My 7-Day Water Fast Experience

Why I loved — and hated — not eating for a week

Photo by manu schwendener on Unsplash

What is Water-Fasting?

Fasting has become increasingly popular in the US today. According to MedicalNewsToday and the New York Times, fasting dates back thousands of years, having been historically practiced all around the word for spiritual and religious reasons. However, it is only more recently that fasting has emerged in pop-culture as a part of the wellness and mindfulness movement. People often pair fasting with mindfulness practices like meditation.

Why Water-Fast?

So, what benefits exactly does water-fasting claim to offer? After browsing multiple medical information sites (like this one and this one), news articles (like this one by the New York Times), personal blogs (like this one and this one), and articles posted by doctors (like this one and this one), I discovered that water fasting is purported to have multiple health benefits, many of which are backed by science. Though there is some debate in the medical community as to whether fasting is a sustainable and safe method of weight loss and detox (and whether it damages metabolism), there is emerging evidence that fasting has short and long-term health benefits. These benefits are listed below.

1. Fasting Promotes Autophagy

Research shows that fasting promotes a detoxification process called autophagy by putting the body under stress. Scientists believe this occurs as a protective mechanism, increasing during times of stress (like fasting) to help us get through tough times. During autophagy, the body cleans and recycles old cellular materials, undergoing a detox. It may reduce risk of cancer by cleaning out old cells at risk for mutations.

2. Fasting May Decrease Risk of Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Cancer

Director of the Longevity Institute at USC, Valter Longo, conducted a fasting study on mice. The study demonstrated that 2–5 days of fasting each month reduced biomarkers for diabetes, cancer and heart disease, perhaps due to lowering levels of insulin and certain growth factors.

3. Fasting leads to weight loss

Fasting promotes ketosis, a process in which your body switches from burning carbs for fuel to burning fat for fuel. Once your body depletes all of its stashed sugar (stored as glycogen), your body has no choice but to begin dipping into fast reserves. The more fat you burn, the more weight you lose. Many of the water-fasting experience blogs I read reported losing up to 20 pounds of weight (some of it water-weight) in only 5 days!

4. Fasting promotes brain health

Fasting has been shown to improve neurological disorders like epilepsy. Dr. David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at Harvard, argues that ketones produced by water-fasting have significant positive effects on the brain, particularly for those suffering from epileptic seizures.

5. Fasting improves auto-immune disorders

Small-scale studies have shown that fasting can improve auto-immune disorders (at least in the short-term) like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. If you recall, the original water-fasting YouTube video I watched involved a man with rheumatoid trying to cure his chronic pain.

Photo by Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash

Why Did I Decide to Fast?

All these benefits sounded great — weight loss, improved mental health and clarity, decreased anxiety, increased longevity. Who wouldn’t want all those things?

  1. Lose weight: I ran varsity track and field in college, practicing for multiple hours each day. Because of this, I never really had to concern myself with food intake (even though I probably should have). I ate when I wanted, what I wanted, as much as I wanted.
    Over the past year I graduated college, stopped running, and began graduate school. I became substantially less active, spending hours sitting at a desk doing work instead of biking between classes or running at the track. I put on 10 pounds or so, and I wanted to lose it.
  2. Exercise self control and mindfulness: I also wanted to prove to myself that I could control my eating and be more appreciative/mindful about what I was putting in my body. I had never successfully completed a calorie-restrictive diet before this fast — as I said above, I never seriously considered limiting my intake or eating more healthfully. In high school, college, and even graduate school, It wasn’t unusual for me to scarf down a whole roll of cookie dough or entire pan of cinnamon rolls in one sitting. My eating was mindless and addictive. I realized that as I entered young adulthood, I needed to start exhibiting some self control over what I ate, both for current health and future longevity. Moreover, I wanted to be more appreciative of food; as Americans, we live in a culture of excess, particularly excess food. I wanted to be mindful of this excess and in doing so become less likely to binge. Having access to whole and healthy foods is a privilege, one I felt I should be more cognizant of.

My Experience: No Food or Drink for 7 Days

My 7-day fast pushed my mental and physical limits. As you probably guessed, not eating for 7 days is an extreme test of willpower.

The Logistics

On the water fast, I drank WATER ONLY. Some people add in tea or broth, but I stuck to water. The only extracurricular ingesting I did was adding salt and minerals in to keep electrolytes in balance.

