In 1973, a mind-blowing medical case report was published by the University of Dundee documenting a water fast that lasted for more than one year.

In the medically supervised study, a 456lbs (207kg) morbidly obese man survived on nothing but his own body fat and supplements for 382 days straight. At the end of the fast, the Scottish man known as ‘Mr. A.B.’ weighed in at a healthy 180lbs (81.6kg) with zero adverse health effects.

The results were long-term too. When researchers checked up on Mr. A.B. five years later, he weighed in at 196lbs (89kg) and was still healthier than ever. Once I had stumbled across the case of Mr. A.B., it was inevitable that I would end up deep down the rabbit hole of extended fasting research.

 

Lifting the Curtain

It quickly became clear that Mr. A.B’s arduous fast was not an isolated incident. In fact, there are hundreds of similar, well-documented water fast escapades out there. This documentary, for example, follows the more recent journey of a severely overweight man named Kenny Saylors. He, with the support of his physician and a team of fasting experts, completed his own 55 day water fast in order to lose 44lbs (20kg) and live a healthier life.

Needless to say, I had some trouble initially digesting this information. I guess it was so counter to everything I had ever been told about health and wellness, that it felt… wrong? Yet, here before my eyes was some very compelling evidence that fasting for longer than a day or two was very possible. In fact, not only was it possible but it could be good for you, and in some cases even life-saving! Let me tell you what I found.

 

**Trigger Warning**

Before continuing, please read this carefully.  If you are recovering from a food addiction, or have any tendency toward impulsive behaviour around food, make sure to consider how reading this article may influence your own behaviour. This research and subsequent experiment is my personal exploration of an idea, not a call to starvation.

Long-term fasting is unsustainable and can be very dangerous without the correct knowledge and medical supervision. People have literally died from complications due to fasting. So, look after yourself and your mental health. Remember, I am but a stranger on the internet.

 

water fast man with waterWater Fasting Benefits & Dangers

Water fasting is pretty self explanatory. It is a defined period of time where a person consumes no calories and drinks only water. There is a vast amount of literature on water fasting out there, and if you’re intrigued by the topic, I’d recommend spending some time going through it. For now, I’ll do my best to sum up the most important medically documented benefits and dangers of water fasting.

Already know this stuff? Click here to skip on and read about my 10 day water fast experience.

 

Benefits of Water Fasting

1. Clinical research shows that fasting drastically improves the symptoms of the many conditions due to reduced oxidative stress and inflammation. For example: hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain.

2. Water fasting has been proven to retard tumour growth and increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy in mice with cancer.

3. Extended fasting significantly decreases blood pressure, levels of blood triglycerides, total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol which are all major contributors to poor cardiovascular health.

4. People have been using extended water fasts as a spiritual and religious tool for millennia. Water fasting can produce a transformative spiritual experience which acts as an effective method of dealing with mourning, seeking redemption, becoming happy in one’s own skin, renewing faith (not necessarily religious), and overcoming addiction or crisis.

5. Fasting has been proven to increase cognitive and motor performance after one session, even in elderly patients with no history of long term fasting. In younger people, regular fasting can delay the onset of neurological diseases in the first place.

 

Dangers of Water Fasting

1. Water fasting is not safe for everyone and can be life-threatening for some. Those particularly at risk are those who have an eating disorder, are underweight, are pregnant, have a heart condition, or Type 1 diabetes.

2. Refeeding improperly after a fast can have dire consequences. It is the most important part of a fast to get right, and is often the part that people get wrong. Refeeding syndrome is the potentially fatal shift in fluids and electrolytes that may occur in malnourished patients upon refeeding, and can cause serious clinical complications including death.

3. Water fasts can actually put you at risk for dehydration, oddly enough. This is because roughly 20–30% of your daily water intake comes from the foods you eat. So, if you’re drinking the same amount of water but not eating foods, you may not be getting enough water.

4. Orthostatic hypertension is a common issue for those engaging in water fasting. It’s basically a drop in blood pressure that happens when you suddenly stand up, leaving you dizzy, lightheaded, and at risk of fainting.

5. Fasting has the potential to lead to the onset of unhealthy eating behaviours in the future such as binge eating or purging.

 

Is Water Fasting Safe Overall?

Water fasts are tricky to get right, and can be very damaging to your body if conducted with improper care or knowledge. Some people end up in the hospital due to dehydration, malnutrition or refeeding syndrome, while others who break their fast with high calorie foods and end up with crippling digestive issues.

However, this comprehensive analysis of the scientific literature on water fasting shows that overall water fasting can be ‘safely implemented in a medical setting with minimal risk of a SAE (Serious Adverse Event)’. This paper found that most of the adverse affects of water fasting were mild, and agrees with the evidence suggesting that ‘fasting, during which only water is consumed, results in potentially health promoting physiological effects’.

