Experiences with extended fasting
Recently I've been reading about the benefits of doing an extended water fast. There are apparently benefits when it comes to entering autophagy for cell repair, as well as increases in stem cell production in the a couple of parts of the body. I believe there is also some data to suggest that it increases sensitivity to insulin and does some lasting things to ghrelin and leptin levels. Many people also report clearer thinking, feelings of euphoria, and increased levels of focus after the first day of fasting.
After reading these benefits I decided to try a 72 hour water fast. Unfortunately, I did not feel almost any of the acute effects that were described in most all places that fasting is discussed. For both of the nights that I was fasted I woke up slowly and felt lethargic for a couple hours after waking. I had fairly severe brain fog throughout most of the second and third days. I was drinking electrolyte water, as is suggested (trying to hit 3g sudium/potassium and taking 250mg magnesium supplement/day), but when I drank that at a rate where I would be able to get all of the electrolytes in throughout the day I would have GI distress. I was only able to stomach about 1-2g of sodium/potassium per day
There were times where I felt the focus/energy that was described by other posters online, but it always came with an asterisk. I felt as though I was slightly detached from myself? Almost as through I was sitting inside my own mind/body and driving it as a third party. I will say that after the 18 hour mark I only felt hungry a couple of times. I did have a lot of thoughts about food, but those came from being very introspective about the fact that I was fasting more than anything else.
I want to believe that I did something wrong and thats the reason that I was not able to get the experience that it seems most others do; I would be willing to give it a second shot, but I want to try and figure out what could be improved.
Has anyone else here tried a 3+ day extended fast? What were your experiences?
I do a ~90hr (~3.5 days) fast about every three months, I used to do ~4.5 day fasts but they were a bit too much of an investment. When I first got into it I definitely made mistakes, namely not enough electrolytes and resulting fogginess and overall weakness. Now I can do it basically no problem, aside from just some physical weakness in the last 18hrs or so.
I have some suggestions that helped me which will hopefully help you:
I do think that many of my issues with it came from lack of electrolytes/hydration. I said in the OP that I was getting 1-2g sodium/potassium per day, but thinking back I probably actually only had 3g Na-K the first day and 1.5g Na-K each the second and third days combined. I am chronically semi-dehydrated and i was probably only having 1.5L of water a day as well.
Note that I usually only have 500mL-1L of fluids/day on a normal day so this is probably about even with normal intake.
That is very likely your problem. According to sources cited by Healthline and MayoClinic, you're consuming barely half of what you need (daily intake including food as a source of water). As long as you're not drinking pure water, it's really difficult to over-hydrate when fasting.
Again about the numbers: it's best to try a few different things and see how you react. Make sure the day or two before you're in tip top osmotic and hydrated shape. Those numbers, I assume, are just central values found in the population, but "normal" people don't actually exist and you may need more of something, especially depending on your diet the days before. For me, I simply go with 1.5-2 electrolyte tabs a day, whereas previously I tried only 1 and it wasn't enough.
i’ve only ever done 72hr fasts with meditation or without meditation. either way i don’t feel any better or worse than even i went in.
i like fasting. i think it can recalibrate our relationship with food. for me, i guess the only takeaway is that i don’t fear hunger like a lot of people. i’ve never had any food related hang-ups, though.
if you’re simply avoiding caloric intake and you normally drink coffee, keep the coffee involved. even if you don’t normally, it might help with that initial wake up.
i’ve considered going longer, but there are other paths to enlightenment, such is always my goal.
did your skin break out the third day? i had it bad the first time i fasted, but never to that same extent again.
When I quit smoking, I would get really intense hunger like I had never felt before. I started doing 18/6 intermittent fasting as a way to gain control over my hunger. I 100% agree about the coffee. Once I had my morning coffee, I really wouldn't feel the hunger for a few hours after. And by that time, lunch wasn't too far off, so it was much easier.
I had no issues with breaking out at all. Not that I think this was anything else but a coincidence, but I usually have at least one zit/pimple/cold sore at any given time and I didn't have anything come up when I went into the fast or for the days since then. Given I didn't have any issues going into it either.
I did a three day water fast in late 2021. I did it to aid me in my weight loss journey. I didn’t feel particularly bad, but I also didn’t feel super good. I didn’t have any brain fog, but (and my mom told me this) my voice sounded super weak. Like if I was struggling to talk to the normal volume I usually talk. It ended up backfiring in terms of weight loss since I ended up overeating more than I planned to (I did this close to the holiday season).
I then did a couple of 48 hour fasts, but that was during a period where I was struggling to eat well. So my stomach was really all over the place.
