Updated: Feb 5, 2021
Love is such a strong word....
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“The best medicine is rest and fasting.”
It's day two. My stomach growls right on time — at 10:30 when I normally eat my first meal. This feels harder than the other times. I’m working from my home office, Brahms Piano Concerto No 1 plays in the background, just finished the regularly scheduled morning webinar a half hour ago, now in a comfortable rhythm, checking off my list of calls, analyzing performance on different spreadsheets, about to text my wife that I’m coming to the kitchen in a moment. Working from home remotely means sending a text from my office.
Even before the pandemic, I worked from home. I love it, although that was not true at first. In the beginning, I missed the experience and energy of working in an office surrounded by team members. I still miss it occasionally. I digress.
When I come to the kitchen this time, I will not prepare my lunch. I will not eat lunch. As I said, its day two and I am nearly past the more difficult part.
I’m fasting. The first two days of the process are the most difficult for me. I have fasted for as many as 10 days. I fasted seven days, four days and several times over three days. Occasionally, I will also eat one meal a day (OMAD) at various times over the course of a month.
I enjoyed each experience of longer term fasting. Seriously. The hurdles always seemed highest the first two days. After having done it before, the strongest hollow feeling, hunger pangs arrive in the middle of day two. Our body knows its eating routine.The hormone ghrelin begins to secrete around your typical eating times. After two days of ignoring your body’s signals, the hunger pangs arrive just a little more determined to get your attention — at least for me. Again, those are the hardest times for me. But the moments are fleeting.
There are tricks to survive it. You can drink water or even mimic eating something — close your eyes and imagine yourself consuming a glutton’s worth of food on Thanksgiving. You do what works for you. The example of imagining a Medieval Times style turkey leg in your mouth feasting does not work for me. It makes it harder. I prefer to focus on the benefits and my goal — which is to reach the finish line.
How do I get through it? Sometimes, I simply distract myself or flat out ignore it. I know that it will subside. When you have faced it several times, you develop that certainty around how long the sensation truly lasts. You have built up enough resilience and experience to fight it off. When that’s not enough, I drink water. After day two, I find myself surprised by how long I have gone without thinking about food.
Believe me, I get that the “just fight it off” method relies on brute will power. But, again, when you have successfully endured the sensation, perhaps sipped some water, and realized the benefit of getting through it, the reward mechanism will kick in — meaning at some point the sensation fully subsides and you feel better physically.
Here’s what I love about fasting. After day two, I don’t feel the hunger pangs anymore. I don’t feel them at all. They are completely gone and will not return. I cannot tell you when they will return, I have not fasted long enough. You do not need to find that limit to understand my experience. Speaking only of my experience, the feelings of peace, relaxation, euphoria that accompany the discipline really appeal to me and make the experience nearly spiritual at times. Here are some of the benefits of fasting from my perspective.
Aches and Pains. After day one, routine aches and pain begin to subside. I feel physically better. I suffer from chronic back pain, occasional gout that attacks the big toe on my right foot and arthritis in the neck. Doctors and Scientists will tell you that the energy your body expends on digestion now fuels other cellular activity in your body, including repairs. The pain relief alone is worth the experience for me.
Autophagy. In conjunction with the lessening of aches and pain, I know that my body is undergoing the process of autophagy. I cannot explain it better than scientists, so click above for my details. But I will say that it is the process of your body eliminating damaged cells as a form of renewal. Healthy cells consume damaged cells for energy.
The process impacts all the cells in your body, including those of your internal organs. Dr. Jason Fung, who has written several great books on fasting, relates a story about Mahatma Gandhi’s autopsy and how the doctors marveled at the condition of his internal organs and attributed it to his fasting habits. Incidentally, in relation to improved physical appearance, some people report improved skin condition during Fasting.
Time. You get a ton of time back. Think about the combined time dedicated to eating, whether you prepare your own food or purchase it, plus the time spent eating. If you eat three square meals a day plus snacks, you get some of that time back. In my case, I’m still sitting at the family dinner table each night, so I’m not realizing that specific period of time. I would not want to! I’m with my family.
Yes, it’s a little difficult to sit down and watch while your family consumes a meal (if this is your first time fasting, perhaps you don’t try to gut it out during one of the first harder days.) But I increase my focus on the dynamics during the meal I might ordinarily miss. And it’s a great time to increase your awareness of gratitude. That may sound hilarious — let's be grateful while others are eating — but I find myself focusing more on the experience of being with family. Take that comment for what it’s worth — I try not to focus on the absence of food!
Energy. This works both ways. There are multiple times over long fasts when I burst with energy, usually around days three or four. The time frame varies. When I fasted ten days, I felt a surge early in the process on days three and four and then again around days seven and eight.
However, I have experienced moments of drag or low energy. It does not last long, in my case. I make certain to maintain my exercise routine during the process, so I modify the intensity of HIIT sessions by lowering the amount of time and interval intensity by 30–50%. If I ordinarily perform a HIIT cycling session of thirty minutes, I cut the duration by as much as half.
I listen to my body. This practice seems to help me both maintain healthy routines and lower the risk of energy drag.
Incidentally, there are times when I feel perfectly fine and inspired and keep to my normal schedule. The point is that I become increasingly aware of how my body reacts to different scenarios.
Awareness. My dreams become even more intense, colorful and emotional. I’m writing this blog post in anticipation of a longer fast in the next month, meaning I might share more details during a fasting journal. I develop a much greater focus on details, daily routines, the sounds of nature when taking a walk. My focus improves. And I become much more attuned to my body.
Naturally, I feel lighter — clearly because I’m not consuming food, but my mood typically brightens as well. I have read that some people become very emotional, particularly the longer they fast as their body detoxifies. I have not experienced that specific condition because of fasting, but I completely understand how it could happen.
There is science and a set of recommendations when coming out of a fast. You must keep in mind that your digestive system goes silent during this period and needs to reawaken. The longer you fast, the more conscious you need to be about the process of eating food again.
Once again, I will leave the details to the experts. Please research appropriate doctors for sound advice. I have followed and not followed recommendations in the past and suffered the consequences. After my first seven day fast, I ignored the experts and took the family to the Wood Ranch Grill and ordered the combo platter which included two magnificent Beef Ribs, Tri Tip, Coleslaw and a Sweet Potato.
Oh, the restaurant features awesome dinner rolls. I thought I ate with some level of caution. You would think I would ravage dinner like a Bear coming out of hibernation. I barely ate half the meal, but that was enough! My insides did not exactly rejoice. I’ll spare you the gory details.
I must leave this warning. I am sharing my observations and experiences. I am not a doctor. Consult a physician if you have any doubts about the practice. These observations and experiences are mine alone and not a recommendation!