Thoughts Going On Eight Days of Fasting

Major takeaways:

  1. Hunger was not that challenging. This portion was pleasantly not that hard.
  2. Energy levels were down roughly 10-20%. When standing up, had to be careful not to stand too fast or else would feel dizzy in the head. I’ve also noticed some more skin breakouts on my face, but that could be uncorrelated.
  3. From a work and effectiveness standpoint: I was completely functional. Kept working out, running errands, seeing apartments, etc. No one knew I was fasting until I told them.
  4. Sleeping schedule and circadian rhythm very possibly messed up by no calories. That said, could also be that my room was getting too hot.
  5. When hungry with a craving, started training myself to visualize buying, eating, and savoring the food. Then truly realizing that, no matter how much food eaten, no amount of consumption can fill the deep existential void. On a lighter note, gained further evidence that for me, most hunger in a modern society is not biological, and more psychological e.g. stress, sadness, boredom, etc.
  6. No noticeable reduction in bodyfat on body, but anecdotal feedback on slimming of face. Measurements for bodyfat percentage from 16.2% to 15.6%, which was more than I expected. (Based on eyeball and how I felt, I was expecting 0.2%-0.3%.) Definitely a blunt way to break past a plateau, but energizing and motivating for me to try fasting again sometime in the future, for a longer period of time, when I feel “stuck.”
Picture of compass: sharing my true north with you.
Sharing my true north with you.

Why Did I Fast

  • In an ongoing obsession with efficiency and knowledge seeking, I wanted to see if I can do it. I know that many religions have a tradition of fasting. In addition, many medical studies have pointed to its benefits. Finally, I had read that the human body can go 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food.
  • It’s been a lifelong goal to achieve 12% bodyfat and sustain it for a period of time. Even if I then choose a more enjoyable and relaxed lifestyle, the comfort of knowing that I had this option of control would be valuable to me.
  • Food has gotten really complicated. I wanted to establish a baseline of my body, a control experiment, so to speak. This way as I introduce foods one variable at a time, I can observe what food has what impact.

Addressing Concerns

  • Isn’t it dangerous?
    • Possibly. But life is fatal.
    • Jokes aside: I’m a generally healthy man in my late 20’s. Also, before starting the experiment, I measured in at 16.2% bodyfat. In other words, I have a great appetite and certainly had extraneous bodyfat as a buffer. No pre-existing conditions that I knew of, with my last physical end of last year being fine.
  • What about the hunger?
    • In mid-February 2019 I started experimenting with an efficiency-oriented diet of protein shake in the morning combined with bean bowl for lunch, skipping dinner. At that point, I weighed in at 181 lbs. Two and a half months later, I was down 17 lbs at 164 lbs before stalling. At that time I weighed in at around 15.5% bodyfat. During that period of time, I experienced a good bit of hunger, coldness in appendages like fingers and toes.
  • Were you concerned about side effects?
    • Not too much. If anything, I was really excited because I wanted to know what my body would do with “no variables,” so to speak. I’d read for a long time about how certain foods/beverages cause certain reactions in bodyfat/muscle/sleep/skin/mental clarity. Getting a baseline for my body running was a thrilling idea, and it all came from a classic shower thought.

Preparation, Intentional/Unintentional

While this was my first time fasting, I felt I went into this with some relevant experience.

