I updated the introduction to this article on 10/1/2021, to reflect my most current perspective on fasting, in general, and dry fasting in particular. Fasting is the most powerful tool for personal growth I have ever experimented with. And, if you’ve been following this blog, you know that is saying a lot. Fasting is strong medicine for the mind, body, and soul. It is “that good pain,” as I like to say. Leading into 2020, I realized that I hadn’t completed a longer fast during the year, and figured what better way to usher in the new one. While I’ve recorded observations of my powerful 3-day dry fasts in the past, this was the first time I kept an hourly log of the experience. I also journaled a few days after breaking the fast, so you can get an idea of the process of a multi-day fast from beginning to end. As I’ve mentioned before, one does not experience the full host of benefits of a longer fast until several days later once the body has fully recovered.
NOTE! Here is an excerpt I posted to my article, My Powerful 3-Day Dry Fasts (14 Observations), which outlines my subtle evolution on the topic of fasting. In addition, I’ve written up an informative blog detailing my new protocol, Why I Adopted An Alternate-Day, Calorie-Restricted Diet, which I highly encourage you to check out.
I used to think that you had to completely abstain from all consumption to experience the benefits of fasting, hence why I undertook so many dry fasts to begin with. That belief, I later learned, simply did not square with the data (e.g. check out THIS study on the myriad health benefits of alternate-day calorie restriction, and other studies utilizing different protocols that fall short of complete abstinence). I have found that for me drinking water (and closely monitoring electrolyte balance) is the wisest, safest, and most effective course of action for a multi-day fast. And, to my initial surprise, I also found that water fasting and calorie restriction produced many of the same experiences and benefits in me as the ones you will read about in this article..
Today, I do not plan on doing another 3-day dry fast again. On the other hand, I practice some form of alternate-day calorie restriction, or water fasting, on a quasi-routine basis. Sometimes I will limit consumption for a day, or for a few days, during which time I monitor electrolytes to avoid unwanted symptoms/complications. I always follow up a period of calorie restriction with adequate nutrition and rest, in order to lock in all the benefits. Most of the benefits of this new protocol, as I alluded to above, are similar, if not identical, to what you will read about in this article.. Whereas I used to only do longer dry fasts on occasion, I can reap the benefits of my newer protocol on a more regular basis..
Dry fasting is more intense than water fasting. People often say that one day of dry fasting is equivalent to three days of water fasting. I don’t know whether they are right. What I do know is that my fast was grueling, mentally, physically, and emotionally, but the rewards were powerful and immediate. I feel that I became a higher version of myself on all levels, and came away with motivation to fast even more during the upcoming year. I also realized that life is dynamic, for better or worse, and that I had to steward this positive change in the upcoming days, weeks, and months. FYI, I checked my records, and this was the 9th, and second-to-last 3-day dry fast that I ever did.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and I do not give medical advice. Fasting for 72 hours, especially without proper hydration, can be dangerous, lead to electrolyte imbalances, and other health complications. Make sure you consult your doctor before undergoing any fasting regime, especially one lasting multiple days and without proper hydration.
This is one of the longer and more intensive post I have made to date on this blog. I hope you get as much out of reading these journal entries as I did out of writing them. In my entries after breaking the fast, I reflect on my experience and the significance of fasting as a healing modality.
Day 1: (Wednesday, December 25, 2019)
2:30 PM: I finished my last major meal leading into the fast. We celebrated Christmas at my grandparents’ home. My grandma cooked Mansaf, a famous Jordanian dish, which consists of lamb, rice, pinenuts, and broth. I downed a good plate of Mansaf with sparkling grape juice.
Yesterday I had a couple drinks at my family Christmas Eve party. I chose not to start my fast at that time because I didn’t want the first part of my fast to be processing any amount of alcohol. I also knew we would be celebrating Christmas with family and eating good food the next day, and so it was a lot easier from a social standpoint.
3 PM: My uncle and I completed the Death Nut Challenge. It consists of eating five increasingly hot nuts within five minutes without eating or drinking anything to dilute the pain. None of my brothers or cousins would attempt it but we both made it through the excruciating pain. I have eaten really hot peppers in the past, and so I wasn’t worried about any long-term health effects that might impact my fast. I had also just eaten a big meal which makes a huge difference in spice tolerance. (Note: Don’t try this at home, especially before a fast. I read horror stories of near-ER visists and major stomach upsetting on the Amazon product page.)
