It was a brisk, autumn Sunday morning in Sydney. The sun was out and the sky was clear as I ducked off to the local supermarket. For the seventh day in a row, I couldn’t buy any toilet paper and several sections of aisles were cleared out from the Corona hysteria. With loo roll all but gone and the pasta hard to come by, my first thought was about how much people must be eating and shitting – my second was that perhaps the stars were aligning to finally investigate extended water fasting.
It’s something I’d been considering for a few months and I now had more time at home to dial down, learn, experiment, cleanse and build better habits.
I’d read some of the ever-growing mass of research on water fasting and the positive effects it has on gut health, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, longevity, metabolism and reduced risk of various illnesses. Kelly Slater did a 10-day fast, Tim Shieff did a 35-day fast, Dr Peter Attia (Chief Medical Officer of Zero Fasting) does four 7-day fasts a year. Tim Ferriss is also a massive advocate, then there are the likes of Gandhi, Pythagoras, the ancient Egyptian mathematicians who all delved into extended water fasting at some point throughout history.
So I pulled the trigger and got the 8-day fast done. I went camping at a property in the Barrington Tops region where I did the first 5 days of the fast so I wouldn’t be distracted by food, electronics and opinions. In total, no food for just shy of 8 days. Only water with some Himalayan salt throughout the day and magnesium and zinc at night (details below).
The single word I would use to describe the water fasting process? Purifying.
It cleaned out my body and mind. Joints, muscles, core, arms and legs felt cleaner, smoother and lighter. There are fewer aches and tensions. My concentration, ability to process and recall information are all sharper. My airways are way cleaner – I can breathe better – it feels like the lining of mucus our guts generate to limit allergens has finally been cleared out.
It was the boost I’d been after for a while.
Below I’ve included a summary of the fast; why I did it, as well as the physical and mental side effects of water fasting.
I used the Zero Fasting app and blog for great fasting resources, but feel free to drop any questions in the comments.
Note: I’m not a medical/health professional. This is a recount of my experience of water fasting. These notes are not advice.
Why I Tried Water Fasting For 8 Days
About three years ago, I tweaked my back doing a deadlift. It hurt a bit but I didn’t think much of it at the time. In retrospect, I can now see that this was the beginning of what would progress to be chronic pain and a bunch of other health issues. Over the coming years, I dislocated both shoulders, followed by a whiplash injury that put the nail in the coffin for me. This, coupled with the desk job lifestyle, always being on the go, trying to fit too much in and placing unrealistically high expectations on myself was, unbeknownst at the time, a recipe for disaster and perhaps a sign to slow things down.
After trying a range of health solutions over the years – a surgery and spending a solid chunk of my savings – only to feel I’d made next to no progress, I quit my job in early 2019 to commit 100% to figuring out my body and explore every avenue possible.
Fast forward to now. This relentless pursuit of finding the answer has led me to test a wide-ranging set of options; a 10-day meditation stint in India, physio rehab, breathwork, massages, fancy diets, PT sessions, mobility work, cold showers… hell, I’ve even tried ‘sound healing.’
Regardless of their results, these trials left me with a few takeaways; a much more refined understanding of what my body needs, a dramatically improved state of health (there’s still work to go), a moderate frustration towards the state of the health industry, a realisation of how much I don’t know, a greater curiosity to learn more and an itch to try an extended fast.
I had tested intermittent fasting, as well as 1, 2 and 3-day water fasts previously and found surprising physical and mental benefits each time. As mentioned above, there’s a tonne of solid research behind it. It’s also a tool that’s been used for thousands of years by cultures all over the world (Egyptians, Mayans, Greeks, Yogis) to cleanse the body, mind and for spiritual purposes. I thought an extended water fast could possibly deliver results I hadn’t yet been able to access.
And there was one question that I still hadn’t answered that I thought an extended fast might have shed light on – what food does the body actually need, how much and how often?
Maybe three meals each day isn’t the optimum strategy. I figure taste is not a good indicator. For example, a cake tastes good but it isn’t entirely good for the body. Conversely, vegetables might taste average but they are extremely good for the body. Perhaps taste used to be a reliable indicator as we evolved and before the time where we had 24/7 access to every type of food.
Hunger is also not a good indicator. I can be hungry all throughout a 3-day fast, yet the research (and experience) says that water fasting (i.e pushing through that hunger) is extremely beneficial for the body.
And like you probably have, I’ve eaten pretty much every day for my whole life. I wanted to see what the body does and how it feels when it pushes past this seemingly chronic addiction to food.
In summary, there was still progress to be made on my body, unanswered questions, beliefs yet to be challenged and support for the benefits of extended water fasts. It seemed like the right move.
Water Fasting: The Fast Facts
- Total time – 7 days 15 hours (183 hours). 9 pm Thursday to 12 pm Friday.
- Total weight loss – Approx 5kg (from a start of 80kg). I then put on 6kg in the following two weeks.
- Total intake – Water (2.5 – 3-litres per day), ½ teaspoon of Himalayan salt per litre, 3 Z-Mag tablets per day, one teaspoon of Tri-Mag Supreme Night Powder each night. Total of ~600mg magnesium, 7.5mg zinc (Ben Greenfield has all the info on right supplements).
- In short, the mental and physical effects were all positive.
- I didn’t set a timeline for the water fast but instead checked in with my body each day. A touch over a week in, I’d had enough and subsequently broke the 8-day fast.
- The benefits I gained from the 8-day water fast (outlined below) were complemented by other activities that I found to be extremely helpful to facilitate the fast including yoga, breathwork, meditation, cold showers, rest, light movement and leaning into/allowing stored emotions to come out.
