At the beginning of this year, I completed a 5-day water fast. That means, I stopped eating for five days and consumed only water! Why would I ever put myself through this kind of torture? Let me explain.
First of all, I did not stop eating in order to drop a bunch of weight and get “quick results.” I did not do this as some extreme New Year’s “cleanse.” The truth is that I have been wanting to try what’s called a “prolonged water fast” for a long time. It may seem crazy, but fasting actually has several physical, mental, and spiritual benefits, that I will elaborate on throughout this post.
The science & benefits of fasting
Fasting has been a spiritual practice for millennia but has become a popular “biohack” in the past few years, due to a growing body of research that supports the health benefits of fasting. It makes sense, given that our ancestors had to survive without food for long periods, and overeating is a contributing factor to many lifestyle-related diseases.
I’ve already tried intermittent fasting, but I wanted to take it up a notch this time.
To learn more about the science and research of water fasting, I spoke with anti-aging and longevity expert, Dr. Betsy Yurth (MD), to learn more about water-fasting and get advice on how to do this the right way.
What happens to your cells during a fast
Dr. Yurth explained what happens on a cellular level in the body during fasting, and why a prolonged fast can be so beneficial. It all comes down to a process discovered in 2016, known as autophagy. Autophagy is what happens when your cells are not relying on glucose for energy anymore and your body goes into a state of ketosis. What happens on a cellular level are that old, damaged cells start recycling into new, healthy cells.
“And that’s a really good thing,” Dr. Yurth said. “We’ve gotten rid of all the bad proteins and now you can start with new, healthy cells and a clean slate.”
Preparing for my 5-day water fast
Dr. Yurth told me that although the first two days of fasting might be really hard, I could hopefully expect an increase of energy and mental clarity around day three. She advised me to avoid intense physical activity during my fast and give my body plenty of rest.
Because I was already in Costa Rica for New Year’s with my friend Kiley, we decided to take on this 5-day water fast together.
We spent the week leading up to our fast at a permaculture community called Punta Mona, eating super nutritious meals, preparing our bodies for the 5-day water fast.
My dream fasting destination
We knew the location for this fast would be important. We definitely wanted to be fully immersed in nature and ensure that we had access to high-quality, mineral-rich drinking water.
After careful consideration, we found the perfect place to do this fast: Rio Perdido Hotel & Thermal River. Rio Perdido is a wellness resort in the middle of nature, running along nourishing thermal hot springs. It has pure, mineral-rich water that would keep us hydrated during our fast. This would be the perfect place to rest & rejuvenate for the week.
My 5-day water fast
On the road to Rio Perdido, Kiley and I enjoyed our final meal at a little fruit stand that was the only thing open at night. We had a boatload of bananas, mango, papayas, coconut, avocado, and almonds.
After arriving late at night to Rio Perdido, Kiley and I passed out, gearing up for the 5-day water fast.
I was surprised to naturally wake up at 4:30 AM the next morning with a ton of energy. I spent the morning meditating, journaling, and swimming in the thermal river. For the rest of the day, Kiley and I spent plenty of time drinking in the healing environment at Rio Perdido.
At sunset, we spent time meditating and journaling along the river and got clear on our intentions for the week.
I definitely started noticing the severe hunger kick-in on day two, especially when I saw food for the first time! This was not fun…
Sleeping a lot and spending time in nature, without the ability to see food, definitely helped make things easier. Both Kiley and I were sure to drink plenty of water, about double the amount we would normally drink, which equaled about each of our weight in ounces each day.
Something happened during this water fast that I am still processing, and I went back and forth on whether or not I wanted to share this at all. However, because it was such a significant life event, I feel like I cannot share my experience of this fast without being honest about what happened.
In the middle of my fast, I lost my Grampy, someone who is so important to me. The pain of this loss was horrible. I felt devastated that I was not with him and so far away from my family. I almost quit the fast and booked a plane ticket home to go and be with my family.
But I decided to stick it out… It really came down to knowing what my Grampy himself would be telling me, “Skylah, you gotta do what you gotta do,” he would say. “You gotta stick to it and see it through.” So that’s what I did.
I don’t want to get into all of the details surrounding the grieving process I was going through, but somehow dealing with this loss of my Grampy while fasting seemed to open up my Spirit in a way I didn’t anticipate.
