That Time I Went 5 Days Without Food Part 2
If you missed part 1 of this, you may be wondering to yourself, “why in the world would someone want to starve themselves for 5 days?” Read more about my decision and motivations here.
As the planned start date loomed, I felt myself getting a little more apprehensive about the whole experience. I started wondering to myself what in the world I was doing it for. I didn’t tell anyone (other than Jenn) what I was planning on doing, so no one would know if I backed out. I started telling myself that I wasn’t going to gain anything from the experience and that I would be losing at least a few days worth of productivity and workouts in the name of this futile experiment. I had a great excuse to back out when Amazon couldn’t get the kit to me in time, so I figured it might not be meant to be. I can only assume that this is similar to the experience of people who are about to embark upon a new fitness/nutrition quest. Lots of potentially negative self talk and lots of looking for ways out.
However, I forged on. I overnighted my kit from another source and made a video announcing my plan that I posted to the gym’s Facebook page, committing me to my quest. The feedback regarding my plan was interesting. I came to appreciate the process that people go through when they embark on something out of their norms. The reactions from people, whether they meant to or not, were not necessarily supportive. For someone who was doubting the process, hearing other skeptics was not encouraging. I can see how someone starting to refine their nutritional habits or joining a gym can get negative feedback or reinforcement from their loved ones. It should be noted that my self doubt about the process exacerbated any feedback and comments that I received to make them sound or seem negative. So, in all reality, the onus falls on me and my perception, but I can see how the process works for others.
If nothing else, the hours and days leading up to the cleanse were interesting. My loving and supportive wife noticed that I was a bit tense, to say the least. I was quite content to eat in ways that would normally be out of the ordinary. I figured I’d be suffering for a few days, so I might as well enjoy my final hours. I spent time eating cheeseburgers from a drive thru and my last “meal” was a piece of cake. This was extremely enlightening as to the habits of most when they get started on a new journey. In all reality, I knew that I was just screwing up my blood sugar and setting myself up for a worse crash on the first day. By the time Sunday night rolled around, I felt like I could not eat for 5 days and be just fine. I made my first batch of the Madal Bal syrup, lemon juice and Cayenne Pepper. The taste really wasn’t that bad. I went to sleep with mostly positive feelings about the upcoming experience.
I woke up at 5:00, remembered that I didn’t have to eat breakfast and went back to sleep for an extra 20 minutes. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all! Instead of my usual coffee, I left with a giant water bottle full of my concoction. As recommended, I sipped on my drink continuously for most of the morning. Anytime I felt remotely hungry, I took a drink. This proved to be remarkably effective. In fact, I felt mostly great for most of the morning. I coached 3 classes and did some office work. Around 10am I crashed. I was out of drink, so I went home. I felt great after I got a refill, and proceeded with my day. I functioned well considering I took a 2 hour nap instead of eating lunch. Once I recognized that the sugar drink was just there to keep my brain functioning, I got into a good routine. (Interestingly enough, this is a process that people who have an issue with sugar deal with on a daily basis. Sugar to get up and stay up, then when they start to crash, they need to fuel it with more sugar. Not fun.) After day 1, I was pretty fired up. I felt like although it was going to be long, that I could get through it without too many issues. I mostly just didn’t have energy to do anything other than the bare minimum. Oddly enough, I found that a lot of people seemed disappointed that the first day wasn’t more difficult. By the end of the day I was down 4 pounds. I’d say that the most difficult part of the day was getting out of my routine and not being able to grab the healthy snacks I needed for a healthy blood sugar balance and energy throughout the day.
