23 / 12 / 20

21 Days Without Food.

My colleagues, friends and family all know I’m a committed and evangelical faster. I’ve made abstaining from food part of my weekly routine and I’ve also experimented with fasting for more extended periods of up to two weeks.

In November 2020, I took on my longest and most gruelling challenge yet. The following is a day-by-day, blow-by-blow and poo-by-poo account of my 21 days without food.

Before we get started, a quick disclaimer: Don’t try this at home. I undertook this challenge at my own risk and is not an endorsement of prolonged fasting. If you are considering incorporating fasting or a change of diet into your lifestyle, please seek medical advice from your GP first.

Why?

When I first mentioned the idea of a 21-day fast, people called me pig-headed, stupid and insane.
So why attempt such a thing?

The story starts a little over two years ago. Back then, I weighed more than 100kg, which for a short-arse of just 5ft 6’’, is a porky look.
I was pretty unhealthy. I wouldn’t think twice about sinking a full pack of digestives with my evening cuppa or breakfasts of cold pizza.

I was disgusted by my self-image and living with text-book body dysmorphia, continually comparing my lapsed physique to my former competition bodybuilder-prime. I wore loose clothes to disguise my body shape and would avoid the mirror at all costs. Running around with my kids? Forget it

To make matters worse, my body was starting to rebel. I had a torn lumbar disc and was on crutches because of intense foot pain. I was taking Pregabalin neuropathic painkillers and undergoing epidural injections every three months just to deal with the pain.

In short, I was pretty bloody miserable.

Looking back, I can see signs of depression. In that state, it was easier to keep eating shit food, avoiding exercise and burying myself in the world of work and business.

Resolutions

Everything changed on my 40th birthday.

“Fat Prav isn’t happy,” my wife said with characteristic insight. “So either do something about it or cheer up and be fat and happy.”

She had a point. From the first day of 2019, I focused on my health and happiness. I read all I could on biohacking, nutrition, exercise, mental wellbeing and self-improvement.

I was already a vegetarian, but that was a personal moral choice rather than for health. I introduced a keto diet and started exercising.

I also discovered fasting and learned about its extraordinary impact on cellular health and autophagy. Fasting refreshes the immune system and there are plenty of studios to show a positive effect against neurological disorders, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

I’ve had my ups-and-downs in two years since starting. But I’m healthier, more-or-less pain-free and have said goodbye to epidural injections.

As part of my healthier lifestyle, I tried out some short fasts – initially for weight loss. They worked and fasting quickly became a feature of my regular regime.

These days, anti-ageing and longevity-extension are my key motivators. I’ve settled on two weekly fasts, starting with a 36-hour stint from Sunday evening to Tuesday morning, followed by a shorter 24-hour fast on Thursday or Friday. I’ve noticed anti-inflammatory benefits, along with an easing of joint pain in my back, shoulder and elbows.

I’ve also tried out longer fasting periods of 3-7 days, peaking in a two-week fast earlier this year. Seven more days couldn’t hurt, right?

The Challenge

I purposefully didn’t make this easy. While fasting, I continued running my businesses and managing my teams. I also pushed doggedly on with an early morning split body part/bodybuilding routine and HITT CV warm-up followed by a cold three-minute shower on five days of every seven.

I wanted to try a 21-day fast both as an experiment and test of my mental resilience. The experience was both of those.

As experiments go, this has been the most physically, mentally and emotionally challenging of my life.
Is it one I’d care to repeat? Read on to find out!

Day 1

Nothing much to report today. As per the rules, I don’t eat. I stay hydrated with 6-10 litres of water and black coffee or mint tea.

I also make sure my body gets the various electrolytes, vitamins and minerals it needs, in the form of capsules containing vitamins C, D3 and K2, along with PQQ, CoQ10, quercetin, curcumin, zinc, magnesium, N-acetyl-cysteine, niagen, resveratrol and saffron extract.

Day 2

Salt stick capsules get me through the day. They’re a game-changer when it comes to prolonged fasts.
I’m used to fasting for this long once a week, so there’s still not much to report.

Today is a non-training day, so I start the morning with breathing exercises and a cold shower before an intense day in the office.

