I Water Fasted for 5 Days. Here’s What Happened.

Aw, me, I busted out don’t even ask me how,
I went lookin’ for some help, I walked past a guernsey cow
Who directed me down to the bowery slums
Where people carried signs around sayin’ ban the bums.
I jumped right in line, sayin’ I hope that I’m not late
When I realized I hadn’t eaten for five days straight.

-Bob Dylan, “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”

 

I’ve been an advocate and practitioner of intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating for about a year now. It isn’t super popular in the plant-based/vegan circles. A lot of vegans are used to constant grazing. Plant foods tend to digest more quickly and easily, after all. Nobody likes to be hungry.

The human body is remarkable, though. Most healthy adults can survive extensive periods of time without food. Fasting has been a well-documented spiritual practice. Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Gandhi undertook 17 fasts during India’s Freedom Movement—the longest of which lasted 21 days. And if you have a lot of body fat, you can survive for an exceedingly long time without food. A 27-year-old Scottish man fasted for 382 days in the 1960s—under doctor supervision, of course.

I have been regularly practicing a 16:8 daily intermittent fasting regimen for the past year (16 hours fasted, with an 8 hour eating window), and had recently incorporated what I call “Fast Fridays,” which is exactly what it sounds like—not eating anything at all on Friday. I almost always extend the fast until lunch or dinner on Saturday, usually fasting for 36 to 40 total hours. No big deal.

But I wanted to take on a bigger challenge. I wanted to fast for an entire week.

Why a week? 7 days is a seemingly arbitrary number, when you omit the cultural significance of it.

Perhaps that’s why I failed.

 

Here’s how it all went down…

 

Day 1

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The first day was by far the easiest, since I regularly practice 36-hour fasts every single week. It’s almost not worth talking about. It was easy and I felt great all day, as usual. The only thing notable about this day was that I spent a significant portion of it on the toilet. I took a bunch of senna the night before in an attempt to quickly clean myself out. TMI, I know. But senna works, people. Try it out.

Look it up.

 

Day 2

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I felt amazing waking up on the 2nd day. This was expected and typical, though. Like I said before, I go to bed with a completely empty stomach every Friday, and go to work starving every single Saturday morning. It always works out well for me.

But near the end of my shift at work, even the scented bars of soap started to looked appetizing. Worse yet, I even walked past some packages of hot dogs, and those looked appetizing! HOT DOGS! Do you know how those are made?!

(I’d sooner eat the soap than the hot dogs, though. I don’t hate myself that much.)

But when hot dogs and bars of soap start looking edible, you know you’re hungry.

This was going to be harder than I thought…

 

The real challenge started around what would have been dinner time. I’m used to ending my workweek with a delicious, bountiful vegan feast. I work at a natural grocery store, Detwiler’s Farm Market, in Southwest Florida. I have access to tremendously affordable fresh produce year-round. It’s a vegan’s dream. There is no shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables in my house.

I went to bed very hungry that night. My sleep was terrible. Restless leg syndrome came up out of nowhere. I hadn’t had RLS since I was a kid. But working in the supplement industry, I knew it was probably a symptom of mineral deficiency. Luckily, there was a bottle of Perrier in my fridge. I figured there was at least some magnesium in Perrier, so I desperately chugged the bottle, and lo and behold, my RLS went away after 5 minutes.

(If you suffer from RLS, please try to avoid taking potentially harmful over the counter, synthetic dopamine agonist medications. It might just be a simple magnesium deficiency. Try mineral supplements first. If you know it is a dopamine issue, do some research into Mucuna Pruriens).

After I went to sleep, I woke up with excruciating Charley horses (leg cramps) after a few hours. I solved the magnesium deficiency problem, but not the potassium and electrolyte deficiencies.

Needless to say, I slept terribly that night. Little did I know that my refusal to use supplements during my water fast would cause me to eventually fail on my 7-day goal.

 

Day 3

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After a grueling night of leg cramps, I woke up feeling light as a feather. I weighed in at 168 lbs, down 7 lbs from my initial weigh in of 175 lbs. I understood that much of it was water weight, and I wasn’t carrying any food in my body, but it was still encouraging! I could really start to see my abs, which have historically been accompanied by a bit of belly fat. I tend to carry my fat in my torso, which may be a symptom of adrenal fatigue and high cortisol levels.

