I’m currently doing a water fasting experiment, mainly to see what effect it has on mental clarity and detox. The biggest motivator for me is probably curiosity. Today I’m starting Day 6, so I’ve gone 5 days with no food so far. The first 3-4 days were tough, but it’s getting easier.
I tried water fasting once many years ago, but I only lasted 2-1/2 days because I was ignorant about what to expect. I quit when the hunger felt really intense, figuring that it would be a miserable experience if I tried to keep going.
This time I did more research before starting (All About Fasting was especially helpful) until I felt reasonably prepared for what to expect. The most important thing I learned is that hunger subsides after about 72 hours (48 hours for women), so it gets easier after the first 3 days. That gave me some hope when I found the second and third days challenging.
I may write a summary post of the experience when I’m done, but I’m not planning to blog about it day by day. My energy has been pretty low during the fast, but sometimes I feel good enough that I can go for hour-long walks, albeit at a slower pace than usual. I’m mostly using this time for introspective activities like meditation, reading, journaling, reviewing old journal entries, visualizing goals, workshop design, and pondering life itself. I’m trying to keep my work schedule pretty light. It’s hard to predict how much energy I’ll have at any given time, and I don’t want to overtax myself.
I don’t have a set duration in mind for this fast, and from what I’ve read, it’s best not to commit to some arbitrary duration in advance. I’m taking it one day at a time and paying attention to how my body feels. I’m doing this fast unsupervised, so I want to play it safe and not push myself to take dubious risks. If I encounter any signs that I should break the fast, I’ll slowly and carefully transition out of it.
The main risk of injury from fasting is from getting up too quickly, passing out, and getting hurt when you fall. I discovered that if I get into movement too quickly, I often feel dizzy, my vision cuts out, and I have to grab onto something to stabilize myself for a few seconds till the feeling passes. Now when I’ve been sitting or lying down for a while, I sit up straight and take a deep breath, then slowly stand and pause for several seconds as I wait for any initial dizziness to pass, and then I begin moving slowly. Once I’m on my feet and moving around, I generally feel okay.
It feels like my body will give me energy when I demand it, but otherwise it seems to be conserving energy as much as possible. My mind feels quiet and blank most of the time, as if all nonessential brain regions are running in low-power standby mode. I have to consciously engage my mind in thinking to rev it up, such as to write this blog post. Even then it only seems to do the minimum thinking necessary to accomplish the task at hand. My mind isn’t wasting energy to generate distracting thoughts or mental clutter. It’s a peaceful sensation, but it takes some getting used to.
Sometimes it takes a lot of self-discipline to keep going, especially when I think about food, but at this point it feels like the discipline is needed more for the psychological adaptation rather than the physical side. The hunger isn’t that bad now, and I can handle the reduced activity levels and physical weakness at times. But there’s a psychological craving every time I miss another meal since meals contribute to the rhythm of the day and can be very grounding. I’ve skipped 15 meals so far.
To compensate for the missed meals, I’ve found it helpful to create a substitute ritual for meal times. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I make a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon and/or lime. This adds some flavor, and the small amount of low-sugar juice has negligible calories and is beneficial for detox as well. I sip the hot water slowly in one of my favorite mugs and treat it like a meal. This simple ritual really helps with the psychological side.
Another thing I figured out was to infuse some water with a little flavor by adding lemon, lime, cucumber, and/or fresh mint and letting it soak for a while. I drink the water and then compost the rest. It’s best to cut off the lemon and lime rinds if they’ll be soaking for more than 30 minutes since the rinds can make the water taste bitter. Having some occasional flavored water adds extra variety and doesn’t interfere with the detox. I didn’t come up with this idea; I encountered this tip while researching water fasting online. I started using glass mason jars for this, but then I bought an infuser pitcher online to make it even easier.
This might sound counter-intuitive, but I actually find it comforting to look at food now and then – and even to smell it occasionally. So sometimes I’ll look at the items in my pantry or my fridge and think about all the delightful meals I’ll get to eat eventually.
At some points I’ve had some weird cravings come up. Two days ago I felt a super strong craving for espresso. Later that same day, I was seriously craving red wine. Those were strange sensations since I couldn’t imagine having either during a fast, and I haven’t been drinking any coffee or wine lately. But I know from experience that odd cravings are very common when detoxing. The cravings pass after an hour or two.
One proclaimed benefit of fasting is heightened mental clarity. Some fasters rave about it. I can’t say I’ve experienced much of that yet. My mind is calm, but I don’t feel smarter or clearer per se. Maybe this will improve as I continue, maybe it won’t kick in till I stop the fast, or maybe this benefit is more pronounced in people who fast from a more toxified state to begin with. When I did a 30-day juice feast several years ago, most of the mental benefits kicked in after I ended it. I didn’t feel good during the juice feast, but I felt great afterwards. This pattern has held up with other detox protocols I’ve tried as well, so it wouldn’t surprise me if water fasting follows a similar progression.
After this fast is over, I might also experiment with intermittent fasting, which has a variety of forms. A reference experience like this should make related challenges feel more accessible. How hard is it to fast for 16-24 hours once you’ve already fasted for several days?