I completed my water fast yesterday. I fasted for 17 days and 3 hours, which is longer than I’ve ever fasted before. This post is a summary of the experience, building upon what I shared on Day 6 of the fast.
This isn’t the same world people lived in 100 years ago. The unfortunate truth is that we now live in an environment filled with toxins that our bodies weren’t evolved to efficiently eliminate. These toxins include pesticides, herbicides, pollution, heavy metals, plastics, animal hormones, pharmaceuticals, radiation, and more. We’re exposed to such toxins merely by drinking water, breathing air, and eating food, so consuming toxins is a part of everyday modern life. We’re all toxic to some degree or another, and some people are more sensitive to this than others.
Symptoms of excess toxicity include:
- chronic fatigue or laziness
- mental fogginess
- difficulty concentrating
- being easily distracted
- depression, anxiety, or persistent negative emotions
- skin problems
- joint or muscle pain
- digestive problems
Even being slightly toxic can and does degrade your mental and emotional functioning, especially your ability to focus well for long periods of time, to discipline yourself, to solve problems intelligently, and to enjoy positive emotions. Your mental and emotional state is a good indicator of how toxic you are on the inside. Unfortunately many people today have no clue what real mental clarity feels like. What they consider to be normal is actual mental sluggishness.
I’ve experienced notable increases in mental clarity, focus, and motivation from various detox protocols I’ve tried, starting with dietary detox many years ago and then experimenting with substances that can help draw toxins out of the body. Over the past year, I’ve ramped up my detoxification efforts, and I’ve been delighted with the improvements in mental clarity and endurance. Working 14-hour days has become a breeze (when I want to do so). I can plow through large amounts of work like it’s nothing, such as doing four workshops in four months.
You may think that detoxification is a minor deal, like doing a one-time liver flush. After all, how much effort could it really take to get most of the toxins out? I saw one estimate that said you’d have to eat 100% raw for seven years to do a really thorough detox, and even then you won’t purge everything that shouldn’t be there. Our bodies just weren’t evolved to handle the toxic load they’re being exposed to today, but fortunately we can help speed things along.
My main motivation for water fasting was to continue moving toxins out of the body. I’ve already seen great benefits from doing so, and I want to keep making progress here. A water fast seemed like another good detox avenue to explore.
When you water fast, your body doesn’t have to spend any energy on digestion. The process of digestion is a huge resource hog, using up to 2/3 of your available energy. With this extra energy (as your body switches to burning fat for fuel), it can focus on clearing out toxins (many of which are stored in fat cells), cleansing the blood, clearing out unhealthy cells, and strengthening organs to function more efficiently. There are numerous repair processes that only get activated while fasting. It’s a perfectly natural experience that other animals do as well.
I also read about some great benefits that people experienced from fasting, and I wanted to see how it compared to forms of detoxification I’ve tried. So I was driven mainly by curiosity and the potential mental benefits.
The Fasting Experience
I had my last meal (a green smoothie) on the morning of August 25th, so I called the start time at 10:15am that morning. I figured it would be easier to begin the fast in the morning after a meal, and in retrospect I think that was a good idea. The first several hours of a fast are pretty easy, so I wanted those hours to be during the daytime. That way when I began feeling hungry, I’d get to sleep and advance the fast for several more hours while sleeping. If I had begun the fast after an evening meal, then I’d be wasting a sleep period on the easiest hours.
Because I ate that morning, the first day was indeed pretty easy, and I was just as productive as usual. I felt hungry in the evening, and by then it was time for bed.
Days 2 and 3 were the hardest. I felt hungry a lot, my energy was low, and it was hard to concentrate. I couldn’t get much done those days, but I expected that to happen, so I took it easy. When it felt difficult, I reminded myself to just take it one hour at a time. I loved when it started getting dark since then I could sleep through several more hours of the fast. The first three days took the most self-discipline of the whole fast. My goal each day was just to endure until bedtime.
Day 4 I started feeling a bit better, but I still felt some hunger now and then. By the fifth day I was no longer hungry and starting to feel better. I still had very low physical energy though.
Up until about Day 10, each day was a toss-up as to how I’d feel. On Day 6 I felt great and was mentally active all day. One day during that stretch, I had enough energy to go out and run some errands. On other days I felt sluggish and foggy, and I was lucky if I could be productive for an hour or two. It was hard to predict how I’d feel each day, and sometimes my energy would change partway through the day. Even though I wasn’t hungry per se, I thought about food often. I missed the experience of the daily ritual. But I took it one day at a time, and I gradually got used to the different rhythm of each day without food.
