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May 11, 2018


I bailed out of a five day fast yesterday at about hour 116 (five days full would be 120).

I didn't even really plan it. I just didn't eat most of the day Sunday, so I decided to fast that one day. The next day was pretty easy not to eat, so I went another day. The next two days were also easy.

With the first four days usually the hardest but turning out to be easy as pie, I actually thought, "I'm going to do a ten day fast this time."

Alas, not meant to be. It turns out that Day 5 was a real sonofabitch. I had read an article, hoping for advice/inspiration, that turned out to be a big warning against fasting, and I just started perseverating that I was losing all of my muscle and probably enlarging my heart (or weakening it, one or the other) and that I was probably going to kill myself with this lunacy.

Once you get stuck that kind of a negative mental feedback loop, with your hormones joining in to tell you to eat or Die!!!, you kinda lose the will to keep going.

The hormones that get you aren't really the hunger hormones. It's the energy/stress hormones. When you go without food for a while, I think your body starts cranking out noradrenaline for energy and cortisol for alertness, to get your body up and foraging for food. This gives you a lot of energy (but bad energy, for me -- you have a lot of nervous, nonproductive energy that needs to be paced and figited away, and can't really be put into something useful) but it does get your heart beating faster and that, in turn, can make you start imaging all sorts of dire things will happen if you don't eat.

There is the fact that you can actually really do damage to yourself when you fast, so it's not like you can just dismiss these worries out of hand.

So I Noped Out just shy of the official 5 day mark.

The good news was that it was unexpectedly easy until those last 12 hours. Not sure I lost too much weight, though, apart from the expected, completely temporary water weight.

I still haven't felt that alleged "feeling of clarity and wellness bordering on euphoria" people say you're supposed to feel on day 4 or 5. I'm starting to doubt this exists. Maybe just one guy felt it once and now everyone repeats that "people say" you feel this.

On the weightlifting front, I had just gotten back to my old levels (I had lost strength when I took a few weeks off and did a short fast), but I'm probably back down off my old mark again, thanks to the recent fast. I did do a light bit of weightlifting during the fast, but I kept the sets, reps per set, and weights pretty low. (3 sets with no additional accessory or burn sets, 3 reps per set, weight down by 15% or so.) I only did that to signal to my body that I still needed what muscle I had so it shouldn't cannibalize too much of it.

So my gains are: Meh. Trying stuff, but not getting really great gains.

But: Tell me about yo GAINZZZ.

BTW: Someone asked about fasting. I've already written a long post on why people fast and how to fast, so I'll just link it here.

I want to say that I'm no longer comfortable recommending fasts longer than two days. Two days is fairly safe for most people (except diabetics, who need medical supervision for any fast, and people on medication that requires food, and some other medical conditions making fasting a problem). So just ignore anything at that post about fasts longer than two days.

I don't recommend it. I mean, I do it from time to time, but I don't want to recommend it to anyone else. I had a scary severe dehydration event that may have been related to a fast -- it happened five days or so after I ended the fast, but I think part of it was due to mistakes I made on the fast, letting myself get too dehydrated, and then reintroducing food too fast which gave me a lingering case of intermittent diarrhea which dehydrated me even more -- I wound up collapsing, calling 911, and having a blood pressure of 64/30 on the way to the hospital.

Now, I think that was also triggered by supplementing potassium with too little water (there's a good reason that pills only contain 3% of the RDA of potassium -- if you have too much potassium at once, without enough water, your body tries to excrete the excess potassium, along with a lot of water -- thus, causing further dangerous levels of dehydration).

But it was probably a combination of both -- the fast dehydrating me, then having too much potassium to put an already-dehydrated body over the edge.

But the point is, I wrote that post before I got a taste of what people mean when they say "Fasting is potentially dangerous."

So just ignore anything about fasts longer than two days. Check with your doctor about that. I've done four long fasts, and one of them resulted in nearly dying.

Someone whose success rate at avoiding near-death events is only 75% is not the right guy to get advice from.

I'd add a few points about fasts:

1. You should build up to a fast, first by doing intermittent daily fasting (which is just only eating in an 8 hour window, with 16 hours of fasting) and get used to that, and see how it goes. After you get used to that, you'll probably wind up just accidentally going 23 hours in a fast (eating one meal a day), and sometimes you'll say 'Why not go to bed without eating at all?" and you'll have your first 24+ hour fast.

