My experience fasting for 7 days
When I told people that I hadn’t eaten for multiple days, I received a whole range of responses. Some people were fascinated, curious, and others simply said WTF?! The most common response was “how are you still alive”, and my only response was… I have no idea! The human body really is an amazing thing.
The real question is how does the body actually use food for energy, and how can it survive without food? Generally speaking, when we eat food, our body converts the food into short, and long term energy stores. Once the short term energy stores (glycogen) are used up due to activity or lack of eating more food, the body will transition from glycolysis to ketosis or ketone production — the use of fatty acids as fuel instead of glucose. During this transition the human body will complain a little bit, and this is where you start to get hungry, cranky, and start saying things to yourself like “I’m starving!!”. It turns out that it takes 40–70 days to actually starve.
When I first heard about the concept of water fasting I thought it would be complete and utter torture. It turns out that the first 3 days kind of are. However, if you can get past that 3-day hurdle you start experiencing some real benefits. Water fasting is pretty much what it sounds like. For a pre-determined period of time, you do not eat anything at all. I mean nothing. The only thing that you consume is water. “Can I have tea with caffeine? That’s still water right?” No. Just plain ol’ water.
Water fasting has a long history, and is used as a mechanism for physiological detox, cognitive benefits, and weight loss. There are even centers dedicated to it. Another often-cited benefit is that fasting exposes negative aspects about your relationship with food (keep reading to see one thing I discovered about my relationship with food).
My motivation for doing a water fast was to try to reboot my system. I was really drawn to the notion that it could provide my body with a detoxification that would remove years of toxins from my body, and I knew my body would thank me. I was also curious as to how my body would react to the experience, and if I would experience some of the boosts in energy and mental clarity that I had read and heard so much about. My research suggested the 5–10 days was the minimum amount of time required to get any real benefits from water fasting, so I decided to aim for 7 days. How did it go, you ask? Read on…
So, what was it like?
The first day of the fast was pretty much business as usual. I had eaten a pretty large dinner the night before so I was actually still full for most of the day. For the most part I didn’t really notice that I was fasting at all. Being committed to the fast definitely helped clear out any thoughts about eating throughout the day.
On the second day I had a noticeable loss in energy and here’s where I discovered something about my relationship with food. Throughout the day I was working on various problems, and every time I would run into a roadblock my brain would say “why don’t you go get a snack?”. My first reaction was “let’s do it! sounds great! anything to stop thinking about this problem I can’t solve!”. It seemed that subconsciously I used snacking to take a break from a problem to either a) think about it more or b) try to avoid the problem completely! By having made the decision that I would not eat at all, I was forced to bring the subconscious decision to eat to my conscious mind ask myself why I wanted food in that moment. What a great learning! I was otherwise doing pretty well, but I could tell that my body’s energy levels were reaching extreme lows.
This is where the fast really hit me. The best way to describe it is that my body felt as though I had just done a 3 hour full body workout at all times. Lifting my arm was difficult, and walking for even 10 minutes left me very tired to the point that I had to sit down. I spent the entire day basically sitting down while the remaining energy completely drained from my muscles.
On Day 4 I was starting to get used to the feeling of my body being tired. This is the point where the “how am I still alive” type thoughts started floating through my head. I was determined to stick it out, when I started to notice that I had a new pain in my lower back. I was a little concerned to say the least and took to Google to search for an answer. I was happy to find out that this lower back pain is totally common. The basic explanation for this was that my organs were releasing toxins, and putting pressure on my spine, which was causing the pain. Other than the back pain things were going great, and my energy levels started to rise by the end of day 4.
On Day 5 I was very relieved when I woke up with no more lower back pain. I also started to notice that my energy levels where at a steady high all the time now, what an interesting state to be in. On one hand, my body still felt drained, however my mind and my thinking felt energized and clear. This is where I started to truly understand the effects that everyone had told me about prolonged fasting. Oh, I forgot to mention that I had absolutely no hunger sensation, another pleasant surprise.
Day 6 / Day 7
I’m going to combine the last 2 days of the water fast because there was virtually no major difference between these 2 days. These two days are where I was started to feel physically energized. My muscles, which previously felt drained of energy at all times were now starting to feel almost normal. I wasn’t going to the gym anytime soon (this is mostly discouraged during a fast), but I could walk up stairs or go for a walk without feeling as tired as I would on previous days. I was very close to actually continuing on longer with the fast to see where the maximum benefit would be realized but because this was my first time doing a water fast I decided to stick to my original goal of 7 days.
It’s time to eat again! nom nom nom
As I was approaching the end of my water fast, I naturally started to question what the best way to start eating again was. It turns out this is a pretty serious topic, with potential negative consequences if not done consciously. I was pretty sure eating a huge hamburger on the first day would do some major damage, so what was the “right” way to go about it? I wanted to know how much I should eat, and when, for each subsequent day after the fast had ended. There are a lot of differing recommendations out there, and most guidelines generally recommend sticking to liquids and soft foods during the first 3 days of refeeding. Luckily, the fast ended at the start of a weekend, so I had a little more time to stop and log roughly what I ate for those first 3 days after the fast.
As you can see the first actual meal I had was a salad. Many people have different descriptions for how amazing their first meal after fasting is, and for me it was the first time I actually tasted the flavour of lettuce. Who knew lettuce actually had a flavours?! For the first few bites, I could really feel the food traveling down to my stomach, a sensation I hadn’t noticed when I was eating all the time.
- 2 Tbsp plain goat yogurt
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil
- Handful of raspberries
- 1/2 Avocado
- 1/2 Raw zucchini
- 1 Bowl sweet potato soup
- 1/4 Medium spaghetti squash
- Half Avocado
- 2 Hard boiled eggs
- Quarter Spaghetti Squash
- Quarter of medium zucchini
My online research suggested that for longer fasts, it is recommended to refeed for a number of days that is equal to your fasting period. For shorter fasts, the suggestion was to refeed for half of your fasting period. Once I reached Day 3 of refeeding I was very comfortable with eating and digesting again so I started eating regularly on the third day, albeit with much healthier food choices.
What else did I notice?
Here are some of the unexpected benefits I noticed during my 7 day water fast, in no particular order…
While I was fasting I noticed that I was able to fall asleep much more quickly than usual. I can’t say for sure, but I now attribute this more to not eating late in the evening, more so than fasting itself. Since my fasting ended I have continued to enjoy falling asleep more easily when I don’t eat after 7pm.
You would think that not eating would make a person pretty grumpy for about 99% of the time. Surprisingly, I can’t think of a time when I was impatient, upset, or irritated at any point during my fast! Was I simply too tired to expend extra energy on these emotions? Had something actually changed in my physiology due to the fast? I’ll have to find a way to measure this during my next fast (suggestions welcome!).
Do my pants still fit?
The short answer is… sort of. One of the questions I often received while fasting was, “how much weight have you lost?”. With the help of my girlfriend who is a personal trainer, and some health technology along the way, I was able to take some measurements.
For those interested, I’ve included my longer term weight trend. As you can see I have regained some weight, but remain 6-ish lbs below my pre-fasting weight.
Should you try it?
My experience with water fasting for 7 days was a huge success, and I would 100% recommend it to anyone that is curious (do your research first). There’s a lot of power in making a decision, sticking to it, and learning what the human body is capable of.