  • As previously mentioned, I had experimented (successfully) with reduced caloric intake of protein shake (~200 calories) and bean bowl (~800 calories). Psychologically, I prepared for the body using physical sensation to try and fight adaptation.
  • Similarly, for the last four weeks, I had been conducting a series of food experiments, including:
    • 05/02/20: Only ate breakfast, fasted otherwise on second week (04/26-05/02). For five days, only had protein shake in morning. Fri night had red wine, 3 glasses+. (17.1% BF)
    • 05/09/20: Ate four eggs and seasoning/oil daily, had delicious cheat session on Wednesday. (16.9% BF)
    • 05/16/20: !!!!!!!!!!!Protein shake, caffeine, 2-3 days a week with breakfast, had multiple sessions of absolute binging with dinner and pizza, eating pasta and other stuff, also had first upside down pushup (16.5% BF)
    • 05/23/20: 3 days protein shake coffee coffee wine, 2 days protein shake and coffee, 2 days just coffee water and nothing else (16.2% BF)
  • For better or worse, sheltering in place during a global pandemic is a great time to be experimenting with this. Although I do my best to stay active, the reality is most of the time I’m pretty homebound. Lemonade out of lemons, so to speak.
Picture of charts. What gets measured, gets managed.
What gets measured, gets managed.

How Did I Fast?

The simplicity is beautiful: I drank coffee, cold brew, water, water with lemon, and flavored carbonated water from Trader Joe’s. Nothing else!

What Were the Intended Results?

Biggest intent for me to see was what my body’s bodyfat composition would do with absolutely no calories and no external stimuli of hormones.

That said, observing the (negative) changes to skin, sleep, energy, and lack of negative change on mental clarity, feelings of hunger, were very welcome.

What were the Actual Results?

From 05/23/30 to 05/30/30 I cut bodyfat percentage from 16.2% to 15.6% percentage.

Here are the visuals:

Qualitative Benefits Obtained

  • Sounds really basic but… I’m tremendously proud that I proved to myself I can do this. I used to joke with my mother that in modern society, there is no real hunger, rather what she went through growing up during the Cultural Revolution, now that was real hunger. I long suspected that hunger for me was more psychological. This now is strong evidence that fixing my psychology is part-and-parcel with tuning my eating habits.
    • Bonus: like many “productivity” things, I didn’t really set out to do an 8-day fast. It very much happened, day-by-day. Instead of pressuring myself to achieve this big thing, every day I woke up, I asked myself did I think I could fast for just this one day, and proceeded. As with many things, defining the smallest concrete step in a grand vision, then making it as easy and painless to do that thing every day, compounds. Probs with no small credit to the magic of your brain during sleep and its effects on learning.
  • Now that I have data on this week’s results, I’m eager to experiment and see what re-introducing food, single ingredient by single ingredient, will do. In addition, while I’ve done many of the food tracking via MyFitnessPal and the such (and ultimately given up due to excess of hassle,) I think setting a “food experiment” for the week then following that and seeing results is a reasonable compromise to giving up completely on learning about my body. Finally, another mantra I’ve found coming back to me: “listen to your body.”
  • Update: as obvious as it sounds, in retrospect, fasting did reduce bodyfat percentage by a significant 0.6%. Especially at this measurement, to see results I haven’t seen since beginning of the month, is positive. This gives me curiosity to reattempt a longer fast in the future. Fasting as a daily lifestyle certainly will result in emaciation and possibly death, but as a semi-regular cleanse and experience, clearly there are benefits.
    • Previous conclusion, assuming measurements were implied no change: **Ending results, it’s very possible that going eight days without food did not have outsized impact on reducing bodyfat composition. Possible explanations could include lowering of baseline metabolism rate, cannibalizing of muscle instead of fat, and elimination of positive hormone signals from food (e.g. BCAAs, protein, etc.) This would provide further evidence to the artificial-hormone-free meats + dark leafy veggies + high quality fats camp, and frankly, would be the dream.**
Picture of the outdoors. Somewhat of a luxury good now.
The outdoors. Somewhat of a luxury good now.

Where Will I Go From Here?

  • At one point in would be fascinating to see what a 15 day fast would do, and eventually, a 21 day fast would do. Enlightenment, here I come.
  • The destination aka the dream would be a lifestyle where I know what foods do what to my body, eat them the majority of time, pig out and eat wantonly socially, while maintaining a low bodyfat composition.
  • The journey is running regular food experiments, learning what a variety of different foods do to my body, listening to my body, and gradually learning to enjoy both the destination and the journey.
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