It’s been two and a half weeks since I finished my fast – and I feel so much better for having done it. Fourteen days now, in retrospect, doesn’t seem that hard.
So what’s changed? Have I pigged out and put back on all the weight I lost? Well, I haven’t weighed myself since completing the fast – so I don’t know how much weight I’ve put on – I suspect a couple of kilos, but that’s all.
What about all the vows I made? Have I kept to them? Here below is what I said I’d do, and here’s what I’ve actually done!
I’m cutting sugar from my diet, entirely. Yep, done this – but Easter’s coming up and there’s no way I’m not going to have some choccy Easter eggs!
I’m cutting dairy from my diet, entirely. Done this too – except for some organic yoghurt occasionally.
I’m cutting fruit from my diet, entirely. Done this too – except for some grapes occasionally.
I’ll reduce my carbohydrates to a minimum. Done this – shifted pretty much to a Keto diet.
I’ll reduce alcohol to a bare minimum, if not entirely. What was I thinking?? I love wine too much to ever give it up!
I’ll eat more fish. I’ve done this.
I’ll eat more salads, nuts and seeds, and fresh vegetables. I’ve done this.
I’ll restrict my red meat consumption to about 2-3 times a month. Let’s make it 3-4 times a month.
No more roast potatoes, no more chips, no more pasta or noodles. Yep, kept to this.
I’ll limit rice to brown rice only. Haven’t had any brown rice at all.
No more coffee for the foreseeable future. (I’ll see how long that lasts!) Strangely, I’ve had no desire to go back to coffee. I’m drinking my Darjeerling tea instead, and much prefer it.
I’ll do intermittent fasting in some form, not sure what yet. Yep – but after Easter!
From now on, I’ll eat mindfully, not randomly. This has happened. The discipline of doing the fourteen day fast has given me the discipline to eat more mindfully.
Overall since doing the fast I feel fitter, lighter, I have more energy, and I feel more confident. That’s odd, isn’t it. I’ve never really lacked confidence, but the fast has given me more oomph.
The fast did what I hoped it would do – it reset me physically and mentally. It cleared me out – it detoxed my body and detoxed my thoughts.
But now I’m back to regular eating – muesli for brekkie (home made, full of really healthy stuff) with almond milk. Salad for lunch or sometimes grilled chicken with cabbage, fish or chicken or lentils with kale and cabbage or cauliflower for dinner. No dessert. That’s how I’m eating now, and I love it.
Was it all worth it? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes, but probably next time I’ll do a 21 day fast. I think that extra week could really turbo-charge things – or it could kill me!
It’s been two days now since I broke my fast, and I have to say I feel bloody great.
I broke the fast with an avocado, sprinkled with some apple cider vinegar and Himalayan salt. Later in the morning I had some celery and broccoli soup. Not much at first. I took it easy.
I then had to drive 4hrs to Sydney and I’m so pleased I’d broken the fast because the drive was no problem. Had I still been fasting it would have been way more difficult.
That night we stayed with our daughter and her fella, David. David is an exceptional cook, and I mean exceptional. He’d prepared kangaroo and cous cous, and it was delicious. I had no problem eating it at all!
The next morning I had my early meeting. It was in an outer Sydney suburb, and I wanted to eat before the meeting. The building where the meeting was to be held was next to a train station, and across the street was a Turkish bakery. I asked the baker to batch me up a nice breakfast, so he made me a spinach and cheese pide.
Now, I know – you’re going to say that already I’d broken many of the undertakings I’d set out earlier – no diary, no carbohydrates etc – but I am telling you that pide was amazing. Best breakfast I’ve had in years. It was exactly what I needed heading into that meeting.
Last night it was poached skinless chicken with steamed broccoli. Tonight it’s grilled salmon with cabbage. I’m determined not to yo-yo back to old ways of eating.
So a few things;
I feel wonderful. Full of energy. Sharp. I feel like my body has totally detoxed. Last night I slept all the way through without the aid of Melatonin, and I can’t remember when I last had a full night’s sleep. I feel light and nimble and young. And I feel full of optimism and joy.
If this is what a 14day fast does for you, then I’ll do it again – maybe two a year?
But I also need to now incorporate a daily routine into my schedule. So what I’m thinking is this: a largely keto / Mediterranean diet. And an 18/6 fasting routine. Eat at say 7pm, then not have my next meal till at least 1pm. I might see if I can extend that to 20/4.
I might also look at doing at least a one day fast a week – perhaps Sunday. Whatever I end up doing, I have to do it each day, every day, every week. There’s no point going back to old habits.
This whole exercise has been well worthwhile. Just think, you can change your life in two weeks.
I woke up this morning with no real desire to eat – to break my fast. Although I must, soon, because later I have to drive to Sydney – a 4hr drive – and I don’t want to do that drive whilst still fasting. I wouldn’t necessarily trust my judgement.
It’s been a fascinating experiment, and if you read on I detail what I’ve learned and how it will change the way I’ll approach food, and eating, from now on.
Throughout the fast I’ve dropped nearly 9kgs. That’s almost 20lbs in two weeks. I’m the lowest weight I’ve been in over ten years. And I feel great. I feel as though my body has done a major detox and reboot. I feel alert and strong and full of optimism.
I think the health benefits of this fast are, and will be, incalculable.
I have to admit there were times when I didn’t think I’d make it through. I wouldn’t say it’s been easy, but then again it wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be. I could, if circumstances allowed, easily go for another 14 days.
Why wouldn’t I? Because the whole exercise has really disrupted the family routine. My wife Jennifer, and my eldest son Henry, are good cooks – more than that, they regard cooking as a creative endeavour, and they enjoy preparing meals, then sitting down and sharing those meals with me. (aren’t I a lucky fella?!)