So, if (i) you seek medical assistance before, during and after your fast and (ii) you do not suffer from any pre-existing conditions which increase your risk of adverse side effects, then yes you probably won’t die. Other factors are harder to control for of course such as psychological implications.

 

** DISCLAIMER**

For the love of Aquaman, DO NOT DO A WATER FAST without first consulting your general practitioner and mental health professional; particularly if you have any pre-existing conditions or tendency toward compulsive or restrictive eating behaviours. I do not have any chronic pre-existing medical conditions or suffer from food-related controlling behaviours that would put me at greater risk. Also, I sought medical advice before and after my fast.

 

water fast man holding glassMy 10 Day Water Fast Experience

Before the Fast

I went to the doctor and got my bloods and blood pressure checked – thankfully everything was in the normal range. After advising my doctor of what I was about to do she suggested purchasing some salt capsules to prevent dehydration. Surprisingly she didn’t suggest that I should go and get my head checked. Now that I think about it though, on my way out she did grab me by the arm, look deep in my eyes, and advise me to “think very carefully” about the fast.

After being probed and prodded by the GP, I prepared as much as I could for the next ten days. This meant cleaning the entire apartment, washing laundry and many other boring adult tasks. I also bought a water filter and warned my loved ones of what I was about to do. The memo read: “Not eating for ten days so I will be a cranky grouch. You have been warned”.

 

Water Fast Diary – Day 1 – Friday

Each day of the fast I consume three litres of water and two salt capsules. On day one, I didn’t begin to feel hungry until 2pm, and after only 10 minutes of mild discomfort, the hunger subsided. Later in the afternoon however, I started to get a throbbing headache which grew progressively worse until I went to sleep around 11pm.

Though I wasn’t physically feeling hunger for most of the day, I found myself subconsciously getting up to make a coffee or get some food many times. Now that I was paying attention, it was surprising the amount of times per day I thought about food, particularly if I was feeling even minutely bored or stressed.

 

Water Fast Experience – Day 2 – Saturday

I slept in for an unusually long time on the second day (until about 1pm). Not sure if that was due to the fasting, or the hectic days before the fast eventually catching up with me – maybe both.

The first strange side effects as a result of fasting have kicked in. My mouth is full of more saliva than ever, and my tongue feels.. alien. It’s like I’m more aware of the way my tongue is sitting in my mouth. I also experience mild bursts of a battery acid taste in my mouth every now and then, but they subside as quickly as they arrive.

The novelty of these new sensations quickly wears off as I am walloped by a pang of intense nausea around 4pm. A lump builds in the back of my throat, and I plop my lead body into the fetal position on the bed. My body flushes with heat and sweat beads roll from my forehead. Shortly after, I drag my body to the bathroom and enjoy the temporary reprieve of the cold tiles on my back and legs.

Two hours later, I am still bundled on the bathroom floor. I feel too light-headed to stand and my head pulses and throbs when I press my hand against it. Then BAM! A gush of green vomit; followed by a garish yellow bile. After the fast I found out that this intense purge reaction was due to the fact that I did not ease myself into the fast like I should have. Instead of juicing and slowly weaning myself off of meals in the days prior, I instead indulged in a gigantic takeaway the night before my fast. Lesson learned!🤮

 

Water Fast Experience – Day 3 – Sunday

Remarkably, by 9.30am this morning I jumped out of bed feeling refreshed and energised; a stark contrast to the crippling nausea and lethargy of yesterday. My mind feels notably clearer, though I am still quite light-headed. New side effects emerge today: my feet are ice cold despite the temperature being relatively warm, and I am plagued by hiccups. Probably from trying to get through 3 litres of water each day.

Around 5pm, I noticed that my hips and upper shoulders began to hurt. Actually it was not such much a pain but a weird sensation, like dry needling. These are typical problem areas for me so it’s interesting to think that my body might be finally using its resources to heal them. My breath smells sweet too, though my tongue is enveloped in a glorious layer of white film (a harmless side effect of fasting).

Today, my emotional dependency on food really came to the fore. Previously, if I had a bad day, I might have an extra helping at dinner to feel better. Feeling sad? Here’s a family-size chocolate bar to help with that. Tired? Let’s get a meal delivered! I never really had the chance to notice how much food influenced by behaviour before now.

 

Water Fast Experience – Day 4 – Monday

Sunday night I had a disrupted sleep and spent much of it twisting and turning. Surprisingly, I still felt rested when I woke up, and I even remembered my dreams! Getting dressed and ready for the day was difficult though, as my body felt heavy and weak.

Once I opened my laptop and began to do some work however, I was insanely productive. I suddenly found at my disposal a laser-sharp focus that allowed me to race through tasks with ease. It’s what I imagine a study-drug to be like, or what Bradley Cooper’s character in the movie Limitless experienced. Just completely and utterly in the zone!