The Physical Benefits Of Water Fasting
The physical results were all positive. Being 190cm tall and a starting weight of 80kg, it would’ve been ideal to maintain my body weight but I was happy to lose some for the sake of an experiment.
Day 2 kicked off with a noticeable reduction in the subtle inflammation I had around the lower back. Then, throughout the fast, there were distinct releases of fascial and muscular tension around my upper glutes, tailbone and lower back. There was also a sensation from day 4 onwards that I could only describe as ‘cleaning’ of my hands, feet, forearms and shin area. It felt like a strong yet noticeably light and smooth rushing sensation that was slowly massaging out any aches that left these body parts feeling lighter.
Physical energy levels fluctuated from high to low and seemed to be trending downwards over the duration of the 8-day fast, as I expected. On day 3, I was still moving a fair bit and doing some light activities. By day 5 it was tiring to walk up a hill, yet doing tinkering with the campsite was fine. When day 7 came around, I felt very flat – both mentally and physically. I was over it by day 8, so I called it quits.
Hunger came and went. There was no point in the fast where it would not have been nice to have a burger, that goes without saying, and says 2, 6 and 7 seemed to be the toughest. The hardest was on night 6 when returned to civilisation and joined my parents for ‘dinner’. I sat and watched my family eat a beautiful roast and sticky date pudding while I sipped my water.
The mental and emotional side effects of this water fast yielded the most benefit for me, though, I will admit there was a moment when I was lying in my tent alone, the mercury was barely above two degrees, I hadn’t eaten for four days and I thought to myself “why the fuck do I always end up in weird situations like this?”
On a few occasions, I experienced what I can only describe as a ‘purging’ of stored emotions over the course of a few hours. Each time it felt relieving, never concerning. This was something I had been exploring for the months prior, though it seemed intensified during the 8-day fast. Perhaps this was a stack of emotions that I had refused to deal with in the past and had subsequently buried instead. But by passively submitting to these feelings I felt lighter, at ease and generally in better moods. Noticeable emotions were stress/worry (day 2), despair, apathy and lack of motivation (day 3), anger/rage (day 4), sadness, (maybe) grief (day 5), more awareness of underlying fears of judgment, failure, disappointment (day 7). They were tough pills to swallow, but perhaps that was the hardest part.
My mental acuity was sharp throughout and following the fast. While my physical energy was flat, it felt easier to process, retain and recall information. There were some periods of feeling flat. It provided a heightened self-awareness of thoughts, making it easier to ‘observe’ thoughts and bad habits.
It also put a spotlight on my relationship with food and what some bad habits were. I always thought that my relationship was fine i.e. usually eat clean, whole, unprocessed foods, I can eat pretty much whatever I want and not put on weight. In particular, the 8-day fast highlighted that;
- I sometimes eat because I don’t want to lose weight, yet I would also hate the possibility of putting on fat.
- I sometimes eat out of boredom and because it feels good.
- I loved the feeling of being full which sometimes leads to mindless, fast eating just to get to that point.
What Happened When I Broke The Water Fast
Chats with my parents over the duration of the fast progressed from intrigue, to jokingly trying to convince me to break the fast, to strong concern. I’d politely acknowledged their concerns and, on the eighth day, eased their concerns with a text to let them know I had decided to eat again.
From what I read on Zero Fasting, breaking the fast needs to be done gently. Light, clean and easy to digest foods that won’t place too much strain on the stomach. Not too many flavours, either. I went with some chicken bone broth, smashed avocado and all-vegetable crackers. I also worked up to fried eggs and sauteed vegetables.
Eating for the first time in eight days was insane. It’s hard to describe how good food tastes; there was a heightened richness, as well as infinitely more details and nuances to the flavours that I had never noticed before. And once I broke the 8-day fast, the floodgates were open. I was constantly hungry for the following week. I still eat clean, unprocessed foods and in doing so added 6k to my body weight.
These are my key takeaways from my water fasting experience.
- The body is a cleansing machine – It always wants to return itself back to great health. We just need to facilitate its ability to fix itself and give it the right environment to do so – the right water, air, nutrients, rest, mind, love, patience, muscular alignment (stretching/conditioning) and occasionally a break from processing food. It has mechanisms to excrete waste from the organs (we sit down to shit), excrete waste from the lungs/airways (we cough), excrete snot from the nasal passage (we sneeze and blow our noses). Similarly, it has mechanisms to excrete stored emotions with body language, facial expressions and breath. Kids do it naturally. If they get angry, they flex their body, scrunch their face and breath deeply through the nose. If they cry, their chest and back muscles squeeze up and down, they lean forward with a slow panting breath.
- The body has a priority list of things it needs to do – There was one quote that rang true from an athlete I follow, @timmoves, who said [paraphrased]:
‘the body has a priority list of things it needs to get done – it needs to protect the brain, protect the heart, extract oxygen from air, etc, and eventually on that list is ‘break down food’ and all the tasks that come from that. Once your body doesn’t have any food to process, it can now finally go on to items further on the to do list like cleaning organs, muscles, joints and generally just removing impurities.’
- I believe water fasting is a genuine game-changer – Fasting has got a lot to offer. I think more and more research will be put into it over the coming years. I think that it will slowly become a part of everyday life for a lot of people and that it will become more incorporated into holistic health practices.
- I’ll do it again – Given the physical, mental and emotional benefits that I continue to get from water fasting, I’ll be exploring what the right fasting regime is for my body. I’ll test: a 2 day fast each week, a 7 day fast each quarter and, at the end of the year, a longer 10/15 day fast.
- One question remains unanswered – What does the body really need? My answer to this is still inconclusive. Taste and hunger are not reliable indicators. I’m leaning more towards eating based on intuition and listening to the body.
Again, feel free to drop any questions in the comments or slide in on my Instagram – @lachygordon77.