Tips for Staying on a Water Fast and Not Getting Derailed

Getting Derailed While Fasting

            Earlier this week I was nursing a limp wrist that was impairing my productivity and workout routine with three days left until I judge at the Memphis in May barbecue fest, and having just taken a day off that I really wanted to be fasting because a relative guilted me into eating with Grandmother on Mother’s day, I started contemplating what gets me derailed when fasting. I also decided to just try again next week. I also started thinking about how I can stay on track with behavioral hacks.

            So here are some things that I found get me off track and thoughts on how to mitigate them.

1. I’ve only gone a couple of days. – If I’m early on in a fast it’s easy for me to justify any of the other rationale. Once I go over about four days then I’m very adverse to restarting and trying again later. I’ve managed to short circuit this thought process by eating a lot of meat the night before starting, bacon works particularly well. This can create a full gullet feeling that makes the thought of food perhaps a bit unpleasant.I don’t necessarily fight this one too much, though. I believe that a good mix of fasting lengths helps by keeping the body from adapting to anything in particular. I’ve also seen good evidence that hormonal changes in fasting seem to look at least superficially favorable to muscle retention for very short fast.

2. It’s long enough. – Once I get past 7 days the opposite thoughts start to kick in. If I find the urge to stop getting overly strong I find slightly shortening my goal length can help. So if I was thinking 14 then going to 10 can get me a few extra days.

3. Long Fasts – I’ve done 2 twenty day fasts. Following both of them it took quite awhile to get back on track. I anticipated this for the second day fast and did it right before the holidays, so it wasn’t as detrimental to progress as fasts before. I did a fourteen fast and got back into things very quickly. I workout regularly when fasting and I noticed at the 14 day fast my pushup maximum number tends to decrease significantly. So if you workout while fasting then if you notice a big strength drop on a day that might be an indication to cut off a fast.

4. Feeling wonky – The first 2.5 day fast I did I was going for four. I stopped when I felt a combination of woozy and nauseous. I was tempted  to stop earlier. Eventually I said to myself that I’d stop if I didn’t feel significantly better with the hour. This is a hard one. Fasting doesn’t have really solid guidelines for safety other than stop if you feel bad. Not doing hard commits allows me to go longer.

I hardly ever feel wonky now while fasting. I think if you are hormonally out of whack the process of coming out of whack can be potentially detrimental. However, the shorter fasts should get you to the point where you can handle longer fasts without being wonky.

Early on in the fasting I also kept a wrist blood pressure cuff with me so I could see if any reading were actually seriously off kilter from my norms.

5. Perishable food – I hate wasting food. The first step is prevention. It’s shocking how much a fasting routine can cut into the amount of groceries you’ll need. Not just from the not eating, but from the not eating as much as your appetite decreases. So for shopping after going off fast just remove one item. You’ll start planning things out and find that you are wanting to fast again but still have something around that can’t make it like spinach.

Another helpful trick is to freeze food, I got this idea after reading The Hungry Brain. Most vegetables can be frozen if you saute them. It also reduces the volume.

6. Travel – I hate fasting while traveling. I’m a serious foodie so passing up limited time opportunities feels sad. To a certain extent this actually has worked in my favor for fasting since it has forced me to buckle down since I had a trip coming up. At certain points I’ve traveled too much though.

7. Eating clean – This observation is weird to me. Sustained periods of really watching carbs seems to derail fasting and weight loss progress. For me things seem powered almost exclusively by the fasting. I’m not sure if this is entirely psychological or not in that I tell myself that I’ve been good eating for two weeks it’s okay if I only fast for three days instead of seven. Most online groups seem to report the opposite experience. I think this is one of those factors that will vary for everyone.

The ham is symbolic of the fast. 

8. Relatives/Familial Social Obligations – I’m lucky in that my friend group tends toward the life hacky entrepreneurial type that’s fairly fasting friendly. However, my family group has elements that aren’t fasting friendly. In addition, some things like Christmas just seem to involve food. To a certain extent taking a strong stand once in awhile will really help with keeping the mob in line.

9. Physical Injury and Pain – I have recurrent foot pain and occasional other pain. This has been greatly helped by the weight loss but hasn’t gone away completely. It’s hard for me to fast when I can’t exercise well. I haven’t found a good solution for this. Unfortunately, I basically write for a living so I’m not in a nice high stress job where I’m constantly engaged. (I’ve always really enjoyed customer service.) Perhaps, this would be the time to go drive uber or do something similarly social part-time. If someone else tries a part time job life hack to get more busy I’d be interested to know if it works out.



10. Not Water Fasting – This is highly specific to me, but I consider anything up to 500 calories a day to be a fasting day. There are some variations of fasting that use this definition. However, anytime I indulge in a few bytes I can get derailed. So I’ve found it’s better to be straight water. If I am very far into a fast then a little bit of a LCHF food can keep me going, but it’s a dangerous thing.

           That’s a brief list of things that get me derailed while fasting. I probably am being too hard on myself since I’m making decent progress, but I could be going faster so there’s that. I’m hoping that being aware of my rationalizations I can circumvent them in the future. I think there’s a lot of personal variation in how people handle fasting. I’m not a strict routine type person. If some does 4 days fasting and 3 days off that would be great, but I think my intuitive version does have the advantage that it can be more routine lifestyle integrated, maybe. The downside I think is that it becomes much more easy to get derailed. 

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