How long can you make it without food?
In my household food was always abundant. Growing up, no matter how bad my day, or how royally I would fuck up (this was often) I always had a hearty meal to look forward to. Not having food was unthinkable for me. I probably never spent a day without 3 proper meals in my life.
Bureaucrats in my home country of Panama will not delay their lunch for a minute. Even if they have to serve one more person before lunch, they would rather leave them waiting for an hour instead of having lunch 4 minutes later. I took lunch as seriously as them.
I never felt undeserving or guilty of how blessed I was but I always asked myself — especially when hungry– what if I couldn’t get food? How would I fare?
I decided to find out.
My 3 Day Fast
I was not going to eat anything for 3 days (72 hours). Only drink water, tea, and coffee. There are many fasting variations. Water fasts, juice fasts, dry fasts. I just went for what seemed reasonable to me.
I did the fast to see how I would react to the lack of food and to build discipline. Last year I did a 40-day dopamine fast so I wanted to try something along those lines.
So I ate 3 Cepelinai un Thursday at 7 pm, and would not eat anything else until Sunday 7 pm.
This Lithuanian potato and meat delicacy is the perfect food before a fast.
I´ve never savored a meal so much. I ate those Cepelinai with reverence. Eating that last meal was an almost ceremonial experience, as all meals should be.
Friday: Day 1 of the 3 day fast
Friday 11:56 am: Had quite a productive morning. I felt light and energized. Now I feel drowsy. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last half an hour on Twitter. My body is asking for lunch, but I am the boss. He just wants lunch because he’s bored, and food gives him a distraction. So instead of food, I gave him a bit of Twitter — probably a worse kind of distraction.
Friday 1:11 pm Just came back from a walk. Felt great. Calm and focused. I stood in the woods just watching the trees moving. It gave me immense joy. I imagine a hungry hunter observing his prey with such calm waiting for the right moment to pierce its body with his spear. Maybe this is why we are so alert when we are fasting? Our body optimizes itself to be as efficient as possible for hunting. Because our body knows we are running on low fuel, and the stakes are high.
It’s more beautiful when you are fasting.
Friday 3:22 pm: People and noise start to irritate me. I guess I am “hangry”? Although when I am alone I am super zen. I am having a super productive day. Getting work done without even noticing the watch. I generally have a slump on Friday afternoons, not today though.
Friday 4:07 pm: As long as I am doing something I feel very energetic. But when I lie down and start doing something stupid like scrolling Twitter my energy drops considerably. Reminds me of The Wolf of Wall Street when they are describing Qualuudes. “If you resisted the urge to sleep for fifteen minutes, you got a pretty kick-ass high from it.” I just had to resist the urge of idleness.
Friday 9:15 pm: Spent the evening watching the Hemingway documentary. Not much energy to do anything else.
The first half of day 1 was easy, the second half was challenging.
Friday night: I went to sleep early and had the most vivid dream I’ve had in years. It was like a high-budget Hollywood production. Me, and almost everyone I know, are in an airport desperately trying to catch a connecting flight back home. It had everything. Good dialogue, suspense, plot, characters. 10/10.
Maybe it was the “lightness” of sleeping on an empty stomach that enabled this dream?
After the dream, I lay awake for a while. It was the first time I thought that maybe I will not be able to complete the 3 day fast.
I´ve noticed these self-defeating ideas tend to creep in in the dead of night. Perhaps it was to do with the heightened senses and immobility. Perhaps it’s the darkness.
Saturday: Day 2 of the 3 day fast
Saturday 8:50 am: It´s very hard to get out of bed. I feel weak. But now that I sit down to write with a black tea I feel my energy — and spirits — lifting. I am staying with my family and they are all insisting I have breakfast. Peer pressure has been, for now, the hardest aspect of this fast.
Saturday 10:46 am: Had a good writing session. But now I feel sleepy and with low energy. Coffee was not a good idea. Gave me a stomach ache. I will have to function on tea and water from now on.
Saturday 1:46 pm: Got some work done. I feel quite focused. Not really “hungry”. I am also 0% horny. I don’t even want to think about sex. Unless it’s with one of those women with sushis on her body.
Saturday 5:56 pm: I don’t feel very “good” but when I have to concentrate on something like reading or writing, I feel more focused than usual. Again, as long as I am focused on a task that requires mental energy I feel fine, if I am just lying in bed I feel weak. Also, my bones started hurting, especially my knees. Maybe it’s the lack of nutrients?
Saturday 6:38 pm: In the last hours I felt quite sharp and in a spectacular mood. Much much better than yesterday evening. I don´t even feel like I´ve been fasting. I guess my body already got used to it. Looking forward to tomorrow.
Saturday 7:15 pm: I can rest and just enjoy watching a movie without pressuring myself and thinking I am “wasting time”. Even on Saturday nights if I am not doing anything productive I feel like I am wasting time. Now that I am fasting I have an excuse to allow myself to just relax.
Saturday 9:01 pm: This thing is a roller-coaster. Hunger is back. I can’t but help thinking about the people who go to sleep hungry because they have no other choice. I hate letting my body go into the night without nourishment. The sense of powerlessness is very uncomfortable.
The beginning of day 2 was challenging. The second half was easy (especially in the evening).
Sunday: Day 3 of the 3 day fast
Sunday 8:35 am: Waking up, again, was not easy. I staggered out of bed like a drunk. I also slept 10 hours. I never sleep that long. Still, I feel much better than yesterday morning. Today I feel like a kid waking up the day he goes to Disney. I am very excited about today´s meal at 7 pm.
