Early Encounters With Fasting
I think I was first exposed to the possibility of fasting when I read Paul Nison’s book Raw Knowledge, Part II : Interviews with Health Achievers. At that time, I was just in shock and disbelief. I was reading about people fasting for days, and even weeks, and how they thought it was good for them and that they really didn’t feel any hunger. This was completely the opposite of everything I’d been led to believe, the importance of three meals (at least) a day, how it’s important not to miss breakfast, if you don’t eat regularly you won’t be able to function and might faint; all the stuff like that. I first just disregarded it as not possible, but the thought was always there in the back of my head – “could it be true?”.
As I was reading many things and researching, I kept coming across the concept of fasting. This kept prompting me to wonder if it was really possible. Then, one day, I came across the case of the obese man who fasted for over a year under doctors supervision. That was the topic of the post – Is it possible to fast for over a year? Yes!. So, I was starting to be convinced that it is possible. I wanted to know how.
At this point in my research I came across some posts on Mark’s Daily Apple website that made a lot of sense to me. This one, What Does It Mean To Be Fat Adapted?, was quite useful. It seems as if the body has two modes to access energy. One is from glucose (from sugars and carbohydrates we eat) and the other is from fat. Actually, burning fat for energy is the most efficient but, if glucose is available, that’s the easiest thing to use first. Now, if we eat sugars and carbohydrates all the time, there is always easy glucose available and the body can forget that it can also use fat. When the glucose starts to run out, the body panics and prompts us to eat again. But if we can get past this point, there is plenty of efficient fat to burn. This is how the obese man lived for over a year without eating. His body switched into fat burning mode and happily lived on the fat for a long time.
Intermittent Fasting? What’s that?
Today, there is also a lot of talk about intermittent fasting as if it’s the quick fix for everything. However, this shouldn’t be looked upon as a fad or a quick fix for health as it has some serious and important benefits. The main idea is that it’s good for the body to experience periods without food from time to time. The two main benefits are;
- Fasting relieves the body of the chore of digestion and allows it to divert its energy to other things, like detoxification
- Fasting ensures that the body remembers how to burn fat for energy and can easily switch from glucose to fat
Once again, Mark’s Daily Apple contains many nice posts on intermittent fasting – just go to the site and do a search on “intermittent fasting”.
I’ve been gradually experimenting with intermittent fasting for a few months now. The first thing I’ve done is ensure that I have a 12-hour period without eating every day (ie. a 12-hour fast). This is important because digestion is certainly completed after about 8 hours so I’m giving the body at least a 4-hour break from digestion every day. This meant that I’ve had to skip breakfast, and I’ve found that very easy. No hunger in the mornings. Next I started experimenting with extending that to a 16 or even 20-hour break without eating. That is, skipping lunch as well. I was a little worried about that at first, but it has also been surprisingly easy. No hunger. At least I know that my body is happy burning fat for energy.
Can I handle a fast for over a day?
About a month ago I got the point where I wanted to try a longer fast. One Saturday evening I ate normally (raw foods, salad, nuts and dried fruit – normal for me these days) and then I didn’t eat at all the following Sunday. Just water and green tea. To my astonishment, no hunger. I went to bed content on Sunday night, slept fine and woke up Monday morning in a good mood and with a very clear head. Still no hunger! It was only because I was going to work on Monday and I was worried about what might happen, that I ate some breakfast on Monday morning. However I was astonished with how easy it was and how well I felt after close to 36 hours without eating.
Can I handle a fast over several days?
Now I wanted to know if I could go longer. Last weekend I was home alone, so it was a perfect time to experiment. I ate a lot on Friday night as we had visitors. Then all day Saturday all I had was water and green tea. Very easy. Exactly the same on Sunday and once again, very easy. Each day, I did about 40 minutes of yoga and 30 minutes of training on an exercise bike.
Fairly late on Sunday night I started to feel a little pain in my quadriceps and a little vertigo when I stood up. This started to worry me. As you could imagine, there were lots of voices in my head telling me that I was doing the wrong thing and was going to hurt myself. But the interesting thing was that I felt no hunger at all. None at all!
