24 hours without food


Happy New Year’s Eve!

As you are probably well aware, airline travel in much of the USA has been very gnarly over the past few days due to winter weather.

When I arrived at the airport before 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning, I received the news that my flight had been cancelled (and none of the passengers had been notified or re-confirmed).  That was my first hint that I might have to adjust my intention to start fasting while I traveled, on that day.  Four hours and one failed standby attempt later, I managed to re-book a confirmed seat for Wednesday afternoon, rather than agreeing to play the standby game all day and night, along with 35 other people in my situation.  So, by 10 a.m. Tuesday, instead of being in San Francisco and pointed North, I was in a New Mexico grocery store, getting more fruit and vegetables.

Two days of eating just fruits and vegetables became three and a half days.  After the first day, I had found a strategy to circumvent any wistful feelings for the items I couldn’t eat: I simply ate more fruits and vegetables.  Just like what I tell my clients on a regular basis, the trick is in being prepared with good things to put in your face!

My family had had a very long, physically and emotionally exhausting week of caring for an injured family member, navigating a broken health care system and hospital-acquired complications, and juggling logistics.  So on those last two evenings, my family was ready to relax with some treats.  The others were enjoying wine, pretzels, and hummus: things that looked awfully good but didn’t fit into my plan.  We were sitting around the table, playing a board game, while waiting for some acorn squash to roast, and I was staring right at the snacks they were enjoying.  I couldn’t have the wine, pretzels, and hummus, but I could have hibiscus tea, raw veggies, and grapes.  I didn’t particularly want those things — I was hungry for the squash and really would have liked some sprouted rye bread — but they did keep me on track until the squash was cooked.  I ate as much sweet, hearty squash and steamed spinach drizzled with lemon juice as I wanted, and all was well.

On Wednesday morning, I was feeling light and energetic.  I figured that it wasn’t a good idea to go all day without food when I had two flights, a 2-hour bus ride, and a taxi ride ahead, so I made a giant fruit and veg smoothie.  I finished that by 11 a.m. and didn’t pack any travel snacks, as I normally would have done.  During my travel, there was nothing particularly tempting around, and I really didn’t feel hungry for more than a few minutes at a time.  I just refilled my water bottle and enjoyed reading my book.  However, I seemed to develop superpowers of smell, because I could have sworn someone was holding a peanut butter and jelly sandwich right under my nose for most of the second flight.  (They weren’t.)  Also, the aroma of coffee has been making me swoon, at every whiff, over the past 2 weeks.  Luckily for me, it is the smell and flavor that I love, but I never experienced any caffeine withdrawal effects.  (I’d been having only decaf for several months.)

A taxi deposited me at the front door of TrueNorth around 10:30 last night.  I was briefly checked in by Dr. Roberts, and we discussed the fact that most people are asked to eat at least a day or so of TrueNorth meals before fasting.  I chose not to break my 12-hour fast at that point, because I was feeling fine and could discuss it with the doc on duty in the morning.  (I also had a hunch, rightfully, that the rationale for feeding most people the controlled diet wasn’t going to be as necessary for someone like me, who is actually “compliant” with the preparatory instructions, and regularly eats very closely to the way it is done at the Center.)  I then enjoyed a good night’s sleep in one of the semi-private patient rooms.


Today I was thrilled to find out that Dr. Michael Klaper would be my primary doctor for the time that I am a patient.  I saw him for a routine physical exam, discussion of my chief complaint (none) and minor complaints (not interesting enough to mention), an overview of fasting physiology, and we agreed upon which blood tests I would have.  He also did a great job of talking to me as both a patient and a fellow clinician/student at the same time.  From that conversation and from his hour-long DVD lecture on fasting which I watched afterwards, the most interesting takeaway is in the paradoxes.


Three things that seem counter-intuitive

First, he pointed out that, with me having only 2-3 days’ time to fast, my experience might actually be worse than if I’d had 5-6 days.  The bulk of the unpleasant symptoms and hunger occur early on.  Later, a beneficial side effect of the ketone bodies produced with fat breakdown is that they inhibit hunger.  And by Day 10 or so, many people feel downright zen.  I’m a little sad that time constraints make it less likely that I will experience the introspective or spiritual reflection that many people find in a longer fast.

Speaking of fat breakdown, I should also mention that fasting is NOT an effective tool for weight loss.  In fact, if weight loss is a person’s primary reason for wanting to fast, they might be encouraged to re-think that approach.  People who have been eating processed foods may lose an astonishing amount of weight, which is due to excess sodium and water leaving the body, but they are likely to regain this weight unless they radically change their diet afterwards.  Fat loss, however, won’t occur during fasting, but can be achieved with smart dietary changes in the future.

Thirdly, you might think that it is advisable to drink LOTS of water when water fasting, to help clear out all the toxins that are being released.  (And by the way, that idea of releasing toxins is true, especially once a person’s glucose and glycogen stores have been exhausted and they start to burn a little fat for their small energy requirements, around Day 3.)  However, you NEED less water when you are not using it to digest food.  Only about 40 ounces per day is required, or, for a more personalized guideline, enough to address your thirst, plus one more glass.

By 10 a.m., I had already had 48 ounces, not because I was trying, but because I usually do drink that much water.  In the context of fasting, this normally healthy habit actually may put me at somewhat higher risk of becoming dehydrated and developing orthostatic hypotension due to sodium losses from too much flushing.  But I was reassured that in the relatively short fast I’d be doing, I wasn’t likely to harm myself from hyper-hydration.


At this point in time,

I’ve gone 26.5 hours without food.  I feel only a mild, intermittent hunger, although I don’t really want to be around the aromas of hot food.  While in an office earlier today, I could smell cold fruit, long before I spotted the bowl on a desk across the room.  I can’t point to any other particular symptoms right now.  I was perhaps a tiny bit lightheaded when I stood up quickly, from lying down.  And I’ve been maybe just a little cold, but it is 39 degrees out.

I’m off to catch the end of Chef A.J.’s talk!  This is one I have heard before, at a Dr. McDougall Advanced Study Weekend, and it is fantastic.

I hope the cooking smells in the main room don’t drive me nuts, because I’m also looking forward to catching this evening’s talent show.