Other new sensations emerged this day too. My sweat smelled different than usual – acidic, like coffee, earthy and tangy. Uncomfortable dry needle sensations continued to afflict my shoulders and hips, and more intense aches developed in my thigh and elbow. Interestingly these are both places that I have seriously injured before.

In the evening I endure a quick pang of fleeting nausea, but for the first time I feel like I could actually get through this. I’m beginning to enjoy the positive side effects that come with fasting, despite the suffering of the first few days.

 

Water Fast Experience – Day 5 – Tuesday

Any positive vibes I experienced the night previous were quickly obliterated with the dawning of this day. Without a doubt, day five was the worst day of the entire fast.

After giving up on sleeping by 4AM, I got out of bed and watched hours of YouTube. Everything from competitive eating challenges to recipe videos, and even some Mukbang videos which I normally detest. If there was any glimpse of food in the thumbnail, I watched it. The sad thing is that I desperately wanted to turn the videos off because they were making my mouth salivate and my stomach growl with vicious hunger. I physically couldn’t though, as the hypnotic allure of these imaginary meals was just too strong.

When I managed to peel myself away from the TV to get ready for the day, I was greeted with an eruption of angry spots on my face. Upon inspecting these unwelcome intruders, I also noticed how much thinner my face looked and how desperately devoid of colour my skin was. Anyone who knows me will say that I have extraordinarily pale skin on a normal day, but this was simply vampiresque. 🧛

To make matters worse, scratching an unsuspecting itch on my upper stomach revealed a rash that was developing steadily up to my waist. Deep muscle pain throbbed throughout my back and my concentration vanished. I became irritated by everyone and everything around me. My sense of smell was super-heightened too; so much that it was nauseating. Perfume, flowers, my boyfriend’s Pot Noodle.. simply everything was gag-inducing.

In the afternoon, the first real food cravings kicked in. Hard. After work, I spent hours looking at recipes and dreaming about what I would eat when the fast was over. Oddly, I never once craved the unhealthy food that I usually did. Instead I fantasised about avocados, watermelons and poke bowls. Juicy oranges and plump grapes.🤤

At this point I really almost threw in the towel and broke the fast to be honest. I decided to give it one more day as I had read that once you endure the turbulence of the first few days it’s pretty much plain sailing from there.

Thankfully, I was right.

 

water fast woman writingWater Fast Experience – Day 6 – Wednesday

As you can probably guess, day six was so much better! A stark contrast to the living nightmare of yesterday. I still felt some hunger pangs here and there but nothing as intense or extreme as I had already suffered, and I finally had a nausea-free day. My skin was already clearing up, and my cheeks regained some colour too.

The negative side effects were minimal and overall I felt really good. Thankfully, the superhuman laser-focus I first experienced on day four returned and I had an incredibly productive day.

 

Water Fast Experience – Day 7 – Thursday

By day seven, my skin had completely cleared up and taken on a healthy dewy glow. Disrupted sleep was still the norm, and I slept for just over four hours. Pleasantly, I didn’t feel any light-headedness or weakness, and all positive side effects remained i.e. mental clarity, focus and productivity. Hunger pangs had all but gone and I didn’t feel any cravings for food.

One nasty thing that emerged was that my entire body was freezing cold all the time. The weather was warm (around 21 degrees), yet I still shivered with three layers of clothes on. Interestingly, I cut my finger the previous night and it was already almost fully healed. Usually this would take a few days, so there’s definitely something to the theory that fasting aids the healing process.

 

Water Fast Experience – Day 8 – Friday

At this stage, I didn’t even feel like I was on a water fast anymore. Finally, I got a great nights sleep (7 hours), and it felt like a completely normal day. In fact I had more energy than ever!

There was still some fallout of course as my tongue sported an unwelcome white tinge, and my body felt like I was living in the Arctic. I also experienced more stomach rumbling. It was significantly louder and more frequent than other days, despite not being accompanied by any sensation of hunger.

My mind is constantly racing with thoughts, but not in an uncomfortable way. I like it and feel like I’ve never been more engaged in my own life. Although I’m looking forward to eating delicious food again, I also began to feel apprehensive that the fast is coming to an end soon. Is that crazy?

 

Water Fast Experience – Day 9 – Saturday

After another full night of sweet sleep, I woke up feeling so refreshed. On my to-do list for the day was to write a shopping list of all the delicious things I was going to buy to break the fast. The excitement! Bizarrely, the foods I now desired were totally alien to those of my former carb-crunching self. Pizza, burgers, hot chips smothered in garlic mayonnaise… it didn’t matter what kinda carb you threw at me, I was no longer interested.

