instead tends to occur if you come off a ketogenic diet, at which point it’s very easy to put on a large amount of weight!) A healthy vegan diet also tends to be very effective in bringing people slowly to their natural weight. It’s just a question of finding what works for you.

        And, as always, when it comes to issues of weight loss, regular cardiovascular exercise is at least as important as diet and judicious fasting!
        Tallis

  2. Hello, I was reading the article very well and before buying any ” package ” I want you to tell me what would be the best thing to do in my case: I am addicted to carbohydrates + sugar since I have use of reason and this has affected my life considerably; I feel that I am in a vicious circle from which I can’t leave. I’m 31 years old and I look older I don’t know if it’s because of the poor diet I’ve had for years and also have a few extra kilos. I’m from Argentina and since my English is very poor I am helping myself with google translator. I’m going to leave you my e-mail so you can tell me what kind of fasts I should do, how much time and costs $. I’m going to start reviewing my abandoned English to be able to communicate.

    1. Hi Joha,
      Thanks for writing. First, I just wanted to say that I’ve taken out your email from your comment, so that it’s not available for spammers to hack you! Second, no worries about your English. Google translate works well enough to get the idea across.

      If you feel like your main issues are carbohydrates, sugars and too much weight, then you might think first about trying to work on your diet before taking on a water fast. You said yourself that you’ve had a poor diet for years now. If this is the case, then a fast might help provide temporary relief and cleansing, but even more important than this is what you eat every day of your life.

      If I were you, I would look at trying to make long-term change rather than hope to magically fix things with a water fast. After you have a more generally healthy diet, then it’ll be easier for you to fast anyway. As with any issue concerning addiction, I’d also be very careful in setting attainable goals. Otherwise it’s just to easy to make big plans and then fail – which will only then reinforce the addiction. This means starting either with VERY short water fasts or maybe juice fasts. See how it goes, and when you feel comfortable with the given fast, try out a slightly more challenging one next time – but always within your limits. Over time, you’ll be able to manage longer fasts, which will allow you to go more deeply into cleansing.

      Another thing I’d suggest is regular cardiovascular exercise, as this will also lead to detox as well as strengthen your body in every respect. I’d always suggest using exercise as a more effective means than fasting if you want to lose weight successfully.

      Think of good health in terms of a triangle: Diet – Exercise – Fasting. We need all three!
      Hope this helps,
      Tallis

      1. Thank you very much, I honestly wanted to make a retreat next month since May 12th is my birthday and I wanted to travel. Not only I wanted to do a fast to lose kilos but to get mental clarity because I am at a time when I don’t know what to do with my life but I’ll take your advice, start doing cardiovascular exercise and change my diet little by little.

  3. Hi Tallis,
    I really want to do an extended water fast for weight loss and healing. I don’t have a problem with intermittent fasting but its not as effective as I want to be so I figured its best for maintenance.
    With that said, my problem is that I get bored without food by the end day 2, I am not supper hungry but I just terribly miss food and I end up eating. I keep busy and all but it seem to be a mind thing and not a body issue. How can overcome this and go past 3 days? I believe I can do more once I hit 3 days just once.

    1. Hi Tyra,
      Thanks for sharing. You’re absolutely right: the reason most people find themselves not being able to complete a planned fast is emotional, not physical: in that either they get bored without food or they miss food too much.

      There are two possibilities. If you’re fasting alone, then the highest chance of success is NOT to dive into a long fast. Your primal, basic ego (your animal self) will simply reject this as being too much, and override your rational, conscious decision to fast. It’s much wiser to take little steps, gently nudging towards longer fasts which don’t seem such of a threat to your ego – along with its addictions towards food and eating. (Don’t worry, we all have them…) This may mean increasing the length of each successive fast by hours rather than days. But if you have any history with eating disorders, even this can be a rocky road.

      If you really want to undertake an extended water fast sooner rather than later, given the way you’ve reacted so far to fasts I’d recommend doing this in a retreat setting where you have full support from a fasting guide and others fasting along with you. This is all the more important if you have any history with eating disorders.

      I’d stress one more thing: it’s unlikely that hitting 3 days will be like pressing a magic button to enable much longer fasts. Like you say, this is a mind issue not a body issue, and setting up the physical process of ketosis through a 3-day fast has nothing to do with the mind.

      All the best,
      Tallis

  4. Hello, I m about to start a water fast for weight loss. I smoke weed daily to help me cope with anxiety depression and daily suicidal thoughts. I smoke 2-3 spliffs a day. Can I carry on during the water fast. 10 day water fast.

    1. Hi Jana,
      Definitely not a good idea to smoke weed while fasting. The effects will be MUCH stronger!
      If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, I’d STRONGLY advise against fasting. First, seek professional counselling until you reach a reliable emotional equilibrium, because fasting can easily further destabilise those with mental health issues.
      All the best,
      Tallis

    2. I would say, the practical way to approach this would be to say ‘absolutely’. While smoking weed may not be ideal, you’ll be smoking it anyway so why not see how your digestic tract responses to a break. Our bodies expend 1/3 of it’s energy in digestion. Giving it a break from that has to be a good thing. Reefer or not.

      1. Or, another way of looking at it is: ‘absolutely’, go ahead and smoke anyway. I’d say your body is going to make its views pretty clear on the subject! Learning by doing…

  5. My husband is on day 5 of his first 7 day water fast. He has done 3 or 4 annual juice fasts lasting 21 days, but thinks water fast is more in line with his goals. But, problem is, he added black coffee to his fast on day 2 or 3 (2-3 cups in morning, and 2 cups at night), granted it is black, he normally adds milk and splenda. Has he done this entire fast in vain? The obvious answer seems to be yes, but maybe your words will resonate better with him than mine. No maybe about it actually! Thank you!!

