My Three-Day Fast Experience: What I Learned
Everyone seems to be fasting these days – just on the internet, not in my real life. My real life friends think this is weird. So here internet, this is my contribution – my three-day fast experience, what I learned.
My History of Fasting
From 2017-2019, I often only ate one meal a day. After reading about General Stanley McChrystal’s one meal a day habit, I fell in love with the idea of rewarding myself with a big dinner. I found that it was really easy to implement in my life, being a a huge time saver only thinking about one meal instead of three. I lost weight, felt greater mental clarity, and was better able to control my emotions if I was hungry. (I didn’t save a lot of money though because I found it difficult to cook while I was ravenous or to plan for a variety of meals when I ate so few of them. Also it’s reasonably cheap to eat out all the time when you’re eating so few meals).
Granted, I didn’t follow the diet religiously. Sometimes I would eat more than one meal – like when I stayed with my parents, who are religious three-meal-a-day eaters. And sometimes I just got hungry. But for the most part, I would eat lunch with a friend and skip dinner or eat a large dinner with perhaps something sweet at the end.
So what happened? Well many things. One, everyone told me this was a horrible idea so I kept it to myself. Two, I found that part of the reason this diet was so easy for me was that I was getting depressed and had lost my appetite. Getting my appetite back was a key motivation for me after I quit my job. And I thought that getting back to tradition was the way to go – three meals a day.
Why do a Three Day Fast
I was dating a man last year who mentioned that I could stand to lose some weight. And though I was aghast that he would say that to me, I wasn’t as happy with my weight as I’d like to be. I wasn’t working so what excuse did I have to not be at my ideal weight? I’d slipped into a three-meal-a-day routine and I didn’t exercise that much.
My boyfriend keeps saying it’s due to my slowing metabolism (why do non-Chinese people keep commenting on my weight!?!? It’s supposed to be rude in other cultures). I can’t say I’ve gained much weight over the years – I was still weight the same as when I was 13. I just always thought this was my weight. But I have dropped weight before – like when I trained for a marathon, when I moved to China, when I was on a Keto diet, and when I was eating OMAD. I figured I could again diet my way down.
So in August of last year, I started dieting. I’ve done a few months of reducing carbs and switching to two meals a day. I exercised more. A few times I would go down to one meal a day. I lost 10 pounds. But my weight had plateaued and I wanted to lose five more pounds.
I recently read The Obesity Code, which led me to The Complete Guide to Intermittent Fasting, both written by Dr. Jason Fung. I was looking for was some validation that eating one-meal-a-day was healthy. What I found was that stories of people doing much longer fasts. I was reading about two- and four- week fasts. I wasn’t ready to embark on such a long fast but it certainly made three day fasts seem like a realistic target!
My Experience with a Three Day Fast
People have different opinions of what constitutes a fast. For my fast, I didn’t eat any food but I did have bone broth with some miso once, and I drank copious amounts of coffee and tea and water with lemon juice. These were the fast rules we prescribed for ourselves in the beginning and we stuck with them. Some people are more strict water fasters but I don’t think I would have been able to manage that. Maybe someday in the future, but in my current mental state, I would have broken on just water. That or slept for three days.
My main goal was to lose a few extra pounds. I’d also heard some mythic amazing benefits from fasting like mental and skin clarity, better cholesterol, reduced inflammation, beating cancer oh my! Overall, I didn’t have a lot of medical ailments so it was going to be hard to judge what had changed besides my weight.
Day 1 of My Three Day Fast
Despite having done 24-hour fasts regularly for over a year, the first day was really rough for me. I started out with an appointment and then a marathon 3-hour job interview. Though it seems stupid to start a fast when I knew I would have a job interview, I don’t normally eat breakfast. Also I figured the constant activity would keep my mind off of food. It did.
But afterward, I felt the crash from all the coffee. I felt really cold (to be fair, the weather outside had dropped precipitously to the 30s and I rarely turn on the heat). When you’re fasting, blood rushes to your fat stores. Still, I wasn’t expecting any major changes on the first afternoon of fasting. I turned on my heater, covered myself with a blanket and took a nap. I woke up fine, but my skin looked terrible.