4 PM: This marks the official beginning of my fast. I had some cookie cake dessert and pudding and drank a glass of cold water. Some people like to eat light going into the fast, but this has never been my protocol. I’m more cautious about breaking the fast since that is when I think the body is most vulnerable.
9 PM: I just woke up from a short nap. Headed to my uncle’s to play games with the family. Still feel no side effects from the fast.
Day 2: (Thursday, December 26, 2019)
3 AM: Getting ready to nod off. I’ve been noticeably more irritable and emotional the last couple hours but no other major observations. I’ve practiced intermittent fasting for years so fewer than 12 hours is nothing. The next couple days are where I expect things to get interesting.
10:30 AM: I got around 7 hours of sleep. I couldn’t sleep any more no matter how hard I tried. I tend to need much less sleep while fasting and based on past experience I expect my numbers to go down tonight and tomorrow. I also had vivid, chaotic dreams and woke up a few times in the night before going right back to sleep. I’m slightly fatigued but otherwise fine and could be productive at this time if I wasn’t on break.
2:30 PM: Just got back from Michael’s and Kohl’s to return a few items from Christmas. Energy is a bit low and I’m a little irritable. I’m going to my uncle’s house later to play games with the family.
4 PM: Just woke up from a short nap. Had some pretty vivid dreams. I remember there being some characters from my past. Woke up with a little fear, but also a sense of lightness, like a weight was lifted. Evidently my mind took the opportunity to process some unresolved issues. This is officially the 24-hour mark.
11 PM: After several hours of gaming, I can say I am quite tired. Irritability has been an ongoing issue, especially around the family. At one point, I had to apologize to my brother for losing my cool. FYI, I’m not always this irritable while fasting. In general I see it as a positive sign that a lot of processing is taking place, but it’s something to be mindful of when around people. I also have a headache that I will be monitoring. So far I haven’t spent a lot of time alone in prayer/meditation. I plan to change that tomorrow as I find that being intentional about it helps accelerate the benefits.
Day 3: (Friday, December 27, 2019)
2 AM: I spent some quiet time in reflection before bed. The biggest effect of my fast so far has been increased emotionalism, as my mind and body work through a backlog of unresolved issues. I’ve dealt with this on every longer fast I’ve ever done and I have always felt much more emotionally healthy after the fast. Knowing that this discomfort is what healing feels like motivates me to keep going.
8:30 AM: I slept about 5 hours. Again, I couldn’t sleep any more no matter how hard I tried. And I did try hard knowing that sleep is the easiest way to pass time while fasting. As I alluded to, you tend to need a lot less sleep on a fast, especially on days 2 and 3. This is an effect that other fasters routinely make note of. Again I had some pretty vivid, emotional, confused dreams starring characters from my past. I woke up feeling kind of icky, but with enough energy to move forward with the day.
12 PM: I spent some quiet time in meditation. I feel weak, but powerful. I can sense my willpower being activated and increased. And I have a deep confidence that the fasting is healing me. A lot of fears/worries/sources of anger have surfaced which is giving me the ability to process them. It is has also been a lot easier to be mindful. There’s a famous quote I recall, “Nothing concentrates the mind quite like an imminent hanging.” An imminent hanging and fasting have at least one thing in common.
4 PM: I woke up from another short nap. My body will simply not stay asleep for long, perhaps as a survival adaptation so I get up and search for food/water. Once again I recall dreaming emotionally-charged dreams and waking up feeling lighter, like a slight weight was removed from me. Fatigue has increased as I enter day three.
8 PM: The last few hours have been especially challenging. Weakness/emotionalism have reached a peak. In this state there is a strong temptation to eat/drink because that will immediately reverse all unpleasant side effects. I have had to catch myself from fantasizing about my favorite foods and getting carried away by the pleasant smells of the kitchen and nearby restaurants. I remind myself that the discomfort I am experiencing is contributing to the life change I have been working so hard to achieve. Fasting rapidly destroys barriers to love, health, and happiness, and so the short-term sacrifice is absolutely worth it.
In my experience, fasting is the fastest-acting, most powerful medicine in nature. Unlike modern medicine which typically involves some form of consumption, the benefits of fasting are achieved only by reaching within, and the price tag is mental toughness.
