I Fasted for 5 Days to Save My Brain. Here’s How it Went.

Why I Fasted for 5 Days.

I love food but I also love my mental capacity, my health, and my life. Alzheimer’s disease has been a rampant and heartbreaking disease that has affected both sides of my family and could very well be my fate. With the genetic propensity for developing a chronic neurodegenerative disease and a hunger for information I embarked on an internet-wide quest for answers. Various studies and several weeks later and I landed on the general consensus that a fast could help me destroy old or damaged cells and regenerate new healthy ones like a really hungry superhero.

Fasting and nutrient deprivation put the body into a state of autophagy; the normal physiological process in the body that deals with destruction of cells in the body. It maintains homeostasis or normal functioning by protein degradation and turnover of the destroyed cell organelles for new cell formation. During cellular stress (fasting) the process of Autophagy is upscaled and increased. You can learn more about autophagy here.

Fasting Protects Against Alzheimer’s Disease.

It turns out studies have recently shown that fasting protects against Alzheimer’s Disease by restoring Aquaporin-4 Polarity. It should be noted that this study was performed on mice and research around human subjects is still new. The process of ketosis and autophagy can both have been identified as being involved in clearing Aβ from the brain, including enzymatic degradation, cellular uptake, transport across the blood–brain barrier. This was enough for me to give it a shot and see if fasting could become a regular part of my healthy habits.

My Experience Fasting for 5 Days.

Just to be clear, this was a straight up water fast. I had a coffee the first few days but figured I wasn’t giving my liver a true break and so I cut it out. My experience fasting for five days was certainly a learning experience that came with many highs and lows. These were the rules:

Rule 1: Prepare yourself with a 1-day fast per week (Monday).

Rule 2: Prepare yourself with 4-day 20:4 intermittent fast the week prior (eat between 3pm and 7pm).

Rule 3: Don’t eat any food for 120 hours.

Rule 4: You can work out day 1 but no more.

Rule 5: If you feel like you’re going to die, stop.

Day 1: Easy Peasy

Day one was as easy as the cake I wasn’t allowed to have. I had prepped myself by engaging in one 1-day fast per week prior to my longer winded fast so this felt like any old Monday. I even managed to get a fairly high-intensity workout in and felt great. Cravings tend to kick in at nighttime but I made it through.

Day 2: Don’t Talk to Me

The second day was the day my body started asking where the food was at. My stomach was grumbling, my limbs felt fatigued, I felt dizzy, I felt grumpy. My body was switching from burning through sugar stores to a process of ketosis. In the absence of glucose, the body burns ketones as fuel. This takes about two days. Here is a direct entry from my journal on day 2:

“Right now I wish I could forfeit all my health goals to eat anything I want. My brain is coming up with every possible rationalization to abandon my goals. My survival instincts are kicking in and telling me to give up.”

Sounds about right. My body wanted sugar. More recorded symptoms include:

  • A pronounced and thumping heartbeat
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Hunger and sugar cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigued limbs
  • Sharp and focused mind

Day 3: K, I’m Stressed

On a normal day I operate with an above average amount of anxiety. This day, the mental struggle was harder than the physical one. I was fearful that I would pass out on the subway, that my thumping heart was going to give out, or that I should stop the fast in case I die. Physically I was no longer hungry. I started to notice how habitual my eating habits were and how they were more dictated by boredom than hunger (shocker). Despite this mental struggle, I made it through day three which I would classify as the most difficult day.

Day 4: Damn, I’m Feeling Good

Day four without food and I felt sharper than ever. I got a ton of work done, I was personable and coworkers could hardly believe my last cupcake was a full week ago. My skin looked vibrant, I slept 8 hours a night without difficulty, and my stomach was making no protest. My mind had to admit that I was doing well and so the anxiety subsided. A direct quote from my journal sums it up:

“Today I feel the best I have yet!”

Day 5: We Made It

Day five I felt arguably even better than day four. I had reached my goal day and gone 120 hours without food. I felt like if I never ate again, my body would be okay. Of course this is not the case, but physically my dependency on hourly snacks was broken. My belief that I needed food all the time, was shattered. I relayed by biggest lesson learned in my handy journal:

“The biggest lesson I learned is that cravings pass. Just like thoughts, if you sit with them and struggle and feel the cravings, know that it goes away.”

After the Fast

On the last day of my fast I felt good, so good that I felt confident enough to walk through a grocery store. I had low-carb, high-fat, medium protein meals planned with a strategic grocery list and got everything. My stomach started bothering me after staring at food for so long. This is where I took some missteps. I went home and ate a spoonful of peanut butter. My stomach protested. I made cookie dough out of chickpeas (low-sugar, high-fat, plant-based recipe), and my stomach yelled hella loud at me.

It was then, that I was spurred by a craving like none I had ever had before; I was cravings spinach. I filled a lofty bowl with spinach and drizzled a bit of extra virgin olive oil. A salad has honestly never tasted so flavourful, and this was straight up spinach.

Unfortunately, I went on to eat pretty much anything I wanted that weekend, with the rationalization that I deserved it and that my dead cells were already regenerated so it was cool. My stomach had definitely shrunk and I couldn’t handle large portions like I once did (a week ago). If I did another fast I would try to have a smoother transition back onto healthy food choices. C’est la vie.

Did You Lose Weight?

My intention going into the fast as recorded in my journal was as follows:

“Detox body by killing off old cells, improve immune system, prepare for fresh whole plant foods, curb sugar cravings, and start eating more ketogenic foods.”

Although losing weight was not my intention I did weigh myself at the beginning and end of the 5-day fast and dropped a total of 16.5 lbs. The majority of this will be gained back but it’s probably safe to say a few lbs of body fat were burned off when my body switched from sugar stores to fat stores in energy conversion.

Is Fasting in Your Future?

I plan to add fasting to my lifestyle in some capacity. Popular applications include:

  • Yearly 10 day fast (woah)
  • Seasonal 5 day fast
  • Monthly 3 day fast
  • Weekly 1 day fast
  • Intermittent fasting

I think as of now, sticking to the bottom of the list with an intermittent or weekly fast is manageable for my lifestyle. I want to continue to take care of those old dead cells and give my body a break from digestion. I no longer hold the belief that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” or that it’s a great idea to eat constant small snacks throughout the day. Sometimes our bodies just need a break.

I learned a lot more from this fast than I anticipated about my meditative practice. I learned that cravings for food are just like the cravings we speak about all the time in Buddhism. They come and go, they get strong at times, and then settle down into silence. Wrestling with instant gratification versus long-term reward is a constant battle we deal with as we consume things. I recognized that my mental and physical capabilities are beyond what I had previously thought, and that feels good.

 

I want to sum this up by saying I am not a doctor and I do not recommend any dietary or physical lifestyle changes to anyone. This is simply me relaying my experience with my own body. Do not try this at home unless you have talked to your doctor. Fasting can be dangerous for people with certain conditions and people on specific medications, so please be safe and speak with a doctor before making any changes.