The skin on my right leg and left arm were very dry and flaky. Eczema runs in my family, so it’s likely a flareup. But someone on the internet said that fasting cured her eczema! I guess we’re all different. In any case, I was a complete mess on my first day.
My boyfriend agreed to do the fast with me, but we weren’t together for the first two days. Instead we shared a Facetime call over a bowl of broth. He was annoyingly energetic and buzzing on his first day.
Day 2 of the Fast
Overnight, I dreamed that my friend and I were eating pastries and I had broken my fast. Maybe just dream-cheating made the day go by much easier. Day 2 was much better for me. I didn’t really have any problems. I didn’t feel hungry, and I was much more alert. I had thought that I would schedule a massage during the day to distract me and because it’s been awhile, but I think my muscles felt less sore. There are some studies to show that fasts can lead to reduced inflammation and pain.
The biggest problem was boredom. And it wasn’t that I wasn’t occupying my mind and body with other activities. It’s just that it feels like you have a separate brain that just thinks about eating. And that part of my brain would not shut up no matter what I was doing.
Boyfriend had a rougher day two. We were both a little crabby honestly. There was a part of me that wanted to call it quits that night, but we were more than 2/3 done. It helped to have someone else to hold me accountable, because it would have been pretty easy to quit that night. A two day fast is respectable but we wanted to honor the rules that we had set going in.
Day 3 of the Fast
This day never seemed to end. I think that if I were going to do it over again, I would have started the fast by skipping dinner on the first day so it’s less time to wait on the last day to end your fast. But mostly it was a waiting game. I will say that my energy got a huge perk up with 5 hours left to go. Even shopping for and preparing food didn’t seem to bother me. The end was in sight.
Again, no hunger pangs – just a feeling of emptiness, a latent boredom. There’s some debate on how to break your fast. Some think that refeeding could be a problem if you go too fast too soon. However, since we were both healthy when we started, and we didn’t do a strict water fast or that long a fast, we didn’t think it would be a big problem (it wasn’t). Still we stuck to a simple high protein, low-carb break-fast of tunafish salad and low-carb crackers. Then we waited for an hour before dinner, which was lobster ravioli and broccoli. Then we rewarded ourselves with our favorite keto-friendly chocolate molten lava mug cake with keto ice cream.
Lessons Learned from a Three Day Fast
I lost five pounds. My boyfriend lost 11 pounds. We’ve maintained these weights for the past few days even though we’ve generally gone back to our normal diets. Still, our mentalities have changed drastically. Here are some of the lessons I/we learned.
Don’t Tell Anyone About Your Fast (But Find a Partner)
As I mentioned in my last blog post – I’m an ENFP and ENFPs are not known for their follow-through. So anytime I finish something that I don’t think I could do, I feel like I’m flexing my self-control and discipline muscle in a good way.
Still, I took steps not to be swayed away from my diet. From my one meal a day diet, I learned not to tell anyone about my fasting habits. So unless your cohort is particularly supportive of trying new things, I would keep the fast to myself until near the end. Otherwise you’re just opening up the floodgates for people trying to talk you out of it. You don’t need to convince others about fasting. On a typical 3-meal a day diet, you will eat 1,092 meals in a year. Skipping 9 meals will not mean your body falls apart.
Though some people may weigh you down, it’s very helpful to have someone to go through the fast with you. It will obviously be easier if you don’t have to prepare anyone else’s food while you fast, but it helps to have someone else to share notes with and to distract you during your typical meal times. I didn’t mean to force my boyfriend to fast with me but was very grateful that he thought it was an interesting idea (and he’s an INTJ, so he’s very good with follow-through).
Fasting Gives You The Gift of Time
On an average day, an American spends 90 minutes eating. And that doesn’t even count the time you spend grocery shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning up. It doesn’t count the brain fog after a heavy lunch or the exercise you do to burn off the calories. It doesn’t count the time spent earning money so that you can supply yourself with more snacks.