I gave myself permission not to work during the fast, but I liked working when I could because it was a good way to pass the time when I wasn’t feeling great. It distracted me from thinking about food, better than anything else such as watching movies, and I enjoy my work a lot too.
The fasting days felt longer because there was no food preparation, no eating, no cleaning up, and no exercising, so having a good way to pass the time helped keep my spirits up. Since I wasn’t expecting to be productive during the fast, any work I completed felt like a bonus.
My kitchen stayed clean during the fast because I wasn’t doing anything to make it messy. I didn’t have to do dishes once during the fast, although my counter gradually piled up with water glasses. This might sound odd, but I actually missed the ritual of loading and unloading the dishwasher too.
After about the 11th day, my mental energy and alertness were pretty good. I can’t say that I experienced any amazing degree of mental clarity like some fasters report, but that could be because I’ve done so much detox already. It was really easy to get a lot of work done during my final week of the fast. I could put in a 14-hour day and not even feel tired at the end. I also felt a nice boost in self-discipline and motivation during that time. I didn’t need any meal breaks, so I could work flat out for hours. I finished several small projects such as cleaning up and reorganizing my computer files.
When it was getting close to bedtime and I was stilling working, one part of my mind told me to call it for the day, but behaviorally I kept right on working for another hour or two. Instead of having to push myself to get more done, I had the opposite experience. I had to push myself to stop working because it was so easy to flow from one action to the next automatically. It was like having a subconscious “do it now” effortlessly motivating me to keep going. If that part sticks around after the fast, and it seems to still be there now, it’ll be great for an ongoing productivity boost.
Based on my experience during the first week of the fast, I was not looking forward to continuing. I kept setting mini-goals like making it to 3 days, 5 days, a week, 10 days, etc. I had two in-person meetups scheduled for the second week, and I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough energy for them. Some days it took a lot of effort just to get off the couch and refill my water glass.
Eventually that sluggishness passed, and I had abundant energy to handle the meetups, which were on Days 13 and 14 of the fast. It was also nice to go out and enjoy some social time since most days of the fast I stayed home alone. For the most part it was a solitary experience.
Even though I didn’t eat during the fast, I found it comforting to go around my kitchen now and then and smell a bunch of things. I especially loved the scents of tahini, peanut butter, and sriracha sauce. The smell of food is a big part of the eating experience, and at least I could still experience that type of sensory input without breaking the fast. So when I started missing food, I went on a sniffing tour of my home. You may find it surprising, but this didn’t tempt me to eat. It felt like a different kind of sensory reward. Even if you’re not fasting, I’d encourage you to try this for yourself. Go sniff a bunch of aromatic foods in your kitchen, and really breathe in the aromas and enjoy them fully. This is probably better on a fast though because the sense of smell becomes heightened.
Other than walking now and then, I didn’t attempt to exercise during the fast. I’d read that this was a bad idea, as it burns more muscle tissue and takes energy away from healing and detoxification. On a few days of the fast, I had decent physical energy and could walk an hour without difficulty, although I had to walk much slower than usual. On other days I couldn’t walk 15 minutes without needing a rest break, even right up until the last day of the fast. When I’m not fasting, I can normally walk for hours with no trouble. I like to be physically active, so it took me a while to get used to not moving much. According to my Apple Watch, in the past week I only burned more than 200 calories from movement on two days (including just moving around the house), so most days I was below that. I wanted to move more, but I didn’t have the energy for it. I kept reminding myself that during the fast my energy was better spent on internal cleanup.
In the first few days of the fast, I had some intense and vivid dreams, but for most of the fast my dreams were nothing special. On many nights I had a harder time falling asleep than usual. Normally I’m able to fall asleep within seconds, but on several days of the fast, it took me 30-60 minutes to fall asleep, even though I was sleepy when I went to bed. That was probably due to the outgoing toxins messing with my hormones. While fasting, cells dump their toxins into the bloodstream, which can cause a variety of side effects. This wasn’t a big deal since I just slept in later on those days. I didn’t get up with an alarm during the fast since I wasn’t sure how much sleep I’d need. Most days I slept about 8 hours, which is longer than usual for me.
I felt more emotionally sensitive during the fast (a common experience), and I had some emotional detox on some days (i.e. random emotional shifts), especially feelings of stress and anxiety. Those feelings cleared up after the first week, and I began feeling more positive and optimistic once again.
In the last week of the fast, some of my skin started looking a bit scaly. After having some food though, that seems to be clearing up. I didn’t get any acne like some fasters experience.
Some people say that fasting is a spiritual experience. I can’t say that I felt any special sense of spiritual connection during the fast though. It was mostly a physical experience and an endurance challenge. Maybe it would have been different if I fasted with other people at a retreat center. Or perhaps it was because my intention was to fast for the physical and mental benefits. I’d say that the experience really grounded me in my body.
