To fast or not to fast? Fasting has always been a hot topic, fads like intermittent fasting and juice detoxes have come and gone faster than you can say “that's fast”. And more recently, Andie Chen went on a water fast and only drank water for 78 hours (uh huh, no food), purportedly for health benefits. Do we really need to go to such extremes as a water detox? And is it really for everyone?
8 DAYS: You recently went on a three-day fast where you only drank water the whole time. Sounds pretty intense.
ANDIE CHEN: I did it ’cos I’m unhealthy. (Laughs) I haven’t been officially diagnosed — ’cos it’s hard to get a diagnosis — but I’m pretty sure I have an autoimmune disease and it’s always been very difficult for me throughout my career. That was one of the main reasons I left [Mediacorp] — my body couldn’t keep up with the workload. After I left, I decided I needed to make some adjustments for my health. A friend who’s a functional medicine practitioner recommended that I do a water fast.
What are the benefits of water fasting?
There are a lot of benefits when you do a water fast. Basically, when you fast, your body goes into repair mode and starts detoxing. It’s an alternative cancer treatment that’s very popular. One of the main things people use it for is [to manage] very severe diseases. When you stop eating, your body stops growing all these cancerous cells — they have nothing to grow on so they actually reduce in size.
Is this your first time doing a water fast?
Five years ago, when I was in Taiwan, I did a four-day water fast — actually, three-and-a-half days ’cos I gave up halfway. I was having fainting spells, and I was pale and really sick. It was horrible and really hard ’cos I was even unhealthier then. And I broke fast very badly. I immediately ate really bad food like tidbits and whatever I could get my hands on. It wasn’t such a good experience and I didn’t feel much different after the fast. But this time, it was very different. If you fast for three days and eat burger and chips on Day 4, you might as well don’t fast ’cos you’re basically just letting your body take in all the bad s*** again. So when you break fast, it’s better to drink soup and eat something light, and slowly inch your way back to a normal diet.
How are you feeling after this recent water fast?
I feel so much better and not so sluggish. I’ve been detoxing a lot. I’ve had a lot of phlegm. Even up till three to four days after the fast, I could still feel my body detoxing. And I lost 4kg, although I didn’t do it to lose weight lah. My cravings for sweet stuff also just disappeared.
What are some of the symptoms you had while your body was detoxing?
My first pee in the morning, especially on day three, was really, really toxic — it’s a lot darker than usual. I remember the first time I did it five years back, my pee was almost orange. This time, it was a very dark shade of yellow. Even its smell was not normal. And on days three and four, white stuff [which is bacteria] started forming in my mouth — it’s like saliva but like 10 times thicker. And I had bad breath. My functional doctor friend said all these are just symptoms that my body is detoxing.
Is it safe to do a water fast?
My advice is always that I’m not a medical professional so take what I’ve said with a pinch of salt. I’m just here to share that I had a very positive experience water fasting and I think it would help a lot of people. But if you have certain conditions like gout, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, eating disorders, heartburn, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, or if you’re underweight, you shouldn’t water fast. So do your research and be sure you’re suitable for water fasting. If you feel like you have a lot of toxins in your body, you can do a water fast and see if you feel different after that. I think there are some surveys you can do online to check how high your toxicity level is. Be very sensitive to your own body. Take it slow — if you’re at the 24th hour of your fast, and you feel very bad, don’t force yourself to go on. You can always do it again after a while. If you want to do more than a three-day water fast, you should consult a professional. Also, be determined. It boils down to just you and your willpower and your determination to become healthier.
Watch Andie’s vlog of his water fast on @andiechen’s IGTV. Read on for experts' take on water fasting.
WATER FASTING: WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Is it advisable? We ask Pooja Vig, Functional Medicine Certified Nutritionist; and Bonnie Rogers, Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach, both from The Nutrition Clinic.
There are several benefits to water fasting…
Bonnie: “The main benefit of water fasting is the ability to induce autophagy, where the body essentially reprograms itself by clearing out damaged cells and replacing them with new ones. Research suggests that fasting can improve metabolism, cardiometabolic conditions, blood sugar levels and digestive health.”
But it also comes with its dangers…
Pooja: “Water fasting is challenging and, if unsupervised, it can be dangerous. Water fasting should always be done under the guidance of a professional. A water fast for one day is generally okay. But your current health also determines if a water fast is beneficial or causing your body more harm. Water fasting for days can affect your kidneys and drastically decrease CoQ10 — a key antioxidant that provides energy to cells — and can lead to cardiac dysfunction. It’s also important to note that if you’re on long-term medication, pregnant or nursing, any form of fasting should be avoided.”
Consider intermittent fasting instead.
Bonnie: “The good news is you don’t need to do a water fast to induce autophagy. By doing an intermittent fast, which is essentially skipping breakfast or dinner, you can achieve similar results without the risk. I feel water fasting is largely unnecessary as there are so many other tools to improve health and wellness that are less extreme and risky. It’s really important to understand that any form of fasting should be calculated and not something you do on a whim. Intermittent fasting is a much safer option and provides similar benefits without the risk, provided you don’t have any of the conditions mentioned above. Start with a 12-hour fast and gradually extend to a 16-hour fast. With fasting, balanced blood sugar levels are key. So make sure you’re eating a good balance of protein and fat and low-carb veggies at each meal.”