The week prior to Thanksgiving I heard an excellent Tim Ferriss podcast with guest Dominic D'Agostino, a PhD studying ketosis. They discussed lots of interesting ideas but for me the most compelling was the research regarding ketosis and cancer cells.
As I understand it--and I am oversimplifying here--cancer cells feed on glucose, or sugars. When you eat very few carbohydrates or fast for long enough your body goes into a state called ketosis. This causes you to produce ketones, which allow for all other normal functions of the body and brain, but that cancer cells cannot feed on.
The implication is that someone with a family history of cancer may be able to proactively arrest or even kill potential cancer cells with periodic therapeutic fasting.
I recently did a 5 day water fast for four reasons:
1. For the reputed therapeutic effects. There have been quite a few cancer deaths in my family, and that seemed like a good enough reason to give it a shot.
2. To gain some clarity. I assumed that all the extra time spent not-eating would allow for deep focus and decision-making.
3. To counteract a week of Thanksgiving gluttony. I ate at least five meals a day and drank like Henry IIIV for four days straight. My body just felt like it needed the opposite after that bombardment.
4. To test my discipline. I doubted whether I could finish it. Don't you?
What would happen?
I've mentioned before that I think we've all become a bit soft in the 21st century, and I periodically do things to stress my body in order to make it tougher. I've never liked the idea of needing a drink or a cigarette, and have stopped using caffeine when I've felt I was too dependent on it.
With fasting, I wanted to see if I could gain leverage over food in the same way. Below are my 5 day water fast results.
Up at 6am feeling good. My last meal was at 5pm yesterday, and I'm already thinking about food a lot. Train chest this morning with very high volume, and I've somehow convinced myself that I'm already weaker in the gym even though I've only been fasting for 13 hours, which I'm very used to.
Funny how that works.
Only two hours of training clients today. Mid-day meditation feels great. The hunger pangs come in waves after 2pm, but nothing too crazy. I'm getting over a cold I picked up during the gluttony week, so I'm a bit beat up already. 20-min nap around 3:30pm.
The headache starts to manifest itself around 6pm. This is much later than I expected given my relatively high caffeine intake. There's a dull ache in the back of my head, and I go to sleep around 10pm.
Up at 6am feeling pretty tired. I do only 1/3 of my leg training workout before running out of time and motivation, and chew a couple of cubes of sugar free gum. Serious brain fog around 8am. A surge of energy around 9am, almost like a caffeine rush.
Four hours of personal training clients today, washing the car and errands. I drive to Hollywood in the afternoon for a couple of castings, and the second headache sets in at 4:30pm on the way home.
Feeling run down, and pretty strong hunger at the 48-hour mark (5pm). A little dingy and slow, a bit like mild drunkenness. I lie down for 15 minutes. Evening meditation goes well, and headache seems to go away during.
When it returns a few minutes after, I do a bit of reading before bed around 10pm.
Up at 6am feeling less heavy, but not as good as I've read I'm supposed to feel on the third day. My shoulders and arms workout is embarrassingly light (for me), but I get through the whole thing. I chew a piece of gum for fear that my ketosis breath is going to be offensive (it oddly isn't).
Two and a half hours of personal training sessions, and then on to a transformation project with my friend, Sultan Sharrief.
This entails a trip to the farmers market and Costco around 12pm. Normally I think Costco is one of the worst places on earth and just being there makes me agitated. Today I feel absolute joy and bliss just standing there. I just feel so physically good that I want to give everyone a hug.
I go to the ocean in the middle of the day after doing some work on the computer. First, a great meditation on the sand, then I have a swim in the cold water for around 10 minutes. Back into the house for a 2-hour cooking instruction session--without any serious cravings.
After, I'm back in my room starting to think about food but the headaches haven't been an issue at all. Slow to get to sleep around 10:15pm.
Up at 5am feeling wide-awake. I toss and turn until I have to get up at 6am. Not much motivation at all to train today but I get nearly all of a back workout done. Nothing this week has really been over 75% of what I normally use in terms of training load.
I train clients for 2.5 hours, edit a couple upcoming episodes of Digital Communion, then head to a casting on Sunset Blvd. I go visit my sister and her family, and watch my nephews in a school performance.
Spend the rest of the evening thinking periodically about food and reading. Go to bed at 10:30.
Up at 5am again feeling pretty good. I do the Wim Hof Method breathing exercises for the first time in many months, and feel spectacular. I manage 30 push ups on my first go with the breath holding. Not great, but something to build on.
I do lots of focused reading and feel pretty happy knowing that I plan to break my fast at 5pm tonight.
I weigh about half a pound over what I weighed in 2010 at my first bodybuilding contest, the Texas Shredder (after 16 weeks of dieting!). Although I'm still carrying some visible fat, I don't look to be more than a month away from contest condition.
