“Every society is three meals away from chaos” – Vladimir Lenin.
It seems that half of the world is starving while the other half is trying to lose weight. I am part of the latter group.
Nearly 2 years ago, I fell from a three-legged stool and somehow managed to land on its edge as I hit the floor. I broke a couple of ribs. For nearly 2 months I couldn’t move. Husband took time off work and stayed home to help me do basic things like going to the loo or have a bath.
During this time, husband spoiled me rotten, buying me a variety of chocolate cakes and Becherovka drinks. While it took me 2 months to be mobile, it took another 6 months to be back to normal and be fully functional. Breathing deeply and simply walking around the mountains would hurt my chest. So for a while, I couldn’t exercise.
I put 20kg over my normal weight. Given my size, I look like a little barrel. It’s easier to jump me than walk around me. I am almost convinced that if I put any more weight, I would start having gravitational pull and attract minor objects to circle around my orbit.
I exercise on and off. I have erratic eating habits and sleeping patterns. It is hard for me to keep to an schedule. And even though I eat reasonably healthy (home-made meals), I haven’t dropped a single kilogram since I recovered from my injury.
My reason for losing weight has a lot less to do with appearance and a lot more with my inability to afford a new wardrobe.
A couple of days ago I decided to try fasting and see if it yields any benefits. I have always noticed that friends who fast during Ramadan tend to be of lean complexion. People have been fasting for thousands of years. But most recently the scientific community has started to explore the benefits of fasting.
I downloaded a little phone app I found via an advertisement and I instantly wanted to try it. I set up all my details like weight and height and off I went. At first I didn’t know what I was getting myself up to, nor did I have the mind for it. I only lasted 8 and a half hours.
Hunger is not a novel concept for me. Having experienced it unwillingly on and off over the years. But this time is different. This is a voluntary project that I want to try based on it’s alleged health benefits. I am not expecting to lose any weight. If I do, it will be a plus, but I am looking at it from the purported health benefits.
I also had another idea in mind. I wanted to experiment what it feels like physically and mentally. I wanted the challenge to know if after 3 meals, society would truly be ready for revolution. I wanted to know how it would affect my psyche and how it could, potentially, affect those of other people.
When you are fasting, you can drink tea and black coffee and plenty of water. I am cheating with coffee by adding a dash of milk, a spoonful of 1.5%. I don’t think it meets the dietary requirements to be consider as nourishment.
I ate and prepared myself mentally to start fasting. I lasted 23.2 hours.
- For the first 2 hours you feel pretty normal because your body is going through the regular process of breaking down glycogen. Your blood sugar raises and your pancreas releases insulin to break down glucose for energy. It stores the extra glucose for later.
- Between 2 and 5 hours your blood sugar falls to near normal as a result of the effects of insulin. Here is your mind telling you that you haven’t eaten in sometime. Ignore it.
- Between the 5 and 8 hour mark, is when you start feeling hungry. Your stomach rumbles and reminds you that it has been a while since your last meal. However, you are not that hungry. This is when coffee comes in handy as it is a natural appetite suppressant, due to a protein known as “PYY”. Just keep in mind that coffee elevates cortisol, so don’t over do it.
- From 8 to 10 hours you enter a state known as Gluconeogenesis. This is a metabolic pathway that results in the generation of glucose from body fat instead of carbohydrates. It increases your calorie burning.
Since a lot of fasting is done while you sleep, I started my fasting a few hours before bedtime. It was during this period that I woke up the next morning.
I don’t usually have breakfast. Just 2-3 coffees. So no eating for a few hours wasn’t a biggie for me.
- Between 10 and 12 hours, your body has little glycogen left. With little glycogen left, adipocyte cells will release fat into your bloodstream. They also go straight into your liver and are converted into energy for your body. Actually, you are tricking your body into burning fat in order to survive.
