“The purpose of fasting is to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world of material things and our surroundings as a whole, in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things.”
~ Ole Hallesby
I was sitting in a restaurant with my lady, and a plate of delicious sushi was right in front of me. Salmon and shrimps, eggs and eel, deliciously smelling soup. I felt it. The temptation. Internal resistance, a feeling of acute discomfort, and an alluring inner voice that was persuading me to give in — all was a proof test for my willpower. The struggle was real, and that was the point. It was the first time I tried fasting.
I heard about the benefits of fasting years ago when I first stepped on the path of dismantling the myths around the concept of healthy nutrition. At that time, I was lifting heavy, drinking daily protein shakes and eating like an animal. I was bulking up.
Deliberate deprivation of food? There was no way I would have agreed to try it. The idea of not-eating was pure nonsense for me at that time however evidently it precipitated somewhere in subconsciousness waiting for its time to grow into implementation. My interest in fasting resurfaced a couple of years later when I first read about intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is not a diet. You are not removing any products from your menu. IF is a time restriction protocol in which you cycle between a defined period of fasting and a window of time when you allow yourself to eat. The most popular versions of the fast/non-fast cycle are the beginner version of 14 h/10 h, the medium 16 h/8 h, and the advanced version of 20 h/4 h.
Intermittent fasting does work. It is an effective tool for weight loss and can even be effectively used for lean bulking. Check the information available online to learn more about many benefits of IF.
When I researched enough about the benefits of intermittent fasting I have decided to maximize the effect by doing conventional fasting instead. Fasting is also known as a water diet so basically, the only things that you can consume during the fasting period are water and tea.
My intention was to get more insights about what I was made of and indeed I learned a lot through my first fasting experience — 60 hours fast.
So, what are the benefits of fasting?
This is the obvious reason, and I believe this reason alone serves as a strong motivation to try fasting for many people. Losing weight is not rocket science. The math is simple — burn more calories than you consume, and that’s it. In that sense, nothing is more effective in fat-burning than fasting. When you have to move, think, and perform work in the absence of incoming energy your body doesn’t have any other choice but to tap into the energy conserved in fat. Fasting could be considered a bit of an extreme method but it also brings the fastest results. Sorry, there is no fancy effortless recipe to get slim and sexy. Do you want to know how to lose 3 kg in 3 days? You just don’t eat.
Your body rests.
Digestion itself is a very energy-consuming process that keeps the digestive system restless. Once you have entered fasting mode, your digestive system shuts down and your body finally gets valuable time to readjust from digestion mode to self-healing mode. It’s almost as if your body “thinks”: “No food? Good. Now I have more free time to take care of other needs. Maybe I should do some detox.”
With the massive and nonstop intake of junk food, processed food, and most importantly, medications, the body doesn’t have enough time to remove all of the toxins right after the intake. It neutralizes the maximum amount of toxins it can deal with to decrease the immediate damage and the rest of toxins that cannot be processed get conserved in fat tissue. When you fast, your body initiates the cleaning process. The fat starts to burn releasing toxins which then leave your body with urine. This is one of the main reasons why you may feel quite bad on your first fasts — the toxins that were stored in the fat get back into the system and poison you. Make sure you drink a lot of water to flush the toxins off.
When your body is not busy with digesting, it starts to repair itself and optimize its operation. In a fasted state the body tries to save energy and it does so by recycling immune cells that are not needed including those that may be damaged. Leukocytes or so-called “white cells” — your immunity guardians, break down but after their number declines to a critical point your body kickstarts the genesis of new healthy cells from stem cells. This is how fasting resets your immune system flipping the rejuvenation switch. You are literally anti-aging.
When you fast, you are training your body to enter the state of ketosis. Ketosis is a metabolic state of the body in which fatty acids are being broken down by the liver to so-called ketones which serve as an alternative source of energy to usual carbohydrates. Some researchers claim that ketone bodies are in fact much more effective fuel for the brain than carbs. From my personal experience, I can say that indeed in the state of ketosis something very interesting happens to cognition. At one point, ketone bodies start to kick in and your brain “wakes up”. Suddenly, you attain extreme mental clarity. You feel sharp. It’s easy to achieve a tunnel focus on a subject of interest or a task at hand. This can be used as a productivity hack when there is some intellectual work to get done. Normally I start to notice first indications of ketosis in the afternoon of the second day but of course, this time will vary depending on the person.
Mindfulness of your body.
In fasting mode, a significant part of your attention is redirected within. You become more sensitive to what is going on inside your body. You are more aware of surrounding sounds, your movements, and sensations inside your stomach including the first signs of hunger. The digestive system is known as the “second brain”, as the number of nerves and the overall complexity of its regulatory nervous system are unfathomable. It is almost like the guts have their own intellect. That would explain the origin of the expression “to have a gut feeling”. An ability to concentrate the power of your awareness on the sensations inside your center contributes to your overall mindfulness. It teaches you how to listen to your body.
The last reason, but the one that was actually the primary motivation for me is that fasting increases resilience and stress-resistance. Fasting was another step in my quest for mental strength. I wanted to prove to myself that I can do this.
And so, I fasted for 60 hours.
