Citation: Shruming Human. "Intense Challenges, Amazing Effects: An Experience with Fasting (exp52150)". Erowid.org. May 3, 2006. erowid.org/exp/52150
I will begin by describing my own pre-fasting research, as I feel it plays a major role in my mental set while approaching the fasts. Then I will describe my own experiences while fasting. Finally, I will respond to what I consider the misinformation and confusion sometimes propagated on the Internet.
My experience with fasting can be divided into two periods. The first fasts I undertook were primarily for mental/spiritual purposes, and are described separately from the later fasts, which were for physical purposes as well as mental/spiritual ones.
First Fasts: Background Research
My first introduction to fasting was while studying various religions and philosophies of Asia, including Hinduism, Brahmanism, Jainism, and Buddhism. There are some extreme ascetic practices in most of these religions, though Buddhism is an exception. In Buddhism (at least in the original form of the philosophy, if not all the modern sects), however, monks and nuns must vow not to eat after noon each day. Therefore, they get two meals a day, breakfast and lunch, and fast from noon until the next morning. Unlike the severe practices of ascetics in other religions, Buddhism teaches the middle path, in which people shouldn’t eat to excess, and they shouldn’t fast excessively either.
First Fasts: Goals and Challenges
I thought that the Buddhist philosophy towards food was an interesting approach, but not wanting to give up eating dinner on a long-term basis, I decided to just attempt a 24-hour fast. My primary goal was to see what would happen, on all levels (mentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically) if I stopped eating for a reasonably short period of time. I hoped to purify my mind, in the sense that I would be seizing my willpower and taking control of my food intake. A secondary, less important hope was to cleanse my body. I also wondered if I would experience some spiritual insight, as is written in many ancient Indian religious texts, and others. Eating is one of my favorite activities, and I eat often, and large quantities of food, so I knew that this would be a major challenge.
After some research, I decided to do a water-fast, in which I would not eat anything, but would drink as much water (including herbal teas, but not caffeinated teas) as I wanted or felt was necessary.
First Fasts: Experiences
My first fast was an interesting experience. I decided to eat a fairly light dinner one night, finishing at 7:00, and decided that I would eat my next food at 7:00 the following night. I made a vow to myself that I wouldn’t eat unless there was some emergency, and I always keep my promises to myself.
That night, it was easy to not eat, as I had had dinner and made my vow, and I slept very deeply, possibly because of not going to sleep with a full stomach, like I typically do. When I woke up the next morning, I felt pangs of hunger, but my will was strong. They disappeared almost immediately when I faced them with the power of my will. I went about my day almost as usual, though I had less energy than normal. I felt light, physically weak, and mentally strong, all at the same time. These feelings lasted for the entire day. After my first confrontation with hunger, I didn’t feel hungry at all the rest of the day. This was extremely odd, as I usually feel hungry every hour or so, and have to eat almost continuously to keep up. By nighttime, however, I was mentally ready to break the fast. I did not feel that I needed to physically, it should be noted, as I felt quite good, apart from the weakness.
I broke my fast by slowly eating a peach. It was the most incredible flavor I have ever tasted – it seemed like it was the first peach I’d ever eaten, as well as the sweetest. I could tell that my awareness of the sensations involved with eating had been heightened by my abstention from food for 24 hours. Afterward, I ate some more fruit, and felt light, strong, and good about myself. I decided to try a slightly longer fast next time, after taking a break, and I waited for the next good opportunity.
The next time I fasted, several months later, I decided to try a 48 hour fast. Mentally, I was in a similar state, although with the positive experience I’d had the first time, I felt even more determined. I did not vow to finish my fast no matter what, but I vowed to try my best not to eat anything, always being aware of the condition of my body. If anything went wrong, I would allow myself to break my fast.
My second experience was similar to the first, except that I got a headache on the second morning that continued for several hours. I decided that it wasn’t a horrible headache, and that I could bear it, but would continue monitoring it to see what would happen – if it got much worse, I would consider stopping my fast. It slowly went away, or at least lessened, however, and I continued fasting, and drank a fairly large amount of water (around 2.5 liters that day).
By the second day, I also was fairly weak, and didn’t want to leave my house all day. I read, meditated a little bit, and relaxed all day. When relaxing or reading, I didn’t feel bad, but walking around was somewhat difficult. Mentally, I felt somewhat altered. My thought processes seemed smooth and lucid, and I felt that I attained several insights into my own life. When I finally broke my fast after 48 hours, I felt that I could have continued for a much longer time, and only stopped fasting because I had attained my goal. I ate an apple, which was amazingly flavorful, but took me a very long time to chew each bite to the point where I could attempt to swallow it.
I felt that my second experience was extremely positive. Mentally, I felt a significant boost, though physically I had been very low in energy. However, in the several days that followed, I had steady energy all day from morning until night despite not sleeping enough. Normally, I would have been slow and complained of tiredness, but these days I was happy, energetic, and in a wonderful mood all day.
