I recently completed a three day bone broth fast to repair my gut.
I've been on a journey to heal my gut for at least the last five years, actively working to recover from a lifetime of processed foods and a poor diet.
And as fast back as I can remember, it seems that I've always struggled with bloating, gas and poor digestion. At it's worst point it had me laying in bed with horrible knots in my stomach.
The culprit of my gut breakdown, unfortunately reads like a very typical story.
I grew up on the Standard American Diet (called SAD for short, how ironic and disturbing). Frozen burritos, fish sticks, hamburger helper, sloppy joes, those were the staples in my house. Regularly finish a 2 liter bottle of pepsi all by myself was not a rare occurrence as a kid. In fact, most nights we had soda with dinner. It practically flowed like water in my house. As you can see, I wasn't exactly set up for success.
As an adult, my diet improved, but not much. My caffeine of choice switched from soda to coffee (not sure which is worse, to be honest). I became vegetarian and started eating lots of faux meat, beans, rice, and grains instead. I tried to make smoothies and green juices to make up for the processed crap I ate, but at the time, I had no idea just how much omega 6 I was eating. No wonder I had so much gut inflammation.
Unfortunately, it wouldn't be until a full decade later that I woke up and found the ancestral (paleo) diet.
And along the way, boy have I experimented with some weird shit. I've tried everything from guzzling wheatgrass to juice cleanse cults (master cleanse, anyone?). I tried probiotics, prebiotics, raw vegan diets, sugar-free, dairy-free, and everything in between.
But the most powerful thing I found was broth.
Around two years ago, like a lot of paleo geeks, I jumped feet first onto the bone broth bandwagon. I heard about the laundry list of benefits, from glowing skin, to healthy joints, to digestive healing. It made perfect sense to me. What was once a traditional diet staple (for thousands of years), had somehow become lost in the search for food convenience. The lack of collagen in our modern diet (the stuff gut lining, healthy skin, and connective tissue is made of), was showing up in the form of more gut issues than ever.
I was hooked. I immediately started buying bones (and chicken feet to thicken up broth, which I kept in a container in the freezer, much to my wife's dismay) and making big batches of fatty broth in my crockpot. And lo and behold, steadily but surely, my gut has gotten better.
That was until, I reached a plateau of just feeling "OK," but not great.
Then I decided to make 2017 year the year I would reclaim my health, and heal my gut, fully. I got serious about eating clean once again (no little cheating here and there that quickly becomes a problem), and making bone broth a staple.
But I still needed something to kickstart my gut to heal at a deeper level. Intuitively I felt that my digestive system needed a break, badly. If I could give it simple, liquid nutrition it could take energy away from digestion, and toward deep healing.
I went to my butcher, picked up some knuckle bones and brewed up close to three gallons of broth. Here's what happened and how things went...
Fasts are not for everyone, and everyone has different dietary needs. Before you start on a fast of any kind, you should absolute consult your health care provider. I'm not a doctor, nor do I claim to give medical advice of any kind. As always, consult your own body and decide what is best for you.
The first step was to decide how long I would fast for. Most guides I looked at recommended between 48-72 hours. I decided I needed as much relief as I could get, so I went with 72.
Because I've done fasts before (though never a broth fast), I knew I needed to prepare myself mentally. Not getting psychology prepared I think is the biggest mistake you can make before starting a fast. If you want to set yourself up for success, you need to be prepared to deal with cravings, be irritable, and have lots of space and time to set aside for self care. Starting a fast before a big trip or work project is not the right time. I suggest doing it on a weekend, or taking time off of work if possible.
The first thing I did was made sure that my fast fell on the weekend, and that I didn't have any major events planned. I also spent time reading up on the benefits of fasting to get myself emotionally anchored to what I was about to do. I visualized myself feeling good, persevering through any challenges that came up, and resisting temptations to eat.
Here's my exact daily routine, including everything I ingested:
Day 1: Determined and ready
Woke up with a slight headache. A bit nervous, but I'm feeling determined and excited about the results that I'll be getting. Ready to follow through with this and see how much this can help me with my gut.