Day two was definitely more difficult. I recognized that I had a long way to go and the charge of the first day had disappeared. I was starting to count down the hours. . Each meal time and/or snack time that I have grown accustomed to over the years was difficult. I had zero energy. I coached 3 morning classes, went home, took a long nap and rested. Other than that, I went to the park with my 2 year old and had just enough energy to watch him and make sure he didn’t die. It was hard to go through the day without my usual energy and gusto for productivity. I did have some great conversations with other people about the potential for a reset of behaviors and habits. I embarked upon this to find out what capacity it would be useful for clients, and I think that is one way that it could be. If you have a real issue breaking habits and want to try somewhat of a cold turkey approach, this could be a way to do it.* Don’t take that as a recommendation, just an observation. By the end of day 2, I was down about 8 pounds.
Overall, the third day was easier than the second. However, in some ways it was much harder. My energy was there, and I had gotten accustomed to my new routine. But, when I was put in a social situation in the evening and had to decide whether I could go out to eat, I grew frustrated and had a difficult time dealing with the fact that I probably just shouldn’t. It was at this point that I realized how difficult it was to explain new habits to those who didn’t understand what or why I was doing it. I got a lot of “you’re crazy” type comments. I thought it would be easier, so when it was easier, I got arrogant and stopped drinking my mixture. This was a mistake, as I crashed pretty hard in the evening. By the end of day 3, I was down about 10 pounds. At this point, I had grown disturbed at how many people's eyes widened when I told them how much weight I'd lost. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is not a weight loss solution. If this is a weight loss solution, so is amputation.
This was supposed to be my mental clarity day, and the day when things got really easy. By the middle of the day, I was down about 14 pounds for the week. I felt emaciated, weak and frail. People were beginning to ask me if I had some sort of ailment. The day was a little easier, but I definitely hadn’t transcended my human form to only need air to survive, as I had heard and read about before. Day 4 was much like Day 3. I had good energy until things went south, and then they really went south. I didn’t think about food every waking moment, but I had a pretty stereotypical Hangry afternoon. I had enough energy to attempt to paint a 60 foot x 10 foot stretch of wall in the gym. When I realized I had painted half of it and it was the wrong shade of gray, I was extremely irritated. This would have normally been aggravating, but it was way way more so after not eating for 96 hours. The great result for me at this point was that I was able to comprehend the valley that some people can enter as the adrenaline and excitement of a new dietary change wears off. By this point, I was totally over the whole thing. I hadn’t noticed any major positive changes, other than understanding what it meant to want food and not be able to indulge. On the aesthetic front, if you consider it a positive for people to ask you if you’re sick or have a look of genuine concern on their faces when they talk to you, this is the plan for you.
Finally! On the morning of day 5, I felt some of that “buzz” that I had heard about. I woke up in a great mood. I made my son's breakfast and went to work. I had a ton of energy and was extremely productive. I felt like I could do this forever. I even repainted the wall (the correct color) that had thwarted me the day before. I can’t say for sure that this is a side effect of not having food, or if it was more related to the fact that I was almost done. Maybe there was a feeling of euphoria knowing that I was counting down the final hours of no food?
However, as I neared the end, I was struck with an odd sense of remorse. I was almost sad to be done. As I thought more about the feelings I was having, I think it is related to the idea that you’re supposed to give it your all, and suffer through the finish line (or at least that's how I like to do things). As I wrapped up the experience, and was actually feeling great, I felt like I hadn’t earned the right to go back to food. I felt like my accomplishment was diminished by the fact that I didn’t have to crawl on my hands and knees to the refrigerator to take a sip of vegetable broth which would miraculously bring me back to life. However, as I recognized the true nature of what I was experiencing and how my thoughts were clouding the overall trial that I had gone through, I came to terms with what I had accomplished. Needless to say, I decided to not extend the cleanse for any length of time for suffering’s sake.
