What the Bleep is a Fast?
M Jane Mutti, M.D
Fasting and Feasting in Costa Rica is a 5 week event sponsored and supervised by Dr. Doug Graham who has over 30 years experience in conducting and breaking fasts. The event is held at Rio Chirripo Retreat in south central Costa Rica. The center is nestled into the mountain side at 3800 feet just below the level of the cloud forest. It sits in the hills at the foot of Mt. Chirripo, the highest mountain in the country, a popular hiking destination.
We are housed two to a room in simple yet comfortable accommodations in two villas which sit side by side, both two story with two rooms up and two down. Each room opens onto a balcony which overlooks a deep valley toward the verdant green slopes of the opposing mountain. At 7:00 am every morning the sun peaks over the mountain ridge flooding the balcony and our rooms with its warming and illuminating rays. Another beginning to a glorious day in paradise. The Chirripo river runs along the foot of the property, roaring over rocks and boulders on its way to the sea. The constant drone of the rushing water creates a background of white noise which is present day and night.
Just a few steps down the drive and a flagstone path is the community hall. The meeting room is circular housed under a high conical roof supported by a large central post and numerous radiating spokes or rafters all painted a deep mahogany red. In contrast is the ceiling lined by yellow bamboo rounds in each pie shaped segment of roof. At the back of the room is a large fireplace and arranged in a semicircle about it two large seating areas with plenty of room in front for mats to adequately seat all our group and allow the fasters to recline. Off the meeting room is a large open kitchen and outside food prep area and at the front of the building adjacent to the kitchen a spacious open air dining hall.
From the community center down a flight of flagstone steps and path is the swimming pool and hot tub both lined in small blue tiles with dazzlingly clear, sparkling water. A large covered shady area is perfect for lounging. There are also two showers and toilets at pool side. Another flight of steps leads down to the river’s edge where a very invigorating dip may be had. Above our villas up the drive is another beautiful building with hardwood floor which is often used for yoga.
So that’s the setting. Now on to the fasting. The whole event is based on the principles of Natural Hygiene which has been well written about since the late 1800’s. Herbert Shelton, in his large tome Fasting and Sunbathing, provides extensive documentation for the benefits of fasting. A true fast of the kind we are undergoing, is a complete rest for the body and the complete abstinence from food and drink of any kind except water. And water must be drunk in adequate amounts to dilute the toxins liberated during the fast and allow for their effective and safe elimination by the kidneys, liver, lungs, and skin.
During the fast we include these essentials of healthy living.
- Exposure to adequate sunlight through sunbathing in the less intense rays of the early morning or late afternoon sun.
- Exposure to pure air through airbathing and breathing in the fresh, unpolluted air of this pristine valley.
- Adequate pure water provided by the artesian springs above the retreat center.
- Nutritious diet biologically compatible with our anatomy and physiology. This aspect of Natural Hygiene will be slowly implemented on breaking the fast. We will be following Dr. Graham’s low fat, raw vegan diet of whole, ripe, raw, fresh, organic plant based foods. essentially fruits, greens, and high water content, nonstarchy vegetables as explained in his book The 80/10/10 Diet.
- Exercise to maintain and improve fitness, focusing on cardiorespiratory ability, neurological skills or balance, flexibility, and muscle strength and endurance based on FIT or frequency, intensity, time or duration of exercise. Again fitness will be slowly implemented following the fast.
- Rest and relaxation to allow the body to restore, rebuild, and rejuvenate itself.
- Adequate sleep, especially deep sleep during which the body restores its vitality, its life force or nerve energy.
- Emotional poise and mental calm.
During the course of a water only fast, the body first uses its glycogen reserves stored in muscle as fuel. As the glycogen is released and metabolized to glucose, water which is stored with it and in the mitochondria of the muscle cells is also released accounting for the rapid water weight loss. By day two the glycogen reserves have been exhausted and the body turns to burning all nonessential and unuseable energy reserves such as fat stored in atherosclerotic plaque, in cysts, tumors and cancerous growths, in inflammatory debris and dead cells within tissues throughout the body. Then fat in the subcutaneous tissues, marbled in muscle, in the abdomen surrounding organs is mobilized and metabolized to glucose. Typically 2 pounds of fat per week are burned. A well supervised fast always ends before there is any danger of the body burning protein for fuel which demarcates the line between fasting and starvation. Our group of 11 fasters (as well as 10 interns and staff, whose weight remained relatively stable during the course of the event) lost a total of 266 pounds or 120 kilos in 4 weeks of fasting.