The point is, this shouldn't be forced. Fasting shocks the body, and you want to shock it as little as possible. Once you skip a full day of eating and have no problems, you can think about fasting a few weeks later for two days, etc.

Oh, and don't fast too often. You deplete your body of stored minerals and vitamins every time you fast, and you want weeks of regular eating to replenish them between fasts.

2. Hunger comes in waves, but dissipates after a time. The urgent feeling that you need to eat is caused by the hormone ghrelin, which your body pumps out to get you to eat. But the body doesn't keep pumping this out: It pumps it out for a while, then stops. You can usually get past one of these Ghrelin Hormone Hunger Waves by drinking cold water or hot tea -- something to make your stomach believe it's been filled with food.

It'll always come back, of course, but you can keep tricking it, and once you get over the psychological sense of feeling an urgent need to eat just because ghrelin is telling you to, it gets easier to ignore.

People sometimes think "If it's this bad now, it'll be terrible in a half hour!" No, the body doesn't do that because you'd grow tolerant to the effects of ghrelin, and then you might not respond to its signaling to eat. So it turns on the ghrelin pumps for a while, then shuts them down, then tries bothering you again later.

3. I mentioned this in the post above, but the other big hormones the body releases are noradrenline for energy (to give you the energy to find food) and cortisol (to be stressed out about finding food, and to increase alertness to spot food). I don't know how these will affect you, but personally, I don't like the feeling of anxious, nervous energy these two give you. (But they come in waves too, like ghrelin.) Don't be too surprised to find yourself all jittery and tense.

Supposedly intensely cold showers actually calm you down. It may seem strange that something stressful can actually reduce stress, but I'd imagine it goes like this: You expose your body to a major stress, and get the cortisol flowing a lot, then, when you stop the stress, the cortisol pumps say "Oh this isn't so bad at all" and shut off.

I've been trying that, not just for fasts, but in general. I don't have enough experience to say if this BroScience is real yet.

4. Once you're burning fat as energy, you'll have plenty of good energy (not the nervous energy noradrenline and cortisol give you), but until you start burning fat, you'll be Low Energy Jeb. That's why it's a good idea to already be in fat-burning mode before a fast, through a low-carb, high fat diet for 5-7 days before the fast. I was already in that, and had steak and sausage at a barbecue the day before, so it was pretty easy to start the fast.

When done right, people find that they're not as hungry or tired as they thought they'd be on a fast. Oh, they're hungry. You're always going to feel hungry periodically on a fast. But not necessarily low-energy at all.

5. Lightheadedness and dizziness are pretty common. They're not cause for too much worry -- I think maybe your blood pressure drops due to water shed -- so don't freak out too much about them. You'll get this especially when you get up from a sitting or reclined position too fast.

But you should plan accordingly. Some people might choose to fast only on weekends so that they have more control over their time, and what they're doing during the fast.

6. Longer fasts, which I do not recommend, require extra salt as well as extra water. Google advice on that. You need electrolytes (salts) to retain water, and vice versa; as you deplete salts, your body will start shedding too much water (as it wants to keep your bodily water at a specific concentration of salts; as it loses salt, it will urinate out water to keep the concentration where it wants it). Losing too much water will of course dehydrate you, and that's dangerous, and will also give you headaches and make you feel like shit.

But once again, I'm not recommending fasts longer than two days. Two days or less and salt depletion should not be a major concern. Though, if you feel a headache, it's probably due to being low on salt, and a teaspoon of salt in water might fix it.

7. You can exercise a bit in a fast but you should tone it down to maintenance or even sub-maintenance levels. I read about one guy who felt he had energy, so he went out for a long walk; but halfway through he realized that he had depleted all of his energy and he had to run into a convenience store to buy raisins just to make it home.

The thing about a fast is: You deplete all your stored glycogen (which is blood sugar packaged up for quick release) pretty fast, within 48 hours, and, while fat energy can keep you going a bit, most exercise requires glucose, and you'll have to burn muscle for that. So it's counterproductive to exercise beyond the minor level just needed to signal your body that it should not start burning muscle.

Also, again, fasting is already a shock for your body and you don't want to shock it too much.

On a short two day fast, this shouldn't be a huge problem, but keep in mind you're almost out of all the readily-available energy stores, and any additional energy you need can only come from the slower process of breakdown of fat. Plan on much longer than usual recovery periods between any sets.