Today I just started with skipping dinner and replacing with bone broth. It felt pretty easy and just like I was having soup for dinner (an empty soup, but still had that feeling).
Went to bed feeling better than when I woke up.
Day 2: Riding the struggle bus
Woke up with headache again, ugh. I didn't sleep the best and think I was in a weird position that created some neck tension. Feeling more groggy and tired than usual.
Plan is to spend some time outside, take it easy and go sauna.
Update: I went for a walk, did a little light climbing in the trees, and went to the sauna. Felt a lot better after being outside, even though it was cold and overcast. The sauna tired me out though, so I ended up taking a nap.
Was pretty exhausted today, honestly. Lots of cravings for burgers, fries, comfort food. Hoping that tomorrow will be better.
Day 3: The sun is shining again
Woke up feeling a lot better today. The best way I can describe it is just feeling clear and clean.
Got my broth and tea in, then hit the park for a walk. It was a beautiful sunny day, so I couldn't resist getting out.
Climbed at the gym, but kept it pretty light and short, nothing too strenuous. Went to sauna after climbing with Ev'Yan and picked up a green juice from the store.
Got a bit sleepy after the sauna (as to be expected), but overall feeling good.
Day 4: Give me all of the food (and a surprise)!
Woke up irritable, slightly groggy and hungry. I knew that it was time to eat today, and I absolutely could not wait.
Then, after my morning water and bone broth, it hit me... I needed to go to the bathroom, now!
I felt sick, bloated and gross, and I couldn't figure out why. I had just been on days of amazing bone broth, after all.
And that's when I remembered... I haven't had a bowel movement in three days! Oh, maybe that's why. I also recalled that I might have put way too much salt in my water. On an empty stomach, salt water can act as a laxative. Oops!
I'll spare you the details, but it definitely felt like I released some clogged up junk in my system.
I broke my fast with some veggies, an egg, and a slice of bacon. My original plan was broth with some vegetables cooked in it, but my body was saying "GIVE ME FOOD. NOW." and I decided to listen. I trusted it knew what was up, and that it was time.
Several days after the fast, I'm feeling great. This feels like exactly what my body needed in order to heal and reset. The level of gas/bloating and digestive discomfort I was experiencing has decreased dramatically and is now almost unnoticeable.
I do think that there's likely still more healing to be done, so I plan on repeating the fast again in the future when it feels like the right time.
A lot of people say that the fast is the easy part, but it's after the fast that is the real test. I think that's true.
It's pretty easy when you're on the fast after a while to stick with it and keep it going. After all, it's only 72 hours, and anyone can stick with something for at least that long. It's staying away from your trouble foods long term, and managing stress that is the real test.
These are the big gut irritants for me, and what I plan to stay away from:
I also have to be careful not to overdo it on dairy, nightshades, and overly complex meals with lots of ingredients. Yay, my life is fun, right? Yeah, yeah, I know it could be worse.
Sticking to meat, veggies and healthy fats, while drinking lots of broth and fermented foods seems to be what works best for me.
I also think once or twice a month having 24 hours of only broth would be a good addition to add my strategy.
Going forward I'll be staying on a 90/10 diet of strict paleo, with some slight room for deviation. I've tried super strict diets before, and they always backfire with me binging on unhealthy foods. Staying disciplined, but having room to breathe and live a little is what works best for me.
Having done fasts like the Master Cleanse in the past, I like how this approach focuses on giving your gut a break, but also fuels you with much needed gut-healing nutrients.
Based on the results I got (despite the difficulties), I would absolutely do a bone broth fast again. Incorporating a fast like this every 3-6 months makes a lot of sense to me, along with more frequent, shorter digestive breaks.
It's also a great way to kick start a healthier, cleaner diet.
Know someone that could benefit from better gut health? Share this post with them and help revive this ancestral wisdom we've forgotten.