Fuel or glucose, to which all other substances are converted, is distributed in the following proportions to the body—10% to the brain, the first priority, 20% to the other organs, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, endocrine glands, and the remaining 70% to digestion and muscular activity. The more complex and challenging the meals delivered to the gastrointestinal tract, the more energy required for their digestion, absorption, and assimilation. This may take all 70% of the remaining fuel leaving next to none or nothing for muscular activity—thus the resulting fatigue, exhaustion, and inability to meet normal daily demands. On the other hand, a diet which is simple and easy to digest, providing most of its calories from fruit as glucose or fructose which can be directly absorbed and used will require only 20% of the body’s fuel to handle leaving a whopping 50% for activity leading to a vital and vibrant life.
The purpose of a fast is to put the body at rest. The digestive tract, receiving only water has no demands made upon it and essentially shuts down for remodelling, completely renewing its lining or mucosal surface over the course of the fast. All impacted and sequestered liquid and fecal matter is moved into the lumen of the GI tract and is eliminated either during or soon after the fast is completed. The muscles of the body are put to rest through prolonged relaxation and sleep. Deep sleep restores the body’s nerve energy or the low voltage electrical energy that powers the body’s processes.
As the body burns fat the accumulated toxins which are stored in the fat and the associated water diluting the toxins is liberated. These toxins or poisons include environmental toxins, prescription and recreational drugs, caffeine, theobromine and cannabinoids found in chocolate, nicotine, alcohol, the cidal chemicals—herbicides, pesticides, fungicides - applied to commercially grown fruit and vegetables, the hormones and antibiotics given to commercially raised animals, and found in their byproducts such as eggs, and dairy. These toxins are then handled by the appropriate organs of elimination to restore the body including the liver and kidneys to a pristine state. Calcium deposits found in kidney stones, joints and tissues and Alzheimer’s plaques in the brain are broken down and removed.
During the course of the fast the fasters are monitored daily by a superb group of young interns dedicated to learning and practising Natural Hygiene. Parameters such as urine output and color, blood pressure, pulse and respiratory rate, skin color and temperature, breath odor, coating of the tongue, grip strength, emotional state, mental state and any symptoms or concerns are recorded and discussed with Dr Graham. The interns are a tremendous support physically and emotionally and provide immediate help, care, and love.
Every afternoon a program is held in the community meeting room. Grant Campbell, Dr Graham’s right hand man puts on a video showcasing some of the leaders in the field of Natural Hygiene presenting the essentials of healthful living and the benefits of fasting. This is followed by a new addition this year, one or two songs beautifully sung by our multitalented interns as a choir, small group, duet, or solo. This is a highlight of the afternoon. Grant follows up with a round of good news from each one who is present. This often results in some deep sharing and is a wonderful way of bonding the group. The lighter side of fasting raises some laughter and smiles from the reading or recalling of jokes.
Then Dr Graham takes over and shares some thoughts from the universe, insightful pieces for our contemplation, and proceeds to detailing two or three case histories which illustrate what can happen during a fast, its benefits, and what leads to successful maintenance of those benefits or portends failure. A lecture on one or another aspect of fasting, nutrition, and later fitness, always very informative, is given. Then come The Laws of Nature or Rules of Life, all integral to one another and together completely covering all facets of the body’s functioning. When these laws are taken to heart, understood and applied they will assure a healthful life in conjunction with the other essentials of healthful living.
The program ends with a reading of one of the chapters of Dr Graham’s book about the jungle of Uvita, a small biodiverse and ecosensitive region extending from the coast inland for less than 10 miles in southwestern Costa Rica. Flora, fauna, terrain and dangers to keep a look out for are exquisitely detailed. An open space for the voicing of concerns, questions and helpful answers ends the afternoon program and the fasters all trek back to their rooms to rest.