Day 4: (Saturday, December 28, 2019)
12 AM: I spent a few more hours standing/sitting in quiet time. This session was more physically and emotionally difficult, and I believe therapeutic, than the time I spent lying down. Many other experienced fasters have made this same observation about the therapeutic benefits of sitting upright, standing, or walking while fasting. Working out intensely right now would be a disastrous idea, but the above are are a sensible way to get the most out of the experience. Like every other discipline, focus and effort influence results. It’s one thing to spend 72 fasted hours lying in bed with an iPhone and another thing entirely to spend it in prayer/meditation with a more active posture that facilitates emotional and physical healing. No shortcuts, only hard-earned victories.
I have also been listening to “testimonies” of people who achieved great life change via fasting. I think this is important while fasting to keep morale high (or at least prevent it from plummeting), especially for people who have never went through the process and experienced the benefits firsthand.
FYI, my bad breath has not returned sinced I last brushed. Usually it disappears for good within the first 36 hours of fasting, but this time it stuck around a little longer.
1 AM: Sitting upright in bed I have experienced some clear-headedness punctuated by bouts of physical and emotional pain. Fasting isn’t always linear. There are peaks and valleys. Dry fasting, in my experience, tends to have fewer and weaker peaks than, say, a water fast of the same or longer duration. Even then, no two moments of dry fasting are alike; some moments are intense while others are more tolerable. Hours 24-36 were more difficult than right now, although emotions can change at the drop of a hat.
For those curious about the physical effects, I haven’t had any bowel movements since the outset but I did use the restroom three or four times today. My urine last go-round was clear-ish which surprised me since it tends to be darker while fasting. Both the quantity and color of it suggest to me that my body is producing water at a rapid clip by the burning of fat.
FYI, I didn’t weigh myself at the beginning of the fast since weight loss is not a motivation for me. The average weight loss from dry fasting is ~3 lb’s a day based on the numerous testimonies I’ve read. Obviously that figure will vary based on how big you are and your relative activity level during the fast, and some of that weight will come back on once you re-hydrate. Still, there is no faster, more efficient, and better therapeutic way to lose weight than ceasing all consumption so long as the organism is capable.
2 AM: I am a Christian and part of my motivation for fasting is spiritual. Today I’ve spent time praying and asking God to manifest the change I seek and move in different areas of my life. During this fast, I realized I‘ve held onto some resentment toward God over some things that happened in my life. I feel that I’ve already been able to process a big part of that, and I feel a deeper connection with God as a result. I know a lot of ancient Christians used to pray “God have mercy on me, a sinner,” especially while fasting. Fasting exposes how much of a sinner you are. At times it makes one feel angry, irritable, discontent, and weak.
In Biblical circles, a 3-day dry fast is known as an “Esther fast.” It is the fast Queen Esther and the Jews completed so that God would deliver them from a decree of death issued by Xerxes I in the fifth century BC during the Babylonian captivity. And he did. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, read the book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible.
4 AM: Having trouble going to sleep. Not really tired although I wish I could sleep to pass time. Experiencing strong emotions and physical discomfort. I feel weak. Once I do fall asleep, I don’t expect to stay asleep for long. By day three, the body’s sleep needs are extremely small. Perhaps my body is equipping me even more to go find food or water, although that would also seem to take energy, which I don’t have. Just 12 hours left.
11 AM: Just woke up after sleeping ~3 hours. It took me a long time to fall asleep. Last night was definitely the hardest part of the fast. I woke up with slight pain in my throat, which they say is what true hunger feels like. I don’t remember any of my dreams. That is typical for day three. Energy level is at an all-time low but only 5 hours left in the fast, so my morale is strong. My sleep needs decreased from 7-5-3 hours. Right now I would have a very difficult time being productive at a job or school, anything that requires significant physical or mental activity. This is why I always ensure day three of the fast is spent at home with nothing to do. I’m going to go run two errands here shortly, one of which is buy my favorite food/drink with which to break the fast. These errands are the maximum energy I am willing to exert at this time.
I’ve also experienced some shortness of breath starting day two and getting a little worse day three. It looks like even the respiratory muscles are low on gas (Note: Today, I would have taken that as evidence of a potential electrolyte imbalance. Not a good sign..) This fast has been slightly harder than in the past. Maybe my emotional backlog is longer due to experiences I had this year/me not having done a longer fast like this all year. I think it also has to do with me sitting up for almost all of the fast. In the past, I spent relatively more time lying down, sometimes consuming media, which makes the fast a little easier but also decelerates the benefits in my opinion. I noticed that bad breath returned this morning. Again, it’s something that has disappeared early in previous fasts. Everyone experiences slightly different side effects while fasting. You may also notice other side effects that you were used to living with, like chronic pain, weakening or disappearing. Fasting helped cure me of severe chronic neck/back pain a few years.
