As a young child, I was reportedly one of the pickiest eaters in history, refusing to try anything that wasn’t prepared at home, in exactly the way I was used to it. By the time I was a teenager, I had become an enthusiastic omnivore, but arbitrarily decided that low-fat diets were most healthy. Following in the footsteps of the heroic bodybuilders in the pages of the “Flex” and “Muscle and Fitness” magazines of the early ’90s, I ate six small meals a day, stopping for a sandwich between each of my classes in high school. Even now, I generally have a nicely stocked fridge and am deprived of nothing. In short, I’m a wimp.
Writing this blog has opened up my eyes to other ways of doing things. I’ve heard from people who eat only one large meal per day, as well as people who regularly and comfortably go without food for one or more days. And here I am, never having gone more than about 12 hours without food, for almost 38 years running now.
After switching to a much-lower-carbohydrate diet, I’ve noticed a considerably longer period in my natural eating cycle. Like a car with a giant gas tank, I can now go out on a long day’s adventure without having to plan out a bunch of little snacks to keep me going. This has led me to want more: I’ve been planning to try out an experimental fast on myself for some time now. Far from being an unhealthy fad experiment, everything I’ve read suggests that going without food occasionally is actually extremely good for you. So I am just about ready to press the button.
The goal is mainly to understand more about self discipline, as well as learning new things about how the mind and the body work together. Fasting will be just another example of a healthy self-deprivation – the kind we must all do in all areas of life to remind ourselves just how cushy our normal life is.
But while I was waffling about all of this beginner fasting stuff, a friend of mine went and busted out a 3.5-day fast with no preparation at all, making me look even wimpier.
Enough of this crap, I’m starting a little 24-hour fast myself RIGHT NOW. So as you’re reading this, I’m probably right in the middle of it.
What follows are my friend’s notes from the experience.
(by MMM reader HirsutePirsute)
I was fascinated by an article I read this spring in the March 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine by Steve Hendricks: “Starving Your Way to Vigor: The benefits of an empty stomach.” It was well-written and informative and made a good case for occasional or targeted fasting as a way to better health. The author ended up doing a weeks-long fast, far short of some of the longest fasts, but still longer than mine, detailed below:
Monday, August 20
9PM – Tonight I embark on what I hope will be a three day fast. Not highly impressive compared to the great fasts, but a challenge for me nonetheless. I gorged myself on roasted veggies, burgers, ice cream, cookies, and chocolate milk in anticipation of the fast. I imagine I will weigh close to 175 tomorrow morning. Hopefully that will be closer to 167 when I next eat on Friday morning.
Tuesday, August 21
AM Weight: 173 lbs
10:23AM – I’ve had my first few pangs of hunger. I find myself absentmindedly thinking I can just grab a bite of something whenever I want.
5:25PM – I enjoyed a bit of an alcoholic buzz feeling for most of the afternoon. I still have that feeling, but I’m hungrier – I almost stuck a piece of cheese in my mouth without thinking while making tacos for the kids.
A recent study done at Stanford found that cancer tumors shrank when the subjects (mice with human tumors implanted) were given an antibody that masks a protein (CD47) that normally protects cancer cells from macrophages. A study at USC found that fasting causes cancer cells to reduce the expression of protective genes, making them more likely to die. Fasting also allows chemotherapy to target cancer cells with less adverse effects on normal cells. Maybe a combination of these treatments can radically reduce cancer’s effects.
10:25PM – Anxiety is magnified when one has low blood sugar (LBS). My stress level was pretty high tonight after an unpleasant email exchange. I don’t know how much of this stress was due to a lack of food and how much was real, but it was comforting to think that it was mostly the former. I was especially hungry at dinner time. Like a bad TV show, everything I watched seemed to show people eating food. I’m looking forward to a giant pepperoni pizza in a couple days. Guess I’m being pretty wimpy, really – I’ve made it one day.
Wednesday, August 22
AM Weight: 170 lbs
7:52AM – My dreams last night were more vivid than usual. I wonder if this means I slept lightly, but I feel rested. And I don’t feel hungry, kind of a typical morning.
PM Weight: 167 lbs
4:08PM – I spent the morning working on a deck and much of the afternoon working in the shop. It was moderate activity, and for the most part I didn’t think about food. As dinner time approaches (and activities dwindle) I’m thinking more about food, but I’m less hungry than yesterday at this time. I have a similar level of energy and buzzedness as I do when I normally experience LBS (which sometimes occurs if I have a light lunch and wait too long before dinner).