That hasn’t happened these past 14 days. I miss that.
I miss the community of it – the talking, the laughing, the swapping of stories and things that we’ve picked up from podcasts or news sites or from the books we’re reading. None of that has happened this past fortnight.
Henry has cooked for himself and eaten alone. Jennifer has cooked for herself and eaten alone. There’s been none of the conviviality that goes hand-in-hand with the sharing of a good meal. That energy has been lost. I look forward to it returning now that this fast is finishing.
How to break the fast?
I have to be very careful. It would be inadvisable to have solids of any kind, so what Jennifer and I have decided is to break it with an avocado drizzled with apple cider vinegar, with Himalayan salt and some pepper – then later in the day vegetable soup – celery and broccoli. That should ease me into the digestive cycle again.
The one thing I’m determined to do is not to go back to my old habits. I’ve brought my weight down to where I believe it should be – 75kgs and under. That’s the weight I remember as a younger man being my ideal weight. I’d like actually to get it down to 73kgs and will work towards that.
Basically though, there’s no point going through this past 14days if, in a month’s time, I’m back to where I was when I started. I have to learn lessons from this. One of the reasons I undertook this fast was to regain control of my mind, my thoughts, and I’ve done that. I can’t from this point on be once again governed by the randomness of my actions.
Which means I have to give serious thought as to how I move forward from this point on. What changes I’m going to make in my diet. Here’s what I know so far –
I’m cutting sugar from my diet, entirely.
I’m cutting dairy from my diet, entirely.
I’m cutting fruit from my diet, entirely.
I’ll reduce my carbohydrates to a minimum.
I’ll reduce alcohol to a bare minimum, if not entirely.
I’ll eat more fish.
I’ll eat more salads, nuts and seeds, and fresh vegetables.
I’ll restrict my red meat consumption to about 2-3 times a month.
No more roast potatoes, no more chips, no more pasta or noodles.
I’ll limit rice to brown rice only.
No more coffee for the foreseeable future. (I’ll see how long that lasts!)
I’ll do intermittent fasting in some form, not sure what yet.
From now on, I’ll eat mindfully, not randomly.
So what have I learned from the last 14 days?
If you can get past day 3 of a fast, you feel no hunger. It’s still difficult from then on, but hunger ceases to be an issue.
After day 12 you seem to break through a barrier and you feel stronger and clearer in your thinking. After that, continuing the fast for however long is not a problem.
Using beef broth or chicken broth didn’t work for me. I did it for two days and I put on weight and felt nauseous.
Don’t do an extended fast if you’re operating heavy machinery.
After about a week I developed an aversion to coffee – and I love coffee.
Autophagy – the process of cell rejuvenation associated with fasting, is a game-changer for me. It’s the reason I would look at incorporating some kind of fasting routine into my life from now on. (see posts day#11 and day#12 for info on autophagy.)
The social ritual of sharing food with others is very important to me. I missed that.
I’ve proven to myself that if I set my mind to something, I can do it. I really had no problem with my son or Jennifer cooking or eating around me. I’d vowed not to eat for 14 days and it was as simple as that. I would have disappointed myself if I’d broken that vow. I probably would have disappointed others as well.
IF YOU WANT TO UNDERTAKE A FAST ~
If you now want to undertake a fast, here’s what I advise you to do:
Read up on all the legitimate medical literature on fasting, like Dr. Fung’s book and others, and really do your homework. Don’t rely on fringe or quack advice – be advised by the science. Get this wrong and it could have serious consequences for you.
If you’re on medication check in with your doctor first.
Take it slow. Start out with a 2 day fast – for instance, have Friday dinner be your last meal until breakfast Monday. See how that goes. I’ve done multiple fasts in the past, the longest prior to this being 6 days. That gave me some degree of foreknowledge as to what I’d be facing.
Plan your fast so that you’re not doing anything physically taxing or requiring you to be super-alert. You’ll probably feel listless and a bit foggy-headed. If you’re doing a long drive, or you’re having an important business meeting, it’s best you’re not fasting.
Expect to be hungry – very hungry. Remember, the hunger pangs don’t really leave you until day 3 or day 4 of a fast.
If you’re finding it really tough have some miso soup or broth. Be kind to yourself. This isn’t an exercise in self-mutilation.
Weigh yourself regularly. I’ve found that checking your weight is kind of like a validation of how you’re going. It gives you a sense of achievement. It’s like a pat on the back – an attaboy!
Break your fast carefully. I remember I once broke a 4 day fast with roast duck. I was sick for a week!
I’m posting before and after shots of myself below. I’ve tried to match angle and light, to give an accurate comparison. I don’t know about you but I think I look better in the before shot!
I also post a screen shot from my FitBit app that recorded the weight loss in graph form.
After all that I’ve been through, would I do it again? Yes I would, but I’d probably next look at doing a 28 day fast. I’m serious. But then again, I’m crazy…
When I look back, I was quite daunted by the prospect of not eating for fourteen days. I was genuinely not sure whether I could stick it out. That’s one of the reasons I decided to make my fast public – I figured it would be harder for me to bail if I had people watching me from afar.
The other reason I decided to go public is because I wanted to provide good solid medical information about fasting for those that might be interested. I’ve done that in the posting of excerpts from Dr Jason Fung’s book, The Complete Guide To Fasting.
And over these past 13 days I’ve had a wonderful response from people around the world, contacting me telling me that they’re going to undertake a fast, some telling me that what I’m doing has been inspirational. That’s enormously gratifying.
