My first 3-day fast: a gruelling test of endurance
In true “get some!” Modern Savage style, I spontaneously decided to do my first 3-day fast after coming back from a week-long retreat just outside of Stockholm. It was Monday afternoon as we drove back from the retreat and in the car someone mentioned another retreat called New Civilisation Training run by Felix Ruckert.
Inspiration for my 3-day fast
When I checked out the website, I learned that New Civilisation Training is a 10-day retreat with a restricted diet for 3 days, plus 7 days of full fasting with an action-packed schedule of activities, like: Bodywork, Yoga, Feldenkrais, Dance, Movement and Conscious Sexuality, Choir Singing and Music, Personal Growth and Metagenealogy, Hypnosis, Lectures and Talks, Silence and Meditation. Sounds like a lot of fun!
The retreat I’d just been on had amazing food and we enjoyed 3 square meals a day. What a luxury to have someone cooking for us and only having to wash up twice during the whole retreat! I normally don’t eat quite so much, so I was feeling pretty tanked up and inspired by Felix’s website and decided to go for it. So, on Monday night I made the last meal for myself and my son. Don’t worry, I wasn’t making my 5½-year-old son fast!
I’ve only fasted once before, around 7 months previously while on holiday in England with my son. After reading Jocko Willink’s Discipline Equals Freedom, I decided to fast for 36 hours. This didn’t feel particularly challenging and after this initial successful experiment, I decided I was up for the challenge of a 3-day fast.
The benefits of fasting
On page 150 of his book, Jocko mentions the following benefits to fasting:
Now, if you're thinking that my 2 inspirations for doing my own 3-day fast are world's apart, you'd be right. But inspiration doesn't have to follow logic and both Jocko and Felix, neither of whom I've ever met, certainly did inspire me to take the plunge and go 72 hours without food.
4 reasons for fasting
Fasting has been around since ancient times. Check out fasting on Encyclopaedia Britannica's website if you're interested in the history. Of course, there are many reasons why you might want to fast. Here are 4 common reasons to fast:
Fasting for physical/medical benefits
Humans have fasted throughout history, sometimes without a choice. Fortunately, it seems that fasting has loads of physical benefits and is even used for medical reasons to induce a state of ketosis. Ketosis is a metabolic condition caused by fasting for around 48 hours, where the liver begins to convert fatty acids (instead of glucose) into energy to provide fuel for both the body and the brain. Ketosis is an accepted treatment for both epilepsy and type 2 diabetes and is currently being investigated as an effective treatment for a range of other conditions.
Fasting for mental benefits
Making a decision to fast while surrounded by seemingly limitless amounts of food in an era of unprecedented abundance is also a great way of practicing self-discipline and mental resilience. Both of these qualities are well worth developing in ourselves from a personal development perspective. After all, we need to be able to achieve our goals and overcome obstacles in our lives even when things get tough. Fasting is a way of inserting a little time-controlled toughness into our lives.
Fasting for spiritual/religious reasons
Fasting is a part of most major religions, including Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. The goal of spiritual fasting is to purify the body and mind in order to receive divine grace. It's considered a spiritual discipline and one can use fasting and prayer or meditation as tools to shine a light on some aspect of one's inner life that requires attention and transformation.
Fasting for political reasons
Fasting has also been used as a powerful tool for social change. Most notably, Mahatma Gandhi undertook 18 fasts during India's move to independence from the British Empire. Not many of us are going to fast for such dramatic reasons or effect such huge changes in society, but political fasting or hunger strikes have been used throughout history as a form of resistance against oppressive forces.
"The light of the world will illuminate within you when you fast and purify yourself."
Why did I decide to fast?
Doing a 3-day fast has been on my radar for a while and I've practiced intermittent fasting (skipping breakfast) for a few years. I also wanted to take the time to process the events of the recent retreat I'd been on and felt like I wanted to continue the momentum of the retreat.
My 3-day fast journal
Below are my journal entries from the 3-day fast. I've included 6 days because the 3 days after the fast were really challenging, perhaps even more so than the fast itself!
First day back at work after the retreat and after being away for 5 days there was a lot of catching up to do. After dropping my son at school I got stuck into work and had 3 meetings. I felt hungry throughout the day as you’d expect. But nothing unreasonable.
Picked up my son from school, cooked him dinner and basically had a normal (slightly hungry) day. Was still processing a lot from the recent retreat. Had a good night’s sleep (7:40 with 2:34 REM sleep).
After dropping the boy at school, I headed out for a 6.5km run. Felt tired during the run and my pace of 5:54/km reflects this. At the end of the run I did a 4-minute cold water immersion which felt great. Didn’t give myself a hard time about the pace - it’s all an experiment, right? Had a full day of work. My partner arrived for the weekend.
