When it comes to extreme short term dietary measures, I’m pretty crazy. Ever since I had completed my last long term fast (5 days), I’ve been meaning to try it again. My aim has been to pull off long term fasts around twice a year.
2016 was quickly coming to an end and I didn’t really have a plan set up for a long term fast before the year was over. Being that I’m so compulsive when it comes to these types of extreme interventions, I decided to start fasting within a week of the plan that I set out for myself.
I had a tight window of time to pull it off. I would fast from 11 pm on December 25th 2016 till December 31st 2016. Imagine an airplane that is going to nose dive to try and land on a runway that is just long enough for it to land on. That’s what I was attempting here. Probably the last time I try rushing into something so long term.
Why Rushing Was A Terrible Idea
To provide some context, it is important to note that a week before Christmas day, I was in a cyclical ketogenic diet. That means that for 5 days of the week I was in ketosis while the weekends were very high carb.
At this point, my body is very adapted to the ketogenic state. Entering ketosis takes about a day of keto dieting (regardless of my diet beforehand) and there aren’t any keto flu symptoms. My thinking was that regardless of the diet I was on, I could jump into a fast and transition quicker than someone who hasn’t fasted before.
My last pieces of food before starting the fast were sugar packed Christmas snacks. I was planning on breaking my fast over an evening new years eve supper at a restaurant. The entry into the fast is very important but more important is how you come out of it. Having control over these two variables is vital to a successful fast.
At the beginning of the fast, I didn’t weigh myself since it probably would have been a number that included the water weight that I had yet to lose. On day 2, my weight came in at 150 lbs. I managed to maintain 150 lbs through day 3 and day 4 as well! I didn’t lose anything! I was confused to say the least! My ketones were very high. It wasn’t until day 5 and day 6 that I actually saw changes (147 lbs and 145 lbs respectively). My ketone levels and weight are shown below.
Breaking the Fast
A long term fast like this has multiple benefits for the body. Most of these benefits occur based on how well you refeed yourself. Since the gut bacteria and stomach lining have been disrupted by the lack of food for so long, it is important to introduce prebiotics and probiotics upon completion. This helps to regenerate a lot of the symbiotic digestive machinery that our body requires.
As preparation to break my fast, I made sure to know what I was going to order on the night of new year’s eve. I found a low carb salad that would fit perfectly. However, seeing these numbers didn’t convince me. I was still going to be eating something that I didn’t make. I therefore decided to break my fast with a plate full of steamed vegetables with olive oil (as pictured in the cover photo) about 4 hours before my full 6 day mark.
The vegetables went down well but the new year’s eve dinner really pushed the limits. It was also after dinner that I found myself surrounded by multiple different sweets. After coming out of a fast that is this long, I tend to justify why I can and should eat certain foods even though I really shouldn’t.
The following week and a half was full of indigestion and stomach aches. MORAL OF THE STORY: Don’t perform a long term fast unless you have control over your schedule 2 weeks before and after the fast. Being surrounded by an environment that doesn’t support the success of your goal will inevitably lead you to failure.
How To Perform A Long Term Fast Properly
So based on the two different occasions that I have done a longer fast, I have a formula that should work for most people. I will outline what I feel to be very important steps to take.
The Lead Up
As a way to prepare your body for what’s coming, it is important to take at least 2 weeks before you start fasting to enter and stay in ketosis. Two weeks is most likely going to be sufficient time for someone who has entered ketosis successfully before. However, someone who hasn’t been in ketosis before should take longer.
During The Fast
Water, water and more water. When you’ve taken care of that, drink more water. I’m serious when I say that the difference between superhuman energy and torturous fatigue is the amount of water you drink. I also find that filling a palm full of pink himalayan salt and licking it helps to maintain my energy levels.
I realized some very interesting patterns in myself during my long term fasts. I WASN’T hungry. After day one, the hunger subsides. My stomach would still growl but I didn’t feel any hunger alongside those noises like I normally would. What I did notice is that I would want a snack whenever I was bored.