Bu I have to say, at the outset I was scared. And the last time I felt that kind of fear was before I walked my first Camino, in 2013. And now, looking back, I realise that the way I’ve gotten through this fast is the way I got through the Camino – by increments.
In my Camino memoir book, The Way, My Way, I talk about the power of increments. That you can achieve great things, seemingly impossible things, by approaching it incrementally. You look at a map of Spain and you think there’s no way I can walk across that country. No way.
Then you look at the map again and you look at the next town ahead of you – a day’s walk. I can do that, you say to yourself. And you do it, then that night you look at the map again and you see the next town on your route and you say I can do that. And after thirty days you’ve walked 800kms across Spain!
The power of increments. As I say in my book:
I could never get over it. I would stand on a hill and look into the distance and see a village. And then I’d set off, and within a few hours I was actually walking into that village. The power of the small step. A lot of small steps gets you extraordinary distances. If you keep taking those small steps. I began to think of what else I could achieve, through small steps, Through increments. If I ate a little less each day, I could lose weight. If I did a little more exercise each day I could get fitter. If I spent a little less each day I could save more. You don’t have to take big strides. Little steps are fine, but just keep taking them. And then you find you’ve walked across a country.
Same deal with this fast. The prospect of not eating for 2 weeks seemed impossible, but I discovered that if I just focused on not eating that day, and that day only, then not eating for one day was do-able. And then I’d wake up the next day I’d do the same. And now here I am, 13 days in, and I’m almost at the finish line. I’ve almost walked all the way across the country.
So here’s the last excerpt from Dr. Fung that I’m going to post. It’s a series of Q&A’s. If you’re interested in doing a fast, I highly recommend you read his book – here’s an Amazon link:
Interestingly, this has not been a problem in our Intensive Dietary Management Program, despite years of experience and hundreds of patients. Similarly, members of religions that embrace routine fasting are not known to be cranky. For example, nobody would stereotype a Buddhist monk, who engages in fasting almost daily, as a cranky guy.
I think that when people become irritable when they don’t eat, it’s because they expect to be cranky, so they act out their role in a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we normalize the idea of fasting in their minds, they forget to become cranky. Will fasting make me tired? No. In our experience at the Intensive Dietary Management Program, the opposite is true. Many people find that they have more energy during a fast—probably due to increased adrenaline.
You’ll find that you have plenty of energy for all the normal activities of daily living. Persistent fatigue is not a normal part of fasting. If you experience excessive fatigue, you should stop fasting immediately and see your doctor. Will fasting make me confused or forgetful? No. You should not experience any decrease in memory or concentration during your fast. On the contrary, fasting improves mental clarity and acuity. Over the long term, fasting may actually help improve memory. One theory is that fasting activates a form of cellular cleansing called autophagy that may help prevent age-associated memory loss.
Does fasting lead to overeating?
The simple answer is yes, you will eat more than usual immediately after fasting. However, the amount of food eaten above the baseline on nonfasting days is not enough to offset the preceding fast. A study of thirty-six-hour fasts shows that the meal taken after the fast is almost 20 percent larger than usual, but over the entire two-day period, there was still a net deficit of 1,958 calories. The amount “overeaten” did not nearly compensate for the fast. The study concludes, “A 36-hour fast … did not induce a powerful, unconditioned stimulus to compensate on the subsequent day.”
My stomach is always growling. What can I do? Try drinking some mineral water. The mechanism is unclear, but it is believed that some of the minerals help settle the stomach. I take medications with food. What can I do during fasting? Certain medications may cause side effects on an empty stomach: Aspirin can cause stomach upset or even ulcers. Iron supplements may cause nausea and vomiting. Metformin, often prescribed for diabetes, may cause nausea or diarrhea.
What if I have diabetes?
Special care must be taken if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes or are taking diabetic medications. (Certain diabetes medications, such as metformin, are used for other conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome.) Monitor your blood sugar closely and adjust your medications accordingly. Close monitoring by your physician is mandatory.
If you cannot be followed closely, do not fast. Fasting reduces blood sugar. If you continue taking the same dose of diabetes medications, especially insulin, during your fast, your blood sugar may become extremely low, resulting in hypoglycemia. This can be a life-threatening situation. You must take some sugar or juice to raise your blood sugar back to normal, even if it means you must stop your fast for that day. You must closely monitor your blood sugar during your fast. If you repeatedly have low blood sugar, it means that you are overmedicated, not that the fasting process is not working.
Can I exercise while fasting?
Many people assume it will be difficult to exercise while fasting, and sometimes those with physically demanding jobs worry about fasting while working. Yes, exercise demands extra energy from the body. However, the process of using stored food energy during a fast remains the same.
The body starts by burning glycogen, the sugar stored in the liver. Since there is extra demand for energy during exercise, glycogen runs out sooner than otherwise. But your body generally carries enough glycogen for twenty-four hours, so it can sustain a fair amount of exercise before running out. However, endurance athletes, such as Ironman triathletes, marathoners, and ultra-marathoners, do occasionally “hit the wall.”
Glycogen stores run out, leaving their muscles essentially running on empty. Perhaps there is no more indelible image of hitting the wall than the 1982 Ironman Triathlon, when American competitor Julie Moss crawled to the finish line, unable to even stand. But even when our glycogen runs out, we’re still carrying vast amounts of energy in the form of fat, and during fasting, our body switches from burning sugar to burning fat.
Following a very low carbohydrate diet, or ketogenic diet, trains your body tissues to burn fat. Similarly, exercising in the fasted state trains your muscles to burn fat. Instead of relying on limited glycogen stores, you can use almost unlimited energy from your fat stores. Muscles adapt to use whatever energy source is available.