Day 3

From experience, I know that day three can be a toughy. In the past, I’ve had intense hunger and headaches.

I’m convinced that my previous day-three headaches were the results of a drop in electrolytes, so I keep my salt and electrolytes intake up, along with 4-5 litres of water and black coffee when I feel like it.

There are no headaches this time, though I notice increased coldness in my hands and feet.
I’m feeling pretty peckish but focusing on the long days ahead without food is enough to get me through.

I even managed to serve up lunch to my kids without feeling tempted. Did a 20 min intense cardio session in the home gym and felt great.

Day 4

After my breakfast of saltwater, black coffee and vitamins, I feel like I’ve made it through the day-three pain barrier. There’s no hunger and no headaches.

Things should be plain sailing until day-15 from here. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.

Day 5

The feeling of hunger and craving for food has gone. It’s a typical day at work and I’m feeling the improved clarity and focus familiar to me from past extended fasting.

I feel mentally sharp, like a mental fog has been lifted, and almost euphoric. It’s a little like the sense of wellbeing and oneness I feel when meditating – and not easy to articulate.

I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about trading this morning’s gym session for much-needed extra sleep.

Day 6

Yesterday’s heightened positivity and energy continue, with no hunger whatsoever.

I’m not even tempted by the kids’ chocolate advent calendars out in the kitchen today. If anything, they turn me off the thought of food.

My workout today was damn hard. I fatigued much faster than usual but had a word with myself and pushed through. I’ll need to ease up on training intensity – and that’s not something I’m used to doing.

After training, my ice-cold shower feels wonderful but my little toe cramps up. I’ll have to keep my salt intake high to stop this.

Day 7

At the week mark, I feel great. I’m mentally alert and super-productive at work.

But I realise there are still two weeks left to go. Rather than dwelling on what’s to come, I’m starting to see the whole process as a workout in which I’ve just finished the first of three push-up sets.

Speaking of which – this morning’s gym session was another grueller. I’d generally fire through 30s-on 30s-off rope slams, but find myself knackered after 20s

No cramps today. I introduced extra magnesium before this morning’s workout, which I think was helpful. I’m going to make that a daily.

This may be too much information, but it’s now been four days since I last made a deposit in the porcelain bank. This morning, I managed four or five rabbit-droppings, so I guess my pipes are clear. I’ll keep you all updated.

Day 8

Nothing to report today…

Day 9

I start the day with a gym session and home working before spending the day with my team at Changing Faces in Knowle for sales and communication training.

I love this aspect of my work. This training shows teams how to make micro-tweaks to take the patient-journey to the next level.

About my fasting, everyone wants to know the same thing: Why?

For me, it’s about mental grit and resilience. If I can go 21 days without eating while still working and training, I feel ready for any challenge.

After training, it’s onto recording the Dental Leaders podcast. My co-host Payman notices the change in me straight away. He says I seem more tired than usual. By the end of our recording session, I’m beginning to flag.

Back at home later, I’m exhausted. There’s just time for a nap before my daughter’s virtual parents’ evening.

Day 10

I treat myself to a lazy morning, staying in bed until 7 am. It’s good to treat yourself now and then and besides, I need it!

At lunchtime, it occurs to me that I’ve reached the halfway mark. I’m starting to feel more tired in the evenings, but after a night of sleep and recovery, I feel great again.

I’ve no exercise planned this weekend – just rest and chill time. I’ll catch up on TV and maybe some reading and e-learning.

I’ve noticed it’s taking longer to recover from post-training aches. Next week, I’ll reduce my workout intensity, even though it’s hard once I’m in the zone.

Day 11

Oof. Here comes the first crash. I’m feeling pissed off with this fasting malarkey and some serious self-talk is needed to bring me back around.

It’s not because I’m hungry, hangry or tired. It isn’t even that I miss the taste of food or find the aromas too tempting. I miss the social side of eating and the deep connection to others that comes with sitting down together for a good meal.

My wife, Bobbie, senses my mood. “Knock it on the head,” she says. “What have you got left to prove?”
But that would be too easy. And, if I gave up now, I’d feel like a failure. In times like this, when the going gets tough, I resort to “self-talk” and have a proper word with myself.

