In this article, I’m going to talk about how water fasting has helped me deeply transform myself and my life.
Just a quick note that this is just a sharing of my experiences with water fasting. Water fasting is not suitable for everyone. You should consult your relevant medical professional before embarking on a water fast. This article does not constitute medical advice.
About 20 years ago on a trip to visit family in New Zealand, I got the worst bout of food poisoning I have ever had.
I spent around 10 days in bed, unable to keep much down, including water. I didn’t eat during that time. Surprisingly, I didn’t die (obviously) from the lack of food and water. I just dropped a dress size and mostly wasted my trip overseas lying in bed.
However, if you listen to the conventional medical “wisdom”, going without food for days is a terrible idea, and could even kill you or land you in hospital.
It is true that water fasting IS a bad idea for some people (especially people on medications, with eating disorders, underweight people and pregnant/nursing women.)
But as a species we are physiologically evolved to go without food for certain periods of time. Our ancestors did it in times of scarcity. We know that we as humans are evolved to water fast because we have a separate system of extracting energy from our fat reserves in the absence of food (ketosis) that most of us never use. We also store some of the nutrients we need to function in the liver and in fatty tissues, enabling us to be nourished to some extent even when food is absent.
I’d heard a lot about the physical healing benefits of water fasting and so in 2022, I decided to give it a go.
My first water fast was a 3 day one. Then I did a 7 day fast and next I did a 12 day fast, working with fasting coach Tallis Barker, since it was such a long fast. Since then I’ve done multiple 1-4 day water fasts.
At first, I was seeking the physical health benefits of water fasting more than anything else (and there were a few.) But what surprised me most about water fasting were the emotional and spiritual benefits.
Next, I’m going to talk about what I think these benefits are.
Water fasting can reveal you to yourself
Besides the obvious hunger, the most noticeable thing that happens for me when I water fast is that my ego and “monkey mind” completely switch themselves off.
From a spiritual perspective, this can be unbelievably helpful, and for many of us fasting can facilitate a temporary change from ego consciousness to soul consciousness. Basically, it allows us to tap into our higher selves (or God/Source/Spirit) without the “monkey mind” interfering so much.
The “monkey mind” is part of your ego consciousness. It is the part of you that that narrates your life, worries, pokes holes in things, and monitors perceived incoming threats. Some people may have a neutral relationship with the monkey mind (I once knew someone who told me he gets bored when he’s not around people, because he doesn’t really have many thoughts!)
But I think it’s more common for the monkey mind to be an active and oppressive influence in peoples’ lives, simply because it comes from that ancient reptilian part of us that wants us to survive. The monkey mind doesn’t really care about much except our survival, which is why its focus can often be quite negative and scarcity driven.
The monkey mind can often encourage us to stay safe, not put ourselves out there, be overly cautious, avoid rejection, and see everything as a competition for resources. It doesn’t help us to grow — it is more likely to keep us stuck. It can parrot any hidden, subconscious limiting beliefs back to us in the form of negative thoughts.
As I mentioned, when I water fast, the monkey mind completely disappears (I suspect this happens because it hasn’t got access to the glucose it needs to function) and this creates an unusually serene and receptive space where all kinds of interesting things float to the surface, without the ego trying to hide them from me.
In my experience, here’s what can float to the surface during a water fast:
- Hidden limiting subconscious beliefs, with absolute clarity
- Painful emotions or memories, which can then be released
- I also tend to get clarity and guidance about my next steps in life and anything that needs changing – especially the kind of guidance that Spirit has previously been attempting to get to me, but the monkey mind has scoffed at and discarded
- A spontaneous letting go of an attachment to someone or something
- Experiencing forgiveness for oneself or another spontaneously, without trying or wishing for it to happen.
I’ve had all of these things happen during a water fast, and I think they happened precisely because my ego was offline.
An Example of what this looked like
During one water fast (this was a 3 day fast) I finally became aware of a very damaging subconscious pattern I’d been running for most of my life, which was blocking me from manifesting my desires in life.
Here’s how I identified it during the fast:
I use a language learning app to practice the 2 foreign languages I learned at University 20 years ago.
I did have a vague awareness that this app often made me feel tense or bad, but it was hard for me to “pin it down” and understand why.
During the fast, because my mind was a place of peace, I had the same bad feeling using the app but this time (with no monkey mind or ego resistance blocking it) the insights came in thick and fast.
Uncovering the limiting belief behind this
One of my parents was emotionally abusive, occasionally giving me the impression they admired me but also frequently giving me the message that I was incompetent and useless.
In childhood and for the first 27 years of my life I was given the message that I was:
- not good enough
- could not do enough to satisfy this person
- didn’t do things well enough.
This message was painful and the parent in question was unwilling to consider the impact this behaviour had on me or make a change, so I ended up cutting contact with them many years ago. (Now I understand they were just stubbornly repeating the messages they received from their parent, my grandmother.)
I knew how toxic the behaviour was but I hadn’t realised how deeply this message was embedded in my subconscious mind, until I water fasted.
When I fasted, my mind was like a peaceful lake.
Up through the surface of the lake, came the clues that I hadn’t been able to piece together before and now they were like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle forming a clear picture that I could see.
During this fast, I was shown scenes from my life.
I was deeply distressed doing my high school exams and obsessed with getting perfect results, but I didn’t know why.