I was exhausted, though. I dragged myself to work reluctantly. The lack of caffeine was putting me in the worst mood. This was the longest I’d gone without caffeine since USAF Basic Military Training (in the summer of 2008). I was told that fasting was such a beautiful, spiritual experience. But my brain was incapable of receiving the typical euphoria due to detrimental effects of caffeine withdrawal.

By the time I got home from work, all I wanted to do was eat snacks and watch a movie with my daughter. I couldn’t eat, so instead we watched the first half Lord of the Rings. I drank a San Pellegrino. The Hobbits’ affinity for food and hospitality just made me hungrier. I turned the movie off and went to bed. The leg cramps were even worse than the night before, and I still refused to incorporate a mineral or electrolyte supplement.

 

Day 4

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I woke up, still hurting from caffeine withdrawl. I was starting to get used to life without food, however. At this point all I wanted was coffee. It had been over 72 hours since my last caffeine fix.

In my pain, I yearned for the Holy Spirit, so without hesitation I drove to Meeting.

(I am a Quaker, and we don’t call it “church,” but rather a “Meeting of Friends.” This is because we consider the whole world to be our church. We are the church. For this reason, we avoid claiming any particular building to be a house of God. God is with you wherever you go. That being said, Quakers do not look down upon anyone who attends church, mosque, temple, etc. We choose to do things a bit differently, and some things are simply semantic differences. We love and respect everyone regardless of their spiritual practices/beliefs For more information about Quakers, check out QuakerSpeak on YouTube).

As I sat in silence, my mind rushed with ideas on how to quell the pain I was going through. I thought to myself, why am I doing this? I came to the swift conclusion that my caffeine withdrawal was having a detrimental effect on the spiritual goals of this fast.

At this point, the whole fasting experience had been nothing more than a health experiment/detox/reset.

I ran out of that meeting fast. As soon as it was over, I was gone. No time for coffee with Friends! This was sort of rude of me, and not my typical behavior. I was in too rough of shape to talk to anyone at that point, though.

Ironically, I drove down to Whole Foods and found a large Chameleon Cold Brew coffee on sale. So I bought one (black, of course). I didn’t even have a chance to leave the parking lot before I opened it. But this time I only drank ¼ of the bottle—2 servings! I normally drink all 8 servings (I know, I have a problem).

At that moment the weight of the world had lifted off my shoulders. I drove home singing along to my music, excited to see my family, grateful for the life I’ve been given, and excited to tackle the day ahead. The caffeine had brought me back to normal. This was the euphoria and spiritual fulfillment that I had expected from my fast.

 

Day 5

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Back to work! And this time I had coffee, and I was nearly 14 lbs lighter! Everyone who knew I had been fasting was commenting on how much better I looked than the last few work days. I admitted to them that I had coffee, and that was really the only difference.

Apparently I’m so addicted to caffeine that I look physically ill when I don’t have it.

I felt awesome for most of the day and I was unusually productive. At this point I was certain that I was going through ketosis, and my body had figured out how to utilize fat for fuel. I was still hungry of course, but not that hungry.

On my way home from work, “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” came on through my phone’s shuffle.

That’s when this verse hit me:

Aw, me, I busted out don’t even ask me how,
I went lookin’ for some help, I walked past a guernsey cow
Who directed me down to the bowery slums
Where people carried signs around sayin’ ban the bums.
I jumped right in line, sayin’ I hope that I’m not late
When I realized I hadn’t eaten for five days straight.

This of course, was supposedly inspired by a dream Bob Dylan had. Fasting in a dream is an interesting concept, but nevertheless it resonated with me. I also hadn’t eaten for 5 days straight.

I was terrified about the prospect of yet another night of increasingly horrendous leg cramps. I was also beginning to get sick, which I started feeling near the end of the day. Some coworkers where coughing in a meeting earlier. The meeting was in a small room, and my defenses were down. I breathed in that cough. I had no nutrition left in my body to fight it off. So of course, I ended up acquiring the sniffles and a mild sinus infection.

I took that Bob Dylan lyric as a sign to stop my fast before things became unmanageable.

Call it a moment of weakness, or rather a healthy concern for nutritional pragmatism, I caved in at exactly 120 hours.

