An amazing 10 day hunger game that helped me lose 5 kilos
Q: Is there a cure-all treatment for high blood pressure, migraines, pains, arthritis, and, oh ya, fatness?
A: A strict diet of absolutely nothing but H2O helped me lose 5 kilos in just 7 days.
The Gandhi (Mahatma that is) reminded us to always “chew our water”. I’d always put him down as a bit of a loony till I packed my bags and hopped into my friend Jessy’s car at the crack of dawn for an extraordinary journey that would put me to a diet of…guess what…nothing but pure H2O.
Day zero of a 10 day personal discovery of the power of water.
It was 10am, the effects of early morning were only just wearing off, when I woke up and realised I was in a car with a driver next to me and PK at the back with ol Jess. Everyone slightly tentative behind a false bonhomie – understandable, as we were all leaving our comfort zones and heading into the bleak world of foodlessness. We stoically whizzed down Mysore Road, took a left at Srirangapatnam, blurred past the flapping avian life of Ranganthithu Bird Sanctuary, without even a glance at the neat hedges skirting the coffee estates of Coorg, we entered the Brahmagiri Wildlife sanctuary into Gods Own Country of potholes and sullen locals. It was early evening when we eventually reached our destination in the foothills of the Western ghats – Prathyasha, the detox nature cure centre (prathyasha.co.in). Our home for the next 10 days.
Mahatma Gandhi would have sobbed into his dhoti.
Anyone, however spiritually evolved, would baulk at the thought of 7 or 10 days of life without as much as a morsel passing their lips. A life dedicated to a daily morning insertion of a sharp nozzle into ones behind from an enema kit. And the rest of the day filled with the loud clang of a jug of water being placed on the bedside table. For company you have the deafening sound of a large quartz clock ticking away on a wall in front of your bed. Very daunting at best.
Prathyasha, a wellness centre without the whorehouse comforts of a spa.
This nature cure centre in Alakode is run by a tall avuncular retired State Bank employee Dr Sukumaran, who made a career shift late in life after figuring bankers are essentially wankers. The dusty ledgers he had to pointlessly lift and fill up every day was doing nothing for his asthma. So off he went and got himself a degree in Naturopathy from Dharmastala in Karnataka. For a man who doesn’t know a word of any other language but Malayalam this must have been quite an achievement.
Prathyasha, ‘doctor’ Sukumaran is in.
On entering his office one quickly realises there were going to be no expensive scans or blood tests here. Sukumaran quietly tells you (in Malayalam) to throw away all your medicines, ideas and medical reports; and instead prods you with a pocket sized metal nail and asks you to yell when it pains. Based on which point of prodding your screams start he figures which area of your body needs help. Thankfully my aches and pains were relatively minor, so all Sukumaran got from me was a light ‘ouch’. After filling in a very basic form and hopping on to the weighing scale, I was led off to the rooms upstairs. Mine was a single with attached loo, a fan, a bed, basic mattress, pillow and the all-important nail crudely driven into the wall to hang the all-important enema gizmo on.
Food, a recreational drug for the mouth.
Oil, butter, ghee, booze, samosas, aloo tikki, masala vada, prawn pepper fry, burgers and French fries. We eat this for years. And years. We eat, and eat, and fucking eat, what isn’t good for us. Food, salt, sugar, and fat, combined with chemicals in processed foods, trick the brain in the same way as cocaine, and the brain flushes our bodies with dopamine, perhaps the most blissful, and addictive, homemade chemical we have. Over time too much of this toxic stuff overloads our livers and kidneys, whose job it is to get rid of waste. As this material accumulates in our system, it can lead to inflammation and all sorts of sicknesses.
Day 1 : The withdrawals.
As the body begins to realise its favourite fix is not forthcoming, it begins retaliating by going into a sulk. Life without food is headaches and restlessness. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t read. Music—even soft, ridiculously washy music—seemed jarring. These withdrawal symptoms (headache, dizziness, pain in back, abdomen) of fasting is a result of the absence of regular poisons into the body like tea, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, spices, mustard and other stimulating processed foods we use to suppress or ‘smother’ all uncomfortable feeling. The only way of dealing with this is to go ‘horizontal’ by curling up in bed with a cover and trying to sleep it off.
Fasting is the best appetiser available.
Water fasting allows the body to rest, detoxify, and to heal. During fasting the body moves into the same kind of detoxification cycle that it normally enters during sleep. It uses its vital energy during a fast, not for digesting food, but for cleansing the body of accumulated toxins and healing any parts of it that are ill. As a fast progresses the body consumes everything that it can that is not essential to bodily functioning. This includes bacteria, viruses, fibroid tumors, waste products in the blood, any build up around the joints, and stored fat.
Day 2 : The enema.
“What’s the difference between an enema and a rose? The rose goes in your button hole.”
Any form of travel normally blocks me up and disrupts my morning dump. And the sight of the enema kit all nicely packed in plastic just helped exacerbate that feeling by making my backside clench shut with a vice like grip. After hours of agonising whether to insert or not-to-insert, my throbbing headache made the decision for me. Surprisingly the unsightly act of bending a bit and thrusting the coconut oil smeared nozzle into oneself wasn’t as traumatic as I thought, and no, it didn’t hurt one bit. It clenses the lower intestine and creates peristalsis which leads to rumblings and a 100 metre dash for the loo. Enemas help in avoiding the re-absorption of waste matter thrown into the colon and removes the waste instead.
