72 Hour Fast

My name is Zachary Cohn, and I have never been hungry.

I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than 18 hours without food. Even during religious holidays when fasting was encouraged, it was only sun-up to sun-down (and I’d sneak food throughout the day anyway). I’ve wanted to eat before, my stomach has told me it was empty and needed more food to sustain it. Even right now, my stomach is growling a bit, even though I ate less than 2 hours ago.

Food is actually a fairly significant part of my life. I eat healthy and I love to cook. I pride myself on having never drank a soda. My roommates and I regularly cook our own dinners, ranging from calzones (made from scratch!) to oven-baked chicken with a homemade alfredo sauce. We eat healthy, and we eat a LOT.

I live in an upper-middle class household where there have always been cans in the cabinet, apples on the table, and milk in the refrigerator. I’ve made enough money so if I’m out, I don’t have to deliberate and decide if I can afford to eat out somewhere or if I should just hold out and wait until I get home. Food has always been an arm’s reach away.

I was at a bookstore looking at this book last week when my stomach growled and I decided I was hungry. This time though, for some reason, I thought about my last thought. “I am hungry.” Four hours before, I had eaten a 3 egg omelet with cheese, turkey, and peppers. There was no way I was “hungry” again. This is when I realized that I’ve never truly been hungry. Starving children in Africa, to use the cliche, have gone days without food. People tortured in POW Camps have been deprived of food for days at a time.

Running out of peanut butter and jelly that morning suddenly seemed like not as big of a deal.

That’s when I made my decision. I was going to fast. Not for any religious reason. Not for health or weight loss or purification. Just to see if I can do it. To see if I have the willpower to not eat for a full 72 hours.

I hope this will do a few things for me.

First, I think it will ultimately be satisfying. My training for Parkour goes beyond simply running and vaulting over stuff. I train Parkour so I can be ready for anything that happens. Parkour alone won’t do this, which is why I do a variety of activities (Parkour, martial arts, rock climbing, lifting, slacklining, even swing dance and juggling). When called upon to act, I want the ability to perform and meet the demands of the situation. If the situation is not having food available… I want to know what it feels like. I want to be ready.

Side note - I’m interested in deprivation training. In the coming months, I hope to spend a full 24 hours with various disabilities. I want to go one day without sight, another without thumbs, with only my non-dominant hand, and without my lower body. But for the next 72 hours, I’ll be going without food.

Second, I think this will allow me to control my desire to eat better. A lot of times I find myself eating just because there’s food around, or because i have nothing else to do, or because it’s “that time of day” when I usually eat and I feel obligated to eat. I want to break that habit. This will hopefully give me a frame of reference. Which leads into the next reason…

Two point Five, this will also be a test of willpower. I am not removing food from my life, I am just not consuming it. I will be around food fairly often. I will be going to the dining hall with friends, I will be eating dinner with my roommates, perhaps even cooking food with them. Being around food, but not eating, will probably be the hardest part of all. Several people have said it would be cooler if I went into a jungle or into the desert and did this… but at that point eating is simply not an option. In my case, eating IS an option, and yet I choose not to eat.

Third, I want to know hunger. It’s an experience that most people in society never know. zNo one I interact with knows, has ever known, or will ever know hunger. I’m not kidding myself, three days is nothing. People can go 15, 20 days without food. I’m not willing to sacrifice and damage my body to that intensity, but I feel like this will at least be a taste of what true hunger feels like. To really understand what I mean, please read this short story (it’s 7 paragraphs, and it does an excellent job describing what I’m talking about).

Because of these reasons, because I consider this experiment “training,” I’m not going to be changing my daily routine. In fact, I’m going to become more strict. I am going to wake up and get up when my alarm goes off. I will continue biking to and from school each day. I am going to get to every class on time. I am going to get to work on time. I will also be attending the activities I usually participate in those evenings. Wednesday is juggling night, Thursday is swing dance, and Friday is Taekwondo (although this one I teach in, so I won’t be actively participating in all of the drills). I will not be eating a huge dinner tonight, just my normal meal. I’m not going to prepare for this at all, I want it to be as though eating was suddenly no longer an option, yet I had to continue on as normal, as if I was fighting in a war and we ran out of rations (although slightly less intense).

I’m publicizing this for a few reasons. I hope I make other people to think about hunger. I don’t necessarily want everyone to join me in my fast or in a fast of their own, but I do want people to recognize that they probably have never truly been hungry in their life.

I’ve posted a link on Digg to my Twitter, where I will be making regular updates about how I’m feeling. I hope this will help the information get out, but I also hope this will hold me publicly accountable and be added incentive to stick to it.

I’ll be updating twitter pretty often, and on Saturday, after my fast is over, I will be posting here again with all the twitter updates, and a “wrap up” summarizing how it went and what I learned.

[Edit - Read Part One and Part Two of my twitter-logs from my fast]

Written on January 3, 2008