Many religions and cultures practice fasting as a way to purify oneself in spiritual matters by denying earthly temptations such as food and water. For instance, during Ramadan my Muslim friends do not eat or drink while the sun is up for about 30 days. While they can eat and drink late at night or early morning, it is very difficult to practice fasting throughout the day.
Fasting has been practiced for thousands of years, sometimes involuntarily, but it has tremendous benefits...
I entered college fresh from playing football my senior year weighing about 200lbs. I was into weight lifting and carried my fat in my legs and tummy. I didn't care too much about diet; however, since this was my first experience being away from home I was now responsible for cooking my own meals. I was a poor college student. I became an opportunistic eater, such as when school functions featured free pizza or snacks. At my apartment, my roommate taught me how to make spaghetti. I ate mostly cereal and processed foods that could be prepared quickly such as ramen noodles. In spite of this terrible diet I somehow managed to lose weight into an incredibly lean 165lbs! I managed to keep the weight off throughout my college career.
I figured it was all the walking to and from class, but that was only part of the reason...
After college I began working long hours and instead of cooking I chose to eat fast food as a more convenient measure. I soon ballooned back to my football weight with interest. With what little free time I had, I would spend hours working out at the gym to get back into shape; however, I only managed to bulk up with even more muscle. I needed to lose the fat, but couldn't figure it out. I would run until my knees were sore, but the results were minimal. Then, after frustration with my life I turned to prayer.
In my prayers, I was led to boxing. It was like working out, but with a purpose. I chose to forgo lifting weights in exchange for high intensity exercises. I noticed some small weight changes which were encouraging. The 'magic' really started when I connected my diet with my working out. I was training for the Golden Gloves Boxing Tournament and so I decided to put my mind, body, and spirit into training. I needed to feed my body better building blocks to repair damage, to strengthen muscles, and to recover. I began to cook healthy meals for the first time in my life and like magic the weight came off. I justified poor diet before by telling myself that I had earned the rewards of enjoying a bag of chips, fast food, or pizza by working hard that day. When I denied myself these comfort foods and drinks, my body transformed remarkably fast! In six weeks I was back to my lean 165lb shape. This time the weight stayed off for nearly 10yrs.
I did not realize it at the time but I was fasting when I denied myself from eating or drinking certain foods. Flash forward to present day, I found myself bulking up at the gym and gaining some happy fat. I tried healthy diets for months only to find minor weight benefits. It did not seem worth the struggle. I tried to remember how I ate before so that I could quickly return to my lean frame...
After some research I came to the radical conclusion of water fasting, which involves only drinking water for the duration of the fast. I needed to shock my body into a state of burning fat (ketosis) instead of relying on a reduced caloric diet which to me is like a slow starvation. Long ago, I used to shock people when I told them that I sometimes forgot to eat that day. My body would enter into ketosis unbeknownst to me when I would intermittently fast on the occassional day. It would use fat stores in my body as fuel. The body is versatile and can use either available food or fat reserves to convert into energy. When people eat a reduced caloric diet, often times they starve themselves enough for their body to kick into ketosis and tap into their fat reserves to shore up required energy. This works, but it takes a long time and many people break their diets long enough to prevent their bodies from getting close to ketosis and end up in frustration when results are slow to come. I found that it takes about 6hrs before my body enters into a basic form of ketosis, but results really amp up if I can prolong my fast for a day or two.
Most research says to consult a doctor before attempting a water fast, but I figured I was in decent enough shape to try it out. I finished my last meal with my parents and brother Sunday night before heading back to Austin that night. I woke up hungry in the morning, but chose to drink 0 calorie coffee instead. Later that day when my hunger returned I drank water, lots of water. I went for a walk in the afternoon and prepared my mind for the fasting journey. The next morning was not bad. I had my coffee and proceeded to instruct my boxing classes with a light work out for myself. I felt tired while driving back home, but rested after bathing and a book. That evening I went for another walk.
Day 3 was shocking to me. I had strange dreams the previous nights with very little sleep; however, I was starting to fantasize about food. My senses were oddly enhanced, especially my sense of smell. I could smell delicious food from across the highway which was insane with my already wolf-like nose. My eyes were starting to sink-in and become sensitive to light. By day 4, I once again taught my boxing class and started to notice people being drawn into me. I don't fully understand the reason for this, but where ever I went, people were drawn to me with polite smiles and extra customer service. I was also beginning to have some serious hunger pains. Temptations for food were everywhere! I felt low energy.
Day 5 was easier, but still difficult. I cannot believe that I had not eaten in 5 days and was still able to function relatively well, even working out sometimes. My muscles seemed to fill out my t-shirts and pants, but my stomach area was less bloated and flat. I weighed myself and was shocked to see that I was losing about 2lbs a day! I was in ketosis, using fat reserves to fuel my body. I started to take a melatonin supplement to help me stay asleep as insomnia is a common side affect of water fasting. In addition to water, I would sometimes add salt to help control my electrolytes and prevent heart and muscle spasms. Anytime I would feel the pangs of hunger I would drink a full glass of water; however, my mind would constantly fantasize about food which would cause the pangs to return so I had to keep distracted. I would read, watch movies, or go for walks. Working out while in Ketosis burns even more fat; however, the energy crash after is tough. There are many other side affects which are quite interesting to learn about your body even after almost 40yrs!
Day 7 will be when I break my fast after mass (with the Eucharist) in the evening which is when I enjoyed my last meal with my family one week prior. When breaking a fast it is important to start slow. My first meal will be an organic watermelon and some beef broth. I have already noticed my throat starting to hurt when I swallow, and I can only imagine the way my stomach will react to food after 168hrs!
I can honestly say this has been an amazing experience in all things, mind, body, and spirit. Mind because it takes massive amounts of will power to control the body. Body because I have lost over 10lbs and am very close to my lean 165lbs. Spirit because I have prayed for my own hunger pains to subside, in addition to feeling the pain that millions of hungry poor people and starving children are experiencing right this minute.
I never realized how much a part of our day is spent on worrying about food. It can become an obsession. I felt bored at home instead of planing a trip to the grocery store, or a restaurant for lunch, dinner, or whatever. Most people gain weight in a relationship because so much time is spent together eating while portion control turns to finishing each other's plates. I am anticipating my own relationship with food as I plan to feed my body the best quality nutrients that I can afford. I was amazed to discover that some people have water fasted for over a month, and shocked to learn some for over a year! The human body is truly amazing. Fasting has been documented and practiced by ancient philosophers for its many healing, physical, and mental benefits. Now I know for myself these secrets and why I was able to accomplish the diet feats of my youth.
―Mathew 4:4 "It is written, Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God"