So I started cutting up all the fruits and vegetables in my house and tossed them into my Vitamix with some unsweetened almond milk, expired O.J, and some of those fancy ice cubes from Maine. I thought to myself, “I want nutrition and I want it now, damnit!”

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So it was a night of watching Seinfeld on Hulu and chugging down delicious smoothies with my daughter, Brooke. I felt a strange combination of relief, contentedness, and defeat all wrapped into one.

Next time I fast, I will be better prepared to combat the inevitable nutrient deficiencies. That being said, I have no regrets.

I went 120 hours without food or supplements and 72 hours without caffeine.

I’ve come a long way from where I was, and I shouldn’t beat myself up over falling short of my goal.

Just a few years ago I wouldn’t have even been able to go 5 days without a drink, or 1 day without a cigarette.

This is progress. This is success.

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A Vegan Lifestyle is a Life of Abundance, Not Deprivation

The biggest mistake I made during my plant-based transition was focusing on everything I was losing, rather than everything I was gaining.

I was a serial quitter, after all. Not in the workplace or in academia, but with poor lifestyle habits. I quit smoking. I quit drinking. I quit diet soda. I quit regular soda. I quit fast food. I quit prescription medications. I quit over the counter allergy medicines. I get quite the kick out of quitting bad habits, so quitting meat, dairy and eggs felt only natural to me.

But as much as I am a lover of quitting bad habits, I’m also a lover of abundance. I’m a long distance runner. I’ll brew and drink several cups of coffee and tea in one day. I have a supplement to prevent every ailment. My backyard is full of exotic, edible/fruit bearing trees (shh… don’t tell my HOA!). My bedroom walls have always been fully decorated. My pantry looks like I’m preparing for WWIII. And perhaps most notably, I love food and I have a tendency to eat A LOT.

So, even though my vegan journey had been off to a great start, I started longing for what I thought I was missing out on.

As a fishmonger, I loved seafood. Giving up pork, beef, chicken and cheese was easy. Fish was the last bastion of my carnism. Wild-caught sea life epitomizes abundance, and as an abundance lover, I constantly feel the temptation to consume anything new. Seafood was exotic, and there was almost always something new. Sea Urchin? Yes, please! Swordfish spinal fluid? You bet. Fish heads? Bring it on.

Nothing scared me. Hell, I’d have eaten fugu back in my sushi heyday.

But then I realized that there’s a freedom in quitting. No longer was I wrecking my brain, trying to justify eating certain animals. No longer was I spending lots of money on fresh fish and expensive sushi dinners. No longer was I getting fast food and take-out for my lunch breaks.

And just like that, my plate opened up.

There was so much more room for fresh fruits and vegetables. Nuts and seeds became a staple, rather than an afterthought. Exotic grains and high quality breads began to steal the show. I found a whole world of plant foods that I was ignoring. Giving up meat, dairy and eggs really gives you a deeper appreciation of everything else in the food pyramid.

I now walk through the produce department like a kid in a candy store, and navigating the grocery department is an adventure every single time. Now I’m an expert at scouring ingredients lists, and my meals are more exciting than ever before (and it’s hard to top the swordfish spinal fluid).

Don’t let FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) prevent you from making the switch. You’ll quickly find that the less you eat something, the less you crave it. Your taste buds will adapt to whatever you feed it. Our wonderful bodies are hardwired to adapt to change, and as long as you take full advantage of the grocery and produce departments at your local market, you’ll find that there’s a world of culinary abundance out there to discover.

Go vegan and prosper.

F*** The Vegan Police

Insufferable vegans only harm their movement. Judgmental, idealogical hardliners seldom change people’s minds–particularly when fear isn’t an available motivator. It’s time to revolutionize vegan evangelism with a compassionate, empathetic approach tailored towards the mindset of an inherently anthropocentric world.

The new term “plant-based” didn’t spring up from nowhere. Some vegans understand that they have a PR problem. The “V word” has become a politically loaded term– so much so that some food brands are dropping the word “vegan” from their packaging and opting instead for “plant-based.” This semantic work-around is a response to years of negative publicity from insufferable vegan ideologues.

Idealogical groups usually end up cannibalising each other, as exemplified by many political and religious groups throughout modern world history. At the risk of sounding cliche, finding common ground is almost always the more productive route.