- By lunch time, within the period of 12 to 18 hours, I had entered what is known as Ketosis State. Ketosis is a metabolic state where ketones become the main sources of energy for the body and brain. The Glycogen is almost used up and your liver converts fat into ketone bodies as an alternative energy source.
Ketosis has been found to have beneficial responses in epilepsy patients, specially children. Ketosis and ketogenic diets may also have other therapeutic effects in conditions such as: heart diseases, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Cancer, among others.
Regardless of benefits from metabolic Ketosis, I was feeling hungry. To take my mind off things, I took Misha for a 2-hour walk around the countryside. It coincide that it was a lovely and sunny day, about 6 degrees Celsius, which was a pleasant change from the constant windstorms and rains we had this year.
- Between the 18 and 24 hour mark, your body has switched into fat-burning mode. The level of Ketone bodies rises. Ketone acts as signalling molecules telling your body how to better regulate its metabolism in a stressful environment.
By the 19th hour, I was daydreaming of big hamburgers and fries. I was envisioning rib-eye steaks with creamy sauce and sauté vegetables. I decided to take a nap. I slept well for an hour and half. When I woke up I no longer had pains of hunger. My body seemed to be ok without food. But my mind kept intruding. Non-stop showing me mental images of delicious dishes.
I finally caved in after 23 hours. I made myself a bacon and cheese sandwich, French fries, a fried egg and some fried peppers. I also had a banana for dessert.
It has been 14 hours since my last meal. I have entered once more into the Ketosis metabolic state. I drink non-stop water and tea. So far, I have lost 1.5 kilograms.
My plan this time is to reach the 75 hours benchmark, and then, if I see any benefits, I might consider a 24 hour fasting once a week. Or a 3-day streak once a month, or once in a while.
I understand that a 75-hour fasting period is easier said than done. I understand that I might cave into weakness. If that is the likely case, I will do just one strong meal every twenty four hours for the next 3 days.
There are several health reasons I want to try this. Digestive problems, and a family history of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Lately I am having some health issues, which I am unsure if they are due to hormonal imbalance or due to more serious, underlying conditions. Fasting for longer periods of time, can show the following benefits:
- Between the 24 and 48 hour period, the body triggers autophagy, meaning self-devouring. At this point is when cells start to clean up their house. They remove unnecessary or dysfunctional components.
During autophagy, cells break down viruses, bacteria and damaged components. In this process, you get the energy to make new cell parts. It’s significant for cell’s health, renewal, and survival. The main benefit of of autophagy is best known as the body turning the clock back and creating younger cells.
- The period of 48 to 56 hours causes your hormones growth to go up. Your growth hormone level is much higher than the level at which it was before fasting. This benefits from the ketone bodies production and hunger hormone secretion during fasting. Growth hormone helps increase your lean muscle mass and improve your cardiovascular health.
- Sensitivity to insulin begins in at the 56-72 hour benchmark. Here your insulin is at its lowest level since fasting. It makes you more insulin sensitive, which is an especially good thing if you have a high risk of developing diabetes.
Lowering your insulin levels has a range of health benefits both short term and long term, such as activating autophagy and reducing inflammation.
- Finally, at 72 hours, your Immune cells start to regenerate. Your body turns down cellular survival pathways and recycles inmune cells that are damaged when fighting viruses, bacteria, and germs.
In order to fill the “vacancy of the guardians”, your body regenerates new immune cells at a rapid pace. It starts the immune system regeneration and shifts cells to a state of self-renewal. Your immune system becomes stronger and stronger.
It is this last phase of fasting that I strive to achieve. It might not happen this time around, as I am not used to fasting. But if I cannot achieve a 72 or 75 hour period of fasting, I will certainly look into continuing my fast for at least the next three days. After that I will check any benefits or damages done to the body.
This is by no means health advice and you shouldn’t take it as such. This is only a opinion piece based on personal experience. You should inform yourself and consult a healthcare practitioner before you begin fasting.