Aiming to lose weight and manage lifestyle diseases, Kenyans are jumping from one diet to another. It may have started with cutting out milk products, meats, sugar and carbohydrates, then to Paleo diet, metabolic balance programme, keto diet, intermittent fasting and now water-only fasting.
This new trend is simple; you drink water and only water for as many hours as your body can handle.
Linda Damaris, who has gone without food for 108 hours at one point, says she learnt about water fasting online.
“Someone added me to an intermittent fasting group by default, which made me curious. So I started researching on it. Through the group, I got a hold of Jason Fung’s book, “The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss” that convinced me to try intermittent fasting,” she says.
At first, she started with 16 hours of drinking water only.
“I have gone without food is 108 hours non-stop. The maximum number of hours I have heard of someone doing water fasting is 156 hours,” Linda says.
How does she do it?
“I sip on the water throughout the day. The number of litres vary but I try to do a minimum of two litres. Most people recommend fasting for seven days but I’m yet to meet a Kenyan who has gone beyond 156 hours,” says the 39-year-old.
Since starting the fasting, Linda says she has lost weight because her clothes fit much better.
She says she has never measured her weight, but her clothes’ size has dropped from 22 to 16.
Besides the weight loss, she says the fasting revved up her energy levels, her skin is getting flawless, her bowel movements are better and she sleeps well.
To prepare for the water fast, Linda says all she needed was mental preparation.
“The fasting was so difficult,” she says.
Besides the water diet, Linda has adopted a healthier lifestyle of eating only good fats, proteins, vegetables, and has reduced her carbohydrates intake, especially when preparing for extended fasts of more than 48 hours.
“When breaking short water fasts, I go straight to eating solid meals. Extended and longer water fasts ranging from 48 hours and above require me to start slowly introducing foods such as avocados, fermented milk or plain yoghurt,” she says.
Catherine Omange, a finance director also does water fasting. She first heard about it online.
“I first heard about water fasting on Facebook from a lady who runs an intermittent fasting support group. I joined it entirely out of curiosity and read her posts and advice. I saw the testimonies and results people had achieved,” she says.
In April, she started water fasting.
So how much water does she take?
“Water intake is personal and I believe it is based on how much your body needs. I have always drank a lot of water; at least three to four litres a day.
I am tall, big-boned and muscular so I need more of it,” says the 43-year-old.
She talks of a man who successfully water-fasted for 385 days, but under a doctor’s supervision.
“With electrolytes that replace micronutrients like sodium, potassium and magnesium, which are essential for body functions, one can fast for longer,’’ she says.
The longest Catherine has taken water only is six days, she says, and has lost 17 kilogrammes so far.
The main risk of taking water only is that it does not contain nutrients that the body requires, experts say, and what is lost is water and not necessarily the fat.
“My weight dropped from 107 kilogrammes to 93 kilogrammes in a period of five weeks. I have lost inches and dress sizes as well. The reality is so long as you are overweight, you have fat to burn so you can fast for a while,” she says.
The water fast does not necessarily work on its own.
Catherine does not eat foods with added sugar and has cut back on processed carbohydrates.
“I eat more whole grain foods like ugali, maize and cassava instead of bread, chapati and rice. I take yoghurt with soaked chia seeds and bone broth for the first three days post fasting,” she says.
Fred Gori, a development communications professional, also does water fasting.
“I first heard about water only fasting from YouTube. I was looking for solutions for my hypertension problem when I stumbled on it and decided to try it out. I started with a 24-hour water only fast while still taking my high blood pressure medications,” he says.
He shed two kilogrammes in 24 hours, he says, and knew he was on to something worthwhile.
“That, however, is what they call water weight and it could be restored soon after one returns to a normal lifestyle. The next time, I did 48 hours water-only fasting and finally did my toughest yet, 72 hours,” he says.
Pleased with the results, he stopped taking his high blood pressure drugs more than one year ago.
The amount of water taken during a fast depends on one’s body weight and level of activity, he says, adding that a water-only fast should range between 24 hours and 72 hours.
Overall, he has lost10 kgs, dropping from 88 kgs to 78 kgs, since starting and now he has a completely flat tummy.
When he started, he did not know much about preparation.
“I was so desperate for results I started as soon as I read about it. I just plunged in and it worked well for me, partly because I don’t have any addictions or cravings. It is advisable, however, for one to shift to blended foods and boiled vegetables three to four days before the fast and as a basic rule, progressively reduce portions several days before the fast,” he says.
The how of breaking the fast is important as it does affect the overall result.
“I worked with the foods available to me in the house as I don’t have much control over the kitchen. I ate small portions of boiled vegetables and soup and generally kept off carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can lead to rapid weight gain after a fast,” the 41-year-old adds.
One should not eat a lot of food immediately after a fast, as the digestive system needs time to adjust.
The type of food also matters and emphasis should be on foods that are easy to digest. Stay on broth and soft, boiled vegetables or one meal a day or 16:8 pattern of intermittent fasting, which involves eating two meals during the first eight hours then fasting for 16 hours.
Fried foods are also discouraged.
During the fast, one should expect to feel tired and low on energy because the body is deprived of the fuel it needs.
Is it safe?
As more Kenyans take up the water diet, is it really a good plan for weight loss and managing lifestyle diseases?
Gladys Mugambi, a registered nutritionist says there is nothing wrong with fasting.
“Even religious groups practise it. The only problem is fasting without water completely. Water helps to get rid of the waste that is generated during a fasting period,” she says.
Fasting, which is a method of restricting food intake, has been practised for many years.
Water fasting, also known as water cleanse, is the type of fast where one cannot consume anything besides water for a set period. People practice it for various reasons: religious or spiritual, detoxing, losing weight, or even physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing.
It has been a popular trend over the past few years, and more commonly done for weight loss. Unlike many other fasting methods, one consumes zero calories while water fasting.
When one starts fasting, all the energy that has been used to gain energy from food starts being used to flush toxins out of the system and boost the natural healing mechanism of the body.
Dr Thomas Lodi, a cancer specialist and founder of LifeCo-Clinic, says there are many benefits to water fasting.
They include greater satiety, improved body composition and fitness, lower blood pressure, decreased blood sugar, increased growth regulation, improved heart health, brain protection, healthy stress response, among many others.
However, other experts say, a water fast is not an effective way to burn fat, as it takes several days before one’s body starts to burn fat for fuel. Other types of fasting can offer the benefits of fasting and weight loss with fewer risks.
Shiverenje Simani, a fitness trainer who also advises people of nutrition says he is not a huge supporter of water fasting.
“I don’t believe one can lose a significant amount of weight just by fasting for a few days. I believe one needs to eat to lose weight through eating healthily, hydrating and exercising,” he says.
Some of risks of water fasting include becoming dehydrated and a drop in blood pressure that happens when one suddenly stands up, and can leave one dizzy, lightheaded and at risk of fainting.
Experts say water fasting may also worsen conditions such as diabetes, gout, eating disorders and heartburns.