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My first extended fast

(Gratuitous disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, and this is in no way medical advice)

I’ve been intermittently fasting now for over four years and will probably continue this for the rest of my life too due to the many health benefits I’ve experienced. Other than the typical benefits you hear about, like allowing your gut to rest and the powerful cellular cleansing effects of autophagy, I also saw improvements in my energy and blood glucose regulation. As I learned more about fasting, a topic that I would always came across was the idea of an extended water fast. Previously, my longest fast was around the 36-to-40-hour period. Now, me being me, this was something that I just had to try for myself.

Over the last couple months, my son Colin and I have been receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy at a local health and wellness clinic, Extivita RTP. I will dive (pun intended) into that at a later date, but I found out that they hold a longevity challenge every January. This typically includes 12 days of fasting, 10 hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions, nutritional optimization, and monitoring by medical professionals. I had finally found the opportunity to try an extended fast in a safe and healthy way. I have also been struggling in the health and fitness department over the last six or seven months and felt this was a perfect way to reset and start off strong in the new year.

I, of course, realize that this seems insane to a lot of people and, in some cases, borderline masochistic. I assure you that I have done countless amounts of reading, research, and, of course, scientific study (on myself) on fasting regarding health and longevity. Although it seems like some form of time-restricted eating has gained some popularity over the last decade, it is as old as we are as a species and written in almost every ancient religion. There is no way that I will be able to cover every aspect of this experience, but I hope to capture and share what I can. I have received some questions from friends and family and will try to answer them as we go along.

The first question that always comes up is: why do an extended fast and why 12 days? As time passes after our last meal, the gut digests and then begins to rest. Eventually, your body will go into ketosis, blood glucose and insulin levels will drop, autophagy will begin, and then… you eat again. Now, although allowing 16 to 20 hours without eating, as I do daily, does allow for all that goodness, it is only the last few hours where the magic happens. Extending the fast even longer allows for additional benefits to include increased growth hormones, increased insulin sensitivity, and a whole lot of household cleaning on the cellular level. Now, as far as why I chose 12 days, that is easy because of the aforementioned longevity challenge. Some of the more common extended fasts you hear about are either 3, 5, 7, 14, or 21 days. I have even read some examples of longer low-calorie fasts, but for the purpose of this conversation, we will stick to water fasting.

I guess that dovetails quite well into the next most common question: what is a water fast and what is allowed? Purists would tell you that water-fast participants should only drink water. I, however, being a real person and not completely psychotic, included black coffee in the mornings. This is something I do during my regular intermittent fasts, and I have tested my blood glucose to ensure that it doesn’t create a spike and trigger an insulin response. I also added some essential minerals to my water and received a vitamin IV treatment twice during the fast.

The first day of the fast was pretty much just another day other than getting labs drawn to have a baseline. I will say that the idea of going 12 days without food at this point was a little daunting. I had read that most people have the hardest time during the first three to four days of a fast due to increased hunger cues. One thing I noticed when I became accustomed to intermittent fasting was that I no longer got “hangery”. My hunger cues were still present when I normally ate, but not to the point of wanting to rip someone’s head off or to snack on roadkill. For me, that feeling of hunger was present more often in the first three days of this fast, but it didn’t seem like it was that much stronger than usual. On day four I woke up to the pleasant surprise of not feeling hungry.

As that first week progressed, I tried to keep myself busy but had been advised not to work out or do any excessive activity during the fast. The first time I really noticed a decrease in energy was on day five, when I took down our exterior Christmas lights. After a few trips up and down a twenty-four-foot ladder, I noticed that I felt drained and even a little winded. Now I know it’s been a few (seven) months since I’ve exercised, but I didn’t seem to have this issue when I was putting them up, which I think we all can agree is WAY more of an ordeal. I was, however, able to go about my daily routine of work and life with no noticeable issues.

Almost my entire adult life, prior to intermittent fasting, I had issues with being borderline hypoglycemic. My blood sugar would drop, and my hands would begin to shake. Even when I was in great physical shape and eating a mostly healthy diet, I would still experience this to some extent, and I must try and remember to not go long between meals or snacks. The funny thing is that not eating is what completely resolved this issue. Once I began regularly intermittent fasting, my blood glucose levels never dropped to the extent that I would become even close to hypoglycemic. This included either ten-plus-mile runs or strenuous gym workouts. But because of this, I wanted to keep an eye on it, so I regularly measured my blood glucose levels during the fast and was happy that they remained pretty level the entire time at around 70 mg/dl. The last few days of the fast, I did notice those levels did drop down to about 65 mg/dl, which is trending towards hypoglycemia. I, however, never felt any of the physical or mental side effects.

