Fasting is not a new concept to me. Over the years during my times in Ashrams we would, once a week, do a 36 hour fast. The first time was hellish. After that it got easier and since then I’ve gone through phases of continuing this practice at home. I have to say, it’s not easy to do a fast at home with all the temptations in the cupboards. That’s why when Christine suggested I join the upcoming Fasting Retreat at the end of January I decided to give it a go.
I’d been teaching yoga at her fasting retreats for some time and we decided it would be a good idea if I did it myself so that I had personal experience of what it’s like to be on a 6 day fast. There were two options – either to do a 6 day juice fast or the all-in Buchinger Fast during which you have a small cup of juice in the morning, drink a lot of liquids during the day (water or herbal teas) and have a bowl of broth at 6pm. I decided if I was in, I was all in. Buchinger it was.
In the week before the retreat, the idea is to slowly reduce your food intake and start eliminating obvious offenders such as caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar, then dairy, then animal protein, pulses until you’re just on veggies and fruit.
We arrived at Christine’s beautiful house, located a couple of minutes from the village of Biot, on the Saturday afternoon. There were 4 of us, all doing the full Buchinger Fast. After a self covid test we were sat down in the kitchen with a bowl of Chlorure de Magnesium. It’s revolting stuff. You mix the powder in a bowl of water and try and swallow it down as quickly as possible, followed by a prune juice chaser to disguise the taste. This powder acts like a ‘purge’. Thats a nice word for a rather unpleasant process of emptying the digestive tract quickly. One participant couldn’t drink it, the rest of us did. One person had instant results, one had no results and I had results that continued for 24 hours… As I understood, the idea of the purge is that once you’re empty you stop producing the hormones that make you hungry. It’s true, after a short while the tummy rumbles stopped (at first replaced by alarming purging gut gurgles which certainly gave me something else to focus on).
After ‘dinner’ (broth) on the first evening we watched an interesting film on the benefits of fasting. It’s really quite amazing. It reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system, brings on autophagy, a process whereby healthy cells destroy unhealthy cells, it reduces the allergic response of the body to histamines, and of course, gives your system a rest and time to cleanse. It’s advised not to wear deodorant so the toxins can exit more easily.
The next day we settled into our routine. Movement practice or self-massage at 9am followed by a cup of juice at 9.30 and then on the fuel of the juice a good long hike at 10am to stimulate the system. We did the longest hike on the first day when energy levels were highest. Each daily hike Christine took us to different spots, all beautiful, some woodlands, one river, one coastal, a hill top. Returning home at what would be lunchtime we were encouraged to take time to read, rest, relax, sauna/ice bath (the freezing cold swimming pool), have a massage, have a nap, then yoga at 4.30 followed by 6pm broth. It’s amazing how excited you can get about having a bowl of hot water that vegetables have been boiled in.
The sauna was a total life-saver. You get really cold when you’re fasting and the sauna heats up your bones nicely as well as helping the detox process. Christine showed us how to make lovely salt body scrubs which are amazing after you’re warmed up in the sauna. Himalayan salt, almond base oil, essential oils of your choice, all mixed together and then scrubbed lightly onto the skin in the shower. Your skin feels amazing and smells amazing afterwards. She also showed us how to make natural face masks and hair masks. Great for self-care routines.
Whilst Christine is also a massage therapist, she calls in local practitioners to offer other treatments. I went for a fabulous tuning forks and reflexology session with Louise Vaughan-Arbuckle. She’s a phenomenal energy worker and the session really went deep. We also had an evening session with the lovely Susanne Bohush of Bach Flower Remedies. That was an interesting and revealing talk.
It’s amazing just how much time you can spend thinking and talking about food when you can’t have any. The group aspect of the fast was very helpful, to know that other people were going through the same process, that we were all in it together. Christine was also very good at steering us to alternative topics of conversation. Having said that, each morning we played ‘guess the juice ingredients’ and each evening ‘guess the vegetables which have been boiled in this water’ which was a food topic that was permitted.
