5-day fast concept. Photo of fork and knife crossed on white play

The Learning Fast

It’s Friday, and I am truly grateful. Today I get to break a 5-day fast.

I decided to do an extended fast for a variety of reasons but one of them, as you might expect, was to see what could be learned from it. So, I thought it might be useful to highlight some of those learnings, as I think you may find them of value.

One of the key learnings – really, reinforcement of past learning – came before the fast even started.

Namely, there is a lot of confusing and even conflicting information out there about fasting, particularly extended fasting, which has not been researched (as far as I can tell) as well as other forms. Skepticism and critical thinking were essential to determine what to expect when fasting and how to plan.

Fasting, of course, is hardly unique. Lifelong learners always need to apply skepticism and critical thinking when pursuing knowledge.

Another learning – this one from the actual process – is that fasting compels you to observe and reflect on critical elements of your life.

It basically forces you to pay attention to your body, for example. To be more conscious of how you feel minute-to-minute; to be more conscious of how food impacts you. As you observe others while fasting, it also makes you conscious of how mindless we usually are about eating – what we eat, how we eat, when we eat.

While fasting it is also hard not to reflect on your own capabilities for discipline and commitment. It is, after all, no cake walk (intentional metaphor) to fast for five days. The first time I tried, I didn’t make it. This is now my third successful five-day fast. I’ve made it through these three because I was much better informed and, I think, because I did it with someone else (my wife) rather than alone.

Preparation and accountability – practices that apply in just about any pursuit of learning.

I’ll close by saying that I view fasting as one of myriad ways to “seek stress,” something I have come to view as one of the essential disciplines of true lifelong learning. We have to push ourselves at times to get out of our comfort zone, to take risks, to see the world a bit differently, even to put ourselves at risk to a reasonable degree.

An extended fast definitely does that.

To be clear, I’m not recommending that you pursue an extended fast. I’m not a doctor, and extended fasting can definitely be dangerous for some people. I would, however, encourage you to make “seeking stress” a regular part of your mission to learn, and to figure out what that might mean for you.


P.S. – As suggested above, the point of this post is not to sell you on fasting. Still, there is a growing body of research suggesting that both intermittent and extended fasting can have significant positive impact on many aspects of health. So, if you are interested in learning more and possible trying fasting yourself, here are a few resources.

Dr. Joseph Mercola writes extensively about intermittent fasting on his site. See, for example,  The Beginners Guide to Intermittent Fasting. (I highly recommend the Mercola site in general for anyone interested in health and fitness.)

Dr. Jason Jung has recently published The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting. I have not yet had a chance to read this, but is getting good reviews. Dr. Mercola (above) also interviews Dr. Fung in The Complete Guide to Fasting: A Special Interview With Dr. Jason Fung.

In researching specific questions on fasting – like, for example, is black coffee okay during a fast – the resource that came up again and again is Siimland. I don’t know a lot about Siim, but he seems to do his research. While I went for a 5-day fast, you might want to start with his post on How to Fast for 3-Days.

A couple of days after I first published this post, Dr. Rhonda Patrick of FoundMyFitness – one of my top resources for research-based information about how diet and lifestyle choices impact our bodies – released a Q&A podcast episode on fasting that touches on some of the most common questions people ask. (I know these are definitely among the questions I have asked – and a great deal of what I know about fasting in the first place comes from listening to Rhonda and the other experts she interviews.)  You can get the episode by audio or also watch it as a video on Zoom. For you convenience, here’s the Zoom video:

I’ll note that one of the questions Rhonda tackles in the interview is whether black coffee during a fast is okay. Basically, yes – though be sure to listen in for some of the potential caveats as well as some of the additional benefits that coffee may offer.

Finally, one tip I will mention for anyone who decides to fast for an extended period is to consider taking electrolyte pills (or powder) during the fast. During my first, failed five-day fast, I got hit really hard with what they call the “keto flu” (here’s Siim on what keto flu is and how to avoid it). I was much better informed by the second fast and made sure I consumed Himalayan pink salt during the fast.

The salt helped, but it was not very enjoyable, and I still had keto flu symptoms. This time I finally wised up and realized there had to be electrolyte supplements available. Of course, there were, and I ordered these. I’m sure my  body has simply adapted more to fasting, but I think the pills have also helped a lot – no keto flu symptoms at all this time. (Of course, your results may vary.)

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