The Psychological effects of fasting are positive and negative. It is a battle of the inner elements. Firing up anger and lion’s roars, watered by foggy brain, thrown off guard by the winds of change and lazily bound down to the Earth. After the first challenging days, especially when under supervised care of a professional fasting clinic, it all dissolves into nothingness. One has to struggle before finding peace or hike in the Himalayas. Well, we cannot do the later often, so let’s learn how to manage the psychological effects and struggles when water fasting.
Water fasting under medical supervision
I never thought I could do water fasting. I am one of those rare, always hungry skinny people that eat frequently and a lot. In fact, over 36 years I have never missed a one full day’s meal! I was curious how it feels not to be preoccupied with what my next mouthful will be. To feel ‘pure’ more in my mind, but also in my body. As a yogi I am aware of the importance of a regular purification to achieve a balanced mind-body state, the blissful union when time dissolves. So on my husband’s next trip to Lanserhof Am Tegernsee clinic, I joined in for a shorter version of the fast.
Psychological effects when water fasting
While my strength and energy waned after only the first day, my spiritual senses were elevated while strolling slowly the rolling hills. Journaling in the navy blue notebook “My Life” that was compiled by Lanserhof to set you on a new path clarified some inner blocks.
Even a three-days-fast felt so enlightening. I did not feel zesty, and could not participate in any physical and intellectual activity in the afternoons, but my mornings were productive. On the last day of my water fasting I was able to hike 5.5 km up a steep mountain, while others took the cable car! Taking an ’emergency’ energy smoothie from my doctor with me safeguarded my scaling up, yet I did not need it. I couldn’t run or bike up but in a moderate pace, still passing other hikers, I walked myself up. I felt empowered. I needed to physically challenge myself after a few years of a gentle, post wrist injury recuperation. This worked.
Fasting mental struggles
Another mild complication appeared to be that I am a foodie, analyzing every dish in detail and elevate food above its fueling purpose with culture, travel and creativity. Improvising at my home kitchen, I rarely push food away from my agenda. In fact, I get anxious without crunching on something for a while. Strangely, at Lanserhof my anxiety has diminished with every day’s passing. Getting beyond my comfort zone emotionally freed me. Like a magic pill for confidence (unlike that pint of my favourite pistachio ice cream, I devoured while writing this, that made me feel blissful but not confident) the fast had the same effect on me as deep meditation.
It taught me how our mind tricks us! Cravings are mighty tools of our emotions and our repeated thoughts enforce our behavior. Still, knowing does not mean doing, and I am back to my indulgent, yet mainly plant-based lifestyle. Like with meditation, the psychological effects of water fasting are short term. You keep that inner calm for a few days, perhaps, but you need to nurture the new feeling every single day. Most clients stay for three weeks, since this is the precise length required to form a new habit.
All three days I felt quasi-easy, my tummy was growling, and a foggy brain did not encourage any philosophical discussions. This is normal in the first few days of the fast as you hardly sleep. Also headaches can be very unpleasant. Particularly after some detox treatments like baths and saunas. I watered mine down, literally. Allegedly after the initial crisis and the body’s adjustment, the mind brightens and performs better than ever. I felt calm and alleviated headaches with additional hydration, so easy at Lanserhof where the local spring water gushes freely from all taps. I sipped on more liquids including the cosy warm herbal infusions each day than ever in my life. My favorites were the ginseng in the morning and barley, oatstraw or thyme in the afternoon. Indeed, I was fully in water fasting.
Many composers, writers and other creative people have voluntarily fasted, hence my interest in how my mind will be affected furthered my resolve. I walked outside in the lush Bavarian hills every day after a meal or one of the liquid meal replacements. Composing poetry, contemplating beauty, it felt marvelous to bathe in the numerous forest paths surrounding the clinic. Once I got spontaneously into forest running, losing myself to the wild elements. I felt that this was my time, and that probably cleared the path for my creative work. I had to be flexible and sensitive to when my mind was open to cooperate. The elevated sensibility during a fast can assist with creative writing and other arts. Forget logical thinking.
This was a lesson to remember: Do not blame yourself ever, do not stir up guilt for what you should have done, it will come if you want it to come. Establishing the right, undisturbed environment for me-time is essential for anyone’s mental wellbeing.
There are however some psychological conditions that could be aggravated by fasting. These are drug addictions, depression and psychiatric disorders. Mental health is more fragile than physical health, therefore any change affects its stability profoundly. We need to work on our mind daily to find inner peace, joy and acceptance of life as it is. I am not sure if I could manage a longer fast purely for my mental balance, but if a serious health condition, proven to be improved by fasting, stroke my life’s path, I would definitely give it a chance under a supervised medical care.
If you can afford it, Lanserhof is the place to fast safely. (Staying at the original Lanserhof in the Tyrolean Alps near Innsbruck in Austria costs much less and the seasonal pricing varies a lot, so do not give up on medical water fasting due to its luxurious set up at Tegernsee)