The Bad Parts

Like I said, fasting was tough. The toughest parts were:

  1. Lethargy and Some Dizziness: When you don’t eat, your body gets tired. Though you will likely have bouts of high-energy, you will also experience periods of lethargy, especially in the beginning. Some days, all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and stare at the wall. I couldn’t even muster up enough energy to watch a television show. Sadly, I never had the intense, high energy, euphoric feelings many people claim to experience on day 4 or 5.
    I also felt dizzy when standing up sometimes, having to stabilize myself against the nearest table or chair to avoid falling. This problem was (somewhat) ameliorated by introducing more electrolytes into my water.
  2. Social Life Difficulties: It is not until you stop eating that you realize so much of your life revolves around food and drink, especially social life. Want to catch up with friends? Let’s go to lunch. Hang out with your family? Have dinner or drinks together. Relax after a hard workout with your gym partner? Have a smoothie. Network with colleagues? Grab coffee. I found myself having difficulty fulfilling social obligations, turning down hangouts because I didn’t want to be tempted with food or explain why I wasn’t eating.
  3. Sleepless nights: Throughout the fast, I had trouble falling asleep. I would often be up to 4 or 5 am, unable to slow my thoughts. I read online that this is a common side effect of fasting — an evolutionary adaptation designed to help us find and forage for food instead of sleeping during a starvation period.

The Good Parts

In spite of all the onerous parts of fasting, there were also many amazing benefits. What’s more, these many of these benefits persisted after the fast ended (I’ll write more about post-fast experience in another article). The good parts of fasting were:

  1. Weight Loss: Weight loss is definitely a perk of water-fasting, although you may not loose as much weight as you think. It’s important to keep in mind that much of the weight loss is water weight. Why? Well, every bit of glycogen stored in your body is packaged with water molecules. Depleting your body of glycogen stores by fasting will cause all that packaged water to be lost, resulting in a marked weight reduction. I lost a total of 11 pounds over the course of the 7-day fast, going from 140.0 lbs down to 129.2 lbs. Half of this was water weight! 1 week after the fast, I weighed in around 135.
  2. Better Self Control: Fasting helped me learn to control my eating habits and gave me the confidence I needed to do so. After resisting the temptation of food for 7 days, resisting a donut after dinner seemed like child’s play in comparison.
  3. Clear Skin: All my acne completely disappeared during the water fast (probably because my usual diet consists of lots of inflammatory foods). One week later, my skin is still spotless.
  4. Asthma and Allergy Improvements: I noticed that my asthma and allergies showed marked improvement during and after the fast. I didn’t have to take my inhaler or apply steroid cream to allergy-induced rashes nearly as often.
  5. Newfound appreciation for food: Lastly, the fast helped me appreciate how amazing it is to have access to delicious, healthy food on a daily basis. When I had my first meal after not eating for 7 days, I could taste every single subtle flavor in the salad I made myself. Even plain spinach leaves tasted incredible. Being truly thankful for the food we have and appreciating all the amazing flavors that make up a dish encourages mindful eating, which in turn helps avoid binging. 1 week later, I’m still much more mindful and appreciative of the food I put in my body.

Day by Day Breakdown

For those of you who are interested, I have included a stream-of-consciousness daily breakdown of my fasting experience.

Day 1

Weight: 140.0 lbs
Notes: Felt fine, nothing much to report. Honestly very easy to not eat because I was so full from the giant buffet I ate the night before. Mostly just experiencing boredom from not eating food.

Day 2:

Weight: 138.0 lbs
Notes: High energy, very productive. Low anxiety. Some hunger pangs. Really, really bored without food. I’m not even that hungry, just want some kind of stimulation. Also noticed that I had trouble sleeping. Didn’t fall asleep until like 5am.

Day 3:

Weight: 134.6 lbs
Notes: Agitated in morning. Still felt okay energy wise, albeit a little spacey. Went rock climbing and felt euphoric/energy boosted after. Great mood, basically no anxiety. Much harder to climb than normal; my limbs were EXTREMELY shaky.

Day 4:

Weight: 134.1 lbs
Notes: Low energy. No anxiety still, but tired and shaky. Exercise was weirdly easy — like my legs were numb. No hunger, but cravings for certain flavors felt even more intense. Sense of smell was heightened. Began noticing food EVERYWHERE.

Day 5:

Weight: 132.0 lbs
Notes: Less hungry. Slower speech, Energy coming in waves. Pretty tired overall though. Body was lethargic but brain was alert; felt focus and sharpness mentally once I rallied myself enough to work on a task. Could not fall asleep until 6am. Spent a lot of time looking up pictures of food.

Day 6:

Weight: 131.6
Notes: Woke up feeling ok, better than other days. Probably the most (mental) energy and focus I had. Really no hunger at all. Food fantasizing decreased. Again, moderately tired but mentally sharp. Zero anxiety, which is amazing.

Day 7:

Weight: 129.2
Notes: The final day! Extreme tiredness is back. Very dizzy. Eating dinner was AMAZING. Everything tasted super salty and flavorful. Really wanted carbs, tried to refrain. Went to the dentist and he commented that my blood pressure was ideal. That’s a plus, because it’s normally too high.

Final Thoughts

Photo by Martino Pietropoli on Unsplash

Documenting insights about humanity, culture, and design. // Self-experimenter, UX Designer @ Google.

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