72 Hour Fast Part 3

71 hours, 58 minutes into my 72 hour fast: I sat at the dinner table, my plate of food steaming in front of me. I didn’t know how my stomach would take food, so I decided to start with small, easy to digest foods: Olives, raisins, grapes, assorted nuts, steamed broccoli and some salsa for dipping. I had some chicken prepared and ready to go on the grill, but I was going to give that another hour or so.

Sitting in my chair, I leaned over and inhaled deeply. When you don’t eat for a long period of time, your sense of smell intensifies. I had gone to a grocery store earlier that day, and it was intoxicating. Walking into the store was like walking into a brick wall. I was inundated with smell, I just stopped and stood in the entrance, eyes closed, taking it all in. Charlie did the shopping, and I just ran from display to display, leaning over and inhaling deep.

I had two minutes left in my fast, and I spent it with my eyes closed, lost in smell. My phone hit midnight, and I began to eat. I was unsure how my stomach would accept food, so I wanted to take it slow. I ate my dinner nut by nut, raisin by raisin, olive by olive. It took me about an hour to finish my plate, but I enjoyed every bite of food to its fullest. I’d let the grapes sit in my mouth for up to a full minute, absorbing the taste, before biting just enough to let the juice leak out into my mouth. I’d finish cleaving the grape in half, and let the two halves wander around my mouth, saturating my taste buds with flavor. The broccoli dissolved in my mouth, and when ever something was dipped in the salsa my tongue was overwhelmed by the sensation. As I neared the end of my dinner, I grilled a chicken breast. I cleaned my plate of the first course just as the chicken finished, and I probably spent thirty minutes on the single filleted breast of chicken.

I learned a lot from my fast, but not all of it I can put into words. A good deal of it was just learning more about my body, becoming closer and more in tune with it.

The first and most obvious thing I learned was that I can go three days with only water without radically modifying my daily schedule. I led and participated in a parkour conditioning session, I juggled, I biked to and from campus several times, and I led a Taekwondo class. I got an average amount of sleep each night and only took one nap.

The more important thing I learned was how the body reacts to food deprivation. I kind of assumed that the first day would suck, and that it would just keep getting worse. The first day did suck, but the second and third day was actually very easy. I was telling people that it was “disappointingly easy.” After the body realizes it isn’t getting food, something happens and you just stop feeling hungry.

Rating my hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, this is how I would break down the days:

Day 1:
Constant hunger (average): 4

of hunger pangs: 15-20

Severity of hunger pangs: 7-8

Day 2:
Constant hunger (average): 2

of hunger pangs: 2-5

Severity of hunger pangs: 5

Day 3:
Constant Hunger (average): 1

of hunger pangs: 0

Severity of hunger pangs: N/A

So you can see, by the third day my hunger was really just background noise that could be easily turned off. Really, by the second day it was just background noise. The hunger pangs of Day #2 came typically around meal times, which I think was more mental and habit-driven than hunger driven. So really, my 72 hour fast was pretty easy once I got past the first day.

Upon later research, I found out that complete fasting isn’t the best way to experience hunger. I could have made it a LOT harder for myself if I had waited most of the first day, and then had three almonds for dinner. The second day, had a strawberry for breakfast and then maybe a single bite of chicken for dinner. The third day could have been a half dozen raisins and a peanut for breakfast and then a bite of a banana for lunch.

Basically what happens is that in Scenario #1 (what I did), after about 24 hours your body realizes it isn’t going to be getting any food (for whatever reason) and it just hunkers down. Your metabolism slows to a crawl and you start turning to fat, muscle, and other sources of stored energy instead of utilizing energy from food currently being digested. In Scenario #2, Charles explains that your body is constantly being given small amounts of food to digest. This forces it to continuously be switching metabolic pathways from a highly catabolic state to an increase in metabolism to utilize that energy as soon as possible. You end up confusing your body by cutting it short of its energy needs, but still taunting it with some small morsels of food. It is a highly mental side effect though, essentially toying with your desires.

I didn’t notice many side effects (besides hunger, ha ha). The two primary ones I did notice was temperature and emotional control. In short, I got cold. Really, really, cold. Like, “two pairs of pants, a t-shirt, a zip up hoodie, a sweat shirt, a jacket, and a comforter wrapped around me” cold. Not all the time, and that was definitely the worst time, but I did get cold a lot easier, more often, and more intensely than everyone else around me. It didn’t help that during my fast was the first really big cold spell in Rochester. Poor timing, I suppose. The other side effect was a some loss of emotional control. Especially towards the end of the second day and the third day, I started getting a bit short and snarky with people. Some events took place Friday morning that left me pretty depressed, but after a few days of food in my stomach I felt a bit more stable. I don’t think I would have taken it so poorly had I been eating.

It may have taken me a while to write this post, but I did talk to a few people about the experience once I had finished. My friend Courtney told me about something she did once – she went into the woods, by herself, with only water, a tarp, a sleeping bag, and a candle. She fasted for 48 hours while completely alone. I would like to do some modification of this, perhaps this summer. Get enough water for 5 days and some material to protect me from the elements. Probably some method of starting a fire. I’d go into the woods, alone, far enough where I wouldn’t come across anyone, and then just stay there until I felt it was time to come out. The one thing I didn’t experience during my fast was focus. I was very distracted by a lot of different things, especially during the third day. Sitting, with absolutely nothing to distract me, for an indeterminate amount of time, sounds like a very different, almost spiritual, experience to me.

I’ll let you know when I do this. In the mean time, I definitely learned a lot from this experience. Technique is obviously a very important part of parkour training, but I feel like to be a complete and well rounded traceur you should strive to experience as much as you can. I plan on doing a few other types of deprivation training over the next few months, so look out for those posts.

Written on January 1, 2008