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Every once in a while, I’ll get a call from someone who wants advice on how to go on a short-term fast. My first response is always the same—“Why?” Usually, I’ll hear one of two things: there are those who want to drop a couple of pounds quickly, and then there are those who, for want of a better analogy, want to “clean out their pipes.” In either case, I suppose part of the appeal of a short-term fast is the sense that, in effect, you’ve “wiped the slate clean.” It’s kind of like changing the oil in your car, or cleaning out your closet.
A short fast (not eating for a day or two) probably won’t do you any harm as long, as you’re healthy and you keep yourself well hydrated. Most people will sip on water, broth, herbal teas and 100% fruit juices in the process. And, yes, you might drop a couple of pounds along the way. That’s not unexpected if you eat little to nothing for a couple of days. But most of the weight loss is water, and your weight will probably bounce right back when you start eating again.
I’m not sure why the idea of giving your digestive tract a rest is so appealing, unless perhaps you feel like your system has been abused or overused. I suppose if you’ve been eating recklessly, then simply not eating is going to bring the bad behavior to a screeching halt. Of course, not eating badly in the first place makes a lot more sense to me.
So, here’s a thought: rather than putting your digestion on hiatus for a couple of days, you could adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle every day, for life. Start with a diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and high fiber whole grains to help keep the digestive tract running smoothly. And make sure to give your body adequate fluids to help your kidneys do their job. Then take a regular trot around the block to give your cardiovascular system a workout and help you work up a sweat.
We don’t ever consider giving our heart or our lungs a time out, so why do we feel the need to shut down the digestive tract for a day or two? Cleaning up your act temporarily to atone for your dietary sins doesn’t make much sense if you’re just setting yourself up to do it again. Rather than swinging wildly between ‘feeding and fasting,’ wouldn’t it just make more sense to put the right stuff into your system in the first place?
Susan is the Sr. Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife, where she is responsible for the development of nutrition education and training materials, and is one of the primary authors of the Herbalife-sponsored blog, www.discovergoodnutrition.com. She is a Registered Dietitian and holds two Board Certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. Susan is also a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan graduated with distinction in biology from the University of Colorado, and received her master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She then completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kansas. Susan has taught extensively and developed educational programs targeted to individuals, groups and industry in her areas of expertise, including health promotion, weight management and sports nutrition.
Prior to her role at Herbalife, she was the assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, and has held appointments as adjunct professor in nutrition at Pepperdine University and as lecturer in nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Susan was a consultant to the (then) Los Angeles Raiders for six seasons, and was a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times Health Section for two years. She is a co-author of 23 research papers, 14 book chapters, and was a co-author of two books for the public: “What Color is Your Diet?” and “The L.A. Shape Diet” by Dr. David Heber, published by Harper Collins in 2001 and 2004, respectively.