I recently completed a 3-day fast. Many people asked me why. Which is a very reasonable question. So, I thought I’d summarize why I did it, what I’ve learned recently, and how it went down.
Why I did It
I’ve been reading and listening to podcasts about fasting a lot recently. I got really interested in it once I discovered the research about the processes the body kicks off when in a fasted state. From the beginning of our species up until a few hundred years ago, humans fasted regularly, so it makes sense that our bodies adapted to it and can still easily survive it. And I thought, what better time to give your body a kick start than the turn of the new year.
The main benefit I was seeking was starting the process of autophagy, which roughly translates to eating one’s self. At a cellular level, there’s a separate process apoptosis, or programmed cell death. It’s not near as terrifying as it sounds and it quite normal. The sub-cellular comparable process is autophagy. It’s the body’s way getting rid of old, broken down parts of cells. The mechanisms for triggering autophagy were just recently discovered by Yoshinori Ohsumi, which earned him the Nobel Price in Medicine for his troubles. Fasting does this because when your body realizes its not getting any more calories, it starts getting rid of things it doesn’t need and won’t have the energy to sustain. But it’s not just the wild wild west where things just start shutting down – it’s a regulated mechanism to recycle old cell components, destroying old and damaged parts and replacing with new ones.
Autophagy has several benefits that scientists are just starting to examine clinically. It’s strongly believed that the failure to clean up these cells is a leading cause of aging. Two of the most devastating (and terrifying) diseases show massive buildups of old damaged proteins – Alzheimer’s Disease and cancer. So, there are scientists who are trying to verify that autophagy (via fasting) may have the ability to purge these damaged cells before they grow into full-blown tumors.
Additionally, autophagy can help clean up the immune system in much the same way. It finds damaged white blood cells, recycles them, and upon refeeding, generates shiny new white blood cells. So, if there’s something I can do that clean up any pre-cancerous cells and regenerate a new immune system, I figured it was worth a try.
While I wasn’t interested in the weight loss aspect of fasting (in fact I was concerned about it), it is a really great way to quickly get into ketosis and really start burning fat. And aside from weight loss, ketosis (and the ketogenic diet) has a host of other benefits.
How I did it
I put together a plan, bought my extremely boring supplies, and had my last meal. It went like this: Eat Thursday dinner, and not consume any more calories (technically I had ~60 every day, will explain) until Sunday dinner. To help with the mental aspect of fasting, I still had “meals” every day, which consisted of:
Breakfast – black coffee with 2 TSPs of coconut oil (where the 60 calories come from). The caffeine and pure fat of the coconut oil help start off the day with an energy boost. If you can deal with a film similar to gasoline floating atop your morning joe, give it a shot. Fasting purists argue it’s not fasting if you consume calories, but since it’s zero carb, zero protein (the two things that may inhibit autophagy), I was fine with it. If you were fasting for the weight loss benefits, you might try skipping that.
Lunch – la Croix with 1 TBSP Apple Cider Vinegar. The carbonation seems to help suppress appetite a bit, and the ACV helps regulate blood sugar and gives you a little flavor outside of water. Lastly, if you add the ACV like Emeril Lagasse adds spices, it’s almost like you’re cooking. BAM!
Dinner – 8 oz of warm salt water. This is surprisingly delicious when you haven’t had any sort of food all day, and sodium is the most important mineral to replace when you aren’t eating. Like chicken broth. Without the chicken.
And then I’d drink water as needed throughout the day. I tried not to overdrink as I didn’t want to unnecessarily flush sodium from the body.
How it felt
I went in hearing stories all over the board from other random internet people (my main source for all important medical information). So, I decided to just do it and see how it felt.
The hunger actually wasn’t that bad. Don’t get me wrong, I was hungry, but the feeling of hunger plateaued around dinner time of day 1, and never really got worse. And after you’re in a constant state of hunger for a while, you kind of grow used to it.
Energy level was ok. It is suggested that on the first morning, you go out for a long, but casual walk to burn through the rest of your glycogen stores and get your body into fat burning mode (and off carb dependence). It was raining so I just went and walked around Wal Mart for a while. Great way to distract yourself too. On the last day I started to feel a little tired, but that may have just been me sad and missing my food. Many people say by day 3, they actually have extra energy and brain clarity (likely from being in ketosis) but I didn’t experience that at all.
By far the hardest challenge of all was psychological. You really don’t realize just how much our lives revolve around eating and drinking. Roommates cooking dinner – I’m heading to my room. Football’s on TV, I want a beer. Hell, I thought Uber driving would be a great way to distract myself, and then I pick people up from the local Italian joint, along with their leftovers, and they proceed to tell me how good their manicotti was. Thanks, Gretchen.
On the positive side, I was quite productive. Think of all the time you spend either eating, shopping for food, preparing food, and eliminating food (sorry it’s true). And sitting around watching a ton of TV (where you could possibly see a Taco Bell commercial) wasn’t helpful either. Alternatively, you knock plenty of stuff off the to-do list.
And finally there is quite a sense of accomplishment once it’s over. It’s nice to know that if I ever needed to go without food, I could without issue. And it goes along with what I try to do regularly, which is intentionally practicing discomfort - so helpful to be prepared when you stumble into the unexpected discomfort instead.
Any questions? Let me know, I’d love to talk about it!***
***I’m not a doctor. Discuss with a doctor too.