So I've done partial juice fasting before. One small meal per day and raw juice for the rest of my meals. It was tough, but it wasn't so bad. I had a good level of energy and exercised every day during it. This time would be quite a bit different.
On Easter Sunday, my in-laws generously took us out to brunch at an awesome hotel in Perry, Iowa called Hotel Pattee. The food was good and I indulged a bit, leaving the confines of my diet. But I was preparing for what was coming next. That would be my last meal for over 120 hours!
Not a Juice Cleanse
I realized this is burying the lede here, but this was not just a juice cleanse. I didn't ingest anything besides water for the entire five days! You read that right. No milk, no vitamin supplements, no medication... for five days. For some people, this is impossible. Some have prescription medication they must take every day. Other people just don't have the willpower. And it was tough, I must say. I'll talk about the entire experience throughout this post, but the hunger wasn't the worst part. But I don't want to get ahead of myself.
WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO YOURSELF?!
Well, the whole process is a long story, but I'll summarize. I have kept my eye on nutrition data for decades. I love most forms of science, but ones that involve me and my body/mind are even more interesting. I was fascinated reading about a person's microbiome and how the stomach controls so much of our personality and behavior. The bacteria in your guts matter so much to who we all are! It's amazing!
Another topic that I've researched is the concept of preventing age-related body issues. There are all sorts of ideas about the ends of your DNA having a limited number of copies and how stem cells can be used to restart the cellular processes and various other ways to extend our lives. But one that really piqued my interest was that cells decay faster through more caloric intake.
So then I remembered a video I watched a long time ago about a person who drank only water for thirty days and how he talked about completely resetting his microbiome. And I thought, huh... I wonder how fasting impacts cellular decay. So I did some research on the benefits of fasting. It was pretty interesting! There are studies about all sorts of benefits.
Bethany is a pastor, so I had considered doing some fasting during Lent to see if I could do it. During my research, I found that many people suggested doing a five day water-only fast as a type of cleansing and how it was a great experience. I thought, "Hmm... I could do that!" So I did!
My Experience with Only Water for Five Days
My last calorie ingested was around 1:30pm at the brunch. I had an Andes mint to finish off a big brunch. I had already started a low carb diet that was also much less food. It was going ok. That morning I had just one piece of cauliflower-crust pizza. I was pretty hungry (Oh how that definition will change for me...) and I knew what was coming, so I let myself eat whatever I wanted. I didn't stuff myself, but I ate pretty well. It was about 50% meat, 40% fruit/veggies, and the last 10% carbs. Not too shabby! The rest of the day was a breeze. I wasn't ever hungry and went to bed excited about what the next day would bring.
I didn't sleep well. I kept thinking about the fast and what I would eat when it was done. I had to be really careful not to have sugar when coming out of the fast, and I was thinking about that first meal. Not because I was hungry, but because that's what my brain likes to do to me in the middle of the night.
My first hunger pangs hit me at 9am. By 12:30pm, my stomach was growling. The first 24 hours weren't that tough, honestly. Yeah, I was hungry, but I've been hungrier. No sweat! If I only knew...
By the afternoon, I was starting to feel it. If I had any downtime, my mind was on food. I HAD to distract myself constantly. I was already drinking a decent amount of water, but I drank much more. It really helped the hunger (a good tip for any dieter, really). By night I was really struggling. I got up too fast near 10pm and got light-headed. I went to bed around 11pm and was so tired.
I actually slept really well! I had my plan and was setting it into motion, so my brain gave me a break. Thanks, brain! The morning went fine. No terrible hunger issues (but don't get me wrong... I was hungry) and my brain was only a little foggy, but that's how it is every morning! We have a young couple that we know start renting a room from us, and they thought I was crazy to do this. I cooked them up some food and had no issues! Life was good!
9am: OMG, I'm going to DIE! I'm SO hungry!
Noon: I see why people need food to survive. OMG, I'm SO HUNGRY!
Ok, so maybe life wasn't 'so good'. My brain wasn't functioning well, I was SO COLD, and my balance was off. My stomach was making gurgling noises, I had some heartburn, and I some weird burps. I wasn't doing well. A three-day fast was still pretty good, right? But this was actually only TWO days. 48 hours and I was having such a hard time. But I was surrounded by an awesome support system, soo... on I went. The worst part was making a shake for Logan and Elly. I made them one when they first arrived and they were craving another. I figured it wouldn't be that bad, so I whipped it up! Elly turned out not as hungry, so it sat there... partially consumed... calling to me. DRINK ME, JOEL! You KNOW you want me! SHUT UP SHAKE! I'M BETTER THAN YOU!
So I played some video games and shot bad guys. See? Video games PREVENT violence!
I slept well again! I had heard that after three days, everything became better. That my brain would have this incredible focus and the hunger would just disappear. It was equated with a runner's high! I was pumped. A good night sleep and I was ready to tackle the world!