When we deplete our glycogen through fasting, our muscles learn to become much more efficient at burning fat. The number of specialized fat-burning proteins is increased, and the breakdown of fat for energy is enhanced. After training in the fasted state, muscle fibers show increased available fat. All these are signs that the muscles are training to burn fat, not sugar.
Does performance suffer? Not really. In one study, a three-and-a-half-day fast did not affect any measurements of athletic performance, including strength, anaerobic capacity, and aerobic endurance. However, during the period when you are adjusting to the change from burning sugar to burning fat, you may notice a decrease in your athletic performance. This lasts approximately two weeks.
As you deplete the body of sugar, your muscles need time to adapt to using fat. Your energy, muscle strength, and overall exercise capacity will go down, but they will recover. This process is sometimes called keto-adaptation. Very low carb diets, ketogenic diets, and training in the fasted state may all have benefits in training your muscles to burn fat, but your muscles do need time to adapt.
My friend Marie who lives in the Basque country contacted me a few days ago, and told me about an extended fast she did whilst in an elite German medical clinic. She said that on day 12 of her 17 day fast, her energy returned, as did her clarity of thought.
Well that’s what’s happened to me.
Yesterday I did the strongest bike ride I’ve done for ages – 40mins/15.5kms/485cals. The figures weren’t as good as I was doing two weeks ago, but they’re the strongest this week.
Overall I’m feeling good – very good. Clear-headed, solid. I feel like I could go another 14 days, easy. It seems like I’ve passed through some kind of barrier, and I’m now in open waters.
Stats: I dropped 0.6kg in the past 24hrs, my percentage body fat strangely is remaining stubbornly constant, my resting heart rate has gone up a bit, and my blood pressure remains low, which for me is an achievement because I have hypertension.
The feeling of hunger is still no longer an issue, however the idea of food taunts me. Jennifer made a beautiful fried rice with chicken and cabbage last night for dinner, then sat beside me and ate it. I would have loved to have had some, but of course that wasn’t possible. But the idea of tucking into a bowl of that beautiful fried rice was very tempting.
Yesterday I learned that an important meeting I had scheduled in Sydney on Thursday has been brought forward to Tuesday morning. Early. We live in Mudgee, four hours drive away, so that means we’ll have to drive to Sydney Monday afternoon.
Monday is day#14 of my fast, and I’m not going to do the tricky drive whilst fasting, so I’ve decided to break my fast on Monday at lunch time. This will cut short my 14 day fast by half a day. I don’t see it as a big deal – I’ve done what I set out to do. Sometimes life intercedes in the best laid plans.
Now for more from the esteemed Dr Jason Fung, from his book The Complete Guide to Fasting. It’s an excerpt that continues on about autophagy, which for me the most important aspect of fasting –
For people with chronic inflammatory and/or neurological conditions, fasting can help accelerate autophagy and the body’s clearing-out of old, damaged tissue. The body engages in “housecleaning” all the time, but when it gets a break from the constant digestion of large amounts of food, it may be able to focus more energy on repair and restoration.
This is why the strongest stimulus to autophagy currently known is fasting, and why fasting alone, unique among diets, stimulates autophagy—simple caloric restriction or dieting isn’t enough. By eating constantly, from the time we wake up to the time we sleep, we prevent the activation of autophagy’s cleansing pathways.
Simply put, fasting cleanses the body of unhealthy or unnecessary cellular debris. This is the reason longer fasts were often called cleanses or detoxifications. At the same time, fasting also stimulates growth hormone, which signals the production of some new snazzy cell parts, giving our bodies a complete renovation.
Since it triggers both the breakdown of old cellular parts and the creation of new ones, fasting may be considered one of the most potent anti-aging methods in existence. Autophagy also plays an important role in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is characterized by the abnormal accumulation of amyloid beta (Aß) proteins in the brain, and it’s believed that these accumulations eventually destroy the synaptic connections in the memory and cognition areas.
Normally, clumps of Aß protein are removed by autophagy: the brain cell activates the autophagosome, the cell’s internal garbage truck, which engulfs the Aß protein targeted for removal and excretes it, so it can be removed by the blood and recycled into other protein or turned into glucose, depending upon the body’s needs. But in Alzheimer’s disease, autophagy is impaired and the Aß protein remains inside the brain cell, where eventual buildup will result in the clinical syndromes of Alzheimer’s disease.
Cancer is yet another disease that may be a result of disordered autophagy. We’re learning that mTOR plays a role in cancer biology, and mTOR inhibitors have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of various cancers. Fasting’s role in inhibiting mTOR, thereby stimulating autophagy, provides an interesting opportunity to prevent cancer’s development.
Indeed, some leading scientists, such as Dr. Thomas Seyfried, a professor of biology at Boston College, have proposed a yearly seven-day water-only fast for this very reason.
(Read Dr Jason Fung’s excerpt at the end of this post. It’s the most important yet!)
Day 11 and hunger is no longer an issue. Hasn’t been for a while. But it’s become kind of established. I’ve yet to experience the resurgence of energy that some people say comes with an extended fast. I’ve been feeling flat the last few days, and a bit woolly-headed at times.
I think it would be a bit difficult if I worked in an office or had some kind of job where I had to be at the top of my game. Not sure I could do that. That’s not to say I’m a drooling zombie, (at least I don’t think I am), but I’m operating on 6 cylinders, not my usual 8.
Even so, I did my 40mins on my exercise bike yesterday, and started off feeling pretty poorly, but within 5-7 mins my energy level kicked up a few notches and I finished up doing better than I did the previous session – 40mins/14.8kms/423cals. Not hugely better, but better.
