Hello dear readers,
This past week, I undertook something many have already called me crazy for: a 5-day water fast. You heard me right. Nothing but water. For five days.
Why did I do this? First of all, it’s not for weight loss. I became fascinated with the idea after I read about it here, here and here and a few other places too. For me, it will be a way to rest and recuperate emotionally and spiritually after a stressful and wonderful year. I plan on spending time reading and watching tv, and a lot of time in bed, while lightly exercising by walking and doing yoga, and otherwise carrying on with my life as usual.
I thought it was a fascinating process, and if you’re interested, you can read about my experiences below.
DISCLAIMER: I am in no way, shape or form encouraging anyone to try this on their own. I spent many hours reading about this topic and researching it, and I chose to partake in a fast for the emotional, spiritual and physical benefits that I believed would accrue. I am physically and mentally healthy to the point where I do not believe this process will be harmful to me, and instead should provide valuable information about my body and mind. If this makes you uncomfortable, it’s your prerogative to navigate away from this page.
The week before:
The week before I planned to begin my fast, I cut out gluten, refined sugar, and caffeine. I didn’t completely follow this, as I indulged in some glutenous foods for the holidays, but the guidelines were meant to moderate my eating and prepare my digestive system for several days without food. Apparently going cold turkey straight from sugar and caffeine makes the fasting process much worse.
The night before:
I enjoyed this meal the night as my “last supper” before my fast. Yams, broccoli, steak and turkey. Oh, and not pictured is the stuffing, mashed potatoes and rolls I had. I went all out. I won’t lie, I’m beginning to feel anxious and wondering how long I’ll be able to do this.
I wake up in the early hours of the morning, fresh out of a dream…about fasting. I had dreamt I completed three days of my fast and still wasn’t feeling hungry, and they went by quickly. And then I woke up and realized I hadn’t really started. Sigh.
I begin my day by weighing myself on my new, handy dandy scale. It’s fairly high-tech, so I will use it as an aid to track my body fat percentage and body water percentage. Again, this is not for weight loss, but I think it’s important to monitor my weight and body fat. My body naturally seems to rest at around 141, and rarely deviates more than a pound higher or lower from that, so I don’t want it to dip too low.
I put in my height, age, gender, and choose the “athlete” option on the scale. The instruction manual that came with the scale defines an athlete as someone who performs 10 hours or more of aerobic exercise per week and who has a resting heart rate of 60 beats per minute or lower. Bam. Me.
My initial weigh in stats after using the restroom:
Body fat percentage: 19%
Water percentage: 56.6%
The only thing that surprised me was my body fat percentage. In prior estimations, I’d confused BMI for body fat percentage, and thus estimated my BFP as 22%. This worries me a little, as I may not be able to fast for as long as I’d like if I lose body fat too quickly. But time will tell.
For breakfast (HA HA), I have a nice big glass of water. This morning, it was distilled water, but I will vary my water with mineral water, to get those trace minerals distilled leaves out. I also plan to have some herbal tea because I know I’ll go insane without any flavor and I love warm beverages, especially in the winter. *UPDATE: I stopped having tea on day
It is 9:26 a.m., over 14 hours since I last ate, and I feel fine. Slight rumblings in my stomach, but that’s normal since I frequently go this amount of time overnight without eating.
Throughout the day, I don’t feel much hunger, but instead fantasize about food since I know I can’t have it. I have a slight headache a few times during the day, but it’s during the long and winding drive to my grandmother’s house. I get some Pellegrino from Trader Joe’s on the way home, and it’s actually a nice reprieve from plain water. Day One wasn’t too bad.
I wake up in the wee hours of the morning after dreaming that I’d consumed a bag of popcorn. I was so convinced it was real, I fell back asleep feeling defeated. It’s only when I actually wake up, hours later, that I realize it was a dream (We don’t have popcorn in the house). Ah, anxiety.
When I awaken later, my stomach feels cramped. I immediately drink some water, and feel much better.
I weigh myself and find that I’ve lost three pounds from yesterday, and slightly upped my water weight percentage.
Today I have plans to attend a hot yoga class with my friend. I’ve signed up for a free week-long pass at CorePower Yoga.
When the class begins, I’m already sweating. The amount you sweat is partly genetic, so let’s just say I inherited the extremely sweaty genes. In the first few minutes, I feel lightheaded and a bit off-balance, but as the class progresses, I feel better and better, albeit a bit tired. When I step out of the studio, I feel revived; I am a new woman!
My friend and I decide to hit up the mall. About 45 minutes later, I’m exhausted. I go home, shower, and lie in bed for most of the afternoon, dozing off at one point.
A side effect of fasting has kicked in: I’m freezing. I pile on sweatpants, a sweatshirt, and a fleece bathrobe with a knit hat on top, while sipping hot tea. Eventually I warm up.
When I get out of bed a few hours later, I’m lightheaded and not feeling great. I drink more water, which perks me up.
I have an appointment for a haircut, and I feel fine during. Something I’ve noticed is that when I’m bored, I fantasize about food more, which makes fasting much worse. I take a drive down to Newport Beach to check out the Christmas lights.
On the way home, I stop at the store because I’m craving lemon in my water. I also pick up some cold pressed juices for when I break my fast, and a few green bananas. I want them to be ripe in time for my first meal, something I eat all the time and have been craving nonstop: oatmeal.
Oatmeal cooked in vanilla almond milk with nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, and cinnamon. With zucchini shredded in, because that’s how I eat my oats lately. Stir in some almond butter and top with a banana, and that’s the food porn that’s been running through my mind. Saturday morning can’t come soon enough.