1 PM: Back from the store. I felt a little more energized as I got up and moved around. Just 3 hours left.. A little weak and fatigued, and don’t feel like being around people, but my mind feels strong to finish this fast.
4:10 PM: That’s it. We made it with a few minutes of added bonus. I spent much of the last few hours in meditation. One thing I’ve become increasingly aware of is how relative the passage of time is. Time slows down when we’re uncomfortable, and three days of fasting feels more like a week. Instead of eating and drinking right away, I decided to experiment with water exposure (soft dry fast). I took a 5-minute shower (long overdue) with lukewarm water to see what effect water on my skin would have on my state. I chose lukewarm water to avoid shocking my system. I felt a surge in energy that is pretty consistent with hydration via drinking. This is a fascinating quirk of the human body. Perhaps it is designed to keep people from dying who for whatever reason are unable to consume via the oral route. Perhaps it also works to more efficiently suck moisture out of the air through the skin. In any case, the fact I just completed a my fast may have amplified the positive emotion I experienced.
4:15 PM: Just broke my fast with pure pineapple water and Harvest Snaps pea crisps that I bought from Target earlier today. This regime is a sort of tradition/ritual for me when I break fasts. Right now I am sipping the drink and nibbling at the food. Best feeling in the world. There are experts who recommend three days of recovery for every day of dry fasting. I recommend going light and listening to your body while giving it time to reset. It won’t be for a few days until you’re back to full strength and able to resume all normal activities.
FYI, for you athletes, I’ve noticed a minimal loss in muscle mass, not nearly what one might expect. In my experience with fasting, the body focuses primarily on burning fat. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. We need muscle to find food when we’re hungry and thirsty. Based on past experience, I can regain all the muscle I lost within a few weeks of hitting the gym. And my testosterone, libido, and energy tend to be much higher after the fast. I’ve completed several 3-day fasts in seasons when I otherwise would have been doing daily resistance training and I’ve never once regretted it. FYI, I would never lift weights or do intense exercise on a longer fasting regimen. Terrible idea on so many levels.
11:30 PM: Ate quite a bit over the last eight hours, slowly working my way up. I had some honey, dry cereal, and a bit of spaghetti toward the evening in addition to the food I ate earlier. My strength isn’t at 100%, but it’s a hec of a lot better than it was before breaking fast. It seems the sharpness of my mind was the first thing to return, but I can tell it will be a while before I feel ready to exercise again.
Day 5: (Sunday, December 29, 2019)
10 AM: I woke up today after about 8 hours of sleep feeling lighter than I have in weeks. I had some vivid, emotionally-charged dreams, which suggests to me a lot of processing was going on. I’m someone who remembers my dreams, but I would bet that even someone who does not would experience the same increase in processing power and would wake up feeling lighter as a result. The fast has made me mindful that how we treat each other has a huge effect in people’s minds and how unresolved issues can live inside us for years. It has also given me a visceral sense of how we create suffering by not letting go of things from the past. Sometimes life change really is as simple as letting go. It can be difficult because what we hold on to consists of emotionally-charged memories, but fasting gives us the best opportunity to work through them.
4 PM: Many experts recommend easing your way back in more slowly during the first couple days, but here at the 24-hour mark since breaking my fast I feel good to eat normal food in controlled quantities. We had a potluck after church in the afternoon and I wasn’t selective at all in terms of what I ate, although I did limit the amount. While my mind feels sharp, my body is still recovering and I don’t feel ready to exercise. It will probably be a couple days before I resume my normal fitness routine. All-in-all, it’s amazing how rapidly feelings change. Just a day ago I was weak, tired, and miserable, and now I feel like a much more elevated version of myself.
7 PM: I ended up dozing off for an hour. I felt exhausted, but in a good way, the kind that wakes you up feeling refreshed. My legs are a little weak, and so I’m going to keep hydrating.
Day 6: (Monday, December 30, 2019)
12 AM: Just got back from a friend’s house. I notice I’ve been thinking a lot more about big philosophical questions such as the purpose of life and what truly matters. I also believe I have acquired a more mature perspective of my own past experiences. It’s easy to get tunnel vision going about life and experiencing the emotions on a daily basis that define who we are. This fast has enabled me to step out of my story a lot and take a more objective view of the world. I’ve talked to people who describe a similar shift in consciousness after doing some kind of drug. For me, fasting is that drug.
