It must have been some time in November 2011 that I decided to not eat any solid food for 7 straight days. I only drank water and tea during that time and performed my daily chores as usual.
Background on Fasting
In the weeks leading up to my fast, I had learned that fasting had been used successfully to treat many illnesses in the past. Otto Buchinger, a German doctor who had cured his rheumatism and athritis with a 19-day fast is considered the pioneer of modern-day therapeutic fasting and has treated thousands of patients in his „Fasting Clinic“.
In ancient times, therapeutic fasting has also been used a lot:
„Apart from scripture, the earliest records of therapeutic fasting date back to the ancient civilizations of Greece and the Near East. Plato and Socrates fasted for physical and mental efficiency. Pythagoras required his students to fast before entering his classes. Ancient Egyptians resolved syphilis with therapeutic fasting. The renowned Greek physician Hippocrates recognized therapeutic fasting as of primary importance in disease.“
My fasting experiment took place during a time when I adamantly preached about veganism and weighed a meager 68 kg (150 lbs). Back then, I prbably ate a mere 1800 kcal/day and I wanted to find out how no food would affect my mental and physical health. Unlike others who decide to heal-fast, I had no intention to treat any kind of illnesses because I didn’t have any (luckily). The main purpose of this fasting experiment was to give my body a break from constant food and facilitate the detox pathways of my body.
You Will Not Die of Starvation
Most people cannot imagine consciously abstaining from food for one entire week. The mere thought of an empty stomach makes them dread the consequences of being constantly hungry and anxious about their physical survival. Western society wants your stomach to be constantly full with to-go food choices wherever you look.
During the first 3 days of my fast I obviously felt hungry and slightly weaker. I was still quite active physically and did not back then from doing learning for Uni. Apparently, the reason people feel most aweful during the first 2-3 days of their fast is explained by the fact that the body goes into „Starvation Mode“. Blood pressure drops, the body starts dehdrating, and overall energy expenditure is downregulated. The protein and fat deposits become the primary source of keeping vital functions of the body runing. With a metabolism devoid of glucose, the body quickly goes into ketosis and starts running on ketone bodies. Also, the body starts breaking down the body`s protein deposits from the muscle mass. Back then I was still a scrawny weak-ass midget so I didnt have much muscle mass in the first place.
People who have fasted in the past have reported that the tongue becomes coated with a white/grey mucus and one gets really a bad breath because of it. I can definitely cofirm the bad breath which felt like I hadn’t brushed my teeth in a week. Other than that, after feeling physically weak for the first 3 days I started feeling light and could think much more clearly again. I suspect the transition from external food sources to the body s own fat and protein deposits may have been responsible. After the first 3 days, the sensation of hunger faded away and I continued pretty well until day 7. My cognition became very sharp and not having to think about food freed up a lot of time and allowed me to do some deep thinking.
One sign that my body was detoxing was the smell of my excreted urine. The colour became very yellow and smelled rather unpleasant. To aid the emptying of my lower intestinal tract I carried out a couple of enemas. One with warm water, the other one using coffee. The feeling after completely emptying your lower intestinal tract is akin to a mild high – you feel really light and mellow.
Breaking a prolonged fast does not mean going back to eating normal food again. During the fast the digestive tract goes on sleep mode and becomes very inactive. Therefore, it is important to re-introduce foods that will cause noticeable bowel movements. According to Buchinger, prunes soaked in sour milk are ideal for getting the digestion running again. After that, small pieces of apple are also helpful. The day after breaking the fast, I went back to normal eating but the meal sizes were still smaller than usual.
Would I Do It Again?
I probably wouldn’t repeat this fasting experiment the way I have done it before. If I had a serious health condition, I would definitely consider using fasting as a supplemental method to aid recovery. Other than that, because I work hard to build up lean mass it would be stupid to go on fasts longer than 24 hours. Nevertheless, once every two weeks I still like to intermittently fast (IF) for about 16 hours (last meal at 10 PM, first meal at 2 PM next day). The benefits of intermittent fasting are well established and it promotes an internal cellular clean-up, also known as autophagy. Excellent podcast on autophagy with Josh Whiton and John Kiefer. Autophagy is also promoted when there are no carbohydrates in our diet. Cycling off carbs gets me really shredded but is not sustainable for months on end (I lose body weight very quickly with few carbs in my diet). If you want to fast for longer than 24 hours and don’t want to sacrifice hard gained muscle mass, taking BCAAs (especially Leucine) should be a must to prevent the breakdown of protein stores.
In my opinion, everybody should at least have tried not eating for a day or two to experience what hunger really feels like. Also, if you need to think about something really important and make a life-changing decision, I think that consciously going without food during that time can be very helpful in clearing up your thoughts.