Despite being emotionally exhausted, I somehow gained a surge of energy on day four. Kiley and I spent the day in nature again, which was really healing for me.
I need to recognize how grateful and lucky I am to have had Kiley with me during this experience. She helped me so much and was such a fantastic friend during this difficult time. I don’t think that I could have done this without her.
On Day 5, I woke up with severe anxiety. I started questioning myself so much. What if I was actually damaging my body by doing this fast? What if I was ruining my metabolism or self sabotaging all the hard work I had put into my body? My mind started going crazy.
What I really had to practice was complete surrender and trust. Knowing that my body is so strong and healthy and it knows exactly what to do. I really had to work on trusting my body and this process.
Breaking the 5-day fast
In order to come off my fast properly, I consulted with Dr. Yurth about the refeeding process. Although refeeding syndrome is rare, especially for young, healthy people, it’s definitely something to be aware of.
“Obviously when you come off your fast, you don’t want to go and eat a whole cheesecake,” Dr. Yurth said. “But we know there are many benefits when coming off a fast.”
Dr. Yurth explained that when we fast, we lower growth hormone called insulin-like growth factor, or IGF. But when we begin to re-feed and come off of a fast, we then get a big surge in IGF. Which means that post fast is a great time to increase muscle, burn fat, and take advantage of this surge in IGF.
That’s to avoid spiking insulin levels too quickly after fasting and to keep the body in a state of ketosis while reintroducing food. I broke my fast with a homemade bone broth from the organic kitchen at Rio Perdido.
The following day, I had green juice with cucumber, celery, lemon, spinach, and then another bone broth. Later in the evening, I introduced solid food again with fish, avocado, and steamed broccoli to start getting more protein and healthy fats for dinner.
My advice for fasting
I learned so much about water fasting and about my body during this experience. Here are my honest thoughts and advice if you are considering doing a fast:
- The first thing I want to reiterate is that I would not necessarily recommend this to anyone. Yes, there are benefits, and yes, this was a powerful experience, but it is extreme. Not eating for five days is no joke. I would think deeply about if this is something that would be right for you and consult with a medical professional before embarking on a fast.
- If you have a female body, I would highly suggest planning your fast in a way that aligns with your cycle. The best time to do a fast is any other time than the end of your cycle, which is called the luteal phase, about 10-14 days before your period. I didn’t time this well, and I fasted at the end of my cycle. I expected to get my period about two days into the fast, but I did not because I was not eating. Literally, as soon as I had the bone broth, I got my period almost instantly. If I were to do this again, I would absolutely time this differently with my moon cycle.
- If you struggle with your relationship with food, I would not necessarily recommend this, mainly because it’s more likely that you could end up struggling with overeating, relapsing, and binges after the fast. I have done so much work around my relationship with food over the past few years, and have still noticed some of these unhealthy tendencies around food come back into my psyche. You have to be super intentional and careful about what you’re eating after a fast, and having those kinds of restrictions is not suitable for me.
My honest reflection
With all of this being said, I am so happy I did this and super proud of myself for finishing it. I’ve had this goal for a long time, and more than anything, I feel a lot of strength from overcoming this major challenge.
On a spiritual level, the week was super challenging for me, having lost someone I love dearly, but I feel such a deep connection with my Grampy’s spirit, and I can feel him with me, cheering me on into this new year. There’s a lot I want to accomplish this year, and I have started the year overcoming such a big challenge. I feel a ton of strength to go full speed ahead into 2021 and am ecstatic to execute all of these visions and dreams for the upcoming year.
How to get the benefits of fasting without actually fasting
Say what…. You mean to tell me I didn’t have to go through five days of torture to get the benefits of fasting?! You mean there is a way to actually get the health benefits of fasting without actually having to go through it?! Well… sort of. Let me explain, because if fasting feels too intimidating for you, then this is a pretty darn good alternative.
Dr. Yurth let me in on a little secret. It’s a supplement with a hilarious name that I almost completely discredited at first until Dr. Yurth filled me in on how incredible this supplement truly is. It’s called SpermidineLIFE. So how does it work?
Not only does spermidine help induce autophagy in the body, but research shows that it can also improve brian function, increase hair growth, and slow down aging.
To learn more, be sure to check out this interview on Bulletproof Radio, where Dr. Yurth discusses the magic of spermidine with Dave Asprey.