Because of the worries on Sunday night, I decided to drink some juice on Monday. I drank two glasses of vegetable juice and two glasses of beetroot juice throughout the day. In the evening had half an avocado and a teaspoon of coconut oil. That’s all. Very easy. No hunger.
So, I’d fasted completely for about 62 hours before starting to consume some vegetable juices.
Tuesday (actually this was Christmas Eve but I was still home alone until my family got back in the late evening) had one glass of vegetable juice in early afternoon and one glass of beetroot juice late afternoon. Around 6pm made a small green smoothie and ate a few (very few) nuts and seeds, plus one date, one prune and one dried fig. Not much really. No hunger. Late evening, when my family returned I had half a glass of red wine, some pistachios, one fig, one date, mandarin.
The green smoothie at 6pm really signaled the end of the fast (that included some juices near the end) after about 92 hours. I didn’t feel any hunger though out this time. The reason for introducing juices and food again was because of fear of the unknown and getting ready to eat again once my family returned.
I was really surprised with what happened to my weight!
My weight dropped astonishingly. Similar to how quickly I can put it on when I eat a lot of cooked food and drink too much alcohol. This was very surprising for me, along with how easy it was to fast without feeling any hunger.
To understand what I’m talking about here, take a look at this log of my weight between February and December.
During almost all of this time I’ve been eating a mostly raw, vegan diet, but you can see the occasional rapid jumps in weight that coincide with times where I’ve eaten cooked food and lots of alcohol. For example, a skiing trip in March where I put on 7 pounds in 7 days, a holiday to Venice where I put on 9 pounds in 5 days, two evenings of birthday parties in June where I put on 5 pounds and a three week trip to Australia where I put on 11 pounds. I have been quite worried overall about how quickly I put on weight when I eat cooked food and drink alcohol. It takes quite a while to loose it again as well, as you can see from the graph.
The real surprising thing to me was that, during my three day fast, I lost 8 pounds. That’s just as rapidly as I can put it on. On the graph above, the last entry was the day after Christmas Day and, as you can see, I put on 1.4 pounds after eating a lot (as has to be done) on Christmas Day. Throughout the fast I was drinking well, at least 3 litres of water a day, so the weight loss can’t really be due to fluids. I had rather large bowel movements on Saturday and Sunday, as if my body needed to get rid of stuff, but then basically zero for Monday through Thursday. This is also concerning me, and tends to make me think that Matt Monarch’s (see Raw Success) insistence on colonic irrigation my be a good thing for me. I’ll look into that more.
I’m happy to be exploring this direction with fasting. Now I know that a one day fast is not really anything significant. It’s very easy to do. I know that my body is quite happy to burn fat. With my intermittent fasting routine, my body is using fat for energy for at least a few hours every day. I’m really thinking that my bowels need help cleaning themselves out, so I’ll look into colonics and enemas next. Then I plan to explore the combination of fasting and colonics to help my body with its detox efforts.
I’m new to fasting and basically just feeling my way with the assistance of what other people have written. If anyone has any advice or tips for me, I’d gratefully receive them.
- There’s a lot of talk these days (writing this in October 2019) about ketones, ketosis and keto diets. I have fully studied these but it seems that while I was fasting, my body must have been producing ketones from some of the fat in my body. If you’re interesting in learning more about ketosis, this comprehensive page from bodyketosis.com might be helpful.
- I found this article (read full article) from TotalShape.com fascinating. It’s interesting to see what actors can do with their bodies when they have an imperative to do so;
jefferson @PrimalWeightLoss says
I have been doing some experimenting with 14 hour fasts in the last week or so.. 8p – 10a.
I do have a goal however to try out what you discuss in this post and push it 24 hours or longer.
I know that most of our hunger pains are mental, and the benefits as outlined over at MDA are clear.
Good luck, Jeff. Having been on a primal diet, you should find it a breeze. I’m interested to know how you get on,