Last year I went 72 hours with only water. I’d read and heard chatter about “intermittent fasting,” not knowing what people meant. The more I looked into it, the more I found most people chattering didn’t know what they were talking about so I ignored it.
Then a friend told me about two benefits he experienced — not read about or imagined, but experienced. He said
- The first meal after a 3-day fast tasted indescribably good
- After about the second day, he felt more energetic than usual, though it required persevering a grumpy and challenging second day
I love delicious and I love feeling energetic. If I only needed to go without food for a few days — saving money and time — why wouldn’t I? If live to be 80, I’ll live about 30,000 days, so a challenge for 3 of them is a percent of a percent. If it’s hard, so be it. If others can do it, I can too.
You can look up last year’s experience: I haven’t eaten for 3 days and it’s amazing.
Because I refuse to allow any of my CSA vegetables go to waste and they provide so much food! The portions don’t allow me to let three days pass without my eating some, so my only times to skip eating for three days are between CSA seasons.
My spring CSA ended two weeks ago, and I’ve nearly finished the vegetables from it. My summer CSA starts next week. This past week was my best time to fast. As I’m writing now, I realize I won’t finish the last of the kale I froze. This is what happens when you eat in season: I’m flooded with abundant cheap healthy vegetables. I love it. That it makes scheduling fasting challenging, I can live with, but it does.
I didn’t plan. Tuesday after breakfast after doing my Turkish Get-ups (2 on each side with a 62 pound kettle bell), I noticed the CSA timing and decided to start a fast. Since two days later was a rowing day and I wanted to eat after rowing, I planned on 48 hours.
That’s all my planning. If I had planned more I would have eaten a bigger breakfast.
Lesson 1: Redefining Impossible
As much as I know people fast, something inside still considers skipping even one meal a big deal, let alone 6 or 9.
Nothing changes beliefs than experiencing what they suggest is impossible.
Not eating for two or three days is a challenge, but is remarkably easier than I expect. Since I felt so energetic the morning of day 2 and I had so much I wanted to do, I kept at it another half day.
I felt hungry, but not much more than usual. Since I’d done 72 hours last year, I was in familiar territory.
Actually, I was curious how rowing would feel. I was scheduled to row 5,000 meters. I planned to take it easier than usual, and did, but hardly. I usually row it in about 20:30. This time, having drunk only water for the 57 hours before, I rowed it in 20:12 — measurably slower, but in the same range. The burpees afterward took more time, but I didn’t feel I couldn’t do them.
I felt exhausted but great. Accomplished.
In other words, I re-overturned beliefs on needing to eat so often.
I can’t overstate how empowering this result is. I live in a culture flooded with people trying to tempt you to put things in your mouth, to spend money and time, to connect food with feelings of value and worth.
Spending a few days without eating builds resilience and independence. I develop control over what I do and I do it based on my choice, not theirs.
Lesson 2: Most eating comes from habit, craving, and context, not hunger
I usually eat something within a few minutes of walking in my door. This pattern leads me to feel what I would normally call hunger on entering my home.
Actually, if I pay closer attention, the feeling builds as I enter my neighborhood walking home. Tuesday evening, I walked home from Carnegie Hall, where my step-father performed (a life achievement). I noticed the feeling I would normally call hunger building by Chelsea, a mile away.
But the feeling isn’t hunger. It’s anticipation of the pleasure of food. It results not from lack of energy to run the body but from habit. After all, beyond not eating on getting home, I didn’t eat for more than another 24 hours and the feeling passed soon after getting home.
That feeling is craving. It comes from habit and context:
- arriving home
- meeting friends
- being near food
- time of day
- doing things that often precede eating
- and things like that.
The urge to satisfy the craving is strong, the act of satisfying so simple, and the expectation of feeling good so enticing, I normally feel unable to resist. Our economy spends billions, maybe trillions, annually to create those feelings around food and many other cravings.
But eating to satisfy hunger is more satisfying and takes less food, at least by my experience. When I ate just after 60 hours, at 8pm Thursday, I got full faster than usual, on less food, and fell asleep full.
It forces me to ask:
What do I prefer: fleeting superficial feelings of acting on craving or deep satisfaction of choosing to eat what I want when I want?
When you buy a Big Mac, you fund McDonald’s business model, which is to create craving. They will do so, as they have for generations, and will create more craving. You fund them to addict or enslave you.
I do the same with myself when I eat out of craving instead of hunger or choice. I reward feelings I don’t like.
Not eating for a few days develops my skills of conscious choice. The emotional reward that comes from those achievements dwarfs the fleeting pleasure of a Dorito or even an apple.
A lot of people claim health benefits from fasting, or that we evolved to perform best with long breaks between eating. I don’t believe any of those claims. Regarding the health claims, the human body is too complex to understand the effect of one change on overall health in the context of infinite other factors.
The health claims also don’t find with my top rule of diet advice: if it comes from an American, it’s probably best to ignore it.
Regarding the evolutionary claims, all the ones I’ve heard sound like just so stories. They sound nice but I see no evidence backing them up.
I didn’t do it for diet, nor am I writing it to give advice. I did it for the experience and am writing to share my experience.
I also did it for the flavor experience my friend described. I enjoyed my first meal, but no more than my usual food.
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