It became clear to me pretty quickly that I have a habit of comfort eating. I enjoy the feeling of being satiated by food. Food was like my emotional support and when it was removed I had no option but to address the things which had been buried or covered up by this distraction. As much as I was having a hard time with no food, the mental clarity gained by fasting was amazing. All sorts of things came up that clearly needed to be released and my mantra for the week became I LET GO. I LET GO when I was walking, doing yoga, I LET GO during my pranayama practice, during my amazing reflexology treatment, I LET GO during a massage, while I was sauna-ing. I – LET – GO.
Christine very kindly let me bring my little cat Rusty with me. He quickly became my emotional support buddy. He’s a great little snuggler and I love his gentle, accepting, tolerant nature. He helped me though the process. He helps me accept myself.
During the fasting process you switch from burning glucose to burning ketone bodies (fat supplies). We tested our urine regularly to watch the change. It’s a strange sensation feeling your body chomping up its own reserves. I have to say by day 4 I was pretty much done but had set my intention firmly in my head that I would see this through to the end. I felt like I was sliding into a fairly deep emotional cleanse and it was getting a bit heavy. Days 5 and 6 were honestly not much fun for me. When typically your energy levels surge after day 4, mine plummeted. I couldn’t even stand up without nearly passing out, full head spins and vision blanking out.
One of the other ladies was also having a pretty profound emotional cleanse whilst the other 2 were relaxed and happy. I think this may also be partly to do with our current circumstances. The two relaxed happy ones were between jobs on sabbaticals with no major commitments on the go, whilst the other lady and I were continuing to work online. That, coupled with the fact I got my period on day 3, didn’t really work in my favour. With a fast this intense my advice now would be: dedicate the time fully to yourself. It can take a lot of your mental, emotional and physical reserves so give yourself your full focus.
On the 6th day before we went out for our last hike I had to have a teaspoon of honey, there were simply no reserves to draw upon. On the hike around the Cap d’Antibes I had to stop and rest while the others seemingly skipped along the final leg up and down all the steps to Villa Eileen Roc. I had a moment of clarity, sitting by myself on the end of the Cap in the afternoon winter sunshine. We are made up of so much more than just a physical body. We are emotional beings, intellectual beings, spiritual beings, so it’s no wonder that we cleanse on all these different levels. Having that insight helped me to have more compassion towards myself and the heavy stuff I was processing.
On the final evening, Christine talked us through the protocol of breaking the fast. There are quite a few rules when reintroducing food. She’s so knowledgeable and handled our millions of questions. The idea is that you come out of a fast the same way that you went in, slowly reintroducing each food group and keeping the quantities small. She gave us loads of tips and a detailed list of do’s and don’t’s. I referred back to the list many times in the days that followed.
Day 7, breaking the fast. It’s hard to express just how happy I was to get back to food. I had so missed the nourishment. We broke the fast with one soaked prune with a teaspoon of soaked flax seeds. I never knew you could actually chew a flax seed. But you can, and you can give them a really good go. We then made ‘maim aux fruits’ – basically half a smashed banana with nut oil, lemon juice, ground seeds and finely chopped fruit. A tiny portion. And we had to take 20 minutes to eat it. ‘Drink your solids and chew your liquids’. Food tasted vibrant and super delicious and each mouthful got about 20 chews. I put my spoon down between mouthfuls. Normally I would inhale my food. Not this morning. It was a ritual. It was delicious.
We then had a super-healthy vegan lunch before departure consisting of some raw foods, some fermented, some steamed and some delicious dips. Christine is an amazing chef and to be perfectly honest she can make anything taste good. We then packed, said our goodbyes and headed home.
In the days that followed the fast, I had many compliments about how good my skin looked, how bright my eyes were. Reintroducing food however was a different story. Whilst I pretty much managed gradually reintegrating the various food groups, I did not manage the small quantities so well. Quite simply, I wanted to eat. All the time. It was like I needed to make up for what I had denied myself. I realised that for me, food could be an instrument of pleasure or punishment, it can be a means of control by its simple inclusion or denial and the circumstances surrounding that decision. Moving forwards I would like to learn more about my relationship with food and create a better balance and better boundaries.
Would I do a long fasting retreat again? Definitely yes, definitely with Christine, but this time equipped with a lot more knowledge, and a lot more self-compassion.
You can check out Christine’s website here for full info on her fasting retreats: azurwellness.com