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It’s been around 25 years since I started skipping food.
Usually for days at a time.
Recently [February-March 2018], I went on an open-ended doxastic fast, which lasted over 18 days and turned out to be one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done.
In this missive, I will share some of my experience fasting, but – as always – this is NOT advice.
I began my experiments with fasting when I was barely a teenager. Some of it was about building discipline and proofing myself with Blood in the Game, but I was primarily motivated by getting my physical fitness at a level where I could get girls.
Then, as now, I experimented with a variety of diets and workouts.
Some weeks I ate only after getting home from martial arts (just before midnight) and only pommes-frites with piles of cheese on top (roughly 1 kg of fried potatoes each dinner). Other times I would cut out fats completely and go all-vegetable. And so on. But let’s keep this strictly about not eating food and leave macronutrients and healthy eating for another time.
What Is Fasting?
To me, intermittent fasting isn’t fasting. Anything under 24 hours isn’t fasting.
Intermittent fasting is just a fancy name for what a natural human diet ought to be like based on evolutionary principles – intermittent eating.
I’d take that even further: no breakfast, no snacking or drink calories, and best just eating a big dinner before bedtime – at whatever time of day that would be.
Extended periods of food restriction such as Orthodox lent and as found in yoga practice would probably qualify as fasting, but for this missive let’s just take fasting to mean ingesting no calories.
My Experience of Fasting
My typical fast lasts three days and I’ve never had a regular schedule of doing it. Although I’m considering one as an experiment, right now I’m more interested in fasting as a doxastic practice.
I never counted, but I may have done these 3-day fasts over 100 times.
The baseline is to consume only water midnight-to-midnight for three days. No calories.
Sometimes I also take aspirin and creatin, but that supplementing is unrelated to the fast itself, and most of the time I fast without anything but water. No appetite suppressants and, typically, no other supplements. I’d estimate my success rate (not quitting the fast before the 3-day period has ended) at about 80-90%.
The one critical ingredient of a successful – and healthful – fast is water.
One of the first high-value discoveries I made because of fasting was about the tremendous importance of water for performance and wellbeing.
Dehydration is a common cause of sleepiness and lack of energy. Getting those four liters of water every day (sometimes in the form of unsweetened tea) is essential, especially while fasting. Because while fasting you don’t have food as a source of hydration (you get water from food both directly and as part of the metabolism).
My guess is that a lot of people who experience weakness, dizziness or other adverse effects during an extended fast, typically do so because they get dehydrated. Or because they don’t have the right mental frame going into and during the fasting period.
I wrote a very detailed breakdown on mastering the basics of mind-body maintenance in The Foundations of Awareness.
The Fasting Frame: Getting to It
Most people are seriously daunted by the idea of not eating.
I can’t possibly overstate how much of a successful and enjoyable fast – or a miserable failure of one – is about the idea, the psychology of it, than any other physiological process.
Throughout life, especially in the developed world, people are bombarded with food options and a mythology that you need to eat at regular intervals.
There is ZERO credible evidence that periodic meals, let alone snacking all the time, is necessary. If anything, my overall energy level, life satisfaction and performance improve significantly if I eat only once a day or not at all.
If you’ve never fasted and you’re hooked on sugar and refined carbohydrates (RCs), you might experience discomfort and even early-onset withdrawal (pre-ketotic withdrawal usually doesn’t come until day 4-6 of getting off the RC addiction). Chronic diseases such as diabetes may also have an impact, as will your unique metabolism, so beginner beware.
My take is that if you don’t do something extreme while fasting (a 10-day desert retreat) and trust your instincts, you’ll be just fine if you tried your own fasting regimen. My fasting formula is simple: start small and trust your instincts.
If you have trouble committing even to not eating for 24 hours, you can use your gluttony to overcome your fear. Plan out a disgustingly lavish feast of whatever you desire for right after the fast and use that as an incentive to stop eating for a while. It’s best to pick something rare, expensive or an infrequent indulgence for best results. Beginners, especially those who are overweight or have other diseases, should be extra careful not to overeat too much when they get off the fast – just until your metabolism gets used to the variance. And chew that bloody stake!
