Benefits of Fasting: Lessons From a 48h Fast

Disclaimer: If you are leptin resistant, fasting might not be for you. You could have a deranged metabolism that is dependent on carbohydrates for energy. Your cells will have difficulty switching to burning fat, as a lot of changes will need to happen. You could experience lethargy, irritability, mood swings etc. Please don’t just jump into a prolonged fast. Be advised and consult with medical experts.

I had thought about a 48h fast for several times in the past but was always scared of the hunger pains, low energy and irritability that would accompany it. When I got hungry in the past, irritability could show up. Luckily this didn’t happen this time. Or maybe a little, but that’s for a totally different reason. The hardest part about fasting, once your body can handle it, is other people. They offer you food or wonder why you’re not eating. It’s tiring to block this barrage of offers. The social pressure could cost you your fast. This reminds me of the stories of seclusion sought by monks or shaman. In search of some spiritual insight, it pays to avoid all temptation. I guess this is the first lesson: If you are planning a fast, avoid people as much as possible.

Apart from social pressure there is also the bakery, restaurants, markets or food advertising that will come to you from the food landscape. Now, this isn’t all that much of an issue as social pressure is. If your fast is going alright, you won’t feel all that hungry anyway so you’ll be avoiding those places anyway. Yes, when walking in the city there are the smells, sounds and sights of food and people eating. The thought process I go through (mostly for smells as this speaks most to my appetite) is that these are just lovely sensory experiences as much part of life as any other. Recently I smelled meatballs in tomato sauce with mashed potatoes. I haven’t eaten that in a long time and it smelled fantastic. Like I said, if your fast is going well, you won’t be hungry. If you feel the urge to eat this is probably because it is linked to something you have to do for social reasons, out of habit, to soften an emotional need or out of boredom. An example of social reasons is being offered sweets and treats when visiting family or friends, and vice versa. Lesson numbers two: Eat when hungry, drink when thirsty.

About the fast itself, I should explain that it is truly not eating. There’s no feel good side like not eating desserts and still calling it fasting. I ate no food. I only drank fluids like water, coffee and tea. And it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. This is another example of making it seem harder than it really is, based on hardly any or no information at all. I never went for 48h but I did do a 24h fast before and often go for 18 hours. Those weren’t all that bad, rather easy. Even though I had some experience to extrapolate from, I still made it all that harder in my head. Surely it has something to do with a desire to stay in the familiar, the comfort zone. Fear is a good thing. And sometimes you have to do something even when that fear is present. Growth will happen. Lesson three: Accept your fears and move ahead.

By the first afternoon into the fast, about 18 hours in, I noticed more energy and motivation. I was in vacation and putting off some items that needed attention. Rest, relaxation and fun are all part of a vacation. Yet it is also an ideal time to catch up on stuff that’s been accumulating during working days. So, with my new-found energy and motivation I got to writing a new blog post and caught up on some of the mundane parts of life like cleaning. In a way this makes lesson four a paradoxical lesson. When there was no energy from food coming in, there was more energy to spur me on than when eating. Thus, lesson four: What you don’t want to do, is probably what you need to do most.

This brings us into some of the biological aspects of a fast. Several factors can support this previously mentioned increase in energy. The primary reason, for me at least, is that you burn fat as opposed to carbohydrates. Mitochondria are the energy factories, the power plants of a cell. When fuel comes in in the form of free fatty acids, they make a lot more ATP. ATP is the energy currency inside your body. It allows for you to do things, like movement. Another aspect is that you are not using energy for digestion. This frees up energy to go other places. And this also allows for your gut to heal and reduce inflammation, in the gut and elsewhere. Also there is improved sensitivity to hormones, like insulin and leptin. Leptin is a hormone made by fat cells and inhibits hunger. Lesson five: Fasting is a healing therapy.

Immediately obvious was the shift in my body clock. Without an alarm, I woke up earlier than usual and closer in line with sunrise. The effect of food on circadian rhythm is not to be underestimated. If you eat late in the day, your body clock moves to a later time. You’ll go to bed later and wake up later. When combining this with the bright (blue) lights of modern technology, it is a recipe for disaster. You still have to wake up early enough for work and daily life, yet you can’t get to sleep in time due to your meal and lighting. This will cut the hours of sleep you get each night. Sleep is crucially important for regeneration and health. Lesson six: Eat nothing for dinner or eat a very small meal at least 4h before bed.

This one seems less obvious but is well worth considering. In case of an emergency situation, whether it be because a building collapses or a storm hits the city, you won’t be panicked easily if you can’t get to food right away. Irritability and less energy could seriously impair your judgment during an emergency. More energy, motivation and clear thinking will help you in making better decisions. These decisions can save your life. Knowing that you’ll be okay on the food front is a major boon while the city’s emergency planning is rolling out. So, lesson seven: Keep the survival odds in your favor.

Lastly, let’s not dance around the money issue. Remember the importance of the health benefits. Your health is worth the cost. Yet, regardless of what your diet is, whether it be fast food all the time or a juicy steak, we all have to take care of our finances. Fasting now and then saves on meals. In fact, what you saved then could go to a better quality meal next time, or a treat, something you don’t easily go for because it costs more. Lesson eight: Fasting saves cash.

Further reading

My friend Matt has a great blog post up on fasting that goes into more detail on leptin, circadian rhythm and other health goodness, along with several great sources. Read it here. http://mattmaruca.com/fasting/

Leptin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leptin

Circadian rhythm: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circadian_rhythm