Last year, I mulled over a couple of times doing a 3-day water fast. I know how beneficial it can be. But I did’t really want to give up my morning hot cocoa.
I kept telling myself I would do it “when the time is right“. }
Oh, the lies we tell ourselves and the excuses we make.
As it turns out, the “time is right” happened this April!
My friend Robin posted in Facebook (Tuesday, the 13th): “Who wants to join me for a 5-day water fast?” and I said yes.
You know how I always write about the importance of your support system? It’s so much easier to do something like this when you have a buddy to do it with!
We agreed the water fast would be for five days, starting Monday the 19th (in reality we started Sunday evening about 8 pm) and going through Friday (evening).
120 hours of fasting.
I posted on my timeline in Facebook about the water fast and asked who wanted to join.
In the end, because of the number of people that expressed interest, we decided to set up a Facebook group and then archive it afterwards.
What do I want to achieve by fasting?
What I used to want
I have done fasting since I was about thirteen years old.
As a teenager, the three-day (kind of imposed, not voluntary) water fasts were of a spiritual nature (I grew up in a somewhat extreme evangelical group). Nonetheless, even then we were taught about the physical benefits of water fasting. In my late teens, I went on to participate regularly in the “40-hours famine” fund-raising that was regularly done by World Vision.
In my late 20’s and into my 30’s it was all about the health benefits, and probably more importantly “how good does my body look?”. Yes. I regularly used it as a “weight-loss method” and to get back in touch with hydration. I even have posts on my experience doing the “Lemonade diet / Master Cleanse” back in 2007. I think that was the second time I’d done it.
I like to think I’m a little older and wiser now.
Immune system reboot, autophagy, ketosis, and stem cell generation
The reality is that now the only thing that motivates me to fast is for the health benefits. While there are benefits related to weight-loss and glucose levels that can be achieved by a water fast, the principal benefit for me is the immune system reboot.
While the immune system reboot might start on day one, it doesn’t really finish happening until the end of day three. Additionally, autophagy (where your body cleans out damaged cells and regenerates newer and healthier cells) hits the height of it’s effectiveness at the end of day three.
Ketosis, on the other hand, is where your body uses the fat cells you’ve stored to get energy. This is one a steady climb the whole way through the five days. So, while it starts at about the end of the first day, on days two through five, you are using all the stores of fat in your body to keep you going. This is why many people use fasting for weight loss. While it wasn’t one of the benefits I was looking for, it’s a great side-effect!
The generation of stem cells happens in two places for you during a water fast. At the end of day three, the body starts regenerating the musculoskeletal stem cells, and by the end of day four, it regenerates the intestinal stem cells. As you have read about my Celiac Disease, this was probably the most important part of the journey for me. It’s all about the gut!
What I have learned this time
Have a purpose: know your why
While I was clear on the benefits I wanted to achieve by the water fast, I wasn’t clear on WHEN I would achieve those benefits until I started to feel like crap. Then I started to look for information about how many hours minimum did I need to do in order to achieve this.
Yes! I wanted to quit early.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, all the really good stuff is happening at the end of day three and into days four and five! That is what kept me going when I wanted to say “I’ve done enough”.
The most important benefits that I wanted to get started to happen after the beginning of day four and into day 5.
- The creation of new intestinal stem cells and
- immune reboot and musculoskeletal stem cells.
That was my why!
If you’re interested, have a look at Dr Mindy Pelz’s Fasting Benefits Chart.
So, when I felt awful on day three, I promised myself I just needed to get through to the end of day four to start to really see the benefits. Thankfully, as day four progressed, I felt better, and could just remind myself: “just one more day”.
Surround yourself with friends and support
What else kept me going when I wanted to quit?
- The support I kept getting from friends and especially from those in the Facebook group we set up for the 5-day fast!
Do you remember my post a few months ago about creating a village? Thankfully, Robin and I created a village of support for the five days. Each morning, I posted “how are you today?”. The responses assured me I wasn’t alone in my challenges!
It also helped that I regularly posted photos of hunky men! (Well, because… why not?)
At least, the pictures kept my friends following the story (and encouraging me on the journey). Some friends went as far as saying I needed to continue the water fast so that I would continue posting the photos! (I love my friends!)
While they really have nothing to do with the water fast, posting daily kept me accountable!
Accountability is what really matters and why you need the village of support.
Mindset matters: mind over matter
The mindset necessary to get through five days, required staying present. There were moments I acknowledged “I feel like crap”.
But guess what?
This too shall pass!
I reminded myself regularly that fasting was not “the suppression of my desire to eat”, but rather the pursuit of what I truly wanted: health!
The inner critic was strong.
I dealt with was leaving behind judgements of myself: “you’re not getting enough done“.
I had a really easy week last week with few calls booked. It was a perfect week to be unavailable. But there were moments that I struggled not to start eating just to get back in the saddle and do everything!
I occasionally felt guilty for not running, and had to remind myself that this was a week for stretching and light exercises.
Last week, more than anything, was about being totally present.
How I felt while fasting
This was not one of the easiest fasts I have ever done: I had headaches, and then brain fog after the headaches. I got a fever on the second day, and then spent days three, four, and five with pain in my legs! I don’t remember the pain in my legs from previous fasts!
Every day is a little different
The first day in many ways is easy, except being hungry. And I needed to empty my bladder. A lot! It felt like every time I drank a glass of water I was trotting off to relieve my bladder! Thankfully, this was the only day that felt like this!