I started on Friday at 9 pm and broke the fast on Monday at 10 am. The first day was fairly easy, even the workout. The second day was hard, especially the workout. Forcing my body to lift weights without any glycogen left in the muscles was not exactly a breeze but it was very insightful.
On the evening of the second day, I entered the ketosis state. I experienced unprecedented clarity of thoughts, my focus became “tunneled”. I was sitting in the coffee shop listening to the live music performance and was surprised how exquisite was my perception of sound. The sharpened senses in the fasted state are what we inherited from our ancestors — they were hungry hunters ready for potential careless prey accidentally walking by.
It was hard to fall asleep on the second day. I was constantly introspecting what was going on with my body. The heart was pumping stronger than usual. I was sweating. It felt like my spirit is slightly shifting from my body.
On the third day, I woke up feeling weak and a bit dizzy. Fasting started to exhaust me.
It is good to breakfast with a lemon or lime juice squeezed into a glass of warm water. It helps your stomach to prepare for the proper meal that follows slightly later.
I had my lime juice at 9 am, mango juice at 10 am, and lunch at 12 pm — a mashed potato, avocado, and quinoa salad.
What should I say? That was probably the most delicious meal of my entire life. Perfect breakfast. I was closing my eyes feeling how my mind is fully occupied by the sensation of every bit of taste. It was an unforgettable experience.
Later I fasted multiple times for 24, 36 and 48 hours. 1–2-day fasts are not that extreme and you can reap full benefits from them, most importantly — cell regeneration and detoxification.
What I learned through fasting.
Fasting saves you time.
We spend a lot of time feeding ourselves. We go to buy groceries, bring food home, cook food, wash dishes, throw out the garbage. We go to a cafe, stay in the line, go to a restaurant, wait for the waiter, wait for the order, we finally eat, and then go to the toilet. Jeez…
When you fast, you are productive without distractions. You can sit for hours of focused work without need to worry about what to have for lunch. Of course, fasting is not a long-term solution, but these sessions of uninterrupted work conducted even once a month can have a great impact on your life.
Eating 3 times a day is a social habit, not a necessity.
Most of us are raised having 3 meals a day so we used to think that this regimen is natural for us. It is not. Breakfast appeared as a result of productivity optimization during the industrial era. The first meal of the day early in the morning was introduced so that kids could focus in school without being distracted by the uttering of an empty stomach and factory workers could have a good start of the day. Workers needed a long break in the middle of the day to stay productive and be able to work longer shifts that stretch to the evening — that’s how lunch appeared.
Animals do not have a predefined eating schedule. They eat when they are hungry and since being hungry is their normal state considering the scarcity of food in nature, they are always on the move looking for food. Humans are animals too so in order to stay healthy we should eat only when we are hungry, not because we feel bored. We must be able to face steadfastly the ordeal by hunger.
Fasting makes you rethink food.
You start to reconsider your ideas about the food you eat. Fasting resets your tastes. Junk food doesn’t seem so appealing anymore. You start to feel natural gravitation toward organic food.
The experience of fasting reminds you of the primary purpose of food which is to sustain life, not to serve as a source of pleasure. Some people are obsessed with food, they fantasize and talk about food even while having a meal. Chasing the pleasures of food — that is what leads to obesity. We shouldn’t reward ourselves with food. We are not dogs.
When I was little I didn’t see many fat kids playing around. Everyone was light, lively and quick. I feel bad looking at children these days. They are raised on carbohydrates as sugar-junkies and think of the cans and plastic packs they see on the shelves in the market as the real food. They have an underdeveloped natural taste which is something that must be cultivated from a very young age.
Fasting teaches you gratitude.
Fasting teaches you moderation. Fasting becomes a prism through which you start to see your every meal. It takes about 20 minutes to start feeling sated which means that your brain will still feel “hungry” if you eat too fast even if the amount of food you ate was sufficient. Fasting teaches you to finish your meal when you had enough, not to eat to a point when excessive food makes you lazy, sleepy and slow. Fasting helps to understand why gluttony is among the 7 deadly sins.
“If you got up from the table with a feeling of hunger — you are full; if you got up with the feeling of being full — you overate; if you got up with the feeling that you overate — you have just poisoned yourself.”
~ Anton Chekhov.
Fasting makes you stronger. Fasting helps you to build your mental toughness. It is a very effective method to enter the state of discomfort practicing which is one of the core principles of Stoicism — the philosophy of mind that became central for many ideas in this book.
It takes self-discipline to stay away from food but if you succeed to get through you will discover that the newly attained willpower is a long-lasting asset that can be reapplied in any area of your life. Once acquired this upgraded willpower doesn’t require much effort in maintenance. Practices to grow your willpower will become a habit. When you will start jumping into unknown without overthinking consider that the mindset of the discomfort acceptance is internalized. Your mind is stoic when there is no more need in pondering about things that can or will happen during the transformative experience, when knowing that if you persevere you will emerge as a new stronger being on the other side is the source of your calmness.
If you never tried fasting before, I challenge you to try. Do not listen to what people tell you about it, do not trust my words as well. Explore fasting yourself. Stay foolish. Stay hungry. Literally.
“A diet changes the way you look. A fast changes the way you see.”
~ Lisa Beverew