Human beings spend almost as much time eating as they do sleeping, and up to 40 percent of our calories are used to actually digest the food we consume. When eating is dropped from your daily routine, your life changes on many different levels. The dining downtime allows the body to prioritize detoxification and elimination over digestion. And the conscious denial of food challenges your concept of short-term satisfaction, not to mention you suddenly have a lot of extra time available.
Consult your physician if you are under his care or taking any prescription medication. If you have any medical concerns or problems whatsoever, fasting is probably not for you-at least not for the present.
Prepare mentally to fast. Reading up on the subject may be useful, especially if you have health issues such as blood sugar instability or if you require regular medication. Determine how long you are going to fast, and plan your life accordingly. Ask yourself why you are doing this and what you hope to gain from it. Consider the ramifications of not eating in terms of possible irritability, inability to concentrate, bad breath, confrontation of explaining why you are not eating if you are around others. Be prepared for distractions or situations where you could eat before you even realize you are doing it.
Schedule the entire event of fasting from before it starts until well after you have completed it. Know what you will be doing throughout the period. For example, you should not attend a wedding feast one night and begin a fast the next morning. Conversely, you should not end a fast abruptly with a large meal. All kinds of reactions are likely to occur going into and coming out of a fast, especially if you are not accustomed to fasting. Optimally you should eat very healthy foods in moderate amounts (or less) prior to fasting. When you are coming out of a fast, the idea is the same with more emphasis on sparingly.
Decide on how you want to look and feel while fasting. Many people think this is an odd concern, but much of what we experience in life is closely associated with what we expect and the mental pictures we program into our minds. Mental preparation will help you around the ideas of suffering and holiness. Ultimately fasting would not be apparent to anyone observing you in your life. When I fast, my intent is to be transparent to my wife, children and of course my business associates. This is quite difficult on an extended fast lasting more than a day or two. The feeling I normally experience is sluggishness during the first day, then greatly increasing energy and lightness, especially as the fast extends into the first few days.
Define what fasting actually is. Be prepared that your mind will play tricks on you. You may tell yourself there is no harm in taking a little nibble of something. You also must decide if you think drinking is allowed when you fast. Obviously you have to be careful that you do not become dehydrated, but you also need to decide at what point you have enough liquid. Probably the best way to tell is how many times you urinate. When fasting, you should not be in the bathroom more than once or twice per day, so you are drinking too much if nature calls more often than that. And decide what you will drink. Water is the obvious choice for hydrating, but you will be surprised how many different kinds of nutrients you can ingest through drinking and how easily you can be tempted to drink something when you are hungry.
Schedule your fast so that you have less interaction with people than normal. This is a time best used in solitude and inactivity. Obviously a weekend or vacation is an excellent time. Also plan the time of day to begin and end the fast. Many people start a fast on Saturday night after their evening meal and end the fast Sunday with their evening meal. You will barely notice you are fasting if you plan your day sensibly. Some people go on leisurely mountain forest hikes when they fast.
Limit initial fasts to a single day and increase the amount of time gradually each time you fast or not at all. Never jump into an extended fast until you know what you are doing and you have experienced the nuances of life’s experiences caused by not eating.
Be prayerful and meditative. If this does not suit you, then there is no point in fasting. In general our lives overall and certainly our experience of life is a product of our thinking and our beliefs. When fasting, this activity is greatly accelerated and intensified. You can achieve great results in controlling your life to your benefit and the benefit of others. My most likely time to fast is when I am unable to reconcile overwhelming events in my life. A few days of fasting and introspection can work wonders in synchronizing the body, mind and spirit.
Monitor your bodily functions and blood sugar carefully. Many people develop bad headaches when fasting. This is not acceptable. You need to address this sensibly. Either end your fast or gradually drink a small amount of water. During a fast, a small amount of pure fruit juice, especially orange juice is acceptable. But be very deliberate and only drink as much as you have decided in advance would be acceptable.
End your fast at the appointed time with attention to how much and what kind of food you consume. Be careful about overeating, especially food that tastes good to you. I knew some ashram sisters who ended a long fast with potato chips and carbonated beverages. They were very uncomfortable, even sick, for the next day or two as a result of this very poor choice. An excellent menu for breaking a fast would be brown rice, simple whole grain bread, or simple salads without dressing. Fruit is all right but usually tends to raise your blood sugar too fast. Avoid dairy products, heavy carbohydrates like pancakes or waffles (especially with syrup) and most meats. If you only fasted for one day, then your body will be much more forgiving, but be very careful about allowing your blood sugar to increase too fast.