On Wednesday, August 21, 2013, I did something I would have never believed myself capable of achieving. I completed a full 7-day fast, drinking only distilled water for the entire seven days. It was a spiritual fast but I used the opportunity to track fat loss as well as muscle loss and I learned a heck of a lot in the process.
A few months have passed since completing the fast. I’ve been monitoring how my body responds to food and exercise and several other post-fast factors. Fasting has changed my mind about several things and now that I’ve had some time to evaluate my personal data, I thought it time to share my findings and beliefs. That means there’s some bro-science here – and maybe you’ll disagree with me, but this post is about my experience and how I feel I can apply this experience to better results going forward.
Short-Term Fasting Doesn’t Hurt Metabolism
Back when I started trying to get lean (nearly three years ago), I made the mistake that many do – going too low on my caloric intake, for far too long. I heard “slow and steady” was the key to fat loss so many times that I believed that this alone was all that was necessary. I went several months without refeeding. I stopping seeing results of any kind – no fat loss and no more drop in weight. I was stuck.
During my week fast, my weight dropped as low as it did during those months and months of improper eating (it was nearly six months and I went as low as 800 – 1000 calories a day the final three weeks).
Did my metabolism drop during my week-long fast? Most definitely. I felt it in every way on day seven. I was having to stop and refocus while just out walking. Everything felt like a slow-motion movie.
It was after the fast though, that I learned how truly smart my metabolism is.
Remember those months of poor dieting I told you about? I gained a bit of fat when I stopped doing that and returned to 1800 calories a day. I jumped from the mid-150’s to 172 and had to reduce calories to 1700 a day. I slowly worked my way back to 2000 (At 170, my maintenance is 2,000 and it’s 1800 at 160).
Conversely, the fast didn’t affect me at all. I did no reverse dieting of any kind. I jumped right back into 1800 calories a day and I jumped about five pounds in the first couple days (I thought it would be more actually, since I was completely glycogen depleted) and after a bad food binge the very next weekend, I weighed in at 164. I was at 162 last Friday before the binge.
Before fasting, I was obsessed with finding that sweet spot where metabolism is optimal and where it just starts lowering – believing this would be a huge factor in getting lean. If I went over the 36-hour mark, I was sure my metabolism would dive down and I could forget about results.
That’s all wrong.
I’m no longer worried about my metabolism slightly decreasing over the course of a few days. It’s taken some time to realize but I now believe that focusing on metabolism is just a waste of time, so long as it’s not dropped severely low over a long, extended period – and I believe that’s weeks to months as opposed to a few days or a week or two.
Maintaining a severe caloric deficit for weeks for months? I wouldn’t recommend that. My extended calorie deficit mentioned above shows that to be bad science. A short fast, however – and I do consider seven days to be a short fast – can have some pretty substantial results in reducing body fat.
Even when metabolism starts to decrease, you’ll still be burning fat.
There’s also the muscle factor. Short fasts have been proven to have a negligible effect of muscle loss for me. My months of low-calorie dieting had the opposite effect. I looked as emaciated and thin as I’ve ever looked in all my 25 years of lifting and working out. Fat loss stalled and a return to normal eating saw my maintenance calories reduced. Yes – metabolic damage is real but it’s the result of long, severely restricted calorie diets – not short-term fasting.
All that said, I’m not planning any more seven-day fasts any time soon. I’m not advising anyone else try it either. I am saying that for myself, I plan to do a lot more two and three day fasts. I’ll probably be doing this every couple weeks for my next n=1 experiment. I’ll let you know how it goes.
By the way.. here’s a picture of my back after the fast. The “before” is from about three years ago, when I first made the decision to start getting lean. As you’ll notice.. the back still looks pretty muscular after a 7-day fast!
Fasting Cures Hemorrhoids
If you read my last post, I stated that I would be including some details that I hadn’t yet mentioned. Yes.. unfortunately, for the first time in my life I was suffering from hemorrhoids and it wasn’t pleasant. I thought that was something that only truck drivers and really old people get. I was wrong.