With that said, I’m sure I would have ripped a strawberry out of the hand of a toddler if the opportunity presented itself. Due to my newfound heightened sense of smell I could probably sniff one out within a two mile radius. 🍓

Something else I haven’t mentioned already is how much of a chore peeing had become. Drink. Pee. Drink. Pee. Drink. Pee. The cycle never ends. Is this how pregnant women feel? If so, I salute you, Moms of the world.

 

Water Fast Experience – Day 10 – Sunday

The final morning was just as pleasant as the day before. Usually I would procrastinate on a Sunday, but now I had too much energy. I even started the morning off by sorting through the 1000 unread emails in my inbox like a weirdo.

Definitely, I had some mixed emotions about breaking the fast. I strongly felt like I could keep going for another few days, and a part of me really wanted to do that. In the end I decided to be responsible and stick to the initial plan, even if it was more to negate the worry of those around me than for my own benefit.

 

 

water fast woman holding watermelonBreaking the Fast

The first thing I decided to eat was some fresh, tasty watermelon. Any apprehension I may have felt about breaking the fast quickly dissipated with the first slice.

The sweet smell of the juicy watermelon and the squelch of the pulp as I cut into it was a complete sensory overload. Hands down, I have never tasted anything so luscious in my entire life. In the moment, I was so grateful for that piece of fruit, and took the time to really savour it’s flavour.

For three days after the fast I consumed only fruits, juices, soups, and easy to digest vegetables. After that, I slowly added in more solid foods, being careful not to overload my system with too much fibre. Two weeks after the fast, my appetite and daily calorie intake was completely back to normal, though my overall diet certainly looked a lot healthier.

 

Positives of My Fast

My skin is better than ever, my outlook is more positive, and my motivation levels are through the roof. I have a newfound focus for things that I want to achieve and overall a greater vigour for life.

While my new eating habits are certainly not flawless, I have disrupted many of my destructive emotional eating behaviours. At the very least, I am now conscious when I give in to emotional urges to eat, which I seemed to do on autopilot previously. Conscious awareness doesn’t stop the urges of course, but it has certainly allowed me to have more control over them than before.

The most beneficial side effect however is one that I didn’t anticipate. It is the immense feeling of satisfaction that comes with having completed something as difficult as a water fast. These days, I am quicker to back myself and experience less doubt. I mean I’ve already done one difficult thing, so why couldn’t I do another one if I put my mind to it?

 

Negatives of My Fast

I don’t want to do you a disservice here and make it seem like this whole process was easy, however. Most of the nights during the fast I did not sleep and was tormented by the constant need to urinate. On the fifth day I had crippling nausea, deep muscle pains, light-headedness, spots all over my face and a rash up to my waist. I spent almost the entire day drooling over YouTube videos and Instagram pictures of food and intense cravings took over my mind and soul.

Every day there was pain. Emotional pain, physical pain and exhaustion.

Annoyingly, I did a lot of preparation to make sure that I conducted the fast correctly, and still I got it wrong. I didn’t ease into it the fast at the beginning which resulted in a violent purge by the second day. It also took up a lot of time. In total, it was about a month before everything was back to normal, and I am lucky that I didn’t have too many other distractions in my life at the time.

Lastly, there is definitely a stigma around fasting and people around you will not understand what you are doing. Having to manage your own emotions is tough enough without the additional pressure of making sure that you are extra bubbly around those who are goodheartedly concerned for your wellbeing.

 

Stats

I don’t want anybody who is reading this to get notions about following a potentially dangerous fast solely for weight loss. The point of this for me was the challenge, the potential of a shift in perspective and the pursuit of better habits. The physical results are mindblowingly underwhelming anyway!

Firstly, my bloodwork didn’t change all that much after the fast. The only things that did drop were my iron and folic acid levels which were easy to replenish. You might remember that my cholesterol and blood pressure levels were in the normal range prior to this fast. They too dropped marginally which is good, but overall there was no significant effect.

Immediately after the fast, my weighing scales told me that I had lost 8.5lbs (about 4kg). Two weeks after the fast my weight was only 1.5lbs (0.7kg) lower than it had originally been, despite still eating less than normal. This is because during a water fast you lose a lot of water weight and muscle tissue due to inactivity. Also, your metabolism is impacted by periods of starvation. Seriously, I would never EVER put myself through all of that again for a measly 1.5 pounds.

 

Verdict

Overall, the positives of the fast outweighed the negatives in my experience. That’s not to say that I would be in a rush to do it again soon though. I think once a year or maybe two years, would be the maximum number of times I could undertake a fast like this. If I ever do get the urge again. 😛

 

Interested in other wacky self improvement challenges? Check out my Digital Detox challenge, and find out why internet addiction is being referred to by some scientists as ‘electronic heroin’.

 

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