Felt hungry all day and weak. It felt like someone had increased gravity by 25%. My limbs felt heavy and it took effort to think clearly and express myself. I had a headache, felt light-headed and felt a lot of tension in my shoulders. I began to speak more softly. My breath began to smell funny (poor Michelle!) as I entered into ketosis. I had a weird, smelly dump. I slept a whopping 9:05 (2:59 REM). I felt cold all day and wore extra layers but just couldn’t get warm!
Started the day feeling like a zombie! It was really hard to get moving and focused. Fortunately, I had a full day of work ahead of me with an important client meeting at the end of the day. I reminded myself during the day that I always had the option to eat. No-one would judge me for breaking the fast. After all, I had already done a 60-hour fast! I felt a little light-headed and weak. I wondered to myself, “Is this how it feels to be old?”
I planned to reward myself by making a vegan burger and chips for dinner. I knew the client meeting was going to be challenging as the relationship was tense. I reminded myself that I needed to pay special attention to the frustration I was feeling on this project and keep a cool head. “Don’t take it out on the client, just because you’ve decided to fast!” I told myself.
By lunchtime I became a little euphoric. I could feel the finish line, and with the promise of burger and chips as my reward I went into my last meeting of the day in good spirits. The meeting was laborious and the client wanted to discuss all kinds of inane detail. By the time we signed off, the meeting had dragged on for nearly 2 hours. I was spent.
We got busy making dinner. Despite being ravenously hungry, I could hardly eat. I managed 2 mouthfuls before I had to lie down on the floor for 15 minutes. Then 2 more mouthfuls before returning to the floor. It took about an hour to get through my burger and chips. I was wiped out and went straight to bed.
Slept another whopping 8:53 (2:29 REM). The fast was officially over but recovery was going to be slow and took several days. This was not something I'd been prepared for. My focus had been entirely on doing the not eating part of the fast. But my 3-day fast was followed by 3 days of recovery.
Started the day with my usual breakfast smoothie, which felt great getting all that good stuff into my system, but I was feeling really fragile with lots of pain in my body. My back and knees were really aching and felt inflamed. But there was no time for lying around, as we had a 2-hour workshop with a new client. I wrapped up the day with a coaching session for one of my clients.
We headed out for a walk in the sunshine. I felt vulnerable and my body was stiff and sore. I decided to take Ibuprofen to reduce the pain and inflammation. I felt an appreciation of how important good food is and the anti-inflammatory benefits of eating well. I have a daily dose of fresh ginger and turmeric blended into my daily smoothie. Check out the ingredients of my breakfast smoothie in my post: A green smoothie my dad would love.
Walked instead of running with my son to teach my yoga class at the gym. Leading the 90-min yoga class felt good. Twisting and stretching the body, combined with the effects of the Ibuprofen, helped reduce the stiffness I was feeling. After yoga we met up with Michelle and went climbing together. There are a bunch of tough new routes at our climbing centre at Telefonplan, which are both fun and challenging.
Had my first dump in 4 days. All the good stuff - eating, moving and Ibuprofen - has paid off. Feeling minimal joint inflammation and instead feeling the good muscle ache of the yoga and climbing.
Reflections from the fast
I’m not used to feeling fragile and vulnerable and my fast really helped me connect with these feelings. On the second, and especially third, days of the fast, I felt very weak and particularly delicate on the day after the fast, which surprised me.
I’ve taken for granted how important and good food is. Not only for energy but also for supporting the body to control inflammation.
I feel proud of myself for sticking with it. Being surrounded by food and even cooking for my son was not a problem. I felt safe throughout the fast and knew that I could break the fast at any time if things got too tough. After all, there was a fridge and cupboard full of food. I can see that my willpower is far more powerful than my body and I need to be careful as willpower is limitless, while my 46 year-old-body has limits.
Would I do it again?
I’ll definitely do another 72-hour fast, but it also reminded me of the benefits of intermittent fasting which I’ve been practicing for a few years now.
The simplest way to practice intermittent fasting is to just skip breakfast: half of your fast is actually happening while you’re sleeping! Read about the benefits of intermittent fasting at healthline.com. Anecdotally, it does feel like a good way of combining the physical and mental challenges of fasting in an accessible way that's both safe and rewarding.
A 3-day fast is not to be taken lightly but I can highly recommend it. It'll teach you a new appreciation for food and your body. If you've never fasted then start off by trying intermittent fasting, which is much less severe but also beneficial.
Fasting is also a good way of practicing self-discipline and increases mental resilience and self-confidence.