Hunger may not be the only factor involved in over-eating. Just as someone who can’t sit on a train or bus without being on their phone, eating seems to keep the mind busy. I also realized that eating has been long disconnected from something that contributes to our well-being but instead is an addiction where we crave flavors that give us a hit of dopamine.
Returning To The Fed State
This is the most important part. Re-feeding is the primary determinant of how your body will regenerate itself. Sticking to primarily vegetables and fats for about a week is the best way to ensure success. Protein can start to come into the equation slowly (after 1 or 2 days of eating). For the first week, it is best to maintain a keto diet. In saying this, it is hard to resist temptations.
In week 2, I like to introduce carbohydrates post workout. After week 2, carbs can be brought back into the equation.
While you are reintroducing yourself to food, it is important to supplement with a strong probiotic. I found that when I did supplement with a probiotic (after the first extended fast) I didn’t experience any digestive issues and I felt great!
Is Fasting Really Worth It?
I find that fasting is very important. It has some healing effects that no medication can heal. I do it because I like being able to reset my gut flora. Having no food for 6 days will inevitably kill a lot of the beneficial and detrimental gut bacteria but the refeed can be designed to re-establish a healthier gut flora.
Another reason that I do this is that it helps to destroy or repair damaged cells within the body. When the body is in a fasted state, it is shown that a process known as autophagy increases. 
Autophagy is a word meaning “self-eating”. It is a process in which a cell that has damaged components or intracellular junk sends these components to the lysosomes (located within that cell) in order to recycle/regenerate organelles or dispose of the junk.
The machinery involved in keeping autophagy active can diminish without the appropriate interventions/habits (many different factors, diet and lifestyle being big ones). Keeping this cycle alive through fasting allows for the cellular machinery to work properly.
The cells within our system that are defective (and can’t undertake autophagy) become senescent. These cells aren’t dead but they aren’t alive either. They just float around releasing pro-inflammatory secretome into the system. The process of apoptosis (programmed cell death) has failed in these cells.
Normally, a defective cell would die before it becomes senescent but because these cells are in an environment where they are being sent growth signals (constant feeding can do this) they continue to hang on.
If these cells need to be cleared from the system, they require working machinery in order to be marked for macrophages to come around and remove them.  Macrophages are a type of white blood cell within our immune system. These cells float around in the blood and swallow any potential dangers such as bad bacteria, virus’, and other harmful junk. By activating growth pathways (IGF-1, mTOR, etc.) without ever reverting to the opposite side of the spectrum and activating anti-aging pathways (AMPK, FOXO, etc.), through fasting or exercise, cells will fall into senescence.
One of the components of a cell that can become defective is the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell). One of the main metabolic differences between regular cells and cancer cells is that the mitochondria of cancer cells are defective. Cancer cell mitochondria exhibit the Warburg effect in which the primarily feed off of glucose and specific amino acids whereas regular cells are equipped to use ketones, glucose and amino acids. Cancer cell mitochondria also release higher levels of ROS (Reactive oxygen species) which are a byproduct of any metabolism.
It has made me wonder whether our disconnection from nature could be to blame for this. Instead of our feeding patterns being controlled by the natural availability (or lack thereof) of food, we are consistently fed. We no longer provide our bodies with the necessary environment to enter into these fasted states that may help us to prevent many of the diseases that we suffer from today.
Lastly, I do this to understand scarcity and to overcome temptation. Next time you want to be thankful on Thanksgiving, don’t stuff your face. Go at least 24 hours without food and see if you’re not thankful for the blessing of endless amounts of food.
 NCBI. “Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy”. [Online]. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3106288/
 Aging Sciences – Anti-Aging Firewalls. “Autophagy – the housekeeper in every cell that fights aging”. [Online]. Available: http://www.anti-agingfirewalls.com/2013/04/19/autophagy-the-housekeeper-in-every-cell-that-fights-aging-2/