A Lesson from Fasting for Preparedness, by J.C.

First off, let me tell you a little bit about myself and experiences. I am a thirty-four years old, six foot tall, and an active male who enjoys long distance trail running, running mountains, and competing in mud obstacle races and triathlons. I have been married fourteen years and have two pre-teen sons. I currently work out of town as a carpenter and commute three hours each day and work ten-hour days five and sometimes six days a week. During the warmer months, I train nearly every day, mostly running on stairs, hills, trails. During the winter, I am running mostly on weekends, as it is always dark and cold by the time I get home. Typically, I do a fast from Saturday night to Sunday night and multiple three-day fasts throughout the year, especially if I am doing a major nutrition change.

A disclaimer: PLEASE, if you do not have experience fasting, fasting for a long time, or fasting while doing laborious activities, please talk a doctor, nutritionist, physical trainer, et cetera prior to attempting anything like this experiment.

Every December I enjoy the company of family and friends and a smorg of food for a couple of weeks. It throws my regular, nutrient rich, whole food clean eating right out the window. So, every January I do a detox and a fast. This year (2016) I thought I would push myself farther and harder than I have in the past, just to give myself a more accurate perspective of what I could handle in a situation.

During earlier fasts, I did a three-day water fast and that was it. It kind of worked, but it didn’t help me get my eating back on track. In 2015, I tried a three-day detox prior to the three day water fast, and it made it a whole lot easier to do, to recover from and to get my normal nutrition back on track. So this year, I started with the three-day detox and then jumped into a five-day water fast. However, I decided not to do this fast on my time off and just sit back at home. I decided to push it. I started the three-day detox on the last Sunday before I headed back to work from the holidays. This meant Sunday through Tuesday I would do the detox, and Wednesday through Sunday I would be doing my water fast at work. I knew this would be a challenge, and it was, but I had to know if I could actually keep going on absolute zero calories with only an intake of water.

The three-day detox consisted of the same three meals for three days, which totaled only 550 calories per day. Breakfast was a grapefruit, strawberry, and ginger smoothie. Lunch was a beet slaw with arugula salad and avocado. Dinner was a bowl of soup, which consists of spinach, green beans, carrots, onions, and a bit of turmeric. During those three days, I would only consume water to drink, no coffee, tea, soda, et cetera. There was no limit on how much water I would drink; the more the better. The bowl of soup I had for dinner on the third day was the last meal for five more days of strictly only water.

The Detox and Fast Days

Day 1 – Sunday (1 of 3 Detox Days)

On day one, first thing after getting out of bed, I weighed myself, weighing in at 173 lbs. Afterwards I gulped back my smoothie, later in the day my salad, and finished it off with a bowl of soup. During the day I also consumed two liters of cool water. My day went on as normal. Nothing feeling out of the ordinary.

Day 2 – Monday (2 of 3 Detox Days)

On day two, I returned to my carpentry job for the first time after having a week and a half off for the Christmas holidays.

Again, waking up in the morning I rolled out of bed and jumped on the scale, weighing 171 lbs this morning. I ate the same meals and drank another two liters of water throughout the day. As expected I got the detox headaches on this day. These headaches normally occur for me between the thirty and forty hour mark of any nutrition change or fast. They happen due to withdrawal of things like sugar and caffeine or other toxins that might be residing in my system. They did go away prior to going to bed, and I did not take anything for them. It is normal for this to happen, and please avoid taking any medication for the discomfort, as you are trying to clear your system from toxins; just drink more water.

Day 3 – Tuesday (3 of 3 Detox Days)

Day three I weighed in at 170 lbs. I was able to do my job at work as normal and consumed the same three meals and two liters of water throughout the day.

Day 4 – Wednesday (1 of 5 Water Fast Days )

Day four was the first day of the water fast, where zero calories are consumed. I spent the day at work doing all regular duties with no issues. I consumed five liters of water, both warm and cool water. Through this I found that the warm water was not as tasty, but it was more satisfying for my stomach as well I did not need to pee as often, and it warmed me up a bit when I came in from the wintry cold weather. That morning I weighed in at 168 lbs.

Day 5 – Thursday (2 of 5 Water Fast Days)

This morning I weighed in at 167 lbs. I consumed two liters of warm water throughout my work day. Today though, I did find I had reduced upper body strength by about 50% with a max lifting ability of 60 lbs. Half way through my work day, I encountered sore calf muscles (similar to lactic acid build up during long runs), stiffness, and soreness in knees and lower back, and on the way home my forearms started to have the similar soreness my calves were having. It was suggested that I have an Epsom salt bath as soon as I got home. So, I canceled an appointment I had, got in the door, ran a hot bath, tossed in a bunch of Epsom salts, and soaked in there for a good forty-five minutes, barely moving. After the bath, all the stiffness and soreness was gone and did not return for the rest of this experiment.

