Experiences with water fasting
June 4, 2020 3:45 PM   Subscribe

It has been awhile with questions on water fasting. Do fellow mefites have experience with water fasting? Did it work? What suggestions do people have about the process?

Pretty simple, I would like to know people's personal experiences and observations of water fasting.
posted by jadepearl to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
One person I know who did this ended up fainting on day 4, hitting their head, and going to the ER with a concussion. Another person gained back all the weight they lost within a couple of weeks, and not because they were binging. Starvation is not really a good health strategy.
posted by schroedinger at 4:06 PM on June 4, 2020 [9 favorites]

Both of them reported the fasting-related euphoria though, so, yay?
posted by schroedinger at 4:07 PM on June 4, 2020

plus: euphoria (sorry, that's hallucinations)
minus: kidney filters (nephron loops) worn out before their time because of the dehydration
in extremes: death

I'm ultimately of the opinion "friends don't let friends..." so please make your own choices.
posted by k3ninho at 5:02 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've done a lot of fasting over the last six years - mostly shorter-term intermittent fasting, but a few longer fasts (several days to a week; longest was two weeks). I found fasting harder before I followed a ketogenic diet. However the experience in general was less remarkable than I had anticipated. The first day or two was always the worst. I made sure to drink electrolytes (Propel), which had a palpable positive effect. (Online, they recommend mixing a DIY more potent electrolyte solution - "snake juice"; I never did it, although was tempted.) I found that I learned a lot about myself and my body through the experience. You learn that hunger comes in waves and is not cumulative. Days three onwards were much easier. Hunger diminished more than I'd expected. I found that I was only able to do about 80% of the weight I usually lift in resistance training while fasting. Mealtimes felt weird and I usually made plans to take a walk or something because the feeling I should be eating was pretty strong. Most of the weight that falls off is water weight, but you do temporarily feel much trimmer after a few days of fasting (for me, it's possible that I have food intolerances that normally make me bloated, and fasting temporarily got rid of that). When eating again for the first time, I was only able to eat about half what I normally do in a meal, and felt stuffed and bloated, but everything got back to normal by the time another meal rolled around.
posted by ClaireBear at 5:29 PM on June 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

"Did it work?"

What is the desired result?

I don't know about Water Fasting, but it sounds like intentionally dehydrating yourself. In my experiences of dehydration, I have fainted, with one trip to the ER via ambulance with an IV in my arm. I wouldn't recommend it.
posted by synthedelic at 6:07 PM on June 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

My understanding is that "water fasting" means having only water (or, in slightly more generous interpretation, any non-caloric liquid - so, Propel, diet coke, etc. are all fine). "Dry fasting", as I understand it, means abstaining from both food and drink. I think the OP is thus talking about having water but just not food.
posted by ClaireBear at 6:12 PM on June 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

Worked for what? I guess you will lose weight if you don't eat food.

My experience is that if you don't get "enough" carbs you will be brain fuzzy for higher thinking and won't be able to plan etc. But you will be able to focus on the immediate moment and/or the things happening around you. Probably what people experience as a "high." It's your brain/body working together to try to get you to focus on eating food now.

Having done multiple 25ish hour fasts for Jewish holidays, there is altered consciousness at the end of that too, although that's without water.

In terms of long-term weightloss, short term extreme calorie restriction can "work" but you're going to have to restrict calories long-term either way in order to maintain, so IMO you might as well skip the part where you're so out of it you can't think, are going without protein, etc. and just restrict calories rather than going 100% without.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:39 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, one thing your body does when you severely restrict carbs specifically is it holds onto water. I don't know why or how. But often if you fast you will hang onto about 5 pounds of water(?) weight until you eat a decent amount of carbs again. So stubbornly not losing while fasting is a thing but doesn't mean you're not burning fat.

This is not an endorsement of this. Where I'm coming from is that I think people overall are a bit uptight about calorie restriction. But I don't personally see the benefits of going this hard without anything vs. doing a more restrictive diet that still allows you to eat and thereby keeps you more mentally with-it.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:42 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Somewhere on the green someone commented on this topic, to the effect that they lost a bunch of weight while water fasting but had severe cravings for salt. That stuck with me, because I'd read somewhere else that some runners drinking huge amounts of water during marathons managed to put themselves into cardiac arrest due to washing all the salt out of themselves. I'm sorry I can't link to any actual sources.