As crazy as it sounds, I often do this out aloud. When I hit a brick wall in the gym, I’ll shout (and sometimes swear) at myself. The aggression flips a mental switch and I get new-found energy to motor on.

That’s my strategy for today’s low. “Snap out of it, lad!” I urge. “You’re almost there…just over a week to go…”

A week. Ten days. Who’s counting?

My internal lecture is the most energy I’ve expended all weekend. I’ve watched TV in bed, hung out with my family and recovered from five days of hard training. After my inner pep-talk, I’m ready to hit the gym tomorrow and see what I’ve got.

Day 12

Monday is always chest day. I start today’s session off with a HITT CV session. It’s challenging and I have to keep pushing mentally. When my body wants to give up, my mind gets me through.

The numbers for last week’s training sessions show I didn’t hit my usual reps on some exercises and fatigued much quicker.

Afterwards, fast-paced strategy calls, delegation and execution make the working day fly by. I’m blitzing my admin tasks and full of the laser focus that makes all this worthwhile.

I’m starting to feel some more profound physical effects now. Most noticeably, my hands and feet are freezing. Bobbie and the kids have all commented. My extremities will stay sub-zero until I start putting another fuel source in my body and stop using the body’s fat stores for energy.

There’s also an icky white coating over my tongue. It’s caused by a buildup of keratin which is usually removed when we eat. Increased saliva production also contributes to a buildup of bacteria. It’s not pleasant, but it will disappear within 24 hours of my first meal – now just nine days away.

I’m also pleased to provide another update on my bowel movements. Today’s walnut-sized poop makes me wonder for how long this stuff hangs around in our guts. As part of my big breakfast, I’ll get plenty of fibre, including a liquid meal containing psyllium husks.

By evening, I’m exhausted and nauseous to boot. Bobbie puts in a formal request for me to end this madness. She’s upset – concerned that my pig-headed determination could end up doing damage, but she also knows I won’t listen.

I kinda get where Bobbie’s coming from. It was pushing too hard in the gym that caused my previous back injury. But I feel I know my body better now, and with just over a week left, my determination is as steely as ever.

Day 13

I wake up feeling refreshed and full of beans (not actual beans, obvs). Another absolute grueller in the gym and I’m left with no choice but to scale back my reps.

My usual four sets of 20 kettlebell snatches is now a single 20, followed by 14, 12 and a dismal ten to finish. But I get through it and that’s what counts.

I can see a marked difference in my physique as the body uses up its fat reserves. Weight loss isn’t why I’m doing this – but it’s a benefit all the same.

After my ice-cold shower, I feel ready to take on the world.

Day 14

A milestone. Today marks my longest ever fast. In just a week, I’ll have smashed my 21-day goal!

I begin the day feeling spaced-out and emotional. This time feels completely different from my last 14-day fast, at the end of which I was brimming with positive energy. I felt I had more than enough juice in the batteries to take on another week or longer.

I could use some of that juice right now.

Though it sounds prosaic, I think the difference in mood could be down to the immense Domino’s pizza I ate before my last fast, which would have fuelled my body for a few days. This time, my body was already in ketosis. I was also carrying more body fat last time, with much lower metabolic demands.

Either that or I’m in a less positive mindset and just need to man up and crack on!

The fog lifts by the afternoon when I’m firing on all cylinders again. By evening, I feel much better than I did at the same time yesterday.

Day 15

I wake up expecting to feel like shit but the morning marks a 180-degree shift from the negativity of the past couple days.

Gym training is hard, but I’m motivated and driven. The buzz stays with me throughout the working day and I get loads done.

My mouth is dry. Bobbie says my breath stinks and I have to neck water constantly just to stop my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth. I’m comfortably drinking 8L of water a day and constantly back and forth to pee.

I end the day with a much-needed sports massage that leaves me feeling ace.

Day 16

I cut my workout short because of a pain in my right knee – better be safe than sorry. The old Prav would have pushed through, but I now realise I’m no longer 21. I have to respect and listen to my body.

Bowel movement alert: I pass what feels like a massive poop that turns out to be raisin-sized.

And it’s a productive day in more ways than one. I’m in the zone. If this positivity keeps up, I’ll smash my 21-day goal.