When I did my final exams at University (studying French and Spanish – the 2 languages I was practising in the app) I was so distressed that I developed a repetitive strain injury from writing and holding my pen very tensely. I was really tense and scared because I didn’t feel I was going to measure up.
I was told multiple times by my peers and teachers at University that I lacked confidence, but I never really related to this.
When I was 22, I Googled the phrase “how to stop being such a perfectionist” but the search results didn’t really help me at the time.
When I learned the Argentine tango, I often found the learning process upsetting because it is a hard dance to learn and you can spend the first 1-2 years dancing poorly. The lack of confidence in myself and what I was capable of was really notable, and it drove my progress forward in that dance in a way that was probably quite dysfunctional. I was not learning the tango mostly out of love and passion for the dance (although I did love it), but out of a sense of not being good enough. Improving my dance became an obsession that was about gaining self-worth artificially.
I suddenly knew where this obsession came from. While learning the tango a few years ago, I had flashbacks of practising the piano as a young child and being kicked off my chair because my parent didn’t feel I was sufficiently devoted to the piano or good at it (I wasn’t and I hated it.) I sometimes felt terrified that someone was going to hit me when I was learning the tango and when I was still not dancing very well.
And worst of all, I went throughout my day with a voice narrating everything, making a list of everything I hadn’t done that day and telling me what a disappointment I was. That I don’t do enough, am lazy and the things I do do, are not done well enough. It was like a toxic black cloud that hung over my days and my life and this voice had got louder and meaner as the years passed.
These insights in retrospect seemed so utterly obvious but they still made me gasp in horror when I pieced them all together and understood the stranglehold this belief that “I wasn’t good enough” had had over my life.
I was so habituated to this critical voice that I barely noticed its presence. I only noticed the effects of what it was saying.
And the more I heard this critical voice, the less I did because I didn’t feel good enough for the things I wanted to do. I actually think this belief ran my life, making me ill and depressed in 2021-2022. The sicker I became, the less I did because I lacked the energy. Then the vicious cycle would continue with the voice berating me even more about the lack of activity or achievement.
I am glad that I tried out water fasting because it created a receptive, peaceful space, allowing this belief to fully come out of the subconscious and to the surface for the first time. Turning off the monkey mind made me notice what it spent most of its time telling me. It enabled me to really notice, with absolute clarity:
- I didn’t feel good enough.
- I didn’t think I would ever measure up.
- I wasn’t a very confident person in many areas of my life.
- I felt that I could never “do” enough.
I did have an inkling my whole life that I sometimes lacked confidence, but I definitely didn’t understand the extent of it.
So that was one life-changing experience with water fasting and the most helpful one.
What I did to change this belief that I wasn’t good enough
I am sharing this next part because I know that this is a belief many of my clients have suffered from, because of childhood conditioning or the effects of the capitalistic society we live in, which makes us feel deficient so that we will then buy stuff to fix our “deficiencies”.
To change this belief, I made a list of all my achievements in life and when the monkey mind started up its nonsense about how I’m not good enough, I said ‘no’ and listed them all out, hammering the monkey mind with them. I included absolutely everything I have achieved, even the smaller things like “I passed my driving test” 🙂 and “I can cook.”
I noticed the monkey mind narrating throughout the day and I replied to it with loving thoughts about being good enough and all being well. I felt so good saying these things to myself and the toxic black cloud started to dissipate.
I also said affirmations such as:
I am so capable
I am so strong
Look at everything I’ve achieved
I am good enough
I don’t have to do anything to be good enough
I don’t have to be perfect to be loved
I am loved even when I make mistakes
I do enough
My best is good enough
There’s nothing wrong with me
There’s everything right with me.
I think these kinds of affirmations are particularly helpful for people who grew up with a critical/emotionally abusive/narcissistic caregiver.
Finally, to eradicate this negative belief I used my language app not only to learn languages but also as a mindfulness practice
I made the connection between my traumatic final exams at University (I studied French and Spanish) and using the languages app to practise those languages. I noticed how small and overwhelmed I felt when I considered all the French and Spanish vocabulary I’d never have time to learn and what my monkey mind said my deficiencies were as a linguist.
I noticed the tension that came up when I was using the app. I noticed the monkey mind narration telling me I’m wasting my time and to not bother. I said affirmations to counter those thoughts when they came up and I met those negative feelings without resistance, and loved myself through it.
According to studies in psychology, it takes approximately 45 days to form a new neural pathway in the brain and prune an old one. This was something I needed to work at daily, over a period of weeks, in order to change.
I believe water fasting can be a very powerful tool for spiritual evolution, healing and raising consciousness. It does seem to facilitate helpful inner work spontaneously.
For balance, I feel I should talk about some of the downsides of water fasting, too:
- Water fasting can be hard and a slog for some people (it was for me.) I got really hungry and was absolutely obsessed with food throughout my water fasts, although I’ve noticed that people often report that water fasting is easier than they expected, so my experience may not be typical
- I couldn’t work more than a couple of hours per day or get much done around the house while fasting, as my energy was so low, and apparently this is a common experience. It isn’t ideal to do a long water fast while working a full time job
- If you’re a woman of reproductive age, fasting can mess with your menstrual cycle. Fasting interfered with my menstrual cycle a little bit for a few months after the fasts (I did a 7 day fast in December 2022 and a 12 day fast the next month) so this was 19 days in a relatively short period without giving my endocrine system some of the nutrients it needed to produce the hormones that keep the menstrual cycle running smoothly.