I have been doing intermittent fasts for about 18 months now — tried with a 20/4, then moved to a 12/12 and now try to do more of a 16/8. It helps me control my appetite and I have seen a much better focus in the fasted state; even work-outs are better. It has greatly benefited my health over the last year and a half.
My mental health has not been that great, mainly because I never worked on it. Long hours at work over the last 5 years, stress of trying to grow 2 businesses in 1 household (me and my wife’s) and regular challenges at home with a teenager ready to go to college and a to-be-teenager — all added up over the last few years. I started losing focus, felt like I had ADD at times, got more and more impatient and started reacting unnecessarily to trivial situations. Even during quiet times, which were seldom, I kept reaching out for emails and texts.
I started guided meditation a few months back. It has been a struggle, but I kept at it. I also started keeping a journal of random thoughts — gratefulness, mental dumps, to-do lists — anything that was on my mind. Started doing these after reading numerous articles, listening to several books on the topic of stress management, self-improvements etc. It did help a bit but I guess these take a while after years of mental torture.
One thing that really intrigued me was try a longer fast. So I decided to take up the challenge. Booked me a vacation rental out in the boonies (the pic on the top is where I spent most of my time), told my wife what I was trying to do and to everyone else I just said I would unavailable for the next 4 days — needed to disconnect and take some time out.
- Do a 72 hour fast
- Do not talk at all for 72 hours
- Disconnect from everything for 72 hours (phone, tv, internet, anything electronic)
- Think, reflect, meditate, journal
- Challenge myself
- See what the hullabaloo is about the benefits of a long fast
- Focus on topics of indecision in my life
- Learn about myself
- Think through my challenges and create achievable solutions
- Just see what it would feel like
If you want to know what happened just go to the conclusion! But if you read through I am hoping there are several things that might be of help to you if you are looking to do something like this.
It is important to start preparing for the fasting. A few days prior to the fast I started upping my Magnesium and Vitamin D by taking some supplements. I do not take any supplements so had to go out and buy some at a vitamin store. Quite confusing because there are a gazillion choices! Eventually bought something that was more natural than others or at least what it said on the label.
If you want to know why Magnesium here is a good article to read on the ZeroFasting site.
I did Vitamin D because it is important for muscle strength and function and a deficiency causes depression and anxiety. Most are longer term impacts, but I thought that supplementing during the fast might help feeling better overall.
5 days prior to the fast I went on a very low carb diet — I am mostly low carb, but went real low carb, resorting mostly to vegetables and yogurt — kind of preparing my digestive system to slow down. This I believe helped me a lot as I was not feeling heavy or tired at all when I started. I would highly recommend this.
Got me a very secluded and private place to think, reflect, meditate. Cleaned up everything at work so that I can go MIA for 4 days. Made a list of things I had to make decisions on while I was thinking and reflecting. Packed light and headed on out.
Day 1 was not bad. I was used to 20 hours of not eating. I kept drinking flavored sparkling water, herbal infusions made from ginger tea, lemon and all types of herbal teas and also had some coffee.
At 10pm (24 hours into the fast) I had 40 calories worth of beef bone broth — kept everything under 50 calories to stay in the fasted state. Started feeling really hungry. But after some deep breathing exercises and a strong ginger, mint infusion I realized that the hunger was more mental. I was starting to feel tired and the eerie silence all around a 10 acre house in the woods with nothing around but crickets was a good call for me to pull the blinds and retire.
Next morning I had a slight headache. So I drank some coffee, took a magnesium tablet and got through my day relatively fine. By the mid day, I started feeling really tired and took Vitamin D and had different teas.
Hour 35 to hour 45 was the worst for me as far as hunger goes. I was literally pacing and watching the clock most of these 10 hours.
Day 2 was in the books with another cup of broth. This time it tasted like the best thing I ever had. But strangely around 7pm I started feeling that my hunger was gone. From there on till the end I was in this intense focused mental state, as if the only thing that was important was the fact that I was living to get through this journey.
Slept much better. In the morning I was a lot more tired than the other 2 days, but not hungry at all. Kept at it with the magnesium and Vitamin D supplements. Around 10am my energy levels were back up. By 4pm I had finished 140 ounces of sparkling water, no coffee and some of the herbal infusions that I was making with ginger, cinnamon, fenugreek seeds, oregano, turmeric, ginseng and Gogi berries — mostly hunger suppressant herbs.