I wrapped up work that evening and went home, knowing that I would be chewing for the first time in 5 days. I had read a lot about how to come back from this, and how to reintegrate food. The official recommendation is vegetable broth for a few meals, then introducing solid fruits and vegetables, then reintegrating protein after a day or so. Others I had spoken with said to just take it slow and not run out for a cheeseburger right away. I took the latter approach and started with a banana. That damn banana was the best banana I’ve ever had in my life. It smelled incredible and tasted even better. As I felt it travel down my esophagus into my stomach, I could feel each part of my digestive system wake up and slowly kick back into gear. That sensation was very fascinating. I sat back and let everything happen, worrying slightly that I would end up throwing it back up. Thankfully, I didn’t, so I followed it up with some celery and bone broth (mmmmmmmm!). The celery was the crispiest, most delicious piece of celery ever, which is paying a huge compliment to celery. When those sat well so I had an apple. A few hours later I was still incredibly hungry, so I went for some more adventurous items and made a quesadilla. Then I had two more. (They were small, so lay off). Just a little after that I had some incredible chicken pot pie made by a friend. (So much for taking it slow). I had heard that it would take a few days to get an appetite back. Not me. I could eat for hours, but didn’t, just in case. The next morning, I went back to my normal routine of eggs and protein shake with greens supplement. Everything was seemingly back to normal digestively, so I ate normally through the day (if not more than normal). By the end of the day, I was back up about 5 pounds. By the end of the next, about 10. As I write this (5 days post cleanse), I’m roughly back to normal weight.
Am I glad I did it? All in all, I’m glad I did the Cleanse. I gained a new understanding of what some people go through in regards to food changes. I gained a new understanding of my mental toughness and ability to conquer difficult challenges. I learned what my body needs to function for it’s daily routine and learned how it functions when it is not granted those things. I got a close up look into what happens when I go without food or real nutrients.
Would I recommend this to others? That really depends. If you’re just reading this blog and thinking, “yeah that could be good for me”, I’d encourage you to get in touch with me and tell me more about your situation, and I’d be happy to give you some insight. I think that there are certainly situations where this could be a great tool for the right person, but in my opinion, it’s not many. It is most definitely not a weight loss solution (at least not short term). I over-ate on the front end and I over-ate on the back end. In fact, I think that after abstaining from food for a week, I may have actually developed more of an appetite and more of an affinity for food. Everything tastes better, and I’m more inclined to eat than I was before. Your results may vary, but that’s what happened to me.
What situations would this be good for? This would be a good reset for the right person with the right plan and the right coach, but all three of those things need to be in place before even considering doing this. Otherwise, you’ll do exactly as I did (overeat on the front end and overeat on the back end). Doing something like this could bea way to start fresh and erase habits. But, on the back end of this, this hypothetical person would need an exact plan to stick to and they would need to stick to it absolutely. In other words, they would need to have their exact meals planned out to reintegrate and develop new habits coming off the cleanse, and they would need someone to plan and monitor compliance to that plan. Thinking, “yeah, I eat like shit, I’ll do this and then eat really good when I’m done” is just shy of guaranteed failure.
Will I do it again? That’s a great question, and I don’t really have an answer. At this point, I’m not highly inclined to ever do it again. I think I learned all I need to learn from the experience, and I’ve got mostly good food habits that would benefit more from slow refinement than a nuclear warhead of obliteration. However, if that changes and I feel as though it could be something good, I now know that I have this tool in my belt to use.
*I have mixed feelings about posting these pictures. As I put the collage together, you can definitely see a difference in definition, and some would say that I look better after starving myself for 5 days. I've repeated this ad nauseum by now, but that was not my point. I was actually hoping to show the opposite, that even with losing what I guessed would be 10-15 pounds, I'd still look mostly the same. This was misguided and naive. If you look at any fighter, boxer or any weight class sport, those guys look f-ing shredded when they weigh in. However, 24 hours later, when they get in the ring, they look like a totally different person after they've re-hydrated and eaten. So, maybe including the pictures was contradicting my emphasis?
**You'll hear me talk about calipers in the YouTube videos. I didn't include these because my wife had literally never done a caliper measurement before, and the before and afters were all over the board. Not her fault at all, but it just wasn't valid data to include.