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First Time Fast

My husband, Tuan, and I decided to perform our first extended fast. Four days. The only liquids we drank were water and a cup of coffee per day (with either heavy cream or butter if we felt that we needed it).

We've done some intermittent fasting before, but usually topping out around 24 hours. Going longer than this was a big mental challenge for me in particular, so I didn't allow myself much time to contemplate it, and randomly decided to start the fast on a Tuesday while I was at work. I texted Tuan and told him I was going for it, and since he hadn't eaten yet that day he said he would do it as well. We figured that solidarity may help us through this endeavor, and I believe it did. It helps to have someone to talk to about how you are feeling when you are hungry who doesn't just try to shove an apple into your mouth.

Of course, Tuan and I each had our own individual experience during the fast, but overall it turned out to be fairly similar, so the rest of this will be from my viewpoint.

The first 24 hours wasn't bad. I've done 24 hour fasts before, where I eat dinner one evening, and don't eat again until the following evening. I've heard that fasting is like exercising a muscle, and that the more you do it the easier it gets. In my experience this seems to hold true. For me, fasting usually occurs when I'm busy at work and either don't physically have time to stop and eat, or don't feel like eating what I brought with me (I almost always bring a very healthy lunch with me to avoid making poor last-minute food decisions). Alas, sometimes it is 3pm and I realize I haven't eaten, but that I'm really not all that hungry, so I'll just wait until I get home and have dinner with my family. So most of the time my intermittent fasts occur spontaneously. I find that it works better this way, because the more I plan for it, the more I will obsess about food.

Around the 24 hour mark I was feeling ravenous The hardest part was that my husband and I had to feed the kids dinner and not eat any ourselves. This took a lot of self-restraint, because I realized just how much I pick at food while preparing it, and often finish any food on the kids' plate that was left behind because I don't want it to go to waste. I did wake up in the middle night with hunger pains that first night as well. In the morning I allowed myself a cup of Bulletproof coffee (coffee with butter), and I had a mild headache, so I guzzled some saltwater (I use Himalayan sea salt)) and it went away in about 5 minutes, so it must have restored my electrolyte balance.

The second day was full of brief periods of intense hunger, but I decided to try to view the hunger differently than I normally would. I tried to observe the hunger as an outsider would, to be curious about it rather than just suffer through it. And I found that this slight shift in mental attitude helped me to ride that hunger wave, which was often more brief than I was anticipating. Within 10-20 minutes it was often completely gone and I felt fine. I did go to the gym on day 2 and I played squash and lifted weights and felt fine. That night I even played a few sets of tennis and although I didn't feel quite as energetic as usual, I performed just fine. The second night I still woke up hungry once, but it was not as intense as the first night.

Day 3 went pretty well, although there were still waves of hunger. I felt a bit sluggish and decided not to work out that day even though I had the opportunity. The third night I wasn't hungry at all which was a nice change.

As I had read about, day 4 came with a renewed sense of energy and mental clarity, and had very little hunger. We had dinner plans with friends that night, and I actually was not hungry at all as the server took our order, and I definitely feel that I could have gone at least another 24 hours at that point. But there's always next time. And I felt that we had accomplished a lot on this first extended fast.

It felt like a huge hurdle had been overcome by pushing through the initial hunger. I also felt that it was an eye-opening experience to evaluate when I got hungry and how quickly the hunger usually passed. Oddly enough, I had hardly ever pushed past hunger before, nearly always carrying snacks with me so that I wouldn't have to. And it turned out that often the hunger only lasted 15-20 minutes. If I could get my mind focused on something else, that was usually enough to make it fairly painless. But also, I realized that often the hunger would arise out of either boredom or habit. I find myself aimlessly wandering to the fridge or pantry when I have a few quiet moments around the house. Or I can be at work and know that I have only a few minutes available for my lunch time, and even though I'm not actually hungry I will eat purely out of habit. Or worse, I find myself eating because I might get hungry soon. As if a bit of hunger is to be feared!

And then there's reward eating. I'm a sucker for this one and have so many good excuses to use it. If I've had a long day at work, have been dealing with a sick child, or just haven't had much time for myself, I'll often allow myself a reward snack. My go-to is often very dark chocolate, which I actually don't consider a bad thing since it has so little sugar, but I do tend to go a bit overboard with it once I've started. Two ways I've found to get out of this one: 1) Don't keep anything in the house that you would regret using as a reward and 2) substitute rewards that don't involve food. Have the reward be getting a massage, going for walk, taking a bath, or reading a good book.

All in all, this was quite an eye-opening experience. I fasted purposefully for the positive health effects, mostly to act as a cleanse and improve my insulin sensitivity. But fasting helped to shine a light on my relationship with food and gave me a huge sense of accomplishment when it was all said and done. And in the meantime it took out many decisions about where to eat and what to eat, and also freed up a lot of time in my busy day., That's a whole lot of positives for just cutting food out for a few days. It's really that simple. Next up: the 6 day challenge! ,


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