40 Days of Fasting

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Beginning 14th February on Ash Wednesday and ending on 30th March (Good Friday) this year, Catholics like myself observed the season of Lent. This is a period of abstinence where one would eat simply like not eating meat, or give up something such as not watching television.

Lent actually consists of 46 days but every Sunday is a mini “Easter” where fasting/abstinence is not observed.

This year I was motivated by my Nepalese godbrother to try a type of fast consisting of eating only 1 meal a day from Monday to Saturday, for 6 weeks throughout this period of lent.

Basically this meant only allowing myself to eat dinner (after 5pm) and fasting the rest of the day – somewhat equivalent to a ~24 hour daily fast as described in The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung with Jimmy Moore.

Sundays would be feast days and I’d allow myself to eat more than one meal. Basically pig out! 🐷😋

The Adjustment Week

I was already quite used to skipping breakfast as I normally try to tune into my body’s hunger signals and eat only when hungry. If my activity levels are low, I would normally only start feeling hungry around noon.

So you can imagine there was quite a bit of an adjustment and for the first week at least, I was pretty miserable during lunch breaks in school where my stomach would be groaning.

I took my mind off this by escaping to the nearby park, saying my rosary and catching a nap on the grass.

Spiritually, I guess these feelings of hunger humbled me and aided me with empathizing with the less fortunate who hunger everyday. I was certainly praying more and praying for them as well.

Throughout the day, I would also have a bottle of tea with which to sip on. No sugar or milk, just herbal teas like Calendula or Cacao and Cinnamon. This would help somewhat with the hunger pangs.

I would rejoice when I got home and began preparing dinner (or breakfast if you take the word literally). It was certainly the best parts of my day and what I had been looking forward to all day.

During this period, I’d start cooking around 6pm and finish eating sometimes as late as 11pm! This is because I would cook and eat at the same time and after the first dish, would make some more if I wasn’t full such as a plate of sourdough sandwiches.

To be honest, I probably ate the equivalent of 2 or 3 meals in that one long big meal after breaking fast each day.

I also took my time to eat and savour the food and many times, this would take up 3 hours of the evening!

I’m not too sure how healthy this practice was but my stomach certainly knew how to expand according to the circumstances and it wasn’t like I was stuffing myself sick or something. It was more akin to eating for the next period of fasting.

Adapting

By the second week, my body and mind was definitely getting used to the routine and it certainly became easier as the days past.

I started feeling the hunger pangs later and later during the day. 

Eventually, I would only start to feel hungry around dinner time. Almost as if my body understood and accepted that it would only get nourishment once a day now.

It is truly amazing how adaptable our bodies are. Especially if we give it time to adjust progressively.

Other Effects

Energy wise, I was surprised to find that I still had plenty of energy and was probably more focused in class than if I had a meal during my lunch breaks. There was hardly any feelings of lethargy in the afternoons, as is sometimes the case when induced by that noontime meal.

Fitness – I did not change anything in my routine and would get lots of movement and exercise on an empty stomach, often multiple times a day.

This usually starts with some yoga stretches and burpees first thing upon waking.

Then 5 minutes of movement for every 25 minutes of work/study before school. I follow the Pomodoro technique. I like to wake early (around 5am) and get as much work done while my mind is fresh and there aren’t any distractions around.

Around 845am, I would start my ~2 km commute to school, jogging with my backpack.

Along the way, I planned my route to pass through Grey Lynn park where there is a small fitness corner. Here, I’d get a few sets of calisthenics done such as pullups and pushups, dips, squats, etc. Often with the backpack.

At the end of lunch breaks I’d also do one set of pushups and pullups at the playground in the park near school.

The jog home would be a repeat of another calisthenic workout, but this time without the backpack and more focused on explosive exercises or strength/skill related ones such as bar muscle ups, one arm pullup attempts and levers.

On days without school, I would try to get a gymnastics rings workout done.

Throughout this period, I did not experience any decline in strength. In fact, I was still making progress and getting stronger!

Muscle Mass and Weight – Surprisingly (or not), it did not feel like I was losing any muscle mass. Quite the contrary. Along with the increase in strength, I felt like I’d put on a little muscle by the end of the 46 days.

However, my weight dropped by 1 kg by the end of this period.

Appreciation for food – along with increased empathy for the less fortunate, I guess I have developed a greater appreciation and gratitude for living in this time of abundance and not having to worry about whether I’d get another meal.

How ironic it seems that people like us living in 1st world countries have to resort to a self-imposed food restriction or fast, just to feel hungry!

Inflammation – During this period, I was still struggling with some “residual ambers” of my autoimmune disorder such as minor inflammation in the joints of my feet and fingers.

This was largely related to the type of food I ate and eventually would resolve almost completely when I adopted my current predominantly plant-based, vegan diet.

However I did notice a significant decrease in the amount of inflammation I felt in my system due to the fasting. I don’t have the tests to show but after living with this autoimmune disorder for almost 4 years now, I am very in-tuned with how ‘inflamed’ my system is.

Moving Forward

I guess this whole experience has taught me (and my body) the lesson that I can survive with just one meal a day, albeit a big meal 😉, and still thrive.

In fact, in the months since, there have been many days where I have continued this trend of eating only one meal a day – often also because I only eat whenever the feelings of hunger set in and since lent, these feelings have come about later and later during the day (as long as I don’t induce them such as snacking when not hungry or exercising).

There are a myriad of benefits from fasting such as:

  1. Upregulated detoxification, improved immune system and healing as your body conserves and allocates energy that would have been used for digestion, towards removing toxins and cellular repair.
  2. Autophagy – basically cellular cleanup and recycling of dead or defective cells. As mentioned above, your body diverts energy towards “household maintenance” Keeping you youthful and preventing cancer.
  3. Muscle mass and body composition – I find I build lean muscle mass much quicker if I work out fasted and then eat. Probably from the increased secretion of Human Growth Hormones.
  4. Mental sharpness – as mentioned above, I feel like my brain operates more optimally during fasting periods.
  5. Spirituality –  fasting not only humbles me, I find I also pray more during these times and notice that my ‘connection’ to the divine, nature and generally, the physical and spiritual world around me is strengthened.
  6. Treats autoimmunitythis is an interesting study of how a initial 7-10 day fast followed by a vegan diet for 3.5 months and finally transitioning to a lacto vegetarian diet induced significant improvement in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis. The effects were still present after a year! [1]
  7. More in-depth fasting info here!

and you don’t necessarily have to do a prolonged 3 or more day fast to achieve these benefits. I believe small 24-hour fasts like this, done regularly, can also have these effects and is probably much less stressful for our bodies.


Have you tried fasting?

I hope this post has benefitted you in some way.

Please share if you found it useful and leave any questions, thoughts or comments below!

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