Edit: Since doing my first fast, I’ve come across Tim Ferriss’ method to optimize the process (via his book Tools of Titans). This allows us to get into ketosis quicker, skipping some of the fatigue, and getting the benefits of fasting earlier in the process. Read more about Tim’s process here.
Original post continued below:
When you think of fasting, you might think of religion. Be it Ramadan, Yom Kippur or Navaratri. Besides religious festivals, it’s uncommon for anyone to fast. In fact the western world is so obsessed with constantly eating, that people often rabbit how ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’. Personally, it wasn’t until I came across Martin Berkham’s essay on breakfast that I realised I didn’t have to force food down my throat on wakening.
Some families are more forward thinking on this issue, but I definitely grew up in a household of breakfast eaters.
I remember a few years back throwing up on a run because I’d gulped down a protein shake prior. So entrenched was the idea that I’d need fuel in the system before I could move a muscle. However for the last 18 months I’ve worked out in a fasted state each morning very effectively, I’d go as far as to say it’s my preferred workout state.
Despite losing my fear of not eating constantly, it’s still rare for me to go long without eating. This would be my first time fasting over 24 hours, ever.
Currently I’m working on my own projects from Thailand, so there’s none of the usual working week pressures. If I’m tired, I can just lie down. If I’m hungry, I can do things to distract myself. There’s no places I need to be, no need to ingest food just to get through a particular activity. This opportunity won’t come around often, so it seems like the perfect time to experiment with fasting.
A recent phenomenon in the UK was Michael Mosley’s book and tv show on fasting (the “5/2 diet”). It’s worth watching if you haven’t already. It suggested there are a number of beneficial things that happen when fasting. Specifically:
- Increased neurogensis
(That’s increased growth of neurons in our brain)
- Short term reduction in circulating IGF-1.
(IGF-1 is a key mediator in the effects of growth hormone (GH), and decreasing it can decreases GH activity. In animals this is shown to slow down the aging process)
- Increase in autophagy
(This is the cells cleaning up process, where waste is cleaned up and re-used within the cells. It takes place all the time, but is accelerated when fasting)
- Immune system rejuvenation
(mainly the lymphocytes)
- Reduced inflammation
(measured by improved C-reactive protein blood markers)
- + there are more
One way I’ve heard the benefits of fasting described as, from an evolutionary point of view, is that if an animal/person is starving – their body needs to be more efficient, not less. Otherwise their chance of survival diminishes, if they are not able to catch/find food before they starve.
Whilst it’s interesting to hear of some potential benefits from a long (ish) fast. I’m not convinced it’s a long term strategy to good health. Long term health of course requires long term measures. So in practical terms this is more an exploration in to self-control. If there’s added health benefits, then great!
Whilst writing this I’m currently at 24 hour point currently and feel fine. Looking forward to reporting back in 2 days at how it went. Particularly of interest to me are these questions:
- Will I die if I don’t eat for 3 days? I say that jokingly, because as long as I’m relatively sedate, and keep consuming mineral water, I can survive for weeks. However there’s still an element of fear to overcome.
- Concentration. I predict it getting worse as my glycogen stores become depleted. But will it improve again once ketosis sets in?
- Cravings. How bad are they, and will they subside?
- Headaches. Will they occur, and if so, will they subside? I’ve read that typically these occur for coffee drinks. It’s the bodies reaction to going cold turkey on the caffeine. If you are a coffee drinker, and considering a long fast, it’s best to wean yourself of the caffeine in advance.
- Wellbeing. How do I feel throughout the whole fast?
These articles proved quite interesting for anyone thinking of trying something similar:
- The Health Benefits of Water Fasting
- What are the common stages of water fasting and what occurs at various stages during the fast?
Continue to part 2 of this experiment.