On Saturday the 12th, I completed 3-day extended fast. Technically it was closer to 88 hours because the last meal I ate was around 7pm Tuesday night and I didn’t eat again until 9am Saturday morning. Still, it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, which I find a bit odd given how scarce food must have been during human evolution. How soft are we that 2-3 days without eating is a notable period?
I neglected to write a post on this after I’d finished on Saturday, but that’s because I had to spend a lot of time on the refeeding process. I’d been reading that you have to introduce food slowly with something weak like broth, which I did with a box we just happened to have in the pantry. I’m really glad I started with something less substantial, because as delicious as it was, my stomach almost rejected it outright. Thankfully things eventually settled down, but if I try this again, I may take it a bit slower.
Unfortunately the broth was all we had that was suitable for reintroducing food, so I had to go shopping. I picked up some unflavored coconut milk to go with my blueberries, and I’d also planned to add some avocado, but I couldn’t find any that were sufficiently ripened. Ironic, given I normally have the opposite problem. Either way, I also grabbed a packet of shredded chicken to act as my first “solid” food for the day. After that, it should have been smooth sailing.
And it almost was. My blueberry shake was bland but didn’t upset my stomach any further, and the shredded chicken also hit the spot. My usual Sunday lunch was a bit smaller than usual, but dinner is where I made a substantial mistake. Low carb or not, I occasionally eat a gluten-free flatbread that uses coconut oil and other ingredients that are a lot cleaner than usual. I’ve eaten this before without issue, so figured it was safe.
I should have waited after acclimating myself further. Going from fasting to very low carb meals to a relatively huge bolus of carbs in two mere days destroyed my blood sugar. My heart rate was at least 20% higher than usual for several hours afterwards and I slept like trash that night. It’s also why I’m strongly considering backing off of keto for a while. I don’t need it for weight loss, and it’s adversely affecting my metabolic flexibility. I already do intermittent fasting, and studies show that works better in the long run. I’ve learned what to avoid and how to eat clean enough not to trigger my autoimmune issues, so that may ultimately be enough.
Regardless, the experience itself was grueling for the first three days, with basically constant hunger. This in itself is a bit odd, as hunger is controlled by ghrelin, which comes in waves based on when you normally eat. My sleep was probably the worst part. The hunger pangs and overall discomfort were a major impediment both to falling asleep and staying there. My sleep is already pretty bad, so this just make things ten times worse. If I ever fast for a long period again in the future, that’s always going to be the most difficult part to overcome.
I didn’t feel “OK” again until I woke up on Saturday morning. It was as if my body finally acquiesced and stopped demanding food. I actually felt good and realized I could easily extend the fast if I so desired, but I decided against it. My goal was three days, and I exceeded that target, after all.
Why did I do it? Long-term fasting is supposed to upregulate autophagy to dispose of old or malfunctioning cells. Basically without food, those are the first to go, leaving the most healthy cells behind. It’s an extremely important longevity and hormetic mechanism that is rarely exercised in our food-rich environment. Even my practice of 18/6 intermittent fasting isn’t necessarily enough to trigger this effect reliably. Longer fasts are supposed to be more beneficial in this regard, but I didn’t want to go overboard my first time.
Secondly, having breakfast in the morning following a 18+ hour fast helps reset your circadian rhythm. After spending the last six years with some degree of sleep maintenance insomnia, I’ll do almost anything to address it, so fasting was worth a shot. I’m not convinced this aspect worked as advertised, but I used the same trick when I went to Italy and it seemed to prevent the onset of Jet Lag while I was there.
Would I do it again? I plan to, but not any time soon. I’m going to give it at least a few months before another attempt given how miserable I was for the first several days. At least I know that everything will get easier after day four! I’d like to eventually reach a full week, but there’s no hurry.