My flatness seems to be worse in the mornings, and this could be because I’m no longer on coffee or tea – I have tea in the evenings – just pure water throughout the day. But by about lunchtime the flatness recedes and I feel okay.
As I say, I would have no trouble extending this fast for another 14 days or longer. The only thing that would stop me is boredom. I enjoy the ritual of eating.
My stats: I dropped another 0.5kgs in the past 24hrs. The big weight drops in the first week are no longer happening in week 2. Interesting my body fat % is remaining roughly the same, but I can tell you my tummy is getting smaller (I am NOT posting photos!) and I’ve lost fat from other parts of my body as well. (I WON’T tell you WHERE!) I think maybe my scales don’t accurately reflect body fat content.
I’ve now dropped more than 7kgs in 10 days – and I’m the lowest weight I’ve been for at least nine years – since I began recording my weight via my Aria scales, which link in with my Fitbit.
Weight loss for me is less about how I look, more about the health issues associated with being overweight. I was seriously starting to worry about becoming pre-diabetic, and all medical advice says that visceral fat around your internal organs is not a good thing.
Dr Fung puts it this way:
The most obvious benefits of fasting are that it helps with weight loss and type 2 diabetes, but there are many other benefits, including autophagy (a cellular cleansing process), lipolysis (fat-burning), anti-aging effects, and neurological benefits. In other words, fasting can benefit your brain and help your body stay younger.
We’ll come to autophagy shortly.
Prior to this fast, I was eating way too much sugar – particularly chocolate, at night. On any given night I could easily chomp my way through half a block of chocolate or more while watching TV. That’s no longer happening, and now after this fast it will never happen again.
Now with the end in sight, I’m starting to give thought to how I’ll adjust my eating once the fast is done. I can’t go back to old habits. If I do, these 14 days will have been a waste of time.
I now want to introduce you to the process of autophagy – which is the real reason I’ve done this fast. What is autophagy? I think it’s one of the most important medical discoveries of recent times. It’s even learned a Nobel Prize in Medicine. I’ll let Dr. Fung explain it…
The cells of the body are like cars. As they age, subcellular parts need to be removed and replaced, and eventually, a cell gets too old to repair and needs to be destroyed to make way for a healthy new cell. In a process called apoptosis, also known as programmed cell death, cells that reach a certain age are programmed to commit suicide.
While this may sound kind of macabre at first, the process constantly renews cell populations, making it essential for good health. But when just some cellular components need to be replaced, a process called autophagy kicks in. The word autophagy, coined by Nobel Prize–winning scientist Christian de Duve, derives from the Greek auto (“self”) and phagein (“to eat”). So the word literally means “to eat oneself.”
Autophagy is a form of cellular cleansing: it is a regulated, orderly process of breaking down and recycling cellular components when there’s no longer enough energy to sustain them. Once all the diseased or broken-down cellular parts have been cleansed, the body can start the process of renewal. New tissues and cells are built to replace those that were destroyed. In this way, the body renews itself. But it only works if the old parts are discarded first.
Our bodies are in a constant state of renewal. While we often focus on new cell growth, we sometimes forget that the first step in renewal is destroying the old, broken-down cellular machinery. But apoptosis and autophagy are both necessary to keep our bodies running well. When these processes are hijacked, diseases such as cancer occur, and the accumulation of older cellular components may be responsible for many of the effects of aging.
These unwanted cellular components build up over time if autophagocytic processes are not routinely activated. Increased levels of glucose, insulin, and proteins all turn off autophagy. And it doesn’t take much. Even as little as 3 grams of the amino acid leucine can stop autophagy.
Here’s how it works: The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway is an important sensor of nutrient availability. When we eat carbohydrates or protein, insulin is secreted, and the increased insulin levels, or even just the amino acids from the breakdown of ingested protein, activate the mTOR pathway. The body senses that food is available and decides that since there’s plenty of energy to go around, there’s no need to eliminate the old subcellular machinery.
The end result is the suppression of autophagy.
In other words, the constant intake of food, such as snacking throughout the day, suppresses autophagy. Conversely, when mTOR is dormant—when it’s not being triggered by increased insulin levels or amino acids from ingested food—autophagy is promoted. As the body senses the temporary absence of nutrients, it must prioritize which cellular parts to keep.
The oldest and most worn-out cellular parts get discarded, and amino acids from the broken-down cell parts are delivered to the liver, which uses them to create glucose during gluconeogenesis. They may also be incorporated into new proteins. It’s important to note that the dormancy of mTOR is only related to short-term nutrient availability and not the presence of stored energy, such as liver glycogen or body fat. Whether the body has stored energy is irrelevant for mTOR and therefore for autophagy.
Ten days in and I’m going hard core. No coffee. No broth. Nothing but water and tea for the remainder of the fast. Another five days.
I didn’t have my usual double espresso yesterday, nor this morning. I’ve been expecting headaches and twitches and frothing at the mouth, but that hasn’t happened. I have had the occasional episode where my eyes rolled into the back of my head but on those occasions I wasn’t with anyone else so there was no social awkwardness.
Stats: weight has come down a bit – about half a kg in the last 24hrs. Body fat, strangely, has risen a bit. Don’t get that. Blood pressure is down, and I might have to take myself off my medication for high BP if that continues, which is a good thing. RHR has come back down to 57bpm.
In the last 24hrs I’ve only had water and tea, and that’s all I’m going to continue to have until the fast ends next Tuesday morning.
How do I feel? Once again, pretty good. I don’t feel hungry at all, and yesterday there was a lot of cooking going on in the kitchen and it didn’t bother me. I made Jennifer a coffee this morning and had no desire to have one myself – on the contrary, I’m starting to think that at the end of this fast I might continue my coffee ban. That also would be a good thing.