Some of you may want to try public commitments as a way to shame themselves into doing a fast. That’s never worked for me because I don’t care about approval.
In the early days, fasting didn’t come that easy, but it wasn’t a matter of being hungry. I craved food as a comfort and an escape from being stressed and anxious.
Those unhealthy drives fell away as I figured out what to do with myself. Fasting itself was a big part of that journey.
With practice, I simply came to want – even need – to fast.
Nowadays, if I go a couple of weeks without fasting, I start feeling physically uncomfortable because I sense I’m below my top performance level (although I still feel great).
Fasting is its own reward.
What Does Fasting Do?
In the early days of my life, before I started my fasting practice, I would get ill very frequently.
I often got sick on purpose so I could skip school because it was mind-numbingly boring. I’d have colds and flu 7-8 times a year, plus the occasional midsummer pneumonia.
Antibiotics were a staple in my diet.
Even when I wasn’t sick, I’d sleep a lot and spend a lot of time in bed just because I didn’t want to get out of it. I was moody, had infrequent panic attacks and would get depressed for weeks on end.
None of those problems are part of my life now and haven’t been for a very long time. Fasting didn’t magically eradicate all that, but it sure seems to have been a huge part of the remedy. I’m deeply engaged in life and haven’t had so much as a cold in at least a couple of years.
In my experience, the long-term benefits of fasting surpass those of any other practice or lifestyle change you can make. And it saves you money!
I’m not making such claims on the basis of the budding medical literature about the benefits of fasting – as a cancer treatment, among other applications.
My direct experience of the fast screams healthfulness in its own right.
I will report here only the effects of my recent 18-day doxastic fast because they are the freshest and it’s the most “extreme” fast I’ve done to date.
Even after so many years of practice, I was absolutely SHOCKED by the experience.
The only noticeable discomfort was the mild RC withdrawal as my metabolism switched onto ketosis around the fifth and sixth day.
The following two weeks, I felt nothing short of SUPERHUMAN. When I decided to call it and eat some, I physically did not want to.
What’s It Like to Feel Like a God?
High-energy as I am, I’ve never been so ACTIVATED in my entire life. My brain was ON – and with a razor-sharp focus and deliberateness.
While I typically sleep about five-six hours a day, I cut down to about four, often in the form of several short naps. I couldn’t stand the idea of sleep.
I was bursting with mental and physical energy and craved action and engagement and productivity. This was ketotic ecstasy.
I even developed a habit of sleeping on the couch in my workspace because I felt borderline disgusted about lying in a bed. So much did I hunger – not for food, but to get to it and get things done.
Physically, I felt better than ever and even went for a run one day, but refrained from further HIT exercise as a precaution to losing muscle tissue.
No nootropic I have tried has brought me even close to such a HIGH of sustained hectic productivity and deliberate concentration for days and days and days.
I can’t wait to do it again, and for longer.
Fasting has had such a transformative effect on my life that I’m working on a book about it. The book will cover everything you need to know to get on a fasting routine and use it to level up your life.
When the Patreon community reaches 108, eligible patrons will get a FREE EXCLUSIVE PDF copy of my book on fasting. To qualify for the giveaway, you must have pledged at least $5 in the month the goal is reached, and been a patron for at least 3 months.
I reserve the right to close the promotion early and make the FREE PDF distribution to qualifying patrons at any time, so hurry up and sign up now at this link: https://www.patreon.com/startupdaemon. The print edition will retail at $65 a pop, no electronic nonsense!
If you make a pledge of $5 or more right now, you’ll also get access to the 22 Time-Tested Techniques That Make GREAT Writing a Consistent Habit.
The access gate goes to $30 in less than 12 hours (midnight US eastern time), then $90, then $265 a month. Make sure you print or save the list somewhere safe before that happens.
You can apply all 22 principles to ANY creative field – from musical composition to interior design to programming. The list just WORKS.
Now go forth and conquer!
PS: This missive was originally published on startupdaemon.net in March 2018. I’m sharing it on the daily email with some improvements because fasting is so POWERFUL in enhancing performance – and every aspect of life.