I recently read a paper about a man who fasted for 382 days. The last time I tried it I had to bail out after two days. That was mostly due to taking straight MCT oil, nuking my gut bacteria, and getting terrible diarrhea. The extreme discomfort convinced me to stop fasting. But this guy and the team of scientists monitoring him really figured it out! If he could do 382 days, I could at least do three.
This time I took a more traditional approach. I consumed only water, coffee, tea, and psyllium husk capsules. I began at 6pm on Sunday evening with my roommate Christina Kim. We helped each other stay committed. We shared in each others’ suffering. We talked about how our waves of hunger or tiredness or zombie-ness or delirium came and went. At times the delirium was fun. At night, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I had none of the usual desire to procrastinate sleeping and do other things.
I enjoyed not thinking about food. Actually, that’s not true. I often thought about what I would eat when I stopped fasting. But, I spent much less time than I would have eating food. I did still take breaks for lunch though. My coworker ate while I drank black decaf coffee. So I guess I didn’t save any time even though I expected to. At least I didn’t have to make any food related decisions for three days, even if I thought about it.
I didn’t change my exercise routines. I biked to and from work for a half hour each day. The second day, I did a 7 minute workout. The last day, I ran three and a half miles. When I came back from the run, I was so exhausted that I missed putting my key in the lock three times. But other than that, my energy levels were reasonable. I went to work all three days and was able to focus. In fact, I might have been able to focus even more than usual. Maybe ADD could be caused by having too much energy, or in my friend’s words, a Ferrari with no steering wheel. In my fasted state, I only had enough energy left to do the task at hand, or I was downgraded to a Toyota but granted a steering wheel.
In the middle of the fast, Tina said we should go for four days. At the time I was tempted to agree, but by the time the third day rolled around, I was happy to be done.
I’ve heard a lot of different theories about refeeding. Some people recommend starting with broth, juice, fruit, light carbs, etc. Other people say it doesn’t matter what you eat. The common theme seemed to be liquids and other easy to digest foods with a low caloric density. On the last day, I broke my fast with a shake made of spinach, banana, water, cocoa powder, and peanut butter. It seemed like a good balance of easy to digest, lowish glycemic load, and a little fiber. For the first 30 minutes, I had some borborygmus and mild discomfort, but within an hour I had a bowel movement, relieved myself, and felt good. Later that night I ate a burrito with no problem. Tina ate a bowl of grapes and a couple other similar things and got a terrible stomach ache.
I liked fasting this time. I was grateful for the distraction of work. I enjoyed the feeling of control from not being at the mercy of my stomach. I enjoyed the mood swings, the surprisingly infrequent hanger, the 10 second long sweeps of hunger, and the general feeling that I was learning about a new part of myself. Indeed, I have never foregone food for so long since I was born. I’d like to fast again like this once a quarter. I can also imagine doing it for longer, but in practice three days seems like the right amount. I’ve read research how fasting can be beneficial for the immune system, but that is not my main motivation. My main motivation is to exercise willpower, control, and a resetting of my defaults. By that I mean appreciating food as a choice and not as a compulsion. It is up to me to choose when I eat. If I don’t eat for even a day, nothing bad will happen.
Variations I’m considering for next time:
- Start in ketosis
- Cruciferous vegetables to keep digestive tract from shutting down
- More friends, starting and ending with some kind of event to make it feel special
Do you fast? Why? Any tricks? Join me next time!