My cognitive processes seem fine – I have no problems with my writing, and I interact with others okay, although this morning I did forget Jennifer’s name, which was embarrassing. I had to go get our Marriage Certificate to remind me. (joke)
Other than that, there’s not much more that I can tell you on day#10 of the fast. Other than I’m looking forward to it ending, because I miss the communal ritual of eating with my family. That for me is the worst thing about fasting – that absence of sharing, over a meal.
Now, for some Dr. Fung…. The various types of fasts ~
Most definitions of fasting allow noncaloric drinks only. This means that water, tea, and black coffee are all allowed during fasting, but sugar, honey, fructose, agave nectar, and other sugars are prohibited. There is some disagreement about artificial sweeteners like stevia, aspartame, and sucralose. Since there are no calories in these, technically, they could be allowed.
However, the use of chemicals in these artificial sweeteners defeats the spirit of fasting, which is to cleanse or purify the body, not only from unwanted sugars and fats but also from chemicals and other artificial agents. The same argument applies to artificial flavors, such as those in Crystal Light or Kool-Aid, and to bouillon cubes.
The water-only fast is a traditional and classic variant—all other beverages and additives are not permitted during the fasting period. It’s important to note that this fast generally includes zero salt. Without salt, the body cannot hold onto water, and therefore there is some risk of dehydration.
Some variants of the water-only fast allow you to drink salt water, although it can be difficult to get down. However, the body has a remarkable ability to retain salt when it is not readily available in the diet. This means that as long as the water-only fast is limited in duration, your salt requirements will be fairly low, and salt deficiency shouldn’t be a problem.
Juice fasting permits the consumption of juice as well as water. Since juices naturally contain sugars and calories, this is not technically a true fast, but the word is often used in this context. Results of this fast will vary depending upon the type and amount of juice consumed. Fruit juices tend to be very high in sugar and therefore will often not produce as good a result as other, stricter fasts.
“Green” juice fasting has recently surged in popularity. As you might guess from the name, this involves juicing green leafy vegetables, like spinach and kale. The resulting juice contains far less sugar than the juice of sweet fruits like oranges and apples. In addition, leafy vegetables contain little actual juice, so the leaves are often ground up and blended with the juice, which provides fiber and nutrients. Celery is often juiced in this mixture, too.
The “fat fast” is a newer variation of fasting. Relatively pure fats, such as coconut oil, cream, and butter, are allowed during this fast, so it, too, is not a true fast. Fat is normally not eaten in isolation—we rarely drink a cup of olive oil or eat a pat of butter by itself—but some people feel that eating fat this way helps reduce hunger and makes fasting much easier.
The popularity of “bulletproof coffee” has helped this trend. To make coffee “bulletproof,” you add fat in the form of coconut oil, medium-chain triglycerides (MCT oil), or butter from grass-fed cows. The high fat content of the coffee gives this drink a substantial number of calories (400 to 500 per cup, depending upon the recipe), so this would be more accurately termed a meal replacement. However, virtually all of the calories are derived from fat.
I’ve dropped only a marginal amount in weight over the past 24hrs, and my body fat has remained pretty much the same. The only thing I can put it down to is two portions of broth I had yesterday – about 1 cup, or 250mls of turkey broth in the morning, and about 300mls of chicken broth in the afternoon.
I would have thought both broths had minimal calories. There are no solids in them at all. But I put in a lot of salt – Himalayan salt. Maybe it is water retention. If so, it pisses me off – if I can use that term in the context of water retention…
A dear Camino friend in the Basque country, Marie – she is a highly experienced chiropractor but also something of a naturopath – posted on my blog overnight, and I put that post in here below because it’s relevant, and Marie is a highly esteemed health professional.
She said she attended a world renowned health clinic in Germany some years back and went on a strict fast, no coffee or supplements of any kind, and after day 12 she made a huge breakthrough and felt wonderful. (see below)
So I have decided I will not have coffee anymore – only tea. And no more broth.
That aside, how do I feel? Pretty good, really. I feel no hunger at all, and in fact when I had the second portion of chicken broth yesterday it made me feel nauseous. I don’t think I will miss the broth for the remainder of the fast.
What I probably will miss though is the coffee. But I feel that if I am to completely detox, I need to detox from coffee.
When I did my 40mins on the bike yesterday I felt a real lack of energy – I did the slowest session ever: 40mins/14.3kms/403cals. I just had no power in my legs. Prior to the fast I was doing 19kms+ over 40mins.
Sleep last night was difficult. I had a total of 5hrs15mins only.
I woke up at about 1am, and didn’t go back to sleep for some 2hrs40mins later, with the aid of melatonin. I spent the time working out the third act of my new screenplay, then I read. I’m currently reading The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula le Guin, regarded by many as a masterpiece. About a third of the way through I can see why they’d think that.
Anyway, this is what Marie posted on my blog overnight:
To make thing short :on 2003 I was diagnosed with severe burnout and depression. My MD wanted me to take powerful drugs which I did not feel taking. So I looked for an alternative and check into the Buchinger Clinic in Germany, one of the top ten clinics in the world.
I was treated only with fast, no médecines, no supplements, no coffee allowed. And walking, swimming, yoga and art therapy. It was tough but on the night of day 12 something happened in my brain, like if someone had switched on a light bulb. No more foggy brain, good humor, and I started to laugh again.
Physically I was feeling great, started to run, gaining strength. So when my husband asked me to come back I stupidly obeyed. Day 17 I decided to stop to have time to do the transition to normal eating. But I should have kept going.