Thursday, August 23
AM Weight: 168 lbs
7:53AM – As I was going to bed last night I tried to envision foods I would enjoy. I wasn’t extremely hungry, but I did experience some Pavlovian drooling. The pepperoni pizza was still foremost in my mind, and a bologna sandwich sounded good. Meat/carb combos were much more droolworthy than veggies, fruit, or even meat alone (although greasy, drippy things like bacon, wings, or ribs were appealing). I slept less well, waking up often, and had a slight headache. This morning I feel a little groggy, sleepy, low energy, maybe a bit sick, and I have a short fuse with the kids.
12:35PM – I messed up. My son and I were visiting a house we rent out and I asked him to pick a pear from the pear tree. I took a couple bites from the pear before realizing I was in the middle of a fast. I wasn’t even hungry, it just comes naturally to grab a bite whenever and wherever you are. It was a fucking delicious pear. I’m going to forgive myself that transgression, though – it wasn’t much more in the way of nutrients than the toothpaste I accidentally ingest. There was something biblical about my sin, though the apple was a pear and the snake was a worm in said pear (a tiny slice of protein?).
8:53PM – In the afternoon I drove to Boulder. I was cognizant of my potentially reduced driving ability, but I did fine. Back home I thought I would rest and read and watch TV for the evening, but I got a text from MMM himself asking if I wanted to go pick apples from the neighbor’s tree. So there I was 15 feet up in an apple tree, picking apples and sawing off broken limbs with an extendable chainsaw. I really wanted to eat an apple, but I was able to avoid that sin. MMM had mentioned that he’d heard that foraging tends to dispel feelings of hunger so one can focus on the task at hand – that seemed to bear out. Back home I made dinner for the kids (which I’ve done all three nights of the fast) – everything was looking tasty, even the compost slated to go outside. If only the kids knew, maybe they’d actually eat the food I make them.
You know when you really have to go to the bathroom and there’s a bathroom nearby, your body anticipates the proximity of said bathroom, and gets ready to release? Well, it’s a little bit like that for me right now, knowing that I’ll soon be mowing down some food, but working hard not to release too early.
I’m feeling good, not too hungry but still excited to eat tomorrow. Not surprisingly, no movement of the old bowels has occurred since yesterday morning. Piss, on the other hand (comma placement was important there), has been more forthcoming, and has retained its normal golden hue. I’ve been drinking a lot of water.
Friday, August 24
AM Weight: 164 lbs
7:49AM – Not a great sleep again, but I’m feeling better than I did yesterday morning. Some cottonmouth, a mild headache: indicators of dehydration, I guess. My stomach growls at me occasionally, but I’m not hungry, so I’ll wait until I am to eat.
11:11AM – After 3 1/2 days, the fast is done. I just imbibed 24 ounces of delicious kale shake – made with kale from my garden, a couple pears from my pear tree, a couple apples from the neighbor’s apple tree, some organic strawberries, a splash of organic apple juice, a dash of cinnamon, and some ice blended together. Although I still wasn’t feeling particularly hungry, it was the best kale shake I’ve had (but I’m inclined to believe that’s because it was the best kale shake I’ve made). Now it’s suffusing throughout my body, turning me superhuman (and it will likely be suffusing its way out of my body in short order, hopefully not too rapidly). Oh, and that pizza is still on the docket.
Afterword – One thing that occurred to me while fasting is that there are millions in the world who aren’t eating right now because they don’t have enough food. My little three day fast was luxurious and cushy by comparison, knowing that I would soon be eating again. There is enough food on the planet to feed everyone, yet we have environmental and distribution problems (many of them willful yet easily avoidable). A growing population and changing climate will exacerbate those problems and stretch our food supply further. First-worlders (especially Americans) need to learn how to do with less, waste less, and cooperate more with the rest of the world to help curb the growing catastrophe.
Disclaimer: Please consult a doctor before you do any extended fasting – neither MMM or HirsutePirsute wants anybody dying because of stuff they read here!
Further Reading: Years later, a reader shared an interesting article suggesting that fasting may affect female fertility. On the other hand, other women swear by the practice and see benefits. The deciding factor might be the intensity of the fast. Some readers on the forum have experimented and shared their results here.