Day 3 : Massages and mud packs.
By now it gets better. Actually it noticeably gets pretty serene. The thought of food is far away and one leaps out of bed bright, energetic, unreasonably cheerful. The mind is clearer and ones mouth actually begins to taste sweet. After the ritual enema, days are filled with the ‘slap-slap’ sound of someone beating a beached whale with a hockey stick. This is the massage therapy that literally bangs all the fat out of you. It’s followed by tit-freezing mud packs and a localised pounding with two cloth pouches called ‘kiri’. By the end of the day ones quite bushed and hits the sack and out like a light by 10.
Fasting is a biological process and belongs to the world of life. Animals do it all the time. A sick or wounded animal uses fasting to repair and rejuvenate. He rests and fasts while licking his wound. You notice, animals also fast while hibernating. To humans it is mind-body care that’s a means of restoring health. Fasting is a preventive program that can slow down ageing by removing the accumulation of damage.
Day 4 : “Doing nothing, intelligently.”
By now the mind is much clearer and I even experience vivid dreams in the night. Something I could never do earlier. Fasters have a heightened sense of smell, and I could easily smell rain long before it arrived. The torrential downpours that show up like clockwork every evening drench the greenery and suffuse the whole landscape with a glow that transmits happiness all around. That’s why for best results of a fast, one needs, calm, comfort and cheerful surroundings. Prathyasha lets one relax and take life easy, get a lot of fresh air, sunshine and yoga – it’s as far removed from our modern, high-caloric civilisation as possible.
The body shifts from one fuel source to another during fasting. Normally the primary form of energy the body uses for energy is glucose, a type of sugar. Most of this is extracted or converted from the food we eat. Throughout the day, the liver stores excess sugar in a special form called glycogen that it can call on as energy levels fall between meals. Once the liver’s stores of glycogen are gone, the body begins to shift over to what is called ketosis or ketone production – the use of fatty acids as fuel instead of glucose. Or fat attack.
Days 5-7 : Bed, boredom, bathroom.
In between the many trips to the loo for yet another pee, one gets this feeling that something profoundly necessary is happening inside you. Old Philippus Paracelsus, M.D. (1493-1541), a Swiss physician and alchemist, considered a father of Western medicine put it well when he said, “Fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within”. And he’s right, I’ve already lost four kilos, and the knees are surprisingly pain-free. But still, the day’s stretch on interminably. Fasting can be a lonely experience, and I was really fortunate to have plenty of company to play cards, chat and go on short walks with.
The abundance of food, greater wealth, shorter working hours, easy mobility and labour-saving devices have led to obesity. In reality, all these man-made things should mean we need LESS food. Freedom from food enables one to discover undreamt depths of the meaning to life.
Days 7-10 : After fasting one will look at food as medicine.
Post fast one feels light, energetic, cheerful with clear skin where the whites of the eyes look Photoshopped. I felt reborn. On my first morning among the eaters, down five kilos, it took me an hour to drink my juice. In the afternoon it was oranges and watermelon. The next day just salads. This weaning back process took three days. Now food is suddenly meant to be well chewed and enjoyed. Another thing to note, is after breaking a fast (safely and carefully), you’ll find that your bowel movements behave as if they’re on steroids.
Bottom line : I’m a user. I do food.
Once back in the big bad world controlling food intake is the biggest challenge, especially for a person like me who can get addicted to anything nice. That’s why a diet required to sustain the tremendous effects of a fast is rigorously difficult and, for many, probably unrealistic. Fasting is not the main event but just a tool to get you to radically change the way you eat. For now, I’m going to see if that old, sad approach called moderation has any sway here. It’s never worked for me before. I tend to want my tandoori chicken and your whole family’s tandoori too. Wish me luck.
PS: This 10 day trip, my holiday to health was probably the most sensible thing I’ve ever done. Tomorrow if I see the fat and sloth building up or feel the pain coming back, seizing my knee joints, I know now that I won’t be reaching for pills. Particularly when a slug of water and doing nothing at all seems to work so much better.
Things to remember when going to Prathyasha in Allakod, Kannur District :
- Don’t expect anything fancy. These guys have no concept of ‘Hospitality’, but they are kind, helpful and polite. A place for the spiritually aware.
- Ask for Single Room No. 10 or Family Room No. 15.
- Pack 4 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of jeans, 2 white shirts, 6 t-shirts, 2 good towels, 4 thin towels (called ‘thorts’ in Malayalam), 2 sleeping shorts, a water bottle, mug, Surf (half kg pack), 2 medium soap, toothpaste, Gillette foam (small), small coconut oil with small dish, decent rubber chappals, watch, playing cards, Uno (or some card games), a home pillow is a good idea, a yoga mat if possible, 2 books, iPad, phone (BSNL works best), the all-important enema kit and shikakai powder are provided.
- The main man’s name is Mr Sukumaran; the son is Vimal, Tulisi is the major domo, the male masseurs name is Jeetu.
- Treatment in Prathyasha is based on a branch of science called Natural Hygiene which is the practice of self-healing without drugs; but by fasting, diet control, massage, exercise, fresh air, sunshine and yoga.
- October-February is a good time. Average cost works out to about 1K (US$ 20) a day.
- Distance from Bangalore: 360 kms.
- Nearest airport – Calicut
- Nearest railhead – Kannur