At around 9:15pm I stared preparing for the meal to break the fast — victory was around the corner. Food was ready at 9:45pm. I was not tired at all and not hungry. I realized I could go on fasting for longer, but this time it was 72 hours. I stared at the plate for 15 minutes — seemed like a long time. At 10pm I dove in — heaven. In the quiet of the little cottage in the woods, the little pieces of vegetables felt like the best thing I have experienced in a very long time. Not sure if it was the long hours of not eating or the fact that I was happy to win the mental challenge.
Bowel movements were normal on day 1, then almost nothing on the rest of the 2 days, but no upsets. All the liquid all day had its share of bathroom visits though.
Breaking the fast
It is extremely important to break the fast in a good way — the digestive system needs to get back into action slowly. I was not hungry at all, but I was looking forward to the part of making food and eating — I love to cook, create new dishes and so that was the part I was missing the most. But I stayed away from anything heavy like meats or stews.
I did a simple salad of small cucumbers, tomatoes, celery (boiled it a little), 1 small avocado, EVOO, salt and pepper. After the 1st bowl, I waited for about 30 minutes and went back to make a second one. I felt really full and extremely tired and fell asleep.
I got back to my 16/8 routine after I got back home and did not feel much different, except that I felt more tired than normal the 1st day back after I had my meals. But right after that there were no problems.
Here is an excellent 3 minute video from Dr. Berg on how to break a long fast and why.
Reflecting, thinking and meditating
Other than the fast I wanted to try and spend some time with myself to reflect, think and meditate. Disconnecting from all things electronic the only things I could do was play some of the board games in the cottage by myself, read books or write or just sit and do nothing (basically think) other than getting up to make tea, coffee and the herbal infusions.
I wanted to do 2 things physically — try and keep a light smile on my face and focus at times to ensure that my forehead was not wrinkled which it normally is, for whatever the reason — excited, worried, upset, angry, sad — my forehead wrinkles. This is something I thought would try to get me to an even-keel state of mind.
Day 1 was normal. Like the times when I do not use my phone, I had a lot of urge to check emails, messages — I am not a big social media person so that was not a pull for me. But I read a lot on my phone, including news and that felt hard at times not knowing what is going on in the world. Meditation was normal — I am still a novice at it and found it challenging like I normally do, but kept at it like I normally do as well.
I wrote a lot on my notebook about everything that I wanted to sort out — family, friends, career, life, goals, purpose and several specific topics focus on indecision. By the evening I realized I had filled up several pages and the handwriting was surprisingly very clear — as if I had no rush to finish writing.
Day 2 was very different. By mid day I had no desire to check my phone. In fact it felt like I was liberated from all things electronic. I actually hoped that something like this would happen, but kept thinking it is really not possible. But it was this amazing calmness I had around noon. I was tired, but also felt really at peace as I sat looking out into the woods rocking on the chair…back and forth…back and forth…back and forth, sometimes getting up to write some more.
The peace and calm feeling continued and I could meditate and think a lot better. With my meditation I have started mindfulness recently and I realized that I was a lot more mindful than normal. I could stay with a thought for a much longer time. It felt good because I could punch through the list of things I had on my planner.
Day 2 evening felt very eerie and scary with a sense of complete loneliness and the cold dark woods felt like it was closing in on me every second. I kept looking out the big windows everywhere thinking something or someone would come through them — at times I felt it was the edge of the world. Normally I am not worried about these things. But I think the lack of food was making me more tired than normal and I kept thinking I was hallucinating. I opened a pack of cards and played some solitaire, read a book on Ayurvedic cooking that I found there (fascinating read) and kept at it with my notebook.
Right around 7pm I got up and made myself a strong cup of ginger, lemon and ginseng tea. From there on I felt this strange and intense focused state of mind. The hunger was gone and the will to do anything else but to reflect, think, go through everything I wanted to go through in my notebook and write, was gone.
It was a strange sense of accomplishment.
On one straw was this eerie outside, on another this dazed state of no food and the feeling of complete disconnection from anything but myself and my thoughts felt as if I had this strange power to solve any problem that would come my way then. Except that there was no problem to solve or just that I did not want to invite any problem to solve!