You’re easily saving two hours a day by fasting. Obviously, you can’t fast every day of your life. But even missing a few meals in a week could give you some time savings.
Fasting Gives Your Brain a Rest
Dr. Fung mentioned in his fasting book that fasting is the easiest diet possible. You can be vegetarian, keto, gluten-free – fasting works with all of them. It works if you don’t have a lot of money or a lot of time. You don’t have to count calories, meal prep, or clean up the dishes.
It’s amazing what else your brain can think about when food is taken care of – even if by taking care, it just means you can’t think about it.
Fasting Resets Your Thoughts on Food
Reading women’s magazines is my junk food. And I’ve noticed a handful of articles about reducing one’s guilt-based relationship with food. I never thought too much about feeling guilty about food. In fact, I’ve never been much for diets and I LOVE FOOD.
But I think I’ve adopted a little bit of an adverse attitude towards food while dieting. Food becomes the enemy. After fasting, let me tell you, eating is joyous. Everything tastes delicious. You’re so grateful to be eating anything. It reminds me of reading Angela’s Ashes and his description of eggs, The Glass Castle and her description of eating a chicken wing, or The Aquariums of Pyongyang and his memory of eating chipped frozen pieces of corn- any memoir where people were really near starvation.
Note to self: Why do I read so many memoirs where people are starving?
Fasting Lets You Celebrate Food
About 24 minutes of your 90 minutes of daily eating is distracted eating – like snacking while watching TV or downing a granola bar on your commute. My boyfriend was pondering why we eat three meals a day. It’s odd how we’ve created a convenience food industry just to satisfy this three meal a day requirement. And we’re so terrified that we might miss a meal!
I have a friend who loved burgers but felt bad about eating beef. Her solution was an Annual Burger. Once a year, she would eat a burger and it’d be a big celebration. We would all come out and share her annual burger. I thought it was really beautiful – the honor she put into her food. How many of us eat meat and really think of the animal or about how much other sacrifice goes into our food? Sometimes I think about how panicked people were at the beginning of lockdown that the food supply chains would shut down. They miraculously didn’t. But wow some people were apoplectic over eating chicken thighs instead of their usual chicken breasts. What if we instead thought, isn’t it amazing we are eating anything at all?
Fasting Brings Gratitude
The weirdest part of the three days is that I never felt hunger pangs. So many of the hunger pangs I feel in my day are not really hunger at all, but the body’s expectations. My body is perfectly fine without the food for awhile. My boyfriend also noted that he was better able to differentiate between real hunger after the fast.
When my dad was little, the Great Leap Forward caused 30 million people to die of starvation in China. When my mother moved to America, she was so poor she only ate rice. Like literally just white rice and a little soy sauce. And now my parents tell me that eating less than three meals a day is dangerous. And I get it – they don’t want me to live the life that they lived.
But I don’t want to be too far removed from it. There’s food insecurity in America – but it’s very rare that anyone starves. And that’s obviously a good thing. We have the opposite problem now where we have such an abundance of food that we forget what hunger is. It can leave us all feeling complacent. None of us in this country have to deal with hunger the way that our parents’ or grandparents’ generation did, or that many people in the world have to. I have a friend who fasts during Ramadan, and he told me that liked that it reminded him of what he had come from and how grateful he should be.
Fasting Brings Happiness
Hand in hand with gratitude is happiness. The least happy people are the ones that lack gratitude because they are always looking at what they don’t have. The happiest people realize what they do have that others do not. Because a fast brings gratitude, more time, connection to other people – these are all ingredients for the recipe of happiness.
Conclusion – My Three Day Fast Experience: What I Learned
I’ve started to get back to my one-meal-a-day habits with an 18-6 intermittent fasting window. All in all, I hope to keep my weight around this benchmark. I would recommend a three day fast just because of the perspective it brings. And for the joyous feast afterwards.