In this group some fasters broke their fast on day 24 or 25 including all those returning home after the 5 week event. This allowed them a full 12 days to recover. Then every day saw another one or two fasters breaking the fast on day 26, 27, 28, then day 30 and lastly day 32 which actually equalled 34 days as these fasters had been fasting for two days prior to the event. These longer fasters remained for the walking tour giving them 18 days recovery time, essentially half as long as the fast itself. Recovery is an integral part of the fast. It seems that the greater the level of fitness prior to the fast, the more rapid the recovery. However, each fasters experience is unique with its attendant ups and down just as during the fast. Supreme patience and surrender to what is, is imperative. Resistance only brings suffering. So we each relax into the experience and enjoy the ride as best we can, making only as much effort as possible and allowing the body time to recoup.
The breaking of the fast is as important as the fast itself. It is done very gradually with one slice of watermelon on the evening of the first day. This may be followed by a second and third slice at hourly intervals if hungry. The second day, a slice of watermelon can be had hourly throughout the day. And the third day as much watermelon as is cared for may be eaten. These first three days are still very much a part of the fast as the total calories taken in is minimal and the body continues to burn fat and require rest.
Light stretching can be done on the third day. The fourth day the guideline is to earn your meal by walking up the drive to the yoga studio or the entrance gate before each meal, again of watermelon as much as you care for. By the fifth day more extensive walking may be done as possible and the evening meal is a glass of juice and a platter of sliced mango and tomato. The sixth day is one of joining the interns in their meals, watermelon for breakfast, banana smoothie or bananas for lunch, and a full three or four course dinner of juice, soup, and greens.
Our chef Clarissa Clark, is a master at using the same few ingredients and coming up with a variety of unique, interesting, and appetite piquing courses. The interns report that during the 5 weeks she has not repeated herself once. The meal is always presented in a welcoming and appealing ambience coordinated with the theme of the meal and is a gala occasion and a wonderful celebration of family.
In the last three days of the event Dr Graham leads a fitness class at poolside doing a variety of graded callisthenics with arms and legs in a variety of positions to achieve exercises of relative ease to remarkable difficulty. The number of repetitions determines whether endurance or strength are being emphasized. All use only body weight and gravity as resistance to build up strength, endurance, balance, flexibility, and cardiorespiratory reserve. These exercises are fun, all intended as play rather than work and are an inviting way to achieve fitness. Many involve pairs or groups so are great as a team or family activity.
Two days before the event ended we had a closing ceremony in which we had the opportunity to appreciate each individual present through sharing a word we associated uniquely with that person. It was a beautiful way to honor each participant.
Our event ended with an exotic party. Vicki, master of ambience and responsible for each evenings dinner setting, created this final extravaganza with the help of her crew of Nathanial, Jeremy, and Jesus. Over the entry way to the Community Hall was a festive sign “Welcome to Fruition”. We parted blue drapes to find ourselves in a warm, inviting, and intimate bar-café with several seating areas in which to gather, chat, and sip exquisite fruit drinks from the superbly staffed juice bar. Our hostesses, Clarissa and Katy, circulated with tray after tray of delectable hors d'œuvres.
Next Danielle treated us to a slide show of before and after shots of each participant and we were wowed by the astonishing changes in figure, posture, and brightness of eyes. Then a great video, prepared by Kevin and featuring Dr Doug Graham performing a variety of challenging fitness exercises was shown. This is intended to be a FoodnSport.com promo for Health and Fitness Week. Very impressive and inspiring of the levels of fitness that can be achieved on the 80/10/10 low fat raw vegan diet.
We then sat around the tables in the café for a main course, the delightful ending to an evening of new taste sensations, remarkably creative food preparations and presentations. All in all a fitting finale to this extraordinary event. Enough praise for Dr Graham and his able staff of interns and local help cannot be offered. What a gift we have all given ourselves in completing this fast and feast.
Shared with permission