I believe fasting is an accessible practice that benefits the body, the mind and the spirit.
In this article I explain what are the benefits of that ancestral practice and what motivates me to do it repeatedly.
How It Started
My target for year 2020 was to fast for 3 days once every 3 months.
Why? I was inspired by Peter Attia’s experiment on fasting he started in January: he would fast 3 days once every 3 months. Peter’s a physician and the host of The Peter Attia Drive Podcast which focuses on maximizing longevity and all that goes into that.
I was curious to try it too. Also, I wanted to test how strong my willpower was.
Seeing the positive impacts on my body, mind and spirit, I decided to maintain that schedule. So here I am today in my fourth 3 day fast of the year, the last one in 2020.
We all need to rest from time to time. My intuition is that our digestive system is no exception.
Imagine being your digestive system. Every 8 hours, every single day of the year, you receive food to convert into energy. You don’t have time to do maintenance, repairing or simply relaxing.
Fasting simply removes that workload for a few days.
At some point in the fast, the body realizes it will not be fed. I don’t know how but the brain and the body synchronize to accept that new reality. When this occurs, the digestive system is on holiday and off-duty tasks can be undertaken, such as autophagy and cellular renovation (more details here).
Fasting builds willpower and teaches how to deal with fear and bad emotions.
Imagine you are in day 2. You are resolved to keep going but you start thinking about your hunger. You start considering how long it will be, how hard it will be, how much you want to give up, how hungry you are. Smelling food or seeing food images is only making things worse.
At that moment, you will have no other choice than to rely on your will. You have to open an internal dialogue. My internal dialogue looks like this:
Stop thinking about the future. How are you feeling now? Can you keep going for 15 more minutes? Yes? Do it. Reassess in 15 minutes.
This repetitive process strengthens willpower.
In reality you mostly feel fine at any time during the fasting. It’s just the idea of not feeling fine that is hard to bear. That’s fear, that’s bad emotion.
This applies to many other parts of our lives where the anticipation of a bad event is actually much worse than the event itself. Getting more familiar with how this particular process works makes us more capable.
However, there are still some moments where you will feel less fine. In my personal experience, these moments present themselves as waves of low energy lasting about 15 minutes.
I just take it easy while my body adjusts until I’m back on. In practice, I felt about 2-3 waves in my first fast, with the second day being the hardest. I haven’t felt any in my fourth fast so far.
Fasting also increases clarity. I notice my senses are sharpened after 24h into fasting. No more fog in the mind. I like to imagine it as the survival instinct kicking in because it wants to help us find food. This brings us to the next point, the connection with ourselves.
Fasting has an important spiritual component to me which was totally unexpected. I just wanted to explore what me and my body could do and found something deeper.
The way I see it is the following. Once our body starts realizing he won’t have access to food he enters a state of emergency.
What should I do? he asks. Where do I find the answers? Please I need help.
I understand this help comes from our DNA. Our cells have that inner knowledge about how to handle fasting. They were carefully crafted through generations of ancestors to withstand all sorts of situations. They are a library of knowledge crafted by life itself.
During fasting I feel my body tapping into that ancestral knowledge. It instinctively knows where to find the information it needs to handle the situation.
All the previous generations of life embedded in the DNA are answering the call. They tell to the body:
Ok buddy, we’ve got you. Just eat those cells, kill those ones, burn that part, rebuild those tissues. We’ve been through that already, it will be fine.
– Your cells when you fast
Opening that dialogue with our past selves grounds us in our bodies. It binds the past and the present. It opens our eyes to the flow of time. It reminds us that we are who we are because of the love, the struggles and the victories of our ancestors. It reminds us to trust ourselves.
That’s all very personal but that’s exactly how it feels to me. I am the tip of my ancestor’s spear.
Besides, it’s also a period of retreat from social activities. No dinner out with friends during fasting, unless you are really willing to withstand the call of hunger.
More meditation. More introspection.
It’s a break we offer ourselves.
Fasting is a practice that has been recommended throughout the ages in many different places on Earth in all sorts of cultures. It is found in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism. It has passed the test of time.
If an idea is found all around the world in many different civilizations, it’s either great or very stupid. However, over time it’s unlikely that a stupid idea successfully perpetuates itself: its detrimental impacts will simply drive people away or impair them.
If you are curious about fasting, the best way to find out is to try it yourself.
The temptation to take the easy road is always there. It is as easy as staying in bed in the morning and sleeping in. But discipline is paramount to ultimate success and victory for any leader and any team.
– Jocko Willink
Thank you for reading. Be the hero of your own story 🔥
Warnings and Advices
Here are some warnings and advice to someone willing to try a 3 day fast:
- I have no medical training: I have no idea if fasting has detrimental impacts, I don’t think it does but you never know
- I feel colder during fasting, especially at night, it was even more true on the first fast
- on the first fast I lost muscular mass, I regained it later and now I don’t lose any
- avoid driving or any critical activity that demands high attention, you don’t want to feel weak behind the wheel
- avoid physical activity during the 3 days
- decrease carbohydrate intake a few days prior starting
- increase protein intake
- drink a lot of water and herbal tea
- hunger comes as waves, they come and go, don’t fret about it
- do trust your body
Thanks to Flavie & @Zach_of_Earth for their feedback.
Oct 12, 2020