Otherwise, it was pretty much a normal day, other than the headache that hit me late that evening. I’m pretty sure that headache was gut-related.
I was mentally prepared for this being “the worst day”. I recalled, from previous fasts, that this is the day of brain fog, headaches and anything else. In the early afternoon, I went to bed for an hour with a fever. And as quickly as it arrived, it was gone. But I still had the vestiges of the headache for the rest of the day.
I had client calls in the late afternoon, but I was more than well enough for that.
I started to notice I wasn’t bloated any more. It felt like I lost a whole size just by the reduction of my gut!
Better than day two, but I started to feel strange pains in my legs – almost like it was deep muscle or even in my bones. This pain came back at various times over the next three days (but disappeared as soon as I had some bone broth as I came off the fast).
Mentally and physically it was a much easier day than day two, but it was also when I started to think about “well, I could just quit now, I’ve done the three days”.
This was when I went back to the timeline of benefits, and realised I needed to at least make it to the end of day four in order to get the benefits I was looking for. I am so grateful to Robin for introducing me to the chart on the first day, as a reminder of the benefits!
Sleep was elusive overnight!
I woke up about 1 am and then got back to sleep about 2 hours later. I wasn’t the only one to experience this! The first thing Robin asked Thursday morning was whether anyone else had trouble sleeping.
Typically a Thursday is my “writing day”. It’s a day that I block out my schedule, so that no one can book calls with me and I can work on my current BHAG (more on that in another post!). I probably spent an hour on Thursday writing, but that was it!
I chose, instead, just to read and research, which was lighter.
I had to remind myself that I needed to be mindful: I said yes to the challenge because I knew I could spare this week.
By this stage, I was really aware of how my gut felt and how good I felt in my body. I never want to feel bloated again! I love feeling this light and good!
The veggie truck came by, so I bought fresh vegetables (all things that could be cooked – mostly leafy greens). That got my mouth watering, thinking about the beef bone broth I’d made the weekend before and how yummy it would be to have bokchoy in my broth!
Sleep was still elusive! I was awake in the very early morning again – at least this time it was 3.30 am and not 1 am.
Without a doubt, this was the easiest day of all! While I occasionally felt notions of hunger, my brain was clear and my energy levels were back! I still had some pain in my legs, but nothing like I had felt in days three and four.
I managed to get some writing in as well as attend normal calls.
Take it easy
I am really good at telling others to listen to their bodies and rest when necessary. I’m not always so good at practising what I preach!
So, I’m pretty sure my body gave me the headaches, the fever and the pain in the legs to ensure I rested! Although I could have sworn I got enough rest in lock down.
Unfortunately, the headaches and pain were enough to break my concentration and distract me from writing. So, last week there were no blog posts, no creating content and no working on the translation of the mBraining book.
Now what? The aftermath
I intended to finish the fast on Saturday morning. This wasn’t to be.
Little miss 7 insisted I have dinner with her Friday evening.
You haven’t eaten all week!
So, at 7.30 pm Friday evening, I broke my fast and drank some bone broth while she ate her dinner.
Sleep is STILL elusive!
Apparently, waking up at 3.30 in the morning is now “my thing”. Seriously? I am now getting up to read, rather than trying to toss and turn in my bed.
Differentiating hunger from thirst
Two huge benefits of the water fast:
- I now prefer water over hot drinks (usually hot cocoa)
- I can really tell the difference between feeling hungry versus thirsty
I’ve started to wonder how many times I’ve eaten because I was thirsty! Even more noticeable is the number of times that I was thirsty and chose to drink hot cocoa rather than water!
Before the fast: I might drink two litres of liquid each day, but I almost never drank water. Now: I’m drinking close to two litres of water each day on top of the hot cocoa and the bone broth.
Noticing bloating versus feeling good
I love feeling this good feeling in my gut!
If there was no other reason to do the water fast, this benefit is enough.
The challenge now: find out what in my diet causes the bloating and then stay away from it. While I had convinced myself I eliminated everything related to the SIBO, it seems that I still have a little more work to do.
Portion sizes and hunger
They say that coming off the water fast it takes about three days to get back your appetite. This might be case, as I’m only two days off it, but there is definitely a difference in how much I can eat before I feel crowded in my stomach!
While I honour my hunger and the message from my body “you need to eat”, what it takes to get me full is much less than before.
For now, I’m allowing myself to say “enough” at that bliss point before I start to feel crowded!
Would I do this again?
That would be a definite yes!
It takes planning beforehand, especially making sure that I have a light schedule for the days I will be fasting. I’m so glad I cooked my bone broth last weekend before I started the fast, so that it was already ready when I broke my fast.
Coming out of the fast takes the same discipline as starting it:
- leaving the caffeine over the weekend, rather than on Monday, so you don’t get any caffeine withdrawal during the fast;
- liquids and light food since Friday before we started;
- liquids and light food for 2.5 days after finishing the fast (about half the time you were on the water only fast).
But it was definitely worth it and I would do it again.
More information about water fasting:
- Fasting For a Purpose: A Five Day Water Fast
- All you need to know about water fasting
- Can A 3-Day Fast Reset Your Immune System?
- The three-day water fast
- Water Fasting Benefits vs. Risks: A Guide
- 5 science-backed benefits of fasting, and how to fast safely and effectively
- The Stages of Fasting: What Happens To Your Body When You Fast?
- 8 Health Benefits of Fasting, Backed by Science