What I Learned From a 72 Hour Fast

Fasting has become a popular activity and there are many ways to fast.  Intermittent fasting has become a popular method to improve health and lose weight, but there are other fasting methods as well, such as a water-only fast.  I have fasted many times in the past, but usually only for a 24-36 hour period.  I have always been intrigued by longer fasts, but have not been able to maintain the fast for various reasons.  Recently, I was able to fast for 72 hours with only water and coffee.  This is my experience from fasting and is not intended to be representative of what anybody else may experience.  Also, fasting can be dangerous, so you should consult your physician before attempting to fast.  This blog post is simply my first-hand experience and cannot be taken as medical advice. 

There are many reasons that people fast.  It can be for health, to jump start a diet, to lose weight, for spiritual reasons and for many other reasons.  For me, it was multi-faceted.  I have been wanting to do a longer fast for a while.  I find it to be an excellent exercise in self-control and a great way to change my relationship to food.  While the fast can be uncomfortable at times, it is empowering to know that its actually not that bad. 

I also wanted to fast for health reasons.  There is a lot of recent research coming out about the beneficial health effects of fasting.  One phenomenon is autophagy.  Autophagy is when your body’s metabolic processes being to use your body’s cells for energy.  Research has shown that the body tends to go after damaged or inefficient cells first.  There is also evidence that this autophagy helps maintain a healthy brain.

One particular part about this process that intrigued me was research has shown that your immune system resets after a 72 hour fast.  What this means is that your white blood cell counts (one of your immune cells) reduce in number as the autophagy takes place, and that after you begin feeding again, the stem cells in your body are activated to produce new white blood cells.  Whether or not this has beneficial health effects is still being studied, but research has demonstrated that this can be useful for patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy when done under the supervision of their doctors. 

There is also research that indicated fasting impacts your gut microbiome.  Research on the microbiome is emerging quickly to show that it has a range of effects on the body, mind, and behavior.  The microbiome has been implicated in many physical and mental health diagnoses.  Changing the microbiome in a favorable way then could lead to improved health.  Though more research in this area needs to be done to support these conclusions, I wanted to experiment with myself to see if I noticed a change. 

I began my fast after Father’s day weekend.  I had been eating too much that weekend and when I awoke the next morning, I decided it was a good time to start fasting.  In hindsight, I would have liked to have prepared for the fast better by switching my diet to healthy foods and more fruits and vegetables.   

Upon awaking, I was already 10 hours into the fast.  The first day of the fast was actually very easy.  I chose to skip my typical breakfast, and considering I had eaten a lot the day before, this was not difficult.  I did start the day off with coffee as I usually do.  I was very busy at work, so I didn’t even notice that lunch passed without eating.  I was drinking a lot of water throughout the day.  While I did not track my water consumption, I would estimate I drank about a gallon of water, or more each day.  That evening, I had to prepare dinner for my two young kids.  This was the first challenge for me.  While I did not feel hungry when there was no food around, when I had to have food in front of me, and had to cut it, cook it, and serve it, I noticed that I had a strong desire to eat.  It did not feel like hunger per se, but I felt my compelled to eat and had to resist a strong urge to eat, despite not feeling hungry.  It felt more like a conditioned response to the sight and smells of the food.  I sat at the table while my family ate, and I drank water.  I slept very well that night.

The second day of the fast, I woke up feeling great and refreshed.  I started the day off with my usual coffee and went into my office to work.  Instead of taking my usual lunch break, I decided to attend a yoga class.  From what I have read, it is not recommended to exercise intensively during a long fast, but I was feeling really great and energized and decided to give it a try.  The class went well, and I felt strong and balanced.  After the class however, the fatigue hit me.  I became quite tired and irritable.  I also started to notice quite a bit of hunger, and I wasn’t thinking clearly.  It was particularly difficult to make dinner that night for my kids and had the same sensations as the day before, only stronger.  This time I noticed a bit of hunger going along with it.  I noticed that I was feeling irritable with my kids over little things that don’t usually bother me much.  Later that evening, I took some time to simply rest and relax.  I was having doubts if I would be able to make it a third day, and almost broke the fast that night.  I was considering if I would be able to handle the crabbiness and hunger while functioning as I needed to the next day.  That night, I felt very hot and was sweating throughout the night and had very vivid dreams.  I have no idea if this was related to the fast or not, but it was interesting!

The third day of the fast, I was expecting to wake up hungry, but I wasn’t!  I actually felt pretty good and it renewed my confidence that I would be able to make it a third day.  I had my usual coffee and noticed that the irritability had subsided.  I was feeling pretty good and continued the day drinking only water.  The hunger and the irritability had disappeared, but I noticed I was feeling a bit weak.  Climbing stairs was particularly when I noticed it.  I was able to climb them just fine, but they were tiring, and I had to take it much more slowly than usual.  I was preparing dinner for my kids that evening with no problems and didn’t even want food.

Fresh food from the garden

I broke my fast that evening.  I did this by picking fresh, healthy vegetables from my garden and making a make-shift soup.  One thing I noticed about breaking the fast, is that it seemed like a switch went off in my mind.  When I took my first bite, the hunger returned, and I wanted to keep eating.  I chose a variety of leafy greens (Bak choy, spinach, swiss chard), garlic scapes and garlic, Shiitake mushrooms, radishes, and chili peppers, and boiled them in water and vegetable broth with seasonings and a bit of salt.  It is recommended to break long fasts gently, with light foods that are easy to digest.  I may have overdone it a bit with this concoction as my stomach felt a bit upset after eating.  After finishing my soup, I felt over-full, likely because my stomach had shrunk and was not used to any sort of volume.

Breaking the fast

The next day, with my fast being over, I ate breakfast (more soup with eggs in it) and had my coffee.  I no longer noticed any adverse effects of the fast.  The tiredness and irritability and hunger were all gone.  The only thing I noticed is that I’m a few pounds lighter, less hungry, and more energized.  I feel more empowered to eat on my own terms when I am truly hungry, rather than according to a schedule or temptation.  As I did not take a blood or stool sample before and after, it is impossible to know exactly how my immune system or microbiome were impacted, but I do feel good.  There is a mental clarity and physical relaxation that my body is experiencing.  I am also motivated to continue to put healthy fuel into my body as I took the effort to clean it out.  Long term fasting is likely something that I will experiment with again in the future. 

While fasting is not encouraged as a tool for weight loss, at Madison Hypnosis Center, we customize weight loss sessions to meet your needs and preferences, and can help you get a handle on healthy eating. To schedule an appointment with one of our hypnotists, choose a time that works well for you here: http://madisonhypnosiscenter.com/madison-hypnosis-services/schedule-appt/

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