Almost a year later, I decided to attempt my third fast: a three-day water fast. Once again, I allowed myself the possibility of ending it earlier, if I felt that it was important to do so. The first day, I felt mentally strong and light, without much physical weakness, and I felt that I could fast for a very long time without a problem. I drank 5 or 6 glasses of water that day, and generally felt good. Again, I slept very deeply, and woke up feeling refreshed after 6 hours, rather than my usual 8. However, the second day I developed a headache that got worse and worse as the day went on. While I don’t enjoy pain, I am not particularly scared of it either, but I was worried that the pain was my body’s way of telling me that this fast wasn’t healthy. Maybe it was my brain starving!! I began to spiral towards anxiety. I drank a lot of water, hoping it would help, but it didn’t change the feeling in my head. In the afternoon, after having fasted for about 40 hours, I decided to break my fast with a peach. Once again, the taste was incredible. My headache went away almost immediately after eating, and I decided that this must have meant that the fast wasn’t good for my body, and I was happy that I had stopped when I did.
In the days after this third fast, I felt, once again, a high level of energy and an elevated mood. Therefore, I still had rewarding elements to my experience, though I also became scared of fasting in some ways.
Later Fasts: Background Research
Despite my third, aborted attempt, I retained some interest in fasting. I placed it on a back burner for several years, metaphorically speaking, but eventually I happened to read a scientifically based article on fasting, and was intrigued. My first three fasts had been primarily for mental/spiritual purposes and only secondarily for physical cleansing, but now I began to research the scientific basis of fasting, and how it helps cleanse the body. I got excited about fasting again, as I already had experienced mental/emotional benefits, but had become scared by what I perceived as physical danger signs. However, the new basis of my research was scientific, and I learned several important things about fasting. The most relevant to my situation was that headaches when fasting were most likely due to the load of toxins exiting the body, which was much more than the body was used to.
Some of the articles I read seemed extremist, but that only turned me off. I accept that there are toxins in my environment, but I’m not planning to hide in an air-filtered cage and eat organic alfalfa for the rest of my life. So the promise of a fasting cleanse, in which I can spend a short time cleaning my body, and then get back to normal life, appealed to me. I based my opinion on the articles and books that seemed more balanced, moderate and rational.
One thing I learned that impressed me was in a study of attempts to extend the lives of mice. Researchers had tried many different things, including exercise, vitamin C, various herbs, and more, but none of these had extended the lives of the mice (while they may have improved the *quality* of their lives, they had no effect quantitatively). The only thing that lengthened the lives of mice (in this study, which seemed well-done and quite thorough to me, and was published in a major medical journal) was to limit the calorie intake of the mice. That’s it. By limiting the amount of food they ate, they actually lived longer. Of course, if it was limited beyond a certain level, they’d die earlier, from malnutrition.
Later Fasts: Goals and Challenges
The physical aspects involved with fasting took on a greater importance for me, though I still retained interest in the mental/spiritual aspects. My purpose, starting with my fourth fast, was multi-faceted, and included a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual cleansing. I was testing fasting itself, to see if it was something that I would continue to make use of in my life. By testing fasting, I also tested myself. It was a test of my willpower, a test of my body’s strength, a test of my spiritual commitment. I was ready for the physical challenges, including headaches, and resolved not to stop my fasts unless I felt that something was truly wrong. I was still open to listening to my body, but felt that I had been overly cautious last time, and wanted to experience the full effects of a fast.
Later Fasts: Experiences
My fourth fast was undertaken for 72 hours. It was essentially a retrial of my third fast, except I would not be flustered by signs of detoxification, mistaking them for signs of physical emergencies this time. I waited until I had three days with nothing planned, and started by having a light dinner of a large raw salad as my last meal.
I drank a good amount of water, though not to excess, maybe 6 glasses a day. I felt strong hunger pains when I woke up the first morning, but I told myself that I was not giving up my fast, and that there was no purpose in feeling hungry for the next few days, and they went away soon. They never came back, for the entirety of the fast, I should note.
The second day, I got a headache, just as in my earlier fasts. This time, I had a different mental attitude, and I could bear the pain. It let up a bit after a few hours, but mostly stayed with me at a lower level until I broke the fast after 72 hours. Because I tried to embrace the pain as a sign of healing, I felt much more control and much less affected by the pain.
I slept very deeply both nights of the fast., and I needed less sleep than I usually do, by about two hours a night.
Starting the second day of the fast, I felt the emotional shift that I had come to know from earlier fasts. Strength and lightness were the themes. I was also physically weak. I didn’t leave the house the second day, and the third day, I only went for a short walk. I felt that I couldn’t have run, even if I needed to, though I was a runner at the time. Walking was the limit of my physical ability. Otherwise, however, I felt fantastic. I wasn’t eliminating solid waste, of course, as I put nothing in, and I had the incredibly strange sensation of not being linked to the cycle of eating and shitting that I had been in for essentially every minute of my entire life. I felt almost as if I were beyond human limitations, since this basic cycle no longer applied to me, and I began to see how people could interpret this as a type of holiness.