Day 6 – Friday (3 of 5 Water Fast Days)

This morning’s weight was 166 lbs. I consumed two liters of warm water and had no pains to speak of. I did have a further reduction in upper body strength with a max lift of 50 lbs. Today I also came to notice my heart rate would quickly rise with any heavy lifting or quick movements. It would take about five minutes of rest to bring it back down. My sense of smell was drastically increased. I was able to identify parts of someone’s food from across our gymnasium-sized lunch room at work.

Day 7 – Saturday (4 of 5 Water Fast Days)

Today’s weight was 165 lbs. There was no work today, which turned out to be a blessing. My upper body strength further reduced and was limited to about one minute of exertion. I found this out as we mounted a flat screen tv to a wall bracket. I was holding the tv in position while my wife and boys sat in their respective spots in the living room and indicated if the tv would go higher or lower, so everyone would get a good view. I was only able to do this in short bursts, as my heart rate would race and I would have to take a quick recovery break. Later this day, we also went grocery shopping to get everything for our meals for the upcoming week. I found after the long walks in the grocery store I was running out of breath and would need to stop and lean on something for a minute to catch my breath and slow my heart rate. Also, when we arrived at home, instead of taking big armfuls of stuff, I could only handle one smaller box at a time. Today I only consumed one liter of warm water.

Day 8 – Sunday (5 of 5 Water Fast Days)

I’m very thankful Sunday is back. We normally don’t do a lot on Sundays– mostly church service and church-related things and fellowship with friends, which I am very grateful for today.

This morning my weigh in was 162 lbs. My strength was even further diminished; it drastically reduced today to about a 25 lb max and only for a very short slow period of time. I found it a struggle to put on my old school Canadian military surplus winter parka, as it felt heavier than ever and my heart rate quickly increased during this exertion. I found it even difficult to stand for longer periods of time, such as standing for the songs in church. I also found that if I did not take my time to slowly stand up I was getting dizzy.

At 3 pm, my wife and I started to prepare the smoothie with which I would be breaking my fast. It had bananas, oranges, strawberries, coconut water, and spinach. Before breaking my fast, I re-weighed myself at 160 lbs. Then I enjoyed the smoothie. Wow, did it ever taste great! Not even 30 minutes later, I was feeling revitalized, refreshed, and ready to go. I had color back in my face; I could feel my blood flowing around again, and I went on to prepare dinner for the family.

We had cauliflower soup and well cooked sweet potatoes for dinner, During the cooking time, I continued to sip on some smoothie and snacking on some very tasty figs, reintroducing as many good calories as possible to regain my strength for work the following day.

What I Learned

So, out of this experiment with my body over the eight days, what did I learn that I can take out with me on my next survival trip?

I found that if I am able to consume about 600 calories per day and two liters of water, then I should be able to continue on for ten hours a day with a load. An example would be carrying my 60lb INCH (I’m Not Coming Home) bag for ten hours while walking.

Also, I came to a realization that if I could only obtain water, I could only carry on for three days and only eight hours a day, while reducing my load each day. I would have to make a significant decision by the end of day two. I would have be 100% sure that if I carried on, I would find somewhere with food by the end of day 3, or I would have to make the choice to setup camp and stay there until I was able to acquire enough food (hunting, fishing, trapping, foraging) to get calories up and to keep on going. If I was to wait until the end of day 3, it might be too late. I might be stuck with no energy, no strength, and be unable to properly setup a camp or collect resources for fire, food, and shelter.

On day three of the water fast, I had mentioned my increased sense of smell. Someone was eating a cold cut sandwich a couple tables away. I was able to identify the cheese, the type of meat, the type of specialty bread, and the sauces he had on it. It was remarkable. But, it made me think. In a situation, when you are digging into your food storage and your neighbors are not, I would definitely think twice about cooking anything, or even opening anything with a strong aroma. When you are hungry, your natural instincts are going to kick in ten times stronger than normal to help you find food. Even the MRE’s I have packed in my INCH bag, when opened and warmed up in the woods would enable a hungry or desperate person down wind to be able to find me very quickly.

I will be making a laminated point version of my daily outcomes to put into my INCH bag and other bags to remind me of what to expect of myself during a situation, so that when I am not thinking quite straight I have something to look to, when I was in a much stronger state of mind.

One other important note is that I did this in the Canadian winter months when the temperature ranged from -10 to –24 Celsius during this experiment. I found it increasingly difficult to keep warm the longer I was on the water fast.