Water-only fasting. Rules are easy – 3 days, 72h, without food. You can drink water, tea, maybe even black coffee without sugar. Springs seems to be the best period to fast, so much so that in a way or another it is a ritual incorporated in many religions in the season, but we took the challenge last fall, in November, because we didn't want to wait any longer – finding 3 days in a raw with proper conditions (free time and no commitments) to do it was already difficult.
Andrea did it for the first time, while for Anna it was the third attempt. In the first two trials Anna gave in before the 72 hours goal. In both cases at the end of the second day she felt very, very weak and being alone at home she was afraid that something may happen and there would be nobody to help. She was also not much prepared – she didn't read much beforehand, didn't follow any specific protocol or preparation. Big mistake.
This time we decided to think it through a bit better. We read several articles, spoke with few people who fast regularly. Following their suggestions we started to adjust our diet already few days before fasting. As we decided to start Friday morning (or in fact Thursday night), since Monday we stopped touching any alcohol (we don't eat meat anyway, but if you do so it's also something you want to gradually remove). In the last two days we ate vegan and fairly light and in the last day we resigned from carbohydrates at all. It seems that the faster you burn the sugar in your blood during fasting (after about 24-48h the body stops using glucose for energy and starts consuming fat, but we don't want to get too technical here), the shorter is the feeling of hunger and weakness. That's also one of the reasons why it is advisable to do physical activities. We chose to walk. The first day we had a long, few hours walk around, next two were shorter, but we still tried to keep active.
Our last meal on Thursday was a soup and we ate it around 5pm. Our first meal came 72 hours later, on Sunday, 5 pm and it was 3 nuts and half an apple. Two hours later we had a dinner – mix of boiled vegetables and some leftovers of the soup. In the two days after fasting, we still tried to keep it quite light, slowly increasing the amount of food till reaching more or less the regime we were used to. Re-feeding is the trickiest part of the process.
How did it feel? Well, depends who you ask to. Andrea seemed to go through fasting fairly easily, while for Anna, as in previous cases, it was a bit of a fight, which didn't get easier with proper preparation. But this time there was somebody around, so at least the fear of having nobody to help was gone. Many articles and blog posts on the topic say that if you survive the first 24h, the rest is...well... a piece of cake – things get easier on the second and third day and beside times of weakness you will experience moments of unexpected energy and clarity. That was not exactly our experience. It's true that after 24h hunger is kind of gone, replaced by a sucking feeling in the stomach, a sort of hole we felt all the time, but it was not really hunger. Not too bad, but not pleasant either. We didn't have strong moments of clarity and focus, even if indeed there were hours in which we could work or do things focusing less on body weakness, usually after a nice walk followed by a hot tea. Besides, we did things which didn't require much energy, like watching movies. To keep the brain busy we dove in a series many friends recommended us – the Handmaid's Tale – for which we used the 7-day trial of HBO.
Keep your mind busy is one of the crucial points. Work, read, watch movies, do anything that can distract your thoughts, especially in the hours you usually eat. On the other hand, things like meditation and yoga are also recommended. And indeed, we had one of the best meditation moments during fasting. For Anna especially, it was a time of complete focus on here and now, as if body and mind where too weak to wander about past and future. She felt the reality much stronger than normally, every sensation was doubled, things slowed down creating a space for mindfulness. She wouldn't call it focus or clarity, at least not on the mind level, it was more a physical experience of being immerse in the world. This mindfulness stayed a bit after fasting, but the more the digestion system woke up, the more the mind came back again on the train of thoughts.
After few weeks we can already see also some middle-term consequences. For sure our approach to food has changed a little. We understood we don't need much, which diminish the craving and need to ensure we will have something to eat. Appreciation of food also has changed – the few nuts and apples we ate after 72 hours of fasting had a taste we'd never experienced before. For several days after fasting we were actually cooking smaller portions and stopping eating earlier – when our body was full, without trying to fill with food also our mind. This effect started to disappear once we move to Italy, with mamma cooking. :) But the awareness that it is possible, that we don't really need that much food, that body can survive on it's own supply, stayed. It's like the body has a parallel emergency power system and we didn't even know it exists, we didn't know how it functions, and we never tested it.
Why would you even bother to fast? Well, if you google it you find a lot of arguments, most of them speaking about cleansing your body from damaged cells, resetting your internal systems and prevent all sorts of diseases. We didn't feel our body particularly cleaner, but we believe it was so. What we are grateful for, beside proving ourselves we can, is this switch in attitude toward food, a new relation with it, built on more realistic expectations. It was also interesting to put our body to test, observe it, be together with it in the process. Not that we have gone far too extreme - there are people that fast for several weeks, but there we believe there can be serious health consequences if not done properly, so that's not what we wanted.
Would we do it again? Maybe not. But that's exactly what we answered after Vipassana and after the first marathon and now both of them made it back into our to-do list, so... who knows?