For Best Results, Compromise

When you consider the result of your attitude and actions, you will see that a gentler, more moderate approach to activism will yield greater benefits for your cause.

Tobias Leenaert of VeganStrategist.org, uses the example of the “great vegetarian burger and the awful vegan burger” in his book How to Create a Vegan World: a Pragmatic Approach.

Envisage a situation in which you can buy a lunch for a really hungry nonvegan friend, whom we’ll call Bill. The restaurant offers two meatless choices: a great-tasting vegetarian burger (it has some egg in it to bind it), and a terrible-tasting vegan burger. Which one do you pick? From an idealistic viewpoint, you may reason that you cannot allow yourself to buy or even recommend anything nonvegan. Pragmatically, you may decide that if Bill eats the bad vegan burger, he may undergo an experience that will literally and metaphorically leave a negative taste in his mouth. This may make Bill less likely to become more open to trying other vegan products and to lose his “veg prejudice” in the future. Eating a tasty vegetarian burger, on the other hand, would mean some complicity in animal suffering, but the psychological effect of a person thinking Is that meat free? That’s yummy! is probably much more catalytic and valuable in the long run.

How to Create a Vegan World: a Pragmatic Approach (page 25), Tobias Leenaert

Public Opinion Changes Slowly

Change rarely happens overnight, and even the staunchest activists have to coexist with the rest of the world. The most effective human rights campaigns are won with positivity and a peaceful coexistence with the rest of society. Historically, marginalized ethnic/religious minorities, racial groups, and sexual orientations gain public favor when the majority population deems them harmless. Fear instigates hate. And people hate vegans. Not because they fear them, but rather they fear being subjected to uncomfortable conversations, insufferably judgmental rants, and even threats to their business or way of life. Vegans need to ease their way into the hearts and minds of the moderate, omnivorous public.

Not Vegan Enough

The best way for vegans to ensure that they’ll never see a vegan world is to hold newcomers to an impossible standard. Shunning honey, pet ownership, second-hand leather, and backyard egg-laying hens only serves as an idealogical barrier to the moderate, yet veg curious individual. The vegan police keep people out, when the whole idea is to keep them in.

Ethical Veganism as a Spiritual Movement

Pragmatism is effective and great, but it’s also boring. What about the people who are looking for a spiritual and ethical movement? Is there such a thing as being too pragmatic? 

The idealogical and pragmatic sides of the vegan/plant-based movement can and should coexist. There’s nothing wrong with gaining spiritual fulfillment from the practice of ahimsa, the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain tradition of not wishing harm to any living creature. The personal benefits of practicing universal benevolence gives veganism much of its allure and staying power, and should not go under-appreciated for the sake of dry, soulless pragmatism.

The Bottom-Line: No one is going to become convinced with the same arguments, and no one is going to be persuaded by only one argument. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to eliminating unnecessary animal suffering.

Health reasons. Environmental reasons. Ethical reasons. Spiritual reasons…They’re all good reasons.

Misanthropy is a demon that must be purged from vegan movement. Real vegans keep humans within their circle of compassion–and simply not eating people isn’t enough. We must not turn our backs on our own species, even as our own species turns its back on others.

10 Common Pitfalls for New Vegans and How to Avoid Them

I failed at my first attempt at going vegan. Most people do. But with a few precautionary adjustments to your diet, you can avoid the same fate and enjoy all the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle.

 

#1) Eating Too Much Oil

When you first give up meat and dairy, you’re going to crave fat. Don’t fall into the oil trap. Oil is the most calorie dense type of food you can eat, and it’s lurking in everything– from store bought hummus to salad dressings. Plant oils are sneaky weight-gainers, and they are the #1 culprit of excessive omega-6 fatty acids in our diet. Don’t let decades of positive marketing from the olive and coconut oil industries fool you. Keep these lipids to a minimum.

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#2) Depending on Mock-Meats

Not all veggie burgers are created equal. If you’re eating Boca and Morningstar Farms products on the regular, you might want to cut it out. Some of these mock-meats still use genetically modified soy and wheat, which are littered with Monsanto’s glyphosate. If you don’t want a “Round-Up Ready” veggie burger, pay close attention to the packaging and look for the non-GMO label.