    1. Hi Stacy,
      Thanks for your concern.
      Has he done the entire fast in vain? Well, no, I wouldn’t quite say that, but it’s definitely not the best!
      Black coffee isn’t going to interfere with the process of burning fat through ketosis, and therefore it won’t really interfere with the detox taking place. However, black coffee is pretty acidic, and this forces your intestines to protect themselves by secreting mucous. Effectively, this means that you’re keeping your digestive system switched on when what you want it to do (during a fast) is the exact opposite. The more your digestion is switched on, the less it can cleanse.
      If you’re totally addicted to caffeine, then instead of drinking coffee I’d recommend drinking green tea, because this has a much less significant impact on your digestion. Of course, the best of all would be simply to enjoy pure water only!
      Hope this answers your questions,
      Tallis

      1. Thank you for your reply! He did lose 12 pounds ( weight loss was not his goal though, cleaning plaque from his arteries was his true motivator). But..he did it! (Sort of), and knows he can make it through the 7 days mentally. Next time, if he HAS to he can consider the tea. Thanks again!!

  6. Hello,
    I want to start a water fast to overcome food addiction. It’s safe to do it while going to work? I really want to do it but afaird of the withdrawal symptoms especially hunger.

    1. Hi Kesego,

      It’s certainly “safe” to go to work while fasting, but it’s certainly something to be avoided if you can – and especially so if (1) you have the slightest fears about your fast or (2) are dealing with any kind of serious food addiction. Working while fasting is only going to raise your stress levels as a result, and this increases the chance that you’ll end up giving up on your fast or relapsing afterwards.

      It’s perfectly human to fear hunger and withdrawal symptoms. The gentlest and most successful way to approach fasting is not to challenge your fears too aggressively. This means taking on short fasts at first – something you’re absolutely sure you can complete. This applies even more so when dealing with food-related addictions. Rather than hoping to hit a home run on your first fast and magically eliminate your addiction, I’d suggest trying something shorter in which the aim is simply to prove to yourself that you can live without the object of your addiction for a little while. This will give you a base to build from in later and, hopefully, longer fasts.

      All the best,
      Tallis

  7. I am on a 14 day water fast and I am on day 6. I am happy about my fasting, but my caffeine withdrawal is still brutal (super intense muscle pain, absolutely no energy, and I can’t function). Just putting my clothes in the washer and dryer exhausts me. What do you suggest I do to help these withdrawal symptoms so I can function while on my water fast?

    1. Hi Michele,

      Sorry to hear you’re having a rough time of it. In order to figure out what’s best to do, we need to figure out exactly what’s causing these detox symptoms – because I’m not convinced that caffeine is the main culprit here.

      Withdrawal symptoms from a drug (eg caffeine) often resemble the more general detox symptoms of any water fast – and especially so for the first few water fasts, when you’re detoxing a lifetime’s worth of accumulated toxins. Another way of looking at it is to think of withdrawal symptoms as a kind of detox in itself.

      The muscle aches, lack of energy and the inability to ‘function’ (as you call it) are all symptomatic of heavy generalised detox. I suffered them myself over my first couple of 7-10 day fasts. Yes, caffeine withdrawal symptoms can also cause these. The reason, though, that I suspect caffeine isn’t the main problem in your case is the fact that you’ve not mentioned headache. Above all else, caffeine withdrawal symptoms tend to cause a nasty and potentially prolonged headache which could easily debilitate you over the first week of your fast (if not longer).

      To help relieve the muscle pains, I’d recommend hot baths. Lying in a nice, warm tub for a good 15-20 minutes helps the circulation to flow and flush out toxins which are trapped in the cells and lymph ducts. Warmth also helps aches and pains in general. Just be careful when you get out of the bath, because you’re blood pressure may drop as a result. You don’t want to risk blacking out and falling down!!!

      In terms of no energy, I’m afraid there’s not much you can do about this. Best thing is to rest, sleep and don’t fight it! If you have enough energy to go for a slow, gentle walk, this might also (temporarily) revitalise you, while flushing out toxins due to the increased circulation.

      Hope you feel better soon :-),
      Tallis

  8. Great article. I am starting my water fast today to break my food addiction and this article gave me so much to look forward to.

    1. Hi Shimona,
      Glad the article gave you some inspiration. It’s never easy dealing with food addictions, so I hope you can take the momentum of how you’re feeling into your fast. Go for it!

      I also hope you succeed in freeing yourself from your addiction with this fast. For ‘everyday’ types of food addictions, you’ll need to fast for at least several days to begin to make headways into your addiction. This means that it might take SEVERAL fasts to get to the point of actually breaking your addiction. So if you lapse back afterwards, please don’t consider it a failure. It’s more like a 2 steps forward, 1 step backwards kind of thing. Sometimes it can take several attempts for you to realise that, yes, you can live without the object of addiction.

      With this in mind, it’s important to know that you may feel a kind of emotional backlash immediately after the fast, with an increased attraction towards whatever food you’ve been trying to ‘beat’. So those first few days after your fast are critical. Stay strong!

      All the best,
      Tallis

        1. Hi again Jacob,
          If you’re fasting to help deal with sugary addictions, then at least as important as the fast itself is the period immediately following the fast. It’s crucial to listen to what your body is asking you to eat and not what your ego (the source of addictive behaviour) is saying. You’ll almost certainly find that if you do listen to your body, it won’t be asking for sugars – and especially the kind of refined sugars found in sweets (as opposed to the natural sugars in fruit for instance).
          Hope this helps,
          Tallis

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