When I broke the fast after 72 hours with a banana, it took me almost a half-hour to eat just half of it, since I felt like I had to chew it thoroughly, and I enjoyed the taste so much. After half a banana, I felt full – very odd! I had read about the dangers of ending a fast too abruptly, and how people who suddenly eat heavy meals like fried chicken after fasting can suffer damage to their bodies, or even die. So I was careful to wait for an hour before slowly eating the other half of the banana. I waited for an hour after that, and had a small bowl of oatmeal. That was all I ate that night, and the next morning, I ate a regular breakfast, and felt back to normal as far as food goes. However, I felt great for the next week or so, with more energy than I could ever remember having. I was in a fantastic mood, as well.
This positive experience made me want to go a bit further with fasting, so after a 3 month break, I tried again, this time for 4 days. I prepared by taking multi-vitamins for two or three weeks before the fast, to build-up my reserves, and eating mostly raw fruits and vegetables for the day before the fast. That fast went equally well, and so I tried a 5-day fast the next year, with similar preparation. That time, however, I decided to do a juice fast, in which not only water, but also some fruit and vegetable juice was permitted. I had read that a juice fast accomplished the same things as a water fast, but that it was gentler on the body. Essentially, there was almost no extra digestion to do, but there were many nutrients provided by the juice, and they supported the body through the challenge of a fast.
After doing quite a bit of research, I decided to drink three glasses of homemade juice each day, as I had a juicer that I rarely used. I juiced mostly carrots, but sometimes added some apple and celery or parsley. It is important to note that I did not use a blender, which leaves the fiber in the juice, and therefore adds a large amount of bulk to be digested and processed by the body, defeating the purpose of a fast. I used a juicer, which removes 99 percent of the juice from the fiber, and I ran the juice through a tight filter, hoping to remove the fiber that remained.
That 5-day fast was the most wonderful and also the most difficult of my fasts to date. It was challenging primarily because of the physical effects, and because I hadn’t done that long of a fast before, and had no yardstick. I had a mild headache for the second day, which went away and came back again and again for the full 5 days, but was always relatively mild (maybe because of the juice). I felt slow, lethargic, and weak, as usual. But not having much of a headache was definitely easier than my earlier water fasts.
On the fourth day, I went for a fairly long walk, and being outside felt wonderful. However, I had to walk so slowly, due to my lack of energy, that I felt like an old man, hobbling along. It was a very strange experience, but not altogether unpleasant. I was glad that my girlfriend had accompanied me, however, as I also felt vulnerable. By the fifth day, I really didn’t want to walk unless absolutely necessary, and I was crawling to go to the bathroom and back. I have to admit that, when I ‘looked at myself’ crawling on the floor to get to the bathroom, part of me wondered if I was torturing myself meaninglessly, or if there was really some great benefit from all of this. I stayed strong, however, by reading more information about fasting and its benefits, as well as knowing that I only had to get through that day.
I spent most of the fast reading and listening to music, and though I had little energy, I was able to focus very well on what I was doing, and accomplished a lot of reading in that time. The time I saved by not having to get dressed, go out for dinner, eat, and come home (or alternatively, go to the market, buy food, come home, cook it, and clean) was significant – I estimated that I had around 3 hours a day extra. In addition to the two hours of sleep that I saved each day, since I was naturally waking up after 6 hours, instead of the 8 hours I always needed otherwise, it was like I had so much time in my life, for the first time. It was like someone had extended my days to 29 hours, in some sense, and I read several books I had been wanting to read for years, but never could get to, as well as all my assigned reading for the next several weeks of classes, without any problem. This was the first and only time I was ever ahead in the reading during my entire college career, I should mention, and I really enjoyed it.
By the time I broke my fast after 5 full days, I was mentally ready to stop. However, I realized at that point that I could have continued fasting for another day or more, if I had wanted or needed to (maybe if I had had greater motivation, such as a life-threatening illness). As I had come to expect, my energy levels were extremely high after the fast, and this time it continued for more than two weeks. My mood was elevated, and I felt in control of my life and happy. I later did another 4-day fast, and had much the same type of experience, including the positive after-effects.
Fasting has brought benefits to my life in many ways. After a fast, I feel better mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I have much more energy than usual, and my attitude is more positive than usual. I feel more patient, and much stronger mentally. I feel a sense of confidence and well-being. I feel more like I’m in control of myself, instead of feeling like I am a slave to my body’s desires. The result is an improvement in self-confidence.
Despite my appreciation of all the benefits of fasting, there are two things I really dislike about it. One is that I’m so weak during the fast. The other is the feeling of eating again after a long fast – though the food tastes incredible, the thought that I can’t eat more than a small amount without filling my stomach makes me almost claustrophobic. Mentally, I know that it’s okay, and that I need to start slowly, and build up again, but when I feel completely stuffed after half a banana, it really seems bizarre.
So far, of course, I have transitioned back to my normal habits without a problem every time. One major change that has occurred, though, is that fasting led to my being more concerned with my health, and respecting my body more. As such, I now try harder than before to eat a healthy diet.
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