I wake up feeling exhausted and thirsty. I lie in bed for an hour and a half after I wake up.
I weigh myself and find that I’m ~136 pounds. From what I’ve read, that’s not too bad; I’m hoping to lose as little as possible, hopefully not more than 10 pounds. It’s been over 60 hours now that I’ve been fasting, and I’m feeling optimistic at the halfway point. I feel more mentally alert than yesterday, but not to an extreme degree.
When I drink water, I feel much better. I talk to my friend on the phone for an hour, and I feel more focused than I did yesterday.
I watch several videos on The Atlantic‘s website, Senior Editor James Hamblin’s mini-web series If Our Bodies Could Talk. Now, normally I wouldn’t have the attention span for this, but today I watch one video after the next.
Later, I go for a walk on a trail near my house. Colors seem brighter, shapes, more defined, and I feel more tuned in to sounds. It’s great.
I meet my friend at the movies, and instead of struggling to stay awake, which is par for the course when I go to the movies, I’m focused and alert. And while she’s eating chicken fingers and fries next to me, I don’t feel the same cravings I did yesterday while inhaling the scent.
I round off my night by attending a restorative yoga class, which is basically holding stretches for several minutes at a time. My kind of yoga!
Today is supposed to be the day I begin to feel incredible. But when I wake up, I feel no different. After less than 9 hours of sleep (I’ve been sleeping 10-11), I feel no more exhausted than usual, but that’s all I can say.
At my weigh in, I’m 133.6, around 17.6% body fat.
I go back to bed and try to watch some Netflix (finally finishing the last season of the Vampire Diaries). I don’t know if it’s the screen brightness or the movement, but I begin to feel queasy. I head to the bathroom in case need to throw up, and I feel lightheaded for a moment. As in, my vision nearly goes black for a few seconds. I suppose this is a side effect of electrolyte imbalance and getting up too quickly, because it subsides immediately. I’m afraid I may need to break my fast, which I’m more than willing to do if this feeling continues.
I don’t throw up, but I do crawl back into bed and feel queasy for a few more minutes before I begin to feel better. I’m able to type this out with no issues, and feel fine again within a half hour.
My mom tells me my face looks “drawn” although I haven’t noticed a difference in my physical appearance.
I go to the beach, then to the outlets near my house to catch up with a friend for some shopping. Yes, I bought a lot. Yes, it was all on sale.
I go home and spend the rest of the day in bed, breaking to go to a yoga class in the evening.
In the final shavasana (corpse pose), I feel incredibly relaxed, and come the closest to feeling enlightened as I have the entire fast. My body feels as if it’s soaring through the galaxy. Weird, I know, but that’s the only way I can think to describe it.
I wake up on the final day feeling excited. I’ve come so far, and I get to eat tonight!!!
I weigh in at about 10 pounds lighter than I began, and 2 full percentage points of lost body fat. This confirms the theory that your body will feed on your fat when you go into a fasting state. Whether I am able to maintain the fat loss over time is yet to be seen.
When you fast, your body switches from using carbohydrates to using fat and protein as fuel. Your metabolism decreases up to 20-25%, which means when you do eat again, your body won’t process it well if you overeat immediately after breaking a fast.
One concern is refeeding syndrome, which is rather uncommon, but does occur in people who have been malnourished for an extended period of time. Basically, it’s where you eat a lot and your insulin spikes and you die. Or have convulsions, go into a coma, or suffer from cardiac failure. (Did I mention that I don’t recommend trying this at home?)
To prevent that, I will break my fast with easily digestible foods. I have chicken noodle soup, with the idea that the broth will replenish my low electrolytes. Since I went to a movie before, I stop with my friends at Panera to get a bowl of chicken noodle soup. I have a few Brazil nuts, because they are high in phosphate, a chemical that’s especially important to replace in cases of malnourishment. And I have a glass of cold-pressed juice. This is what they start you back on when breaking a fast at TrueNorth Health Center, a water fasting center in California. I purposely choose a juice fairly low in sugars and mixed with water because of the concern of an insulin spike.
But after I eat this, I feel fine, and I want some bread, so I have half my baguette. And when I go home, I’m still craving something…so I have half a jar of chocolate coconut peanut butter and a ton of popcorn…sue me.
I wake up the next morning feeling full, but fine. I go to the gym for a light weights workout, and have the oatmeal breakfast I’d been dreaming of several hours later.
I would definitely fast again. It was a great mental exercise that made me see food as an option.
Downsides: I read a lot about how people felt sharper and clearer, sort of enlightened even, during a fast. I was especially looking forward to seeing if that was true. For me, I didn’t particularly experience that. To a small degree, I did feel focused and alert, but it was minimal.
Many people who fast complain of headaches. Fortunately, besides a few light headaches throughout Day 1, I didn’t have that problem, likely because I cut out caffeine over a week before I began fasting.
Instead, I sometimes felt lightheaded and dizzy on days 3-5 when I stood up. I’m talking the kind of dizzy where your vision blacks out around the edges, which I’ve only experienced before when giving blood. Not the best sign. If I had fainted, that would have been a sign to stop fasting.
Another thing that didn’t happen: my skin didn’t magically clear up (a side effect most people tout). In fact, I had a small breakout. Annoying.
What I did learn was about my relationship with food. It’s more mental and emotional than physical. And now that I’m equipped with the knowledge of that, I feel better able to nourish my body, while working to understand the motivations behind my eating. Which is not to say I have a handle on emotional eating. But for me, learning a little bit more about my body is just a step in the road to leading a healthy, balanced life.