I think about fasting again often, but I just don’t think it’s worth it for me.
I think it's day 4 when the autophagy benefits kick in more strongly. I've read that a long fast once a year is a good recommendation for general health, and doing short fasts regularly (I do intermittent fasting). I haven't been doing long fasting but have been meaning to get into it as it's proven to be a popular 'treatment' for long Covid.
I've done a handful.
I saw something that needs to be addressed first:
Fix this before you even consider it, even if it's just in the few days before your fast. You need to be at your physical best when you start, and being already deficient in water when you should be drinking an additional 20% is a crap way to start. Aim for minimum 2L of water with electrolytes added, your mix probably will work, but if you've got a recommended amount, make sure you're taking that.
I started doing 16:8, my general protocol. I'm not losing weight, but it makes it easier to maintain, and exercise causes me to lose it (but, I'm still quite fat).
Before I did my first 3-day, I'd been doing 36-hour ADF cycles: Eating dinner, skipping a day, eating eight hours starting at lunch the next day. I did this for a few months. I noticed at about 20hr my joints, especially my elbows, would start to cramp up as if I hadn't had enough water, even if I was staying hydrated. Using this stuff, maybe a scoop in 64oz of water, helped me stay properly hydrated until the next meal.
Then I did my first three-day after a few months. I got what I guess would be euphoria, everything felt tingly like I'd just popped an edible, but not really mentally sharper or anything. I needed to up my eletcrolyte intake, but it was just two scoops over 36 hours, so no big deal.
The reason for the build up is to adapt to the extended fasting state. If you're in dire straits your body will do this anyway, but you're living a luxurious life compared to our cave-dwelling ancestors, so you'll want to build up to it for physical and mental comfort. If you get used to increasingly long periods, everything sorta peaks at 24h, then the only battle is "Maaan, that smells good..."
I also found trying to eat something more protein-foward like plain unsweetened yogurt with berries helped, but maybe I was just coasting on calories.
YMMV, but for sustainability I would recommend "training" it like I did. My identical twin brother, who was roughly my same build (even a bit fatter, as we weighed the same, but his frame is smaller) felt like crap, as did my dad. I was used to living close to this most of the time, so it wasn't too much of a physiological or psychological stretch, but they just jumped in and it sucked more because of it.
As far as what I experienced, here's my list:
Interested in learning more about this, anyone have recommendations for legit sources for the length, electrolytes, and benefits info mentioned in comments here?
(edit - the reason I don't just Google it is because the top few results contradict info in this thread, which I'm not saying indicates people in the thread are wrong, but if they have the peer-reviewed sources handy it'd be a lot more efficient than me looking for them)
I'd recommend anything from Peter Attia: https://peterattiamd.com/category/nutritional-biochemistry/fasting/
And Rhonda Patrick: https://www.foundmyfitness.com/topics/fasting
They have articles, podcasts and youtube videos, both solo (via their research teams) and interviews with other scientists and docs.
I'm always sceptical of sources from individual doctors or nutritionists with podcasts and videos whose name and image is closely tied to their brand.
I've been doing some digging into fasting because of this post and I'm struggling to find sources where the benefits aren't also explained from calorie counting, being more mindful, and placebo (from novelty, new routine etc)
It does seem like its an effective way to lose weight for those same reasons above, but seems consensus from wider diet-science like it's a bit too-early-to-call for other benefits. If anyone has anything to the contrary I'd be keen to see!
It's always wise to be wary of any purported health experts, especially those with a "brand", but Rhonda Patrick is actually remarkably well educated. She's also one of the only people to stand up to Joe Rogan about vaccine misinformation on his podcast. Little good it did, since he's still an anti-vaxxer, COVID conspiracy nut, and the comments were full of his idiot fans belittling her... but I think it speaks well of her character. It's still worth taking what she says with a grain of salt, obviously, but IMO despite her "lifestyle" branding and anti-aging/longevity career focus, at least she's not a total kook... unlike a lot of others operating in that same sphere.
Yes, I am in full agreement with you. Attia and Patrick are the only two that I follow and trust on this subject, namely because, as some with a PhD in molecular biology, I've fact checked them before and they check out. Heck, some of their episodes with guests go into even more detail than I would ever need or could follow. I would strongly suggest actually sitting down and going through their content. If you're sceptical of all experts, then you will never get an expert opinion. Even if you could come up with an "average consensus" I wouldn't trust it—because of all the noise out there, you need a critical mind (or team, as with Attia and Patrick) to make sense of it.
But hey, I'm also just another Dr. asshole on the internet ;)