In one sense the fast was physically difficult, but I think the biggest challenge was psychological. I skipped 51 meals, and during the first week or so, I really felt the absence of each meal when I normally would have eaten something. By the second week, that feeling gradually started to fade, and I got used to the absence of meals.
By the time I reached Day 17, I felt like I could have kept going without much difficulty. Going another week or two didn’t seem so burdensome at that point, especially since I had the mental energy to be productive during that last week. But in the beginning, it was a one day at a time or even a one hour at a time mindset that kept me going. I’m really glad it got easier as I went along.
For the last three days of the fast, I experienced some mild stomach cramping. It wasn’t too bad though, and it was only present for a few hours each day. The cramping went away once I started having food again.
If I had more time available, I would have kept going longer than 17 days, but September 11 was my deadline for breaking the fast due to an upcoming trip this week. The reason I wanted to keep going is that I could tell my body wasn’t done detoxifying when I stopped. I still had the white coating on my tongue and really noxious breath, and true hunger hadn’t returned yet. So I’m slightly disappointed that I didn’t give my body the time it needed to complete the process, but I can always try a longer fast later.
I started at 183.8 pounds, and on the morning of the day I broke the fast, I weighed 165.2, so I lost 18.6 pounds.
Here’s the day by day progression:
- Day 0 – 183.8
- Day 1 – 180.8 (-3.0)
- Day 2 – 179.6 (-1.2)
- Day 3 – 178.4 (-1.2)
- Day 4 – 176.0 (-2.4)
- Day 5 – 175.0 (-1.0)
- Day 6 – 173.4 (-1.6)
- Day 7 – 172.4 (-1.0)
- Day 8 – 172.2 (-0.2)
- Day 9 – 170.6 (-1.6)
- Day 11 – 169.4 (-1.2)
- Day 12 – 168.2 (-1.2)
- Day 13 – 167.8 (-0.4)
- Day 14 – 167.2 (-0.6)
- Day 15 – 166.2 (-1.0)
- Day 16 – 165.4 (-0.8)
- Day 17 – 165.2 (-0.2)
The average weight loss per day was 1.1 pounds.
The day after breaking the fast, my weight rebounded to 167.6 (+2.4) pounds, which is expected as the body now has some food in its digestive tract, and it also begins adding back some water.
I lost 0.875 inches in each arm (mid-bicep circumference), 1 inch in each leg (mid-thigh), 0.875 inches in my chest, 2.375 inches in my waist, and 1.125 inches in my hips.
Presently I’m at my lowest weight since the 1990s, even lower than I was at the end of my 30-day juice feast in 2008.
Aside from the self-discipline challenge and setting aside the time to do it, I think a major reason that fasting isn’t a more popular form of weight loss is that it’s hard to commercialize it, so we aren’t bombarded with marketing messages about it. There are significant profits to be made in selling diet books, weight loss programs, gym memberships, personal training, nutritional consulting, exercise equipment, etc. So that’s where the marketing dollars go.
You could pay thousands of dollars to go on a fasting retreat with a professional, and if you have a serious medical issue and need daily supervision, that may be the way to go. Even then, there are some so-so retreat organizers out there who can make your experience worse by pushing you when they shouldn’t, and you can find horror stories about that on YouTube. But if you’re generally healthy and just do it on your own like I did, it actually saves you money since you don’t have to buy food or use any food-related appliances like the dishwasher or stove. The downside is that you may not be very productive.
Breaking the Fast
I know from my 30-day juice feasting experience that it’s important to transition back to food gradually. With a water fast, the body needs time to ramp up the production of digestive juices and enzymes, which bottomed out during the fast. It’s considered a bad idea to dive into heavier foods too quickly.
I researched how to break a water fast, so I could do it carefully and not stress my body too much. I decided to break the fast starting with fresh fruit and having small meals throughout the day.
Yesterday I ate the following five meals, spaced roughly two hours apart and starting at 1pm.
- cantaloupe slices
- romaine lettuce and avocado salad (with 1 Tbs olive oil, juice of one lime, and a little Himalayan salt)
- miso soup with nori flakes and chopped green onion from my garden
- steamed broccoli with a small amount of hummus
This is slightly more aggressive than some fasters would recommend. Some would say it’s best to start slower with diluted fruit or veggie juice before progressing to solid foods. After starting with the fruit, I felt that my body could handle more. I also don’t have time to break the fast too gradually since I’m leaving for London in two days, and I don’t want to still be in transition mode while traveling. I figured it was better to fast for an extra day or two and then transition a little faster, especially since I’m transitioning back to a whole foods vegan diet, not super toxic animal products.