I was feeling that the process was not finished and this same year I came back for a ten days fast and a third time for a week of detox and others medical treatment like the cleaning of my blood.
BTW in Buchinger, they think that we don’t need supplements, neither salt. Or coffee. Because it is interfering with the the way our body is working thru the fast.
Here is the next excerpt from Dr Jason Fung’s book, The Complete Guide to Fasting. This is about ketosis, and ketogenic diets –
You may have heard of a ketogenic diet—it’s been quickly growing in popularity in the last several years and is known to be helpful for a wide range of health problems, including obesity. As it happens, a ketogenic diet and fasting have several features in common.
A ketogenic diet gets its name from ketone bodies. These are substances the body produces during fat-burning; they’re what fuels the brain when glucose is scarce. A ketogenic diet helps shift the body from burning glucose to burning fat, which results in the creation of ketones. Of course, fasting causes the body to burn fat, too—and that means it also results in the creation of ketones.
Body fat is composed mostly of triglycerides, which are molecules made of one glycerol backbone to which three fatty acids of varying lengths are attached. During fat-burning, the triglyceride molecule is broken down into the glycerol backbone and the 3 fatty acids. The fatty acids are used directly by most of the organs of the body, including the liver, kidney, heart, and muscles.
However, certain cells are not able to burn fat, including the inner part of the kidney (renal medulla) and red blood cells. To supply the glucose those cells need, the liver uses the glycerol backbone to manufacture new glucose molecules. More importantly, though, the brain cannot use fatty acids, either.
Ketone bodies produced during fat-burning fill that gap, and the brain becomes powered mostly on ketones, which supply up to 75 percent of its energy needs. This dramatically reduces the brain’s need for glucose, enabling adequate glucose production from glycerol.
In this way, triglycerides provide energy in the form of fatty acids, ketones, and glucose—enough for the entire body. So, yes, the brain still requires glucose to function normally during fasting, but we do not need to eat glucose. We can manufacture enough glucose to power the entire body simply from body fat.
This is a normal situation. This is the way our body is designed to work.
I woke up this morning feeling pretty drak. Very flat, and a bit light headed. Not hungry at all. It might have been due to the 9mg of melatonin I had early this morning at about 4am.
I’m at a crucial point in my screenplay at the moment, and I use the couple of hours from between 2:30am-4am to work through upcoming story issues. I find it’s a very creative time for me. But the downside is that I sometimes find it hard to go back to sleep. So I take melatonin, which for me works well.
But now having had my two double espressos, I’m feeling good. I feel like I’ve entered The Zone, where should I decide to, I could continue this fast indefinitely. I’ve gotta say though, last night was difficult. Our son Henry cooked chicken and rice for dinner and it looked and smelled delicious. I would have loved to have tucked into it, but it wasn’t possible.
One of the reasons I’m doing this fast is to control my random eating urges, and I have to say this is happening. Whilst I would have loved to have sat down with Henry and Jennifer last night and tucked into a good feed, I didn’t allow myself to. I’m either doing this fast, or I’m bailing. I have no intention of bailing – at least, not yet!
My stats are interesting once again: weight down a bit but not hugely, body fat has actually gone up a bit – how does that work? Resting Heart Rate has edged up a bit. I did a bike session late yesterday and my numbers were a bit stronger than the day before, but nothing like they were pre-fast. I’m not able to produce the kind of energy I had while I was eating. (40mins/16.5km/505cals)
Now having done a week of my fast, I have dropped 6kgs exactly. But the weight loss each day is slowing. See graph below ~
Yesterday I had coffee, tea, water, and about 250ml of bone broth. I had that not because I was hungry, but to ensure that I had some nutrients, including salt. This morning I had some turkey bone broth for the same reason. I’ll probably do that daily now that I’m into the second week of the fast. It’s permissible in an extended fast, according to Dr Jason Fung.
Speaking of Dr Fung, here is the second part of his piece on fridge vs freezer!
The two compartments, the fridge and the freezer, are not used simultaneously but sequentially. You need to (mostly) empty out the fridge before you can use what’s in the freezer—you need to burn most of the glycogen before you can burn fat. In essence, the body can burn either sugar or fat, but not both.
How easy it is to get to the fat freezer depends upon the hormone insulin. Is the freezer locked away in the basement behind steel gates, or is it located right beside the refrigerator? Insulin levels are the prime determinant. When we are not eating, insulin levels are low, allowing full access to the fat freezer—the body is able to easily get at the stored fat. With low insulin levels, you don’t even have to completely empty the glycogen refrigerator before opening the fat freezer, since it’s so easily accessible.
Think about your fridge at home. Does it have to be completely empty of everything, including that half-empty bottle of ketchup and tub of yogurt, before you open that pack of burgers from the freezer? Of course not! Similarly, with low insulin levels, the body can burn fat even if there is still some glucose around. That means that if you’re cutting calories and have low insulin levels, it’s easy for your body to compensate for the reduced food energy by getting some fat out of the freezer even if your glycogen fridge isn’t completely empty.
But the emptier your glycogen fridge, the more likely you will be to use what’s in the fat freezer, and the easier it is to get to the freezer, the more likely it is that you will use it. Not only do low insulin levels allow access to the fat freezer, they actually trigger fat-burning for energy. If insulin levels are abnormally low, then fat is continually burned.
We see this situation in type 1 diabetes, when the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed. As insulin falls to undetectable levels, patients, often children, burn through all their fat stores and are unable to gain weight no matter how many calories they consume. Untreated, this is a fatal disease.