One side effect of the fast that I noticed and was a little surprised by, was how much I missed food. Not from a lack of energy or to subdue some insatiable hunger pains, but more like a lost lover who had left, and you yearned for them to be back in your life. I found myself watching TikTok and YouTube videos on food, mostly barbecue or smoking different meats. I was a little embarrassed about how much I felt like I missed food. It wasn’t like I was dreaming of a sticky bun or chocolate cake, but I couldn’t stop thinking about smoking a chicken or grilling a ribeye to perfection. I struggle with an unhealthy attachment to food, and my obsessive personality doesn’t make it any easier. Sugar is like a drug to me and it becomes insatiable even when I give in. I needed this break to reset and hopefully start over. I had to quit it cold turkey… speaking of turkey… mmm

Another thing I monitored at home was my blood ketone levels. These averaged between 4.5 and 5 mmol/L, which is common for an extended fast. There was no question about being in ketosis, and my brain was loving it. I did not feel like the fast negatively affected my work, and in some ways, I felt that I was able to concentrate and focus more on certain tasks. Ketosis is something that happens regularly during even shorter fasting periods without a keto diet.

The remaining days of the fast were very similar. I would wake up not feeling hungry and only start to feel those hunger cues towards the end of the day, when I would normally eat. I felt like my countdown to the end of the fast was more driven by the emotional longing for food than because I was hungry. I had another vitamin IV during the first part of the second week and continued to add trace minerals to my water daily. To prepare for the end of this fast, I had been reading and listening to different people’s experiences and advice about breaking an extended fast. Now, in retrospect, I probably only followed about ten percent of it and might have introduced food back too quickly. The most common advice is to take half the time of the fast to ramp back up into eating. I knew that there was no way I could do that over six days. I also don’t follow the standard American diet, so I knew I would have to modify it to fit what I eat. I don’t follow a specific diet but try to mostly eat protein and fats and minimize carbohydrates. The morning of the last day, I once again had blood drawn for labs to compare results from the first day of the fast.

The following day, I broke my fast at about 9 a.m. with some salted bone broth. I let this sit for about two hours, had some more, then once again waited for two hours. After that third round of bone broth, I might have gotten a little overconfident and altered my plan… I had a couple hard-boiled eggs, which didn’t stay with me long. Well, my digestive system had no problems putting all that bone broth and hard-boiled eggs into the express lane after that little vacation I gave it. Later that evening, I grilled some chicken wings seasoned with garlic and parmesan, which thankfully caused no issues and stuck around for the appropriate time. The following day, I resumed my normal fasting schedule and eventually broke my fast that afternoon with a light appetizer of grilled pickles wrapped in bacon, and then later had some homemade crab dip for dinner.

Along with monitoring my blood glucose and ketone levels at home, I also had labs drawn before and after. The results from those tests were common for an extended fast but it was good to have to make sure there weren’t any changes that could signal other underlying conditions. I also monitored my weight using a Garmin smart scale. I wanted to not only see what changes happened to overall body weight but also to possible muscle loss and hydration levels. These types of scales are not always the most accurate when it comes to body fat percentages, but they are a good way to gauge what I need by determining what percentage of my overall weight is muscle loss and if I am maintaining a consistent level of fluids in my body. Over the twelve-day period, I lost 21.3 lbs. of body weight, with 5.4 lbs. of that being muscle. I didn’t highlight weight loss as a goal for this fast for a few reasons, but mostly because, although I think any type of healthy fasting is a good way to help manage body weight, there were so many of the other health benefits I wanted to prioritize. I also regained about 5 lbs. within the first few days after breaking my fast, so it’s hard to say just how much “fat” I lost in those 12 days.

With that said, I do need to lose some unwanted fluff that has crept back since my latest divergence from my normally active self. More importantly, I needed to refocus my energy and time to prioritize exercise and clean up my diet again. So, I guess the obvious questions now are: how do I feel post fast and would I do it again? I feel great and reenergized to get my health and wellness back on track. I think this whole experience was not only good for resting and resetting my gut but also for my mind and spirit. I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I do plan on incorporating one or more extended fasts throughout the year along with my continued intermittent fasting. I am very grateful to the staff over at Extavita RTP for making my first extended fast a great experience. My wife, Kelly, was also very supportive and always humored my little adventures (well, other than that one time she threatened to make cheesecake midway through).

So now, where do I go from here? The two things for me that are top of mind are diet and exercise. I need to get back to where both are priorities and a part of my life, not just something I try to pencil in when I can. This week I started weight training again and will slowly ramp up over the next few weeks to reduce the risk of injury. It has been a little disheartening to see how much strength I’ve lost over the last seven months or so. Of course, everyone loves the muscle soreness that comes with getting back into it. One thing I am adding to my previous well-proven routines is a little extra accountability. Me and a good friend of mine have banded together to provide each other with a little moral support and accountability as we both work towards our own personal health goals. I also plan to come back here a little more often to document and share how the journey is going, and I hope that you will join me.

3 thoughts on “My first extended fast”

  1. Great read good Sir. I admire your passion, as I could never survive this. I agree with better diet and exercise. Sara and I have also committed to eating better this year. We did not go as hard as you have, starting with meal preps for lunch and dinner. And cutting back on booze…..😒

    1. I may or may not have a habit of taking things to the extreme. Consistency is what really matters, even if it seems like the positive changes are small. I have also tried to cut back on my tasty beverage intake and am attempting a dry January.

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