Don’t trust your gut.
Motivating yourself to “starve” for days on end is tough because the benefits of prolonged fasting don’t feel big enough to offset the downsides.
It’s harder to feel fasting’s long-term health benefits than it is to feel hungry now.
And it’s harder to feel fat burning than it is to feel satisfied from delicious food.
But trusting your gut’s probably what’s gotten you into the trouble you need fasting’s help to get out of. Feelings are unreliable. The truth is the benefits of prolonged fasting far outweigh the disadvantages for most of us.
So how do you feel it?
Awareness. The better you understand the benefits and disadvantages of prolonged fasting—including ones most first-time fasters don’t think about—the more likely you’ll stop trusting your gut and make the right choice.
In This Post on the Benefits of Prolonged Fasting
Why Not Not Fast
The most bogus excuse people use to avoid trying a prolonged fast.
You Might Starve to Death
While we can’t promise any of these benefits of fasting, we can promise one thing: You won’t starve to death by not eating for a few days.
For perspective, the world record for the longest fast ever is 382 days.
Here’s why you won’t starve:
The average human has 34 pounds of fat. Each pound is good for 3,500 calories, or about two days’ worth of food. So we’re like hikers lugging around backpacks with 68 days worth of snacks, just in case. It won’t kill us to lighten our loads by consuming a bit of it every once in a while.
More likely, it’d help.
Why Not Fast
Before getting to the benefits of prolonged fasting, let’s be realistic and safe. Here are the reasons you might want to hold off on it.
✗ To Lose Tons of Weight Immediately
If your chubby butt goes on a 5-day fast expecting to have a 6-pack after, you’re going to be disappointed. As just explained, you can only expect to burn half a pound of fat a day from fasting.
✗ Going Cold Turkey Sucks
If you eat a lot of processed foods and snacks all the time, your first couple of days of fasting might be rough. You may feel hangry, lethargic, brain-foggy, and even nauseous from going cold turkey on that junk.
Kim experienced this on her first three-day fast.
To avoid similar misery, wean yourself off bad eating habits before trying a prolonged fast and check out our Easy Water Fasting Tips from a Guy Who Learned the Hard Way.
✗ You Want or Have a Baby
Prolonged fasting may have adverse effects for women who are pregnant, trying to conceive, or freezing their eggs. It may not either. The science is limited and female fertility is complicated. But the safest bet is not to risk it.
For more, read this article from Whit Wellness or listen to this podcast episode from Well-Fed Women. And for more podcast recommendations for women about health, business, and life, sign-up to Just Listened‘s weekly newsletter.
✗ You Have a Medical Condition
If you’re on medication, wait until you’re back to normal before fasting. At the very least, consult with your doctor.
✗ You Have Serious Self-Control Issues
For many people, the self-control training is a benefit of prolonged fasting, but if you have serious doubts about your self-control and fail early on it’ll only make you feel worse.
If that’s you, start with a less-extreme goal like cutting snacking for a few days. Once that’s easy, try intermittent fasting—only eating between 12 and 8 p.m., for example. When that becomes easy, go for a prolonged fast.
✗ You’re Susceptible to Eating Disorders
The feel-good benefits of fasting can be addictive, maybe too addictive to some.
✗ You Have a Big Race, Presentation, or Building Ahead of You
The extra jitters some feel might affect a presentation. Pushing your body on a new fuel source (fat instead of sugar) may be pushing it too far. And nobody wants you to get light-headed as you’re operating a crane swinging a wrecking ball at a building.
✗ You Have a Hot Date
Bad breath is a common negative side effect of prolonged fasting.
Mask it with mouthwash or breath mints if you must, but a) that only lasts for so long and b) it’s hard to have a hot date without food.
✗ It’s Bad for Business
The number one reason why more people don’t fast is Big Pharma and Big Food can’t make money from people not consuming anything. No money means no Super Bowl ads pitching the benefits of fasting.
A couple of noteworthy people who have made a business of telling people not to spend money on food:
- Dr. Jason Fung. His books on fasting, The Complete Guide to Fasting, and weight loss, The Obesity Code, are easy-to-understand, motivational, and worth forking over some money for.
- Dr. Valter Longo. When his research subjects were having a hard time sticking to the fasts he needed them to do, he devised a “fasting-mimicking diet” that allowed them to eat something and still get many of the same benefits of prolonged fasting. Then he set up a business selling this 5-day fast food package, donating his share of the profits.
Benefits of prolonged fasting that you may not have considered and that may shut your trap—from excuses and food—for a few days.
Big Fat Warning:
We can’t guarantee any of these benefits of fasting.
Everyone reacts differently. Factors like diet, fitness level, fatness level, genetics, time of the month, if your boss is a prick or not, whether you’re a cat or dog person, and your hairstyle will affect your experience.
This uncertainty is part of the adventure. For some, it’s another reason to fast.
And there’s always an easy fix if your fast becomes a disaster: Eat.
✓ It’s Not Complicated
✓ It Gets Easier and Easier
The first fast can be tough for some (like Kim), but the more you do it the easier it becomes. (I’m still working to convince Kim of this).
I honestly look forward to periodic prolonged fasts as a mind and body cleanse.
✓ It’s Better Than Free
Fasting isn’t just free; it saves you money. Few other health and spirit boosters, like working out outside, can claim the same benefit.
✓ Productivity Spikes
Firstly, fasting saves time. Less time preparing and eating food means more time for other things. It saves so much time that I sometimes wonder what to do with it when I’m fasting.