But... my stomach is still grumbling... Oh! I have to use the bathroom! It's been so long! I can do this! But... I had heard about one person that did the five water-only days of torture that actually pooped his pants twice, so I had to be careful. He said it was all weird and watery! But, I was fine. Just a (small) normal poo. Hooray! Crisis averted!
No real hunger, yet, and my brain is going strong! I do some light exercise of a few pushups, but I can tell that I'm significantly weaker and have significantly less energy. That's disappointing, but I can deal with it. At least I'm not...
I FEEL TERRIBLE. The afternoon hits and I'm struggling. NOW it's been 72 hours, right? It's supposed to be easy now! My stomach starts growling. My brain stops functioning. I'm dizzy, weak, light-headed, tired... I feel awful! Is this what a runner's high is, cuz I don't want it! I had to distract myself. I couldn't work efficiently. I couldn't talk efficiently. I would say things that left out parts of words. Need... video games... must distract... can't fail...
And the next ten hours just melt away. No one bugs me until night. I might have been moody, but I don't know. It was just... Shoot bad guys. Shoot bad guys. Get loot. NO BRAIN! DON'T THINK ABOUT FOOD!
Worst day yet.
It's the worst night of sleep, but still not THAT bad. I tossed and turned. I was very, very hungry. Water just wouldn't stop it. I didn't wanna play games cuz I knew I'd be up all night. I had bad dreams, anxiety, stomach pain, and headaches. But I fought through it and morning came. This was it, right?! Day FIVE! But not really... I wanted to hit 120 hours! This was just the end of day FOUR and the START of day five. Ugh.
My morale was low. No one thought I could go this far, which made me want it even more! They were all so supportive, but started saying, "Four days is still REALLY good!" NO!! I will persevere!
The morning was decent, again. Maybe my body was expecting food and patiently waiting for it like it always does in the AM. I dunno. I decided to just stay busy. Any downtime was spent on the video game. Work, game. Work, game. I didn't have any energy and my balance was way off. Work, game. My mind was starting to clear up, some, so that's good. I wasn't in a terrible mood (I'm sure Bethany will be the final judge on that).
The day passed uneventfully, really. Hungry, but distracted. I was gonna do this!
I slept pretty well, but I was more tired this morning than any other. I just... didn't feel strong. I really didn't like that and I'm glad it will be over today. I was originally going to eat lunch at our normal time (11am) to get things back into the routine, but I really wanted that 120hr mark, so I decided since my first 'meal' was supposed to be very small, I'd put it off to my afternoon snack time. The day passed pretty quickly. We had lots to do, so I didn't even eat until 121 hours!
The days AFTER
The first food I had was a filet of tilapia and some Brussels sprouts. I could feel the rush of energy. My brain was still foggy, but much better. We went to a movie and I was fine! I had SO MUCH ENERGY! We came home and had a late supper of Bethany's amazing soup with sausage and kale and some potatoes. I avoided most of the potatoes and focused on lots of broth and kale. It was so tasty! I didn't eat a lot but made sure to pace myself.
The next day, I had some dark chocolate and some pickles (not together, silly!) They're supposed to promote a good stomach microbiome. I made pickle rolls with ham and cream cheese, had a small omelet, and my coveted PB milkshake with dark chocolate. I was in heaven! The energy was back and the fog was gone! My stomach did grumble a bit the first 24 hrs after ending the fast and all of my visits to the bathroom were liquid, if you know what I mean, but otherwise, I was great! Today is my third morning with breakfast and all is well!
So, the question I get the most is, would you do this again? No, I probably will not do another five day (or longer) water-only fast. But I would do 24hr fasts. That first 24hrs was so easy. It wouldn't give all the benefits that I read about, but it would help with the cellular decay from caloric intake. And the side effect is pretty nice (weight loss). I would NOT suggest this as a diet, though. While fasting isn't the same as a starvation diet, you CAN really have a bad rebound. The best thing, as always, is to come up with a lifestyle plan for weight loss. I couldn't really exercise throughout this, so I likely lost muscle mass, which is a bad thing for weight loss.
The worst effects were being cold all the time, I had balance issues, and my brain was foggy. Of course, the hunger was one of the worst parts, but the absolute worst (by far) was the feeling of weakness. I like feeling strong. And I felt so weak. Now that it's done, I've worked out a bit. Today I'm starting to push myself physically with exercise. I really hated feeling so weak. And that is really inspiring to me.
All in all, I am really glad I had this experience. I appreciate the support from Bethany throughout. It was kinda nice to have all the extra time and money savings, too. Of course, they weren't quality hours... I wouldn't do it again, but I'm happy to have done it. Now on to the next fitness experience!
Any suggestions on other experiments I should do?