I've never been able to water fast for long myself, even before reading about the potential risks. What I found that fasting of this sort works best when one is in a contemplative kind of place to begin with. In other words, trying to fast to my normal routines didn't work. I got too edgy and nervous. It's why you hear about people paying for expensive fasting "retreats" - I can see why, you are in a low-stimulus environment with many others doing the same thing, and nobody is eating. I believe that even in these fasting retreats, people are given broth once a day, I imagine to head off tbe electrolyte loss I mentioned previously.
posted by Crystal Fox at 6:45 PM on June 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you're doing anything other than meditating, electrolytes are a good idea. Clear broth if you're very active. Just check in with your body and learn what your personal limits are. You can always do a longer fast another time, so dont push yourself too hard if you're new to it.

I know plenty of people who do water fasts for weeks at a time and a few who have done dry fasting for 4 days. I've done a 9 day water fast and it's certainly an experience! I had done a few 3 days fasts prior and felt ready and it was fine.
posted by ananci at 6:59 PM on June 4, 2020

A chart review of adverse events during medically supervised, water-only fasting

Somewhere on the green someone commented on this topic, to the effect that they lost a bunch of weight while water fasting but had severe cravings for salt. That stuck with me, because I'd read somewhere else that some runners drinking huge amounts of water during marathons managed to put themselves into cardiac arrest due to washing all the salt out of themselves. I'm sorry I can't link to any actual sources.

That would be hyponatremia.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:03 PM on June 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

I have done a water fast for a maximum of 48 hours at a time. You could also do 1 day a week, every other day, etc. - rhythms like that. If I am going to fast for more than a day or two, I personally choose to consume some electrolytes (salts) - hot broth, electrolyte powders or tablets, juices, etc. Hyponatremia is very dangerous. You can still keep your calories very low, drink only liquids, and have a powerful fasting experience while being safe.

In my experience, I felt crystal clear; hyper focused; and a little bit "high" - my mental and emotional state was altered. The world felt very vivid. Hunger dissipated by day 2 (but then I do a fair amount of intermittent fasting and usually find that after about 18 hours my hunger disappears). I also do green-veggie-only fasts, where I eat only green vegetables and drink only water. I find this to feel nutritious and get even more benefits than just water fasting.

I find that it is also a good reset for me after a period of unhealthy eating - my body craves a chance to burn off some extra calories and just get hungry again. I am always at my maintenance weight, though, so I have never tried to fast for real weight loss. I also eat very little when I am super focused on an important work deadline or when I get sick - I often get down to one small meal a day.
posted by amaire at 8:35 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

My wife and I just did a 48 hour fast this past weekend.
It's shorter than most water fasts, but you gotta start small, we believe.

Prior to starting we sat down and talked about what we wanted to get out of it, besides the obvious health benefits.
We decided to nap, journal, talk, read positive articles and books we love, dream about our future, and just generally make it a mini-retreat together.

I would recommend the same, even if you are doing it alone.
Take the opportunity to biologically reset, maybe eat cleaner and healthier after the fast, but also take the opportunity to be gentle, kind, and positive with yourself.

These days, there are enough things to exhaust your compassion and your body and mind.
Don't turn it into some sort of festival of pain and self-denial.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 2:30 AM on June 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

Define work? Most of the benefits of a water-only fast can't be tested by regular folk.

I recently did 2 72 hour water-only fasts (well, I say water only, I put calorie free electrolyte tablets in the water). The first one was hard, I was cold and tired and hungry for the first 36 hours or so but fine after that. The second one was much easier, plenty of energy , did have a dizzy spell while gardening though.

I lost about 9lbs each time but regained most of that weight in the following week.
posted by missmagenta at 2:41 AM on June 5, 2020

Best answer: If by "works," you're referring to weight loss, the answer is no - except for the period immediately after the fast. Water fasting only works for weight loss if you use it to "reset" your taste buds (everything tastes good after a water fast), but you'd need to eat healthfully after that.

However, water fasting is used to treat a variety of other issues. It's very effective for high blood pressure. Doctors who treat people with water fasting generally say that healthy people should not fast for more than three days without medical supervision. People on medication for any reason should not fast without medical supervision.

I've been planning for ages to go to True North Health Center in California for supervised water fasting, but a lot of things have gotten in the way. Their website has lots of info on water fasting. One of their doctors supervised Penn Jillette's water fast.
posted by FencingGal at 6:14 AM on June 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also, on youtube, search "water fasting" with "Michael Klaper" and "Alan Goldhamer". Those are two doctors who treat people using fasting. Dr. Goldhamer runs True North, and Dr. Klaper worked there for years.
posted by FencingGal at 6:44 AM on June 5, 2020

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