Day 3 was the best day for reflection, meditation and mental focus. By then it was well over 55 hours of no talking whatsoever and complete electronic disconnection. I read everything I had written and started to go through each and every thing with greater detail. I realized meditation was a lot easier and I could concentrate on my breathing a lot better. It was by no means anywhere close to being perfect, if there is any such thing that is, but it was a lot better than normal.
After breaking the fast, I felt really lazy and did not want to think at all. It was an amazing feeling of emptiness. No thought at all. I stared out into the dark woods just scared and feeling eerie, but there was no other thought in my mind.
Since then I have been able to better manage my thoughts, or so I feel. Every so often when I am feeling restless I close my eyes and try to imagine the focused state — it is hard to remember the exact feeling, except that it was extremely peaceful and calm compared to now.
The first 24 hours did not feel much different. I caught me talking to myself a few times and stopped right away. The next 24 hours was different. There were several things at play of course — the no electronic, internet, tv state, the fasted state and a sense of nothingness — all may have contributed to this — but not talking at all was really enjoyable. I was trying to document all the sentiments, emotions, feelings, sensations so that I could write it later. At one point I wrote this.
On a regular basis, if I had one thing to accomplish daily is to find a large part of the day not talking at all.
Day 3 was the best day. Other than tiredness, the no-talking state was really enjoyable and calming.
When I left the cottage, and was driving out of the woods (no pun intended!), it felt very strange. The car, the road, the drive. The 1st sign of another car made me somehow feel a little sad. I guess I had liked the retreat is what I told myself because in the business of getting packed and cleaning up I could not think through how it all felt the last day.
First thing I did once I got out was that I called my wife and although it was great to hear her voice, I could barely say much, other than regular pleasantries and that I should be back around this time. Most of the day I was very quiet. I got back around early evening and hit the sack earlier than normal.
Since then I have noticed that I talk lesser. You might say how a 4 day retreat can bring about such changes. Maybe I am more impressionable than others or maybe this was something that was more needed by me than others. But it definitely helped me to realize several things about myself. One of them was that it feel great not to talk too much!
My phone usage is in the average, which is not good as far as I am concerned. A lot of it is using Google Maps, but I know that it gets in the way of focus, mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, reflection, thinking and life in general. For the past year or so I gray-scaled my phone which actually helped a lot, but I know it is not enough. So I decided to quit cold turkey — at least for a few days.
After a few hours of day 1 it was starting to feel a lot calmer. Day 2 onward I did not even think about the phone. If I saw it on the night stand, it just felt really liberating. Life came to a standstill after how long I could not remember. I tried to think back and I could not figure out when this was the case — even during vacations, massages, workouts I never felt this level of calmness and quiet. The permanent wrinkles on my forehead were not there.
After the retreat, going back to my phone felt like cheating. So I decided to delete a whole bunch of apps and block out most notifications. It has been a few weeks and the usage is down, but still not to the level I want. I guess it will be a work in progress.
I try to workout regularly — mostly isometrics and cardio. Recently I have been trying an isometric set which I try to hold for a specific amount of time with no breaks in the middle. I thought that my energy levels would be much lower than normal so I only decided to do the isometrics for the 4 days.
Day 1 was normal — I did the sets like normal — held for my usual time. Day 2 was really challenging and towards the end I had to stop. Day 3 was incredible — not only did I finish the set, it felt a lot easier and I beat my personal best. After the set I even felt like going for a run, but I stayed because I thought of preserving my energy for the last 15 hours.
Overall I would look at this as somewhat of a personal win. Half of day 2 was the hardest as far as the fast went and after that I was not hungry anymore. Mental focus was a lot more intense than normal — no-talking, disconnection helped there. Energy levels were up and down on the first 2 days. Day 3 the energy level was back up and workout was easy — beat my personal best on isometrics.
What I would do different next time
- Cut down on coffee — sleep was hampered, felt dehydrated at times
- Find a less eerie place to have better evenings and nights — just a personal thing
- Bring more herbs that suppress hunger
- Get some self-improvement kits — better use of time
I would highly urge anyone that is reading this to try this out and let me know how it went. I have read several other articles that talk about similar experiences. Maybe I went overboard with the silence and disconnection. But it was the best personal experiences I have had as far back as I can remember. Cannot wait to try this again.