Re-feeding.

I’m back, and, as promised, we’re going to start talking about poop.

In my previous posts, I talked about the preparatory diet of fruits and vegetables only, which is recommended for at least two days before beginning a water fast.  Yet, many of the people who arrive for treatment at TrueNorth have been eating some version of their usual, all-inclusive diet.  Whether that’s because they didn’t get the memo, or because it was just not feasible for them to change their diets prior to arriving here, I wouldn’t speculate.  Regardless, it is very important to start the fast with only light, fiber-filled plant foods in the gut.  If someone has eaten meat, cheese, or other high fat foods within 2 days prior, then they are very likely to experience terrible constipation during and after fasting.  (Don’t ask me to count how many jokes about manual disimpaction I have heard since arriving here.  Imagine your favorite doctor donning gloves and using the old-fashioned, one-fingered solution to stubborn constipation; that oughtta inspire some dietary compliance, eh?)

This makes sense when you think about the digestive tract.

Normally, food is the stimulus for everything that happens during digestion.  Along the linings of the GI tract, smooth muscles repeatedly contract, to churn things up, break things down, and move things along.   Specialized cells produce secretions, from salivary acid in the mouth, to pepsinogen in the stomach, through an assortment of digestive enzymes in the stomach, small and large intestine.  The liver sends bile through the bile duct, and the kidneys and intestines help control the concentration of water in each space, to maintain multiple bodily functions at the same time.  If no food appears in the pipe, the stimulus for many of these processes is put on hold, and those functions slow down to a crawl.

They slow, but they don’t entirely stop.  The cells are still alive, respiring, repairing, reproducing.  Even communicating.

My high-fiber diet before the fast culminated with a morning smoothie of berries, carrots, spinach, banana, oranges, and kale.  I drank water, and had a soft bowel movement a few hours later — and then no movement again for the duration of the fast.

During those 4 days, my GI tract felt placid and comfortable.  Two or three times a day, a little wave of hunger would catch my attention, then move on down the highway to be quickly forgotten.  Sometimes it was escorted by the parallel motion of a digestive sensation in my abdomen, not quite a growl but a friendly purr, as if an area of tissue was just checking in to say, “Hello?  Kerri?  Would you like to feed us yet?  No?  Oh, okay, then.”  I passed a tiny amount of gas only once.  I noticed my belly looking and feeling flatter each day.  And although tiredness made my muscles sometimes feel heavy, I never felt heavy at my core.  In fact, the center of me felt so purely restful that I was reminded of how differently I would have felt 8 years ago before starting my plant-based lifestyle.  That’s a story for another time, but, in a nutshell, I used to experience debilitating gastric pain, for which the only consistent trigger was hunger: if I went more than 4-5 hours without eating, I would feel stabbing, shooting, hot pain, would bloat and writhe, and be tiptoeing around my gut for the next few days, praying for relief.  This experience couldn’t possibly have been more opposite.

My very first calories at TrueNorth: a watermelon-celery juice to break my fast on the afternoon of 1/3/16.

My very first calories at TrueNorth: a watermelon-celery juice to break my fast on the afternoon of 1/3/16.

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A sign above the salad bar informs guests about re-feeding in general. Commit half the length of the fast. Gradually add juices, raw food, steamed veg, and starches, in that order.

Because I water fasted for four days, I planned to spend at least two days on gradual re-feeding.  So one day of juices was ordered for me.  Juices are offered four times a day to those on a juice-only meal plan.  As I sipped my first “W-Cel” I thought, this is just going to make me hungry.  But I was stuffed afterwards.  Three hours later, I enjoyed the next one, but found the sweetness unappealing.  I started to dream of steamed greens and hot herbal tea, the same items that had been on my mind the day before.  Because it has been rainy and cold out, I just wanted hot comforts.

By that evening, gut feeling great, body feeling zippy with energy, I was ready to chew something.

To be continued…

My first solid food. No one told me to avoid pineapple.

My first solid food. No one told me to avoid pineapple.