Fasting Guidelines

UPDATE 30 October 2015: Shaker Aamer has been freed from Guantánamo and is back with his family in the UK. We did it! Thanks to everyone who fasted or pledged to fast on his behalf. Please see his statement on the We Stand With Shaker website! And please note that there is no longer any need for anyone to fast or to pledge to fast.

UPDATE 11 November: Please visit the We Stand With Shaker website for a photo Shaker sent to us and a message thanking all his supporters — including those who fasted for him!

Advice for 24 hours Fast: 7am- 7am. Fluid only fast.

(Please note we have two sets of advice, one from Shaker Aamer himself and a set of specific medical and health advice for fasting)

Shaker Aamer’s Rules of Hunger Striking

During the 2013 hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay, Shaker Aamer gave Clive Stafford Smith advice on how to successfully hunger strike. Here is what he said:

“I am a professional hunger striker and have been using it as a peaceful way to protest since my earliest days in US custody in Bagram Air Force Base, where my treatment was particularly bad.

Two days before you begin your hunger strike, eat as much fruit as you can. Eat no solid food, and no carbs if you can. You will find that you have maybe five pounds of excrement in your body that you need to get out. Apples, grapes and pears are good; prunes can be the best if you have them. Drink lots of water during this time. In addition to preparing you for your strike, this is good for your body. You want to get the meat toxins out as they weaken you on your forthcoming strike.

The night before you begin your strike, use a laxative to flush your system. I try to get 60ml of Milk of Magnesia here, but our options are few. Hopefully on the morning you begin your strike your bowels will be a bit looser, but don’t overdo it. But remember, constipation is one enemy of the hunger striker.

Make sure, as you begin your strike, that you drink enough water. But it is much better to drink little and often, as you are trying to shrink your stomach, and drinking large amounts will keep the stomach larger. Do not listen to the doctors in Guantánamo who tell you to take more water. This expands your stomach. Reduce it as much as you can but be sensible. Drink at least four to six large cups a day. Do not take too little as that makes you dizzy and you will fall down.

If it is not too hot, I have found that it is good to gradually reduce your water intake, though never to the point of being dehydrated. However, it is generally very hot here in Cuba, except when they are using the air conditioning units to abuse us, and you must not leave yourself without enough liquid.

Acid in the stomach is the worst part of hunger striking; heart burn is the biggest enemy. More water can mean more acid. Chewing gum is very bad – it provokes the stomach into action without giving it anything to work on.

At the start you will hear loud noises in your stomach. You may be a little light headed, so don’t go getting up fast. You may have the urge to read food magazines – if you can believe it, they have such magazines here in Guantánamo, and they tend to be all over the place during a hunger strike!

Days three and four are the worst. After that you will be much less hungry. Now you are on the ‘Hunger Strike Highway’!”.

Medical and health advice for fasting

The day before

  • Don’t have a big huge heavy meal or lots of fried food before you start to fast.
  • Eat carbohydrates, protein & fresh vegetables. Porridge, pasta, rice or jacket potatoes are good.
  • A few days before take in a good amount of fibre like bran for breakfast. It will help make sure your bowels are in good order as there is a tendency to become constipated when you fast. Also try eat lighter meals the day before – to get acclimatised.

Fluids

  • Drink plenty of fluid the day before but don’t overdo it. It will expand your stomach and make you hungrier on the day.
  • When you are fasting drink regularly but don’t over-dilute yourself. The best advice is 6-8 glasses of water a day.
  • You can add some herbal tea or plain tea without tons of sugar.
  • Avoid caffeine if you can as it can induce heartburn in some people.
  • Fruit juices are full of sugar and can spike your blood sugars which will then fall again, leaving you feeling tired – so try to avoid them.

Note: If you find you are not passing a normal amount of urine for you, or that it appears dark and concentrated, then you are not drinking enough.

Heartburn

  • Avoid chewing gum and also drinking caffeine can induce heartburn because of the acid in the stomach they can produce.
  • People who regularly take medicine for indigestion are advised to continue taking them. Take them with some light soup.

Diabetes

  • If you are diabetic and inject insulin, you are strongly advised not to fast.
  • People who have well-controlled diabetes using tablets should seek careful advice from their GP before starting a fast.

Note: If you become dizzy, sweaty, disorientated or begin to lose consciousness you may be having a ‘hypo’ – low blood sugar. You must take a sugary drink immediately – check your blood sugar. Or if in any doubt seek urgent medical help. Do not delay.

Headaches

  • This is a common complaint during fasting and can be due to dehydration, being hungry or from lack of caffeine and nicotine.
  • Take on board more fluids if you get a headache. If it persists try some simple painkillers, such as paracetamol – but sticking to the dose as detailed on the packet.
  • Avoid direct sunlight and try to avoid exposure to bright computer screens.

Constipation

  • Keeping hydrated will help against constipation. Keep mobile but without overexertion.
  • Eat bran, fruit and fresh vegetables before your fast to help your bowels to be in good order before you begin.
  • If you do find yourself constipated, a short course of laxatives can help. If you are unsure, discuss it with your doctor or pharmacist.

Take it easy.

  • Avoid overexertion or strenuous exercise whilst fasting. But do keep mobile – go to work and do what you normally do without overdoing it.
  • Don’t stay up late – you’ll just exhaust yourself.

Note: You can drink water, tea and herbal teas throughout the day. Try to avoid fruit juices because of their high sugar content, as it will causes highs and lows in blood sugar, leaving you tired.

Medications

  • If you take regular medicines, you must speak to your doctor to get advice on whether anything needs to be adjusted or not for when you are fasting.
  • If you take medications for high blood pressure – you must consult with your doctor before you fast.

Don’t Fast if…

  • You are an insulin dependent diabetic, have kidney disease, kidney transplant or are on dialysis. Pregnant women should not fast.
  • You have uncontrolled migraines – you may bring some on. Speak to your doctor about ways to manage your migraines – which is possible with the right medications.

Breaking the fast

  • You need to take it easy when you break your fast. Be kind to your stomach and don’t subject it to a huge heavy meal. Start slowly with soups, light food, fresh vegetables.
  • Gradually start to introduce food back into your diet. The consequences of not doing this are painful and you could end up with stomach cramps and even vomiting.

Fasting for more than one day

The advice is as above. If at any time you begin to feel faint, dizzy or nauseous then it’s time to break your fast. Have a sugary drink and some toast or a biscuit.

Pace yourself and make sure you get plenty of rest. Drink plenty of fluids. Going without fluids at all is very dangerous indeed and can be deadly after 3 days. Do not stop drinking.