Treatment with insulin injections allows them to store fat normally once again. On the other hand, high insulin levels prevent the body from accessing the fat in the freezer. It is locked away behind steel bars. Insulin inhibits lipolysis—it stops the body from burning fat. High insulin levels, which are normal after meals, signal our body to store some of the incoming energy.
Logically, therefore, we also stop burning stored fat (why bother when there’s energy from food?). This doesn’t just happen after meals, however—we also see this in diseases of too much insulin. For example, insulin injections, often used in the treatment of diabetes, commonly lead to increased fat accumulation because the body is unable to burn fat.
(That’s great for type 1 diabetics, who have too little fat to begin with, but not so great for type 2 diabetics, who usually have too much.)
Insulin resistance, sometimes called prediabetes or metabolic syndrome, is the most common situation where insulin levels are persistently kept abnormally high.
This is new territory for me, going into day#7. I’ve done 6 day fasts in the past, never 7. This coming week is going to be fascinating, to see how I manage.
If I manage…
First, the stats: I’ve dropped 0.8kgs during the past 24hrs, and my BMI has now officially dropped into the Normal Weight zone. My Body Fat though has only come down marginally. People tell me I look thinner, but I don’t think so. I think they’re humouring me!
This is not a vanity quest for me – my need for this fast goes deeper than that.
How do I feel?
Strangely, I woke up this morning feeling good. Not at all hungry, and in fact I can easily see how people could purposefully starve themselves or go on hunger strikes. It doesn’t take long for you to lose hunger pangs altogether – but more than that – I’ve noticed that I no longer desire food.
I had to go to a formal family lunch yesterday. Jennifer’s uncle, who is an amazing 99 years old, came to visit with his daughter, and all the family went over to Jennifer’s mother’s place – two houses down from where we live – to have lunch.
Lunch consisted of roast chicken – my favourite – with roast potatoes – also my favourite – and other yummy stuff. Out of courtesy and respect for Jennifer’s uncle I sat down at my usual seat at the table and watched everyone eat.
You’d think it would have been difficult for me, but actually it wasn’t. Whilst I would have loved to have hoed into the chicken and spuds, I had no real desire to. There’s a difference. Intellectually, I would’ve loved to tuck into the grub; physically and emotionally, I didn’t want to. I’ve made up my mind to do this fast, and in my mind, food is off limits. It’s as simple as that.
I stayed for a courteous amount of time, and then I left and went back home and had a cup of tea. Later, Jennifer came home with a basket of hot freshly baked scones which her sister had batched up, and I have to admit, I desired them! It was the smell of them did it.
I did my bike exercise early today – 40mins/16.3km/500cals – and at the end of it, when I got off the bike, I nearly collapsed. Fainted. I checked my blood pressure shortly after and it was low – 107/61. It returned to normal levels later, and the dizziness passed. This morning, I noticed my BP was solid – 125/74.
Now for my next excerpt from Dr Jason Fung’s excellent book, The Complete Guide to Fasting, he discusses the myth that you lose weight by eating less and moving more. This is the first part – I’ll post the second part tomorrow.
The reason “eat less, move more” doesn’t work for weight loss is that it’s based on a false idea about how our bodies use calories: the single-compartment model.
According to this model, the body reduces all foods to simple calories and stores those calories for use in what we can think of as a single compartment; then, the body accesses that compartment to use the calories for exercise and basal metabolism (remember, that refers to the body’s basic functions, such as breathing, removing toxins from the bloodstream, digesting foods, and so on—all these require energy from calories).
This model is like a bathroom sink. Calories, like water, can flow into or out of this sink. Excess calories are held in this sink and can be easily accessed if our bodies require more calories—for example, exercise would drain calories out of this sink. There is no distinction made between any of the storage forms of calories.
Whether calories are stored as glucose, which is used for immediate energy; glycogen, which is used in the intermediate time frame; or fat, which is long-term energy storage, all calories are treated equally.
However, this model is known to be a complete fabrication. It does not exist except in our imaginations. It is more accurate to use a two-compartment model, because there are two distinct ways energy is stored in the body: as glycogen in the liver and as body fat.
When we eat, our body derives energy from three main sources: glucose (carbohydrates), fat, and protein. Only two of these are stored for later use, glucose and fat—the body can’t store protein, so excess protein that can’t be used right away is converted to glucose. Glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen, but the liver’s capacity for storing glycogen is limited.
Once glycogen stores are full, excess calories must be stored as body fat. Dietary fat is absorbed directly into the bloodstream without passing through the liver, and what’s not used is stored as body fat. This was one of the reasons why low-fat diets were initially recommended, but the immediate destination of ingested calories is not the main determinant of weight gain. The single-compartment model of calorie storage and use.
Think of glycogen as a refrigerator. It’s designed for short-term storage of food; it’s very easy to move food in and out, but the storage space is limited. Body fat, on the other hand, is more like a basement freezer. It’s designed for long-term storage and is more difficult to access, but it has much greater capacity. Plus, you can always add more freezers to the basement if you need them.
When we buy groceries, we store food in the refrigerator first, and then when the fridge is full, we store the excess food in the freezer—that is, we store food energy first as glycogen and then, when the space for glycogen is full, as body fat. Both body fat and glycogen are used for energy in the absence of food, but they aren’t used equally or at the same time.
The body prefers to use glycogen for energy rather than body fat. This is logical because it is easier to burn glycogen—in terms of our analogy, it’s much easier to get food from the refrigerator in the kitchen than to trek all the way down to the freezer in the basement. And as long as there is food in the fridge, we won’t retrieve any from the freezer.
In other words, if you need 200 calories of energy to go for a walk, the body will get that energy from glycogen as long as it’s available—it won’t go to the trouble of accessing body fat.