One day a couple years ago, a good friend told me he was doing a 7 day water fast. My initial reaction was that it was a crazy idea, but because he was such a good friend, I had to question why he would be doing it. After completing the fast, he again mentioned it to me again, but I didn’t think about it too much. A couple years went on of the same events taking place, where he’d mention doing another one, and I would mostly overlook it.
During those couple of years, I watched a 60 Minutes episode which had a segment on the Caloric Restriction Society, a group of people who consume very little calories day in and day out. Though skinny, these people have very low disease rates, all look much younger than their age and have much more energy than most people their age, and are all living well into their 90’s, though that could very well extend on.
During the episode they mentioned a study where researchers took 3 monkeys to do a trial. The control monkey lived a normal monkey diet with standard calories, 1 monkey they fed many more calories than normal and 1 monkey they severely reduced the caloric intake. For 15 years or so they tracked these monkeys. By the time the episode came out, the control monkey was living an expected monkey life, with the same life expectancy as we would guess. The monkey that ate many many calories was overwieght, had very low energy, and was expected to die soon. The monkey who consumed much fewer calories was quite thin, but looked much younger, had much more energy, and was expected to easily outlive the other 2 monekys. While this is a small study, similar studies have been done and I think they say a lot – caloric restriction has its benefits.
A couple months ago another friend did a water fast around the same time a podcast came out on water fasting as a potential cure or preventative care for cancer (worth a listen). Afterward I finally decided to give water fasting a go. Even if I didn’t get any physical benefits to it, at least it would discipline me and I wanted to see if I could push my mind through the default of eating all the time and actually not eat for 5 days.
Initially I wanted to do 7 days, but a couple days into the fast I realized I had to do a visa extension on the 8th day, so I wanted to make sure I was physically well to do this, hence why I stopped after 5 full days.
My last meal was about 6pm, but around noon the next day I had an urgent work-related issue so I ate 1 meal in order to focus and feel normal, hence resetting the fast. It wasn’t planned but certainly made me eat less calories that day and less calories going into the fast.
I documented my basic mindset during each day of the fast:
Day 1: Not hungry at all until 3pm, which is normal since I normally don’t eat until noon anyways (intermittent fasting). Business stuff comes up, have a small meal at 6pm to focus and some fruit. Postpone to next day.
Day 2: A bit hungry throughout the day, but not horrible. Drink 4.5 liters of water, go to bed quite hungry and a bit of a headache.
Day 3: Wakeup hungry, but no headache. Body a bit weak but mind mostly clear. Body almost feels sick. Fast is not easy at all.
Day 4: Wake up feeling the best I’ve felt in days. Body a bit weak, but no dizzyness and it almost feels like I’m becoming normal again.
Day 5: I feel even better. I go for a small walk outside, and though a bit weak, it feels good to get out of the house.
Day 6: I know I will end the fast tonight, and prepare fruit and soup for the evening. I focus on work, and the day mostly flies by. Body still weak, but feel the most normal I’ve felt the entire fast.
I broke the fast in the evening by eating some watermelon, and every 30 minutes eating more along with some soup. I felt 100% within just a couple hours. Throughout the entire fast I slept well, though I must say the fast was more difficult than expected. The first 3 days I felt absolutely horrendous. Not because of hunger pains, but moreso just the dizziness, the aching muscles, the lack of energy, etc.
After talking to others and looking into it a bit more, everyone can have different experiences. Some people feel great the entire fast, others struggle like I did. I must say once I hit ketosis my body started feeling a lot better.
My goal of the fast was to a) see if I could mentally do it, b) repair my body at a cellular level – stuff that is hard to measure and I just trust it helps until more data comes out, c) track the effects it has on my blood pressure, heart rate, energy, immune system, etc.
Benefits of water fasting (can read more on the podcast link at the top of this post):
– improved immune system
– body repair at the cellular level, repairs mitochondria that otherwise your body can’t repair
– improves your discipline. Our minds default to food, and always crave it. Pushing against that default isn’t easy, so it tests your discipline for sure
– “detoxing” – this is thrown around a lot these days, and most of the industry is full of shit. People sell pills that claim to detox. But not eating has so far been shown to have the most beneficial “detoxing” effects where your body can spend it’s energy healing itself and not digesting food.
– Ketones make your mind super focuses – once you’re body goes fully into ketosis, your mind is laser focused, almost as if you just took a bunch of caffine.
– Resets your diet – if you’ve been eating unhealthy, use the fast as a way to restart. Many of your cravings and habits will be gone after 5-7 days.
– Makes your realize how much time you spending eating food. When fasting it was crazy how much longer the days seemed when I didn’t spend 30 minutes here and there eating. It is truly an interesting perspective that now makes me track how much time I spend eating each day.
Overall, I lost nearly 10lbs in 5 days. This was somewhat expected, but it wasn’t at all the reason why I did it. Most of the weight was water weight, and I gained back the 10 lbs in less than a week once I replenished my electrolytes. I must say I’ve felt great since.
So, research shows profound potential benefits to water fasting, though nothing has been done on a wide scale yet, in part due to the difficulty in convincing people to starve themselves for a few days. Most people don’t know but more than half of your bodies energy goes into food digestion, hence why people get “food comas”. In addition, when you get ill you often lose your appetite. Why do you think that is? In part it is due to your body wanted to use energy to repair itself, not use energy to digest food.
The question I ask myself is how can I get the benefits from fasting while still enjoying different foods and not constantly restricting my calories like the caloric restriction society. While still in the early stages, research shows that 3, 5, and 7 day water fasts periodically can provide many of the same benefits. And from what I’ve read, each fast gets easier. The difficulty in the fast is often linked to the toxicity of your body, so I’d assume my next one will be easier. I plan do one every 6 months or so for the coming couple years. It will be interesting to see what happens. Our of curisoity, next time I plan to track ketone levels, blood sugar levels, weight, and blood pressure to see how it changes throughout the fast.
For now, I’ll just keep doing research and pay attention to what new science is being discovered. Damien runs The Quantified Body podcast, which is an excellent podcast related to longevity and quantifying metrics in our body so we can better understand them. It is a rapidly growing industry that I look forward to being a part of.
Have you done a fast? Comment below with your thoughts.
Interested in learning more about it? Read a few of the links below:
- Don’t Feed Your Head
- Fasting triggers stem cell regeneration of damaged, old immune system
- Can A 3-Day Fast Reset Your Immune System?
- New Year, New Understanding of How Fasting Affects the Brain
- 5 Day Water Fast Results w/ Data
- Fasting Two Days a Week May Benefit Your Brain
- Increase brain function with proper fasting techniques
- Diet that mimics fasting appears to slow aging
- Intermittent Fasting for Women