8. Some fasts can be extended by softly breaking them. A "soft break" would be taking in calories of a kind which don't break the fast so much as it bends it: Bone broth, for example, or MCT oil/butter (as one has in bulletproof coffee). This stuff breaks the fast for some purposes but not others. It doesn't really break the fast as far as fat-burning -- it only delays it while the body burns the energy you just put into it; but you'll start burning fat again when the dietary fat is gone -- but it does break it as far as autophagy and probably the HGH spike.

Obviously, if you have too many "soft breaks," you'll actually just break the fast completely. But if you feel like you have to eat something but want to try to keep on with the fast: You can try bone broth, chicken broth, or bulletproof-style coffee.

A lot of the time, that little bit will get you through. Sometimes, though, it will just re-awaken the hunger that has largely dissipated, and you'll wind up Noping Out of the fast in an hour.

9. Longer fasts -- which I'm not recommending, but since we're on the topic, I'll just point out what you have to keep in mind, and how longer fasts get more complicated.

A longer fast, which some would say is three days or more, and some say is five days or more, you have to be careful about reintroducing food. Google "breaking a fast" for advice (much of which is, frankly, contradictory), but the main points people agree on are these:

a. Only have little bits of food at a time, and wait between eating to see how your body is reacting.

b. Have simple, light foods at first -- bone broth, yogurt (which also helps with repopulating your body with good bacteria, which might have died off during your fast), a few blackberries (but not too much fruit or sugar -- that's bad for you, as it could cause you to overproduce insulin to dangerous levels and literally kill you), leafy greens, etc.

c. After each step, you eat a little, and decide how you feel. You add in some proteins later (chicken, egg) once you've had no problem with broth, yogurt, leafy greens, etc. Only add in red meat after fish, chicken or eggs have been successfully reintroduced -- read meat is harder for your body to digest than others and should be added last.

d. The time required for this refeeding schedule depends on how long you fasted. For a three day fast, you maybe just need to slowly refeed for four or five hours; for a five day fast, you might have to do a slow refeed for a full day before adding in red meat. Seven day fasts might require two or three days of slow, light refeeding. Longer fasts might require 5-6 days of this slow refeeding.

With a fast of two days or shorter, you can just have some broth, have a little more later, and work through the steps pretty fast, in a couple of hours or so. (Some people don't need to bother with any kind of refeeding plan after a two day fast; I don't think I have to.)

e. Binge eating, which of course everyone wants to do after a fast, can be dangerous after a long fast. Also, even though binge eating might not be too dangerous after a two day fast -- if you're just gonna fill your fat cells with new fat after a fast, why bother?

f. Also, eating too quickly after a fast can be a painful thing -- your digestive system has basically been turned off during any fast longer than two days or so, and you have to wake it up little by little. Eating too much, too fast is a one-way ticket to diarrhea and Disaster Pants -- and possibly worse consequences than that, because that also causes dehydration, and you might already be too low on water.

g. Also, binge eating is a bad idea because people tend to overestimate how much good they've done their body with a positive action and underestimate how much bad they're doing with a negative one. When I used to walk, I wondered why I wasn't losing weight. The answer was that every time I walked 3 or 4 miles I'd have a Hero's Feast, like I was Conan fresh off of successful campaign against the Picts.

As I heard someone say later, "People walk three miles but then eat like they ran a marathon." Definitely true in my case. Walking's good for you, but it only burns maybe 100 extra calories per mile -- you can completely wipe out those effects by just having two or three extra slices of bread.

If you try eating to make up for what you didn't eat on the fast -- you will succeed, and maybe more than succeed.

h. Lastly, there's no reason to binge directly after a fast. Trust me, all food tastes really good after a fast. Chicken soup will taste better than any chicken soup you've ever had. A slice of turkey breast will taste amazing.

There's just no reason to go for a highly-indulgent meal directly after a fast-- it's all going to taste good, even food that is actually good for you.

In summary:

The way to avoid most complications associated with fasting is to keep it to two days or less. A two day fast will result in good autophagy, and can spike the anti-aging human growth hormone by up to 500%, and result in good fat burning, so it's probably not even necessary to go beyond that.

Longer fasts will increase these benefits -- but they also carry additional risks, and really up the complications and requirements for careful management of salt, water, and slow refeeding.

Oh, and the whole "feeling of clarity and wellness" some say you get after Day 4? Those people are liars, that's what they are. I've done four (I think) fasts that lasted between four and five days and the only thing I felt on Day 4 or Day 5 was hungry.

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posted by Ace of Spades at 05:39 PM

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