I tried fasting for 5 days… and this what happened (results).
Fasting… sounds crazy, right? I recently did one myself, voluntarily! And I would 100% do it again.
I documented my first experience of doing a long fast on Instagram, and I received a lot of questions about it, so I’ll do my best to answer all those here.
I found water fasting to be an extremely challenging experience – mainly because it was such a huge jump from my usual fasts; 16-24 hrs, but I felt AMAZING afterwards, when I could eat again. I must emphasise that this is MY personal experience after doing a lot of research. I’m not suggesting anyone else try fasting, at least without talking to a medical professional and doing the same due diligence. Fasting is generally considered safe for short periods of time, but not everyone responds the same, and some may find that they can’t or shouldn’t do it.
This is my experience and what worked for me…
Water fasting… What is it?
As the name reveals, it’s simply fasting on water, and ONLY water.
Herbal teas, black coffee, supplements, broth, and calorie-free drinks don’t come under a water fast. You can only drink plain water on a water fast. The results can often be more profound than other types of fasting. This type of fasting is also known as long-term fasting.
There are so many types of fasting, and it can vary in duration from 12 hours–30 days, though 24-72 hours is usually considered safe for most people. The longest I’ve personally fasted is 5 days.
Why I Started Fasting
In our primal days, our ancestors would have fasted naturally during times of famine or when access to food was limited. It’s what’s allowed us to survive throughout millennia. The fat stores around our body are used for food and energy. This form of energy is also a fantastic way to reduce inflammation (but more on that later).
In our modern day lives, the idea of choosing to go without food seems absurd, though to many people throughout history, the notion of eating 4-6 times a day would seem equally strange, and unheard of.
Fun fact: According to Wellness Mama;
Researchers estimate that Americans actually don’t even eat just 4-6 times a day. The actual number is closer to 17-18 times a day. Not you? Consider this… from a biochemical perspective, anytime we put something caloric in our mouths, there is a digestive event. Every hand full of nuts, every sip of smoothie between meals or coffee with cream. The body sees all of those as digestive events.
We are eating more, much more, than our body needs, and are consequently giving our body less time to fast – an important state required by the body to go around and “spring clean” itself, among other things.
I chose to fast for the many benefits that came along with it. I started out water fasting, but quickly incorporated broth and herbal teas into my fast to help with the intense hunger and feelings of nausea I was experiencing (that I believe were caused by low blood sugar and low levels of electrolytes – in my case).
The books and articles I read before fasting shared some of the benefits that short-term fasting can bring, such as:
- Lowering inflammation
- Encouraging fat loss and promote the production of ketones
- Reducing damage from oxidative stress
- Boosting immunity
- Encouraging autophagy (that “spring cleaning” I mentioned earlier)
Systemic inflammation and oxidative stress are big factors behind a lot of chronic disease experienced today.
The word “autophagy” literally means “self-eating,” – derived from the Greek words auto (self) and phagy (eating), where the body goes around and recycles old cells to create new, healthier cells – or as Scott Gooding explained it in The Keto Diet:
When the body experiences a period of starvation, it triggers a certain energetic pathway to promote ‘cleansing‘… from a cellular level… Consider that our bodies have two energetic pathways. The first one is an anabolic pathway and responsible for cellular growth and cell division… The second pathway is responsible for cell rejuvenation, so rather than the cell responding to stress to divide and grow, it removes dead cell components, toxins and cleanses. This is called cell autophagy.
The relationship between one pathway and another means that when one is activated the opposing is stifled.
This cleansing process is seen in the brain, too, with fasting promoting neuronal autophagy (self eating). Without it, the brain does not grow or function as it should.
Fasting helps stimulate autophagy. Even shorter fasts, like intermittent fasting, can bring about positive effects, though the biggest results seem to come from longer fasts.
According to Wellness Mama;
Studies have found that autophagy can lead to a decreased risk of cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Other studies found that autophagy can increase longevity and reduce causes of mortality. Recycling = good for cardboard and good for our cells too!
In David Sinclair’s book, Lifespan, he quotes:
After twenty-five years of researching ageing and having read thousands of scientific papers, if there’s one piece of advice I can offer, one surefire way to stay healthy longer, one thing you can do to maximise your lifespan right now, it’s this: eat less.
Reduces Inflammation & Oxidative Stress
Studies show that fasting helps lower inflammation in the body by reducing insulin build-up in the blood. It also reduces pro-inflammatory cytokines.
BHB is a compound that inhibits NLRP3, a part of a set of proteins called the inflammasomes which drive the inflammatory response in many disorders such as autoimmune diseases, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and other autoimmune disorders.
According to Katie Wells in her article, Water Fasting Benefits, Dangers & My Personal Experience;
The researchers found that BHB is produced by:
– Fasting (most effective)
– High intensity exercise
– Caloric restriction
– A ketogenic diet
Fasting for just 3 days (specifically water fasting) could regenerate the immune system, according to a 2014 study. Fasting encourages stem cells to regenerate new white blood cells, as it lowered white blood cell counts in the study.