Day 17

I’m looking forward to a chilled weekend with little to do beyond a drive-in panto with the family.

Despite my elevated mood, my inner dialogue keeps telling me I should call it quits. A little self-talk and a few choice expletives are all it takes to talk myself around and I crack on with admin to set my team up for an awesome work week ahead.

I end the day watching Master Chef on telly before cooking Bobbie a late-night meal of pasta with butter, red onions, garlic, soft cheese, broccoli, pine nuts, tomatoes and fresh chilli.

It looked and smelled amazing. I was soooo tempted to give my fingers a quick lick while cooking.

Day 18

Hungry Prav is not sleeping as well as well-fed Prav. I’m waking up earlier feeling alert but not fully rested.

This morning, I’m up at 3.30 am. I spend four super-productive hours in the office, charged full of creativity – exactly what’s needed for planning and launching ad campaigns. I blitz through more admin to help the week ahead go smoothly.

I also manage to get some project management done to kick things off for Monday’s meeting with my team.

I find myself thinking about food much more now.

Day 19

Chest day. The ten-minute cardio pre-workout seems to drain every last atom of energy from my body.

After a few minutes rest, I’m straight back on it, but at nowhere near my usual level of intensity. I’m looking forward to training hard almost as much as I’m looking forward to food.

Later, at my desk, my mental clarity is back and I’m planning the Christmas wind-down with my team.

Day 20

Shoulders and triceps this morning. Another tough session and my second-to-last before breakfast day.
A friend messaged me last night and asked if I still get a good muscle pump when training during a fast.

The answer is yes.

The mind-muscle connection for me is strong, so feeling muscle contractions when training isn’t unusual. The sensation is much stronger when I’m pumped full of carbs with sky-high glycogen levels – but muscle pumps when fasting are great all the same.

Another productive day follows, training my team of clinicians on how to get more Google reviews from patients (hint: ask).

The training is a success, but thoughts of food are never far away. I’ve never run a marathon, but today feels like how I imagine the last brutal mile to be.

Day 21

Latchkey incontinence is the name given to that curious phenomena when the urge to pee suddenly intensifies one hundredfold the moment you arrive home and put your key in the door.

My body plays a similar trick on me today. With the end in sight, I feel suddenly and profoundly starving.

At 7 pm, the designated hour, I eat my first food in 21 days. It’s no Michelin-star meal, though: the 10g of essential amino acid powder with 5g of leucine and 20g of psyllium husk is more like something that would have been consumed on the MIR space station before the wall fell.

Half an hour later, I wash it down with 30g of whey protein and almond milk. The idea is to stimulate IGF1 levels to stimulate my stem cells to generate new cells and kickstart my immune system.

The urge for Dominos is strong – but that’s the worst thing I could do right now. My cosmonaut’s food is just the right amount to ease myself back in and allow my gut flora to adjust.

About an hour later, I treat myself to proper food: Scrambled eggs, roasted vegetables and a mild chickpea curry. The flavours are heightened and intense.

With hindsight, I should have skipped the keto cheesecake. The couple of teaspoons I managed were more than enough to take me beyond full.

Another two hours later and I pass my first substantial poo since zero-hour (a king-sized double-flusher, for the detail-oriented).

Day 22 – Postscript

Last night, for the first night in 21 days, I fell into a truly deep sleep, waking late at 7 am. That’s much later than my routine allows for training, but a mild tummy ache tells me it’s OK to skip today.
The tummy ache continues throughout the day. I skip breakfast and enjoy a green smoothie for lunch, still feeling full.

I plan to ease myself ever so gently back into eating over the next few days and carry on with my regular fasting routine from Sunday to Tuesday.

I’ve lost 11kg and developed a little loose skin around my abdomen, the majority of which has disappeared since my refeed.

It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve lost weight and enjoyed three weeks of full-on spidey senses levels of clarity. I’ve experienced firsthand insight into the mind-body connection and felt my resilience tempered to steel.

My 21-day challenge has been the toughest of life. So, would I do it again?

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About Prav

Prav is a healthcare business growth consultant and dental practice owner who loves helping businesses and individuals to develop and grow.

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