Sunday 9:47 am: I noticed something new: my eyesight gets irritated super fast. Physically I feel weak, mentally I am super sharp and focused, much more than when I eat.
Sunday 12:40 pm: Finally I am really hungry. I think it’s the expectation of the upcoming meal. If I was doing a 5 day fast I would probably not be thinking about food right now. Also, watching Youtube videos on how to make the perfect club sandwich doesn’t help either. I am waiting for 7 pm like for a super long flight to land. Only that now I won’t be greeted by jet lag but what promises to be the best meal of my life.
Sunday 6:55 pm: Soup is boiling. I am ready to eat. I’ve heard that you shouldn’t eat too much when you break a fast but I´ll take my chances and have a feast.
Sunday 7:45 pm: There is nothing better than breaking a fast. I had two bowls of chicken bouillon (which had an explosive taste despite being plain). Dark bread with a garlic spread, slices of turkey, cheese, and a glazed sweet curd cheese bar. I expected myself to go overboard with food but I didn’t. I was full after eating just a bit. I feel extremely sleepy now, even though I didn’t eat that much.
Day 3 was much easier than day 2. Towards the end, I felt super energetic and could perform all my duties without a problem.
Monday: Day one after the 3 day fast
I ate the same as on a standard day and didn’t feel hungry at all. It seems my body got used to functioning with less food after the 3 day fast.
Takeaways from the 3 day fast
Now I know how I fare without food
I did quite well without food. Not only did I have 3 very productive days, I realized by day 3 that I almost forgot I was “fasting”. Now I know how my body responds to a lack of food. I have the psychological benefit of knowing food is no longer a clutch. Not eating doesn’t mean I have to shut off the world and be useless. It means I can enjoy periods of acute mental clarity, heightened senses, and increased productivity.
Interrupting your standard eating pattern is not a tragedy
When I was in college I went on a 2-day camping trip with this girl. She was absolutely terrified by the prospect of not having enough food supplies for the trip. Even though she was already taking sandwiches, KFC chicken, nuts, Spam, tuna, and a variety of other snacks.
I felt like a break from the regular eating schedule would do her no harm (she was a bit overweight). It would even be beneficial for her. She’s not the only one. Most people have this relationship with food. Including me. We get too anxious at the prospect of interrupting our regular eating pattern.
It’s a natural reflex. But you can change it once you realize how well your body adapts to lack of food.
Less is more
We assume we need “more” to focus better. More food, coffee, or other stimulants. Generally what we need is less. Even on day 3 of my fast I could focus quite well and be productive. Sometimes when we feel “stuck” we need to subtract stuff instead of adding. Eating less for example (or not eating at all) can make you focus better and unclog your mind. Fasting weakens your body but sharpens your mind.
Feeling good is not always good
Now that I had a full breakfast I “feel great” but I am less focused than yesterday. Yes. I have higher spirits but it’s harder for me to sit down and write. I don’t have that “tunnel vision” anymore. It’s harder for my mind to settle.
So even though I feel good. If I sit down to do something that requires heavy focus I’ll probably end up doing a worse job. Throughout the fast, I didn’t feel as “good” but my clarity was impressive. Sometimes you need to forgo “feeling good” and give your body what it needs to complete a specific task.
Fasting is a rite of passage of the Kikuyu in Africa. When a boy is old enough for initiation he is taken away from his mother and has to fast for 3 days. Fasting is used in rites of passage in many cultures because it builds discipline and character.
Not eating is the ultimate test of self-control. I don’t want to say that I am now in full command of my desires and impulses. But dodging cold meats elegantly laid out on my kitchen table and the incessant smell of food about to be served for 3 days did train my discipline.
Adapting your body
One of the key arguments in Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile is that stress and uncertainty make things stronger. By exposing our body to cold, heavy weights, or hunger you make it more robust.
Breaking the wall
Last year I went to a beach in the Baltic Sea. The water was ice cold. Swimming was extremely uncomfortable, we could barely breathe. But after a few minutes, we no longer felt the cold. We felt incredibly good and energized.
Once you experience this you realize it’s a reality for most uncomfortable things. Fasting was similar, I felt better at the end of day 2 than at the end of day 1. My body broke the wall and adapted to the lack of food quite well.
Once you experience this you understand that many discomforts are temporal and if beared can bring you joy.
Questioning routine and traditions
Why do we eat three times a day? Nobody knows. But everyone follows this. Not that there is anything bad with this but eating three times a day is unnecessary.
If the de facto tradition of eating 3 times a day is unsubstantiated. Then what other routines, traditions, and widely accepted truths are as well? Makes you think.,
I developed a very good “tunnel vision” during the fast. It took me much less effort to stay in the present than it usually does.
I didn’t care about petty problems or engaged in irrelevant thoughts because I was running on primal energy. I was clear and focused.
It went quite well when I was writing or focusing on only one task. But I would have felt overwhelmed if I had done something that requires lots of moving parts, like engaging with clients. This is why this type of fast is better enjoyed on the weekends.
Is the 3 day fast for you?
Everyone should try it. I recommend starting with a 24 hour fast, and if it goes well, you should aim for the 3 day fast.
Note: It’s normal to feel weak during a 3 day fast but you shouldn’t feel very bad. If you do, eat and consult a doctor.