For the most part, I handled this first transition day reasonably well. I needed a nap after eating the strawberries, and I had some gassiness after eating the salad, but I felt great after eating the miso soup and later the broccoli. They seemed to digest just fine. I started having bowel movements again too (after not having any for two weeks), with the first being in the middle of the night and then a couple more this morning. So my digestion seems to be returning to normal without much difficulty.
I had heard that food tastes absolutely amazing after a fast because the taste buds become more sensitive. I’ve experienced this after my 30-day juice feast and whenever I’ve eaten 100% raw for 30+ days and then tasted cooked food again. So I was looking forward to the sensory experience.
The cantaloupe I ate tasted just okay. I definitely wouldn’t describe it as amazing, so I was a little disappointed there. I think it could have just been a so-so cantaloupe though. It’s also possible that since my tongue was still coated at that time, that coating may have blocked some of the flavor. All the other foods I ate that day were truly amazing though. The salad was so delicious, even though it was really simple. I deeply enjoyed every sip of the miso soup, and the tiny green onion pieces exploded with flavor. The broccoli was an exquisite sensory delight as well. I hope this heightened sensitivity lasts for a while because it’s really nice, especially after not eating for so long.
Now that I’m eating again, I appreciate the experience of eating so much more. Even taking the time to prepare food is a joy. I like touching the produce, feeling the texture of it, and smelling it. The fasting experience is making me slow down and enjoy every bite as well.
This morning I worked for a few hours before I even felt like eating. Normally I’d have an early breakfast, but after fasting it no longer feels like such a big deal to delay eating. My first meal was a green smoothie (two bananas, spinach, a clementine, and some fresh pineapple), which I sipped while writing this article.
For the rest of the day, I’ll probably have a little more fruit and salad, and maybe another bowl of miso soup (so good!). If I’m still feeling good, I may make some roasted potatoes and onions for dinner and see how my body reacts. I’m hoping that by tomorrow evening, I can handle a bowl of udon noodles with steamed bok choy and some peanut-ginger-garlic sauce, which is something I was craving a lot during the fast. So tasty!
One reason I’m including miso is that it’s a fermented food, so it can help repopulate the beneficial gut bacteria that may have died off during the fast, and it’s really low in calories (like 50 calories for a large bowl), so there isn’t much to digest.
My physical energy is gradually coming back up. Yesterday I still felt sluggish, but today I’m feel a lot more energetic, especially after the smoothie. Yesterday I still got dizzy when I stood up, but today that seems to be gone too – wonderful! It’s so nice to stand up from my desk and start walking immediately without having to wait a few seconds for the dizziness to pass.
I didn’t exercise at all during the fast, so I’m looking forward to finally moving more. I’ve mostly stayed at home during this time, so it will be nice to head out soon for about three weeks of travel (London and Rome).
It’s too soon for me to tell what the long-term benefits will be, but as of this morning, my mind feels sharp and alert, I’m feeling good, I’m super grateful to be eating again, and I feel extra happy and excited about my life.
This was a challenging experience, especially the first week, but now that I know what to expect, I can see myself doing this again. I’d love to try a longer fast of 20-30 days. I don’t have another open stretch of time to do that this year, but I’m open to doing it in a future year. I’d like to reach the point where the detox naturally ends and true hunger returns, which I wasn’t able to reach on this fast.
Having this 17-day fast as a reference experience has also shifted my perspective on going without food for shorter periods. Skipping a meal or fasting for a day seems like nothing now.
It’s really wonderful tackling new growth experiences. This one challenged me in ways that were definitely outside my comfort zone. I feel a lot different about fasting now than I did three weeks ago, as the interior perspective of an experience is always different than the outside looking in.
It’s too early to say what the long-term benefits or effects will be, but I feel pretty optimistic based on how I feel today and from previous detox experiences. Perhaps the real spiritual benefit to be gained is what comes after going through this tunnel.
If you’re wondering what my next big personal growth experiment will be, I’ll share that in a future post. This one will be a very unusual 30-day trial, and Rachelle is going to do it with me. It’s not a sexual one – it’s just really odd. Some people already know about it. I’ve been on the fence about doing this one for many months, and I haven’t heard of anyone doing an experiment like this before. This experiment will be starting right after the Conscious Entrepreneur Workshop in October, and it requires us to leave town the day after the event. It’s going to be one of the strangest trials I’ve ever done. Rachelle and I really don’t know how it will affect us, but we expect we’re going to learn something from it that will shift our perspective on life. I’m still not sure if this one is a good idea, and I can’t predict how it will turn out, but we’re committed to it now. 🙂