Boosts Brain Function
When fasting or on the ketogenic diet, the body switches over from using glucose as its main source of energy, to burning fat. Instead of glucose (sugar), the brain uses ketones (a by-product of using fat for energy) as fuel. There’s so much research behind the benefits of ketones as a primary fuel source for the body rather than glucose, and is believed to be a more efficient fuel for the brain.
My Experience of Fasting on Water, Broth & Herbal Tea
I researched a lot before jumping in to my 5-day fast (there are some great videos by Jason Fung and Peter Attia on fasting). But, like I said before, I’m not suggesting anyone jump straight into a fast, I’m just sharing my personal experience. If you’re considering fasting it’s important that you do plenty of research beforehand and talk to a medical professional to ensure you do it correctly and safely.
I picked a week that was free of work and any major activities (I also stopped exercising for the week, as I felt quite sick and low in energy for most of it). This was a good thing as, spoiler alert… the first 3 days of fasting are hard. Definitely not fun at all. I’ve heard that if you’ve been following a keto diet for a while beforehand, it can make fasting a lot easier.
Throughout the fast I consumed LOTS of water, as well as broth and some herbal teas. However, on the morning of day 2 I began to feel quite nauseous, from the moment I woke up until about 11AM. After that it settled down and I began to feel a little better as the day went on. This happened on day 3, too, so I researched into it and nausea can be caused by a number of reasons. Low blood sugar or low electrolytes can be a couple of the causes, so I focused on these two to begin with. I started adding a pinch of salt to my water to help boost electrolytes, and consumed more broth throughout the day, and by the next day I woke up feeling a lot better. If it is low blood sugar, it’s important to monitor yourself really carefully with this, as it can lead to serious health problems if left unchecked. If low blood sugar persists, it may be a good idea to stop the fast there. Always listen to your body, and how it’s responding.
Electrolyte depletion is one of the bigger risks of fasting, so once I added some high quality Himalayan salt to the water I was having each day, I found that really helped. The headaches and tiredness I was experiencing reduced dramatically.
The amount of water you’re drinking is also important during a fast. Not drinking enough water can cause problems, as can drinking too much. I just drank when I felt thirsty and added a pinch of salt to the water I was having.
By day 4 and 5 I felt almost back to my normal self again (how I felt pre-fast), and I only really felt hungry in the evenings.
My Experience of Fasting for the first time: 5-Day Fast
Breaking a Fast
It’s so important to return to normal eating carefully, especially after longer fasts. If not done correctly, in extreme cases after long fasting, the body can experience something called refeeding syndrome. This happens when fluids, insulin and electrolytes become out of balance. In severe cases, this can be fatal, so breaking the fast correctly is extremely important!
From what I’ve read it’s recommended to start with broth, soft cooked vegetables, fermented veggies, and some gentle fruits. Dairy, fish, meat and raw veggies are all a little too harsh to have when breaking a fast, so it can be a good idea to wait 3 post-fast days for these. It’s also recommended to wait 4-5 days before adding in caffeine or alcohol in very small amounts.
Slowly start reintroducing foods to give your digestive system time to start working again.
Always seek the guidance of a medical professional on what you should consume to break your fast to ensure you do it correctly.
What I ate to break my fast
My Fasting Results
The biggest changes I noticed from fasting were:
- Weight loss: I lost over 3 kg during my 5-day fast, of which 1.5 kg stayed off. The other kilo and a half were likely from water, muscle, and food in the digestive system.
Who Should Not Fast
To keep it short and sweet, no one should fast just because I did, and I highly recommend everyone thoroughly research and talk to a medical professional before trying any fasting. Fasting may also not be a good idea for:
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
- People with medical conditions
Unless you’ve been directed otherwise by a medical professional.
- The Keto Diet by Scott Gooding (book)
- Dr. Jason Fung ‘Therapeutic Fasting‘ (video)
- Wellness Mama ‘Water Fasting Benefits, Dangers & My Personal Experience‘ (article)
Wells, Katie. (Updated: July 30, 2019). Water Fasting Benefits, Dangers & My Personal Experience. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/345549/water-fasting/
Gooding, Scott. The Keto Diet. Australia and New Zealand: Hachette Australia, 2018. Print.
Salzberg, Steven. (December 30, 2014). Can A 3-Day Fast Reset Your Immune System?. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg/2014/12/30/can-a-3-day-fast-reset-your-immune-system/?sh=316fef233c93
Sinclair, David A. PhD and LaPlante, Matthew D. Lifespan. 2019. 1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9GF. Thorsons, An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers. Print.
Link, Rachael, MS, RD. (July 30, 2018). 8 Health Benefits of Fasting, Backed by Science. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fasting-benefits
Gunnars, Kris, BSc. (Updated: May 13, 2021). 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-health-benefits-of-intermittent-fasting
Tello, Monique, MD, MPH. (March 10, 2020). Intermittent fasting: Surprising update. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156
Taylor, Mary-Grace. (August 12, 2020). 9 Surprising Benefits of Fasting. Greatist. Retrieved from https://greatist.com/health/benefits-of-fasting
Hewitt, Nathan. 10 Benefits of Fasting That Will Surprise You. Life Hack. Retrieved from https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/10-benefits-of-fasting-that-will-surprise-you.html