Fun with foodlessness

Mar 02

First up, I don’t know much about nutrition, metabolism, or biochemistry. I’m just an idiot who likes experimenting on himself. If you do it, you might die. Talk to your doctor. Or even just your Mum.

I’ve tried fasting for a few days before and surprised myself with how easy it was. There were some hunger pangs, but it required very little mind-over-matter to ignore them for a few seconds, and they went away. And I remained functional.

So I decided to try going longer.

Here’s how it went:

  • Thursday: Diet: normal eating, including a huge meal in the evening
  • Friday: Diet: orange, two bananas, a few handfuls of cashews, cups of tea (with milk) Activity: morning run (~3km), push-ups/sit-ups/crunches, not much else (IT work day)
  • Saturday: Diet: an orange for breakfast. Psyllium. Cups of tea. One beer. Activity: morning run, push-ups/sit-ups/crunches, driving ~ 170km
  • Sunday: Diet: Water and psyllium, cups of tea. Activity: Used power tools for hours (some of it strenuous and appendage-risk-prone), assorted farm work, push-ups/sit-ups/crunches
  • Monday: Diet: Water and psyllium. One black decaf coffee. Activity: Push-ups/sit-ups/crunches, assorted farm work, marketing, IT work
  • Tuesday: Diet: Water and psyllium. One black decaf coffee. Activity: Push-ups/sit-ups/crunches, assorted farm work, marketing, power tools
  • Wednesday: Diet: Water and psyllium. One black decaf coffee, one black real coffee. Activity: Push-ups/sit-ups/crunches, assorted farm work, deliveries/driving ~90km
  • Thursday: morning run and then ate.

I lost around 5kg in 7 days.

The morning run on Saturday was hard. Legs felt fatigued, lung function seemed to be poor. Over time the other exercises varied – push ups were harder, sit-ups and crunches seemed to get easier. Generally I felt good, but when there was a burst of energy required, the fatigued feeling kicked in sooner. I was very interested to see how the last morning run would go – I had visions of being very shocked at just how fatigued I would be, having to claw myself back along the sand on the beach. But it was fine, much to my surprise, even the “killer” hill at the end of it. All in all I generally felt good, except when exercising, when some of it was more challenging – initially. Also, I do get irritable while fasting – my fuse gets much shorter.

In terms of hunger, it was much easier this time. A friend said he knew someone who suffered a bowel infarction while fasting. That didn’t sound like fun even before I asked Dr Google about it. So I took a couple of desertspoons of psyllium in water at ‘meal’ times in the hope of warding off that demon. I think it had the added bonus of making me feel like there was something in my stomach, which seemed to quell the hunger almost entirely. The two times I did struggle, I really struggled. The first was at a “bring a plate of food” birthday party. The massive spread of interesting food was tempting, in principle, but not hard to ignore. The chocolate cake covered in fruit that my son ate in front of me was another matter – I really wanted that. I did have a beer that night just to loosen up for a performance. I expected it to go straight to my head – since I had a very empty stomach – but it seemed that the psyllium may have helped there too.

The second time was on Sunday night. My wife decided to order pizza – we only had our son with us, my wife wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t eating, and he wanted takeaway. Travelling from the pizza shop back to the house with the aroma of barbeque chicken pizza filling the car was insanely distracting. My wife had the dog in her lap and my son fed him a piece of chicken, and after eating it he rested his head on her shoulder and just stared at the roof, like he was in a trance. It reminded me of someone who’d just had a hit of heroin, and it would’ve been amusing if it weren’t for the fact that the craving I was feeling probably wasn’t so dissimilar. But after that, no problems. I cooked meals for the family without any cravings at all – and indeed, in the last couple of days I thought my sense of smell might be dropping away; even dishes that get me drooling when I’m not fasting, had no effect, and I had to really poke my nose in the pot to tell if it was smelling as it should.

Around about Monday my teeth started to ache a bit, and my jaw. I noticed that last time too. It soon subsided. The only real issue after that was on Wednesday when I woke up with aching legs. Having gone through multiple self-imposed “cold turkey” caffeine withdrawals in the past, it occurred to me that it was probably that causing the aching. I’d been hoping that the trace amounts of caffeine in (really strong) decaf might ward off the withdrawals, but it seemed not. So I added a real coffee to the decaf I started with, and within half an hour the aches were gone.

The interesting thing for me is that I usually eat like a horse – most people are amazed at how much I put away, given my size. That’s my “normal” appetite. So to discover that I could go nearly 5 full days without food without really even feeling sub-par, was really surprising. I expected it to be a fairly harrowing time, but it just wasn’t.

And it really makes me wonder about just how much food we really need. I didn’t feel any worse on the last Thursday – indeed I was starting to feel even better. I decided to stop because I figured that if I was going to go any longer I should get organised with a GP/nutritionist to get levels tested in case some shortage in some trace element or somesuch was going to cause irreparable damage, and because I have appointments on Friday for which I need to be at the top of my game.

As for what I ate to break the fast… a whole bag of spinach leaves with mushrooms fried in butter, a small tin of tuna (ok, so I’m not vego when it’s the first square meal I’ve eaten in a week) and some ‘sharp and crumbly’ cheese. It was truly divine. I’m angling toward something like a “ketogenic” diet just to see what happens… another experiment.

Despite the fast not being difficult, except for a few moments, still... food never tasted this good! Breakfast, literally.

Despite the fast not being difficult, except for a few moments, still… food never tasted this good! Breakfast, literally.