I haven’t had anything to eat or drink except for water for five days. That would have sounded bonkers to me just six months ago, but this is my fifth multi-day fast this year. ( Here’s a video about my first 5-day fast.)
Tomorrow, I’ll eat my first meal in 130 hours. I’m really excited! But, honestly – I’m feeling great, have a ton of energy, and haven’t been hungry in two days!
Several years ago, intense stomach pain forced me to consider my digestion. But, it wasn’t until four close friends were all diagnosed with cancer last year that I began to study the benefits of fasting – both to improve my gut health and prevent cancer. And I went down the rabbit hole!
I had a lot of reasons to fast: To improve my digestion and gut health. To explore the performance-enhancing aspects of fasting. To be able to support my friends with cancer. Because I like new experiences! The more reasons we have to try a new habit, and the clearer those reasons are, the easier it is to begin.
Even without realizing it, I started small. I’ve been doing intermittent (partial-day) fasting for years without knowing it for years. When I danced ballet, I didn’t have time to eat for 6+ hours at a stretch. In the last few years, I haven’t made time for breakfast between work meetings. All of these were small steps towards fasting, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. The only way to attempt something big is by starting small.
Here’s what else I’ve learned:
We are capable of so much more than we think
I had no real notion that the body is capable of going multiple days without food. Having done something new that I used to believe was impossible, I’m inclined to consider what else might be possible that currently feels out of reach.
The benefits of delayed gratification
The marshmallow test, or our ability to delay gratification, is predictive of positive life outcomes. Unfortunately, I’ve always believed that I was bad at delaying gratification. Through this experience, I’ve come to realize that this is not true, and actually been enjoying this experience.
As an aside: fasting is the most difficult form of delayed gratification I’ve ever tried.
We are designed to go without food
Humans are made to go without food. Prior to this year, I didn’t realize that there’s a switch that flips, and our bodies transition from using glucose for fuel to burning fat. Far from my body shutting down, I’m more alert, more present, and more capable during long fasts even than during my normal life.
This is an altered state
I’m an adrenaline junkie and enjoy the altered states from things like cold plunging or exercise. Long-term fasting is certainly an altered state. I wake up with a lot of adrenaline, need less sleep, and have a very different kind of focus than usual. I couldn’t live like this all the time, but it is certainly an interesting experience.
Hunger pangs go away
I’ve always been afraid of what happens when hunger pangs get bad. It turns out that on the other side of hunger is… nothing. During the first 2 days of this fast, I was mildly hungry, on and off. Since then, I’m simply not hungry anymore.
I still get mildly hungry for a few minutes a few times a day, andI certainly have fantasized about food over the past five days! But, by and large, I feel great.
If you’re interested in trying fasting, I thought I’d share my top three habits for fasting:
- Drink a lot more water
- Go without breakfast for a few days (try intermittent fasting)
- Pay attention to how you feel
Drink more water
Most of us would benefit from drinking more water. I still haven’t successfully created the habit of drinking enough water when I’m not fasting, but even during an intermittent (partial-day) fast, I carry a full water bottle with me everywhere. A key to my longer fasts is drinking a lot of water, especially when I feel hungry.
To start: Have water nearby as a cue to ask yourself the question, “Do I want a drink of water?”
Go without breakfast
Skipping breakfast has become a popular form of intermittent fasting, or eating all of your meals within a prescribed 8- or 10-hour window. The main goal of this habit, though, is to learn that hunger pangs go away, and that we aren’t fundamentally tied to eating every day or a specific schedule.
To start: Delay eating for a few minutes, when you get hungry. If you eat breakfast at 8am, try eating at 9am. If you’re comfortable swapping breakfast for brunch, try delaying brunch by an hour.
Most of us don’t pay attention when we eat. Amidst the demands of work and life, I often don’t. I’ve also used intermittent fasting as a crutch, when I don’t have time to eat. But skipping a meal is useless if you aren’t still paying attention along the way.
My number one habit for someone starting out fasting is to pay more attention. It turns out that the intense stomach pain that got me started on this journey was the result of years of stress, drinking coffee on an empty stomach, and a lack of attention. I wasn’t aware of how much the stress and astringent coffee were combining.
To start: Notice the sensation of eating a bite of food or a drink of water. When you feel the first glimmer of hunger pains, sit with them for a moment instead of immediately reaching for food.
Let me know if you like today’s focus on fasting! If you want to learn more and try fasting yourself, just reply to this email and I’m happy to share more thoughts with you, directly.
As ever, thanks for reading!
Until next time,
P.S. Nothing here is, or should be construed as medical advice. Please consult with your physician before trying fasting, or anything that might impact your health.