I mentioned there were barriers in my heart toward God that I could identify going into this fast. I know there is still work to do, but I feel that I have made huge spiritual progress, as much as anyone could possibly make in three days. My mentor described fasting as a spiritual “atomic bomb,” but the kind of power that builds up, not destroys. There’s a reason why spiritual traditions, like Christianity, have employed fasting throughout history. There’s no limit to what God can do when we get out of our own way. Having experienced the benefits of fasting, it is shocking to me that so few Christians fast, especially since Jesus said “when you fast,” not “if.”
My fast reminds me of a verse in the book of Isaiah.
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?Isaiah 58:6
I feel that I am closer to love and closer to freedom today than I was just four days ago, and that in itself is powerful. Fasting, in a word, has brought me closer to my highest ideals and best intentions. After some of my other fasts, I told myself I wouldn’t do this again for a long time due to how intense they were. This fast has actually had an energizing effect in my mind. I plan on fasting again for one or two days at the end of the week once my body has recovered to keep on this path of transformation. I’ve made good progress, but there is still so much more territory to conquer in my mind. Fasting gives me confidence and makes me feel gratitude that God gave us such a powerful healing modality in nature.
I believe the fact I am on break and was able to dedicate all of my energy to the fast is why the benefits were as great as they were. There’s a reason why prophets would often retreat to a quiet, secluded location while fasting. Jesus Christ and John the Baptist fasted in the desert. The desert of fasting is a place of healing and transformation. It is a place of dying to the oppression and limitations of self (the ego). I also believe my spiritual focus multiplied the benefits. The spiritual walk of a human being has a big effect on every other area of life.
11 AM: Slept about 8 hours. I had a lot of vivid dreams but there’s one that stuck with me the most. Eight years ago, I set a lofty athletic goal for myself at 5’ 10”: to be able to dunk a basketball. I bet my high school friend $100 that I’d be able to do it on a standard regulation hoop. Long story short, I lost that bet. In my dream, I could dunk the ball with ease, and did so multiple times on video. It was an amazing feeling. When I woke up, I was disappointed for a second that it wasn’t real life. Then I realized it doesn’t matter because it wasn’t something I cared about anymore and something real had taken place in my subconscious mind. I did also wake up a few times during the night and got up feeling a little groggy, so I also experienced a dose of real life.
8 PM: A few hours ago I did some light cardio (10 minutes treadmill, 10 minutes stationary bike). Today I did not feel up to any resistance training, and I look forward to resuming my normal fitness routine either tomorrow or the day after. Lately, it’s consisted of pretty lengthy cardio and a push-up regimen. Whenever I embark on a 3-day fast, I plan on setting aside at least a week off from all intense exercise. My brain seems to get better a lot faster than my body, and resuming intense exercise too fast can impair the recovery process.
Day 7: (Tuesday, December 31, 2019)
1 AM: I am craving light foods like soup and crackers. I feel more tired than normal and I think my body is telling me to go easy tomorrow as it’s not yet fully recovered. I’m going to play my workout tomorrow by ear. I’d love to be able to go intense, but first thing’s first, and I believe it’s important in life to be flexible. I know that once I’m 100%, I can go as hard as I want everyday. And if past experience is my guide, I will have much better energy in the gym returning from the fast.
12 PM: I’ve decided that I’m not quite ready to get a full workout in. I’m going go eat light another day and gauge my energy tomorrow morning. The one-week timeline before resuming normal activities has held up so far. Fasting, like I said, is not always linear. There are energetic peaks and valleys at each stage in the process. And there is good reason behind the conservative guidelines that experts have laid out for the recovery process.
4 PM: Three days of recovery officially in the books. I’m probably at 85% right now. Fasting is no joke. In a lot of ways it’s like exercise. You break yourself down to build yourself up even stronger. Like exercise, I’ve enshrined it as a core habit to promote mental, physical, and spiritual health. In my opinion, nobody can say they’ve tried everything if they don’t exercise and are able but unwilling to fast. This weekend, I plan on doing another fast of 24-36 hours to charge up for the new year. The biggest thing this fast has awakened me to is how much potential there is to make even greater progress.
I hope these journal entries have helped shine a more intimate light on the art of fasting. Let me know your questions and comments down below. Have you ever fasted before?