This is amazing and unexpected to me. I do a couple hours of very focused reading, train clients for another 1.5 hours, and then drive to San Diego (2.5 hours) for a casting.
Every hour I move closer to my first meal makes me a bit more excited. At the gas station before driving back, I briefly consider popping in and grabbing a protein bar or something, but I quickly shut these thoughts down. On the drive back to Los Angeles, I hit the inevitable traffic, and now I get grumpy.
Waze said 2 hours and 45 minutes! It turns into almost 3 and a half.
My back hurts from six hours in the car, but when I get home to scoop up my lady to go to a restaurant, I pop into the kitchen and eat a few pomegranate seeds and one date and ooooohhhhhhhh.... That's. So. Sweet. The mouth feel, the contrast, the brightness.
I don't know how I'm going to be able to wait 40 more minutes to get to Pho Ever and then 20 minutes to wait for the food...
But I do. And here it is.
Food will never taste as good as when you haven't had any in a while. Those who know, know. The rest of you should give this a shot at least once, just to experience what I'm talking about. Textures, flavors, acidity and sweetness--all these things are so pronounced.
It is as spiritual and sensual as the acting of eating can be. It's wholly unique. Unsustainable, but unparalleled.
I broke my fast 123 hours after my last meal with a coconut smoothie with boba (tapioca pearls), a large pho tai (Vietnamese beef noodle soup), two bbq chicken spring rolls with peanut sauce (for dippin'), and half of a lemongrass pork banh mi (sandwich on baguette). And I ate it slowly.
I figured I would get full pretty quickly because of the whole shrunken stomach thing. Nope. I ate all of it and it was glorious.
5 Day Water Fast Results:
Weight lost: 11 pounds
Insight gained: .35 Oshos
Stress relieved: .67 Dalai Lamas
Focus achieved: 2.5 Tony Robbinses
Cancer cells arrested: immeasurable
No discernible body odor during this time
Did not remember any dreams
Last real bowel movement was on the first day of the fast
Could not train with more than about 75% of normal training load
Felt very calm throughout, but blissful in the middle of the third day
No naps needed after the second day
Mental acuity never felt optimal--I felt great, but never super sharp
Not as hard as it seems
I read a lot of information before starting this fast, and I think there are just too many conflicting ideas. It is all completely individual and depends on how you respond. Here is a list that worked for me:
1. Drink more water than you normally do. I don't think there needs to be a set amount of water that you drink every day. I made sure to drink far more than I normally do and I never felt dried out or dehydrated.
2. Push until you need to back off. I don't buy the whole taking it easy for the first couple of days stuff. You just aren't that fragile. If you crashed in a remote place with no supplies, I don't think you'd lay around until you adapted to having no water.
I trained. I worked. I lived. You should, too.
3. Nap when you need to. The first couple of days were more difficult because I was coming off the physiological addiction to caffeine. I took naps when the headaches were overwhelming, and I see no reason not to get more sleep than usual overall.
4. Write down your observations, ideas, etc. I think my powers of recall have faded overall, whether I'm fasting or not, as I age. I intend to try to improve in this area, but in the meantime, it was helpful to write down how I was feeling, what my imagination was harnessing, and how I viewed the world around me.
5. Meditate, pray, get into nature, and connect. All of my meditations were more effective than usual during this time--I assume because I was very focused and did not have my usual chemical or nutritional distractions.
My senses were heightened as I got deeper into the fast, and the stinging cold of the ocean, deafening crash of the waves, brininess in the water, and scarlet-purple of the mountains were more vibrant than ever.
6. Break your fast however you like, but be prepared for the consequences. I know, I know: you're supposed to have watermelon juice and vegetable broth or whatever. Not a chance.
I was just going to have the soup, but then the spring rolls looked good. And I can't go all the way to Hawthorne for Vietnamese and not get a banh mi. So I did. And an hour later I had some gurgling and an elimination much faster (and liquidy-er) than I would have liked.
So... Next Time?
I'll probably do it for much longer when the timing is appropriate. I think it could work well in the middle of a very focused, creative endeavor, like making a series of paintings or music. Until then, I'm going to think about the implications of having it as another tool in my arsenal for body composition changes.
Today I woke up with lots of energy and as a result I didn't drink any coffee, as much as I like it. I don't think that will last--because coffee is awesome in most ways--but I do like not having to have anything at the start of my day. It's liberating. More not-food for thought as I process the things I learned in this short experiment.
Are you going to give it a shot? If so, let me know in the comments below so that we can compare notes. Perhaps together we can help codify this ancient and extremely powerful technique for healing and resetting the body.