(For a mind-blowing interview about glyphosate, check out Dr. Zach Bush on the Rich Roll Podcast)

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#3) Buying Vegan Junk Food

Oreos and most potato chips are vegan. Enough Said.

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#4) Ignoring Vitamin B-12

Modern societies chlorinate their water and wash the dirt off of their produce. For that reason, vegan sources of Vitamin B-12 are slim to none nowadays. Meat contains B-12, so omnivores don’t have to worry about this. But for plant based eaters, vitamin B-12 supplementation is necessary. Opt for methylcobalamin over cyanocobalamin, as it is more bioavailable. Cyanocobalamin also contains a little bit of cyanide.

If you’re prone to acne, take caution in not overdoing the B-12 supplements. Too much B-12 is associated with acne. You don’t have to take B-12 supplements every day.

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#5) Forgetting Fiber

Fiber is the secret to not feeling hungry or deprived as a vegan. If you eat a typical western diet, and simply replace the meat with mock-meat, you will feel unsatisfied. Because plants digest more quickly than animal flesh and secretions, fibrous fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes will help mitigate hunger. It also helps build and maintain a population of healthy gut bacteria. Eating high-fiber food should not be limited to only vegans. The typical western diet is incredibly fiber deficient. One of the main reasons people see extraordinary results with plant-based diets is the increase in dietary fiber intake.

(Fiber Tip: Instead of juicing, try blending with a Vitamix or other high-powered blender.  Juicing removes the pulp (the fiber), but blending keeps it all intact and basically liquifies it. It may very well be easier for you to drink your kale!)

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#6) Eating Too Many Nuts

Nuts and seeds are a great source of Omega-3’s, but there’s a catch. They are also a great source of Omega-6’s, and most people–vegans and omnivores alike–have too many Omega-6’s and too few Omega-3’s in their diets. With nuts and seeds, a little goes a long way. With modern de-shelling processing methods, it is now too easy to overdo it. Just think about it, in their natural form, these nuts are protected with a shell that prevents the animal (human or non) from overeating them.

Flaxseeds are the holy grail of vegan omega-3’s. Just make sure you buy pre-ground flax, or you grind it yourself before eating it. The human body cannot properly break down and digest a non-ground flaxseed. Walnuts and Chia seeds are also notable mentions, but nothing compares to flax. The rest of the nuts and seeds are great, just be careful not to overeat them.

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#7) Getting Drunk

You may have seen a “study” circulating around social media, claiming that 1/3 of vegetarians eat meat when they get drunk. Although the source of the study is dubious (thank you, Snopes!), it is common knowledge that drinking lowers inhibitions. Anyone who’s ever been drunk knows that it usually doesn’t end in healthy food choices. Stay mindful and in control of your decisions. When you’re uninhibited, you’ll fall back on old habits.

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#8) Relying on Restaurants

If you’re a new vegan who doesn’t cook, then you’re in for a difficult time. Your dining options will be limited, unless you live in a big city and are willing to shell out the big bucks for overpriced salads and extra guac at Chipotle. Don’t rely on restaurants for the bulk of your calories. You will probably be left broke, disappointed and hungry.

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#9) Becoming Misanthropic

Every vegan goes through an angry stage. Some never get out of it. Yes, humans are responsible for unspeakable horrors. Our violence as a species causes tremendous suffering– from factory farming to commercial fishing, from slavery to war. But real vegans keep humans within their circle of compassion–and simply not eating people isn’t enough. Love thy neighbor–and not just the cute, furry ones.

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#10) Expecting Vegan Purity

Toss any notions of maintaining vegan purity out the window right now. If you eat at restaurants, you will unknowingly consume trace amounts of dairy regularly. There will be ingredient ignorant waiters, cooks who don’t care, and food handlers who don’t change gloves after handling meat and dairy. Honey, eggs and dairy are hiding in processed foods that you might not expect. Some vitamin fortified foods, like Cheerios, use an animal derived vitamin-D. And God forbid, you might step on a bug or instinctively swat a mosquito to death.

No food is completely cruelty free, and nobody gets off of this planet alive without killing something. This isn’t a call for nihilistic ethical abandonment, though. In fact, true ethical veganism is a rejection of nihilism, and it should be practiced as an act of (imperfect) love. Just do your best. Don’t worry, you can still call yourself a vegan even if you mess up! And the best part is you don’t have to tell anybody.

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