For the five months prior to my fast, I had been dealing with this issue. It was slow to surface (bad choice of words) and then it seemed like nothing worked for relief. I tried six different topical creams and noticed little difference. I’m one of those guys who won’t go to the doctor unless it’s just an absolute last resort and I had already made the decision that I was headed there next – right after my fast ended. I had a glimmer of hope that fasting might help.
Did it ever! After the second day of fasting, I went the next five days without so much as a single fart. This is apparently exactly what the digestive tract requires to repair itself. I was still skeptical that returning to eating normal might re-aggravate the condition, but it has not. No more Preparation-H for me – just a good extended fast and your hemorrhoids will be cured.
If I had achieved nothing else with this fast, this nugget of knowledge was worth it. If you’ve dealt with this issue before, you’ll know what I mean.
Fasting Cures Night Leg Cramps
My calf cramps were at an all-time high before fasting. I’ve dealt with calf cramps since I can remember. I’ve tried everything – acetaminophen, ibuprofen, more potassium, more overall minerals such as calcium, more water, less caffeine – you name it. Nothing has ever worked well. I’ve just grown accustomed to waking up on occasion with severe cramps in my calves – and often times my feet.
I had been complaining to my wife about how the severity of my cramps had recently seemed to increase. I started hitting all the home remedies again but the problem was worsening. I’d be sitting in front of the TV at night and both of my calves just started shaking and felt like they had small amounts of electrical current pouring through them. The shaking was visible. You could literally see my skin bouncing up and down – like there were little aliens in there trying to get out. It became a nightly problem and the only thing that helped was getting up and walking. That doesn’t work well when trying to sleep though. I was getting up several times a night to ease my pain.
I had never even considered that fasting would help this problem but I noticed my cramps getting better as my week-long fast progressed. By the end of the fast, I no longer experienced any cramps or pain of any kind. If anything, I would have thought the lack of nutrients and minerals would have worsened this problem, but indeed… it was pure relief. Over three months later now and I’ve not had to get out of bed even once for this issue since the fast.
I have no explanation how this could be or even a good theory.. but I’m pretty darned happy about it.
Fasting Doesn’t Make You Want to Eat Differently
Before my fast, I had scoured the internet – in search of those brave souls who had gone forth before me and managed to completely abstain from food for a full seven days. I didn’t find many fitness fans doing this. It seems that the week-long fasting experience is more common among new-age blogs – with the fast being done more often for meditative and spiritual purposes.
From reading all their accounts, I was excited at the prospect of not craving sugar anymore – of just wanting healthy veggies and meat staples. That’s crap. From the first evening I ended my 7-day fast and started eating again, visions of starchy-carbohydrate foods danced in front of me and the voices in my head screamed that I must consume more CHO.
Since I could pretty much eat anything I wanted those first few days, I succumbed to the temptation and indulged in a few treats. Sugar tastes better than ever after an extended fast. It’s a fact. I had to employ unusual restraint in resisting the urge to stop by Krispy Kreme and consume a dozen glazed.
From the time the fast was over until now, I still have the same cravings I did before. I still have to avoid eating anything with sugar to keep me from craving carb-laden foods. So long as I do that, life is good. As soon as I consume anything with sugar though, I’ve fighting temptation the rest of the day.
This is how it’s always been for me and fasting did not change this at all.
So anyway.. if you decide to do a long fast and you find people commenting on what a wonderful way it is to change your eating habits and how it will lessen your poor food choice cravings – all I can say is this was not my experience at all.
My 7-Day Fasting Conclusion
I’m still thrilled that I was able to do this. I learned so much about my body and I know I’ll be using this knowledge to get even leaner in the coming summer – I’ll be shooting for a new low body fat percentage record this summer yet again.
Currently, I’m doing a winter bulk and I’m already up to 185 pounds. I plan to hit 200 (at least) by the end of January, before leaning out again. I’ve already gained some stomach fat but I’m no longer concerned about a few pounds of fat. I know how to burn this stuff off when I need to now and putting on some muscle is only going to serve my body composition well for the next go-round of lean.
I still won’t advise others to do a 7-day fast because frankly, I don’t want to be sued if you have some problems that I didn’t experience. But.. I will say that a 7 day fast burned fat for me better than anything else and it appears that it can be done without losing muscle.
That’s pretty damn cool. I’m excited about spring already!