Secondly, after you overcome the sugar withdrawal stage, fasting can make you feel sharper. All the energy that’s normally used by your digestive system gets channeled to your brain. Instead of running on sugar your brain will start running on ketones, brain rocket fuel. For me, it feels like I’m on Adderall.
✓ Crack Your Addiction to Food
Hunger has nothing to do with an empty stomach. It’s psychological.
That’s why you can feel just as hungry for lunch as for breakfast despite having eaten more recently.
The hormone most responsible for your hunger pangs has a fittingly goblin-esque name: ghrelin. Ghrelin comes and goes cyclically based on your daily eating routine. Fasting screws up this cycle. Screw with it enough and it stops.
No more hunger pains. No more addiction to food. You’ll enjoy eating just as much but only feel the need to do so when it’s convenient, not when ghrelin tells you to.
✓ Spiritual Rewards
Undoubtedly the world’s number one reason for fasting is religion. Many of the world’s religions incorporate it somehow.
It’s no coincidence. Even if you’re not religious, like Kim and me, the mind-opening, habit-challenging stimulation of fasting can have serious spiritual rewards.
✓ Satisfy Your Curiosity
What does it feel like to not chew for a few days? Do you need to brush your teeth if you haven’t eaten anything? How does it feel when your stomach caves in as your organs shrink as they dump water and regenerate? Does the mental high of fasting really feel like being on Adderall? Do you still take shits?
Any curious person who lives by the motto, “I’ll try anything once,” needs to try fasting to get the answers for themselves.
✓ Clean Out Your Garage
Fasting gives your poor digestive system a break. It’s been working non-stop your whole life and could use some time off. It could also use some time to clean itself out and dump the unnecessary junk that’s been accumulating over the years.
And I mean dump. Many people report unusual bowel movements later into their fasts or soon after refeeding.
✓ Recover Better
When you’re sick, you often don’t feel hungry. That’s your body telling you to stop making it work on digesting food so it can focus on more pressing issues.
✓ Easier Travel
When you become a master fast-er and kick your hunger addiction (a benefit of fasting we already covered), you don’t need to worry about bringing snacks with you everywhere or plan your travel schedule around mealtimes. And you don’t get hangry.
✓ Recycle Yourself
When you fast long enough, something called autophagy happens. Autophagy is Latin for eating yourself. But unlike some lonely Hannibal Lecter, this type of self-cannibalism is healthy. Your body finds and feeds on the damaged and old cells.
If left to accumulate and fester, these junky cells can lead to degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer down the road. So eating them may reduce their incidence. And, since you grow new cells to replace the old ones, you’re better than ever.
It continues, too. Fasting stimulates the release of human growth hormone, which will help you continue to rejuvenate and grow even after you’re eating again.
✓ A Desperate Last-Ditch Attempt
Many people’s online accounts report fasting relieved their knee pain, toothaches, bad skin, and arthritis. None of this is guaranteed and you and your doctor can probably find better solutions, but if you’re desperate, fasting may be worth a last-ditch attempt.
For instance, this guy did a 7-day water fast out of desperation because of a sore back and claims to have experienced inspiring results:
✓ Rekindle Your Love for Food
Absence makes the heart grow fonder so, for many people who do prolonged fasts, that first bite of food after days apart is unforgettably delicious.
✓ Spread the Movement
Since no big business is going to start advertising fasting anytime soon, it’s up to us to spread the word. And the best way to do so is through our actions.
When family and friends see us fasting, they mostly think we’re crazy, but some will allow a seed of doubt or curiosity inside of them. That seed may take root and grow to the point of eventually motivating them to want to try. And if they experience some of these benefits of fasting, they too will spread the word.
✓ The Long-Term Benefits of Fasting
These long-term benefits of fasting are the real reason you should fast, but sometimes aren’t tangible enough to motivate many of us to do it unless we’re forced to:
- Better blood sugar control. Basically, it trains your body to get better at clearing sugar from your bloodstream.
- Cancer prevention and chemotherapy effectiveness. Fasting seems to cause healthy cells to protect themselves and makes carcinogenic ones more susceptible to treatments that seek to destroy them.
- Speeds up your metabolism. This can increase your energy and lead to long-term weight-loss benefits.
- Relieve inflammation linked to the development of neurodegenerative disorders, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
- Live longer. Unlikely to be proven with randomized controlled trials, but a lot of evidence, including all the aforementioned benefits of fasting, points in that direction.
For the nitty-gritty details, this Healthline article has links to a ton of studies on these benefits of fasting:
✓ A First Step to a More Extraordinary Life
To live an extraordinary life, you have to do extraordinary things. (Duh.) That means pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.
Fasting is a perfect example. Not only did prolonged fasting completely change how Kim and I thought about eating, but it also us me wondering what other habits and preconceptions we could challenge.
For some more ideas that Kim and I have found, check out the rest of our blog and sign up for our Consider This, where we share new ways to break your routine every week-ish.
One Final Question
Ask yourself this final question if you’re still uncertain or skeptical about the long-term benefits of prolonged fasting:
What’s the real downside?
Unless you face one of the serious health risks listed under the Why Not Fast section, the worst that’ll happen is you’ll have a crappy day or two feeling hungry until you eat again.
But the upside is huge.
If your prolonged fasting experience goes well, you could feel better than ever, save yourself some time and money, and improve your eating habits for good. And if the uncertain science proves true that prolonged fasting helps you live longer and healthier, that’s just icing on the cake!