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I had a flare up of my autoimmune issues last week, and I stupidly compounded it by drinking some not-gluten free lager on Saturday. By Sunday I had a full spectrum of neurological and gastrointestinal issues going on. It was not fun. I had to take Monday off from work because my brain was simply not working. I’m in the process of writing an in-depth article on gluten, autoimmunity, the food supply and my relationship with them. You might find it pretty useful / informative, it won’t be easy reading. This one, however, shouldn’t be such a chore.
Most of you, fortunately, won’t understand what this feels like. The digestive symptoms are annoying, but the neurological issues are the worst. When I’m in the grips of a flare I’ll be waking up every 2 hours and struggling to get back to sleep. I’ll have headaches, fatigue. and brain fog; I can’t find words to finish sentences; I can’t concentrate on what people are saying; thoughts are hard to process. It’s very frustrating. The worst thing is what it does to my mood; I become negative and depressive, which is not who I am. In a way I appreciate this now, as I’m able to look at those negative and depressive thoughts and know they’re not mine. In the past, when I had depressive thoughts, I thought it was me. Now I know they’re merely a symptom of something else going on.
Anyway, these things are an annoyance, but they do not tend to get me down. I try to see an exposure to gluten as a reminder to look after myself; I become more determined to take care of my health. This is the first bad one I’ve had in over a year. I need to make sure I don’t have another one for a long, long time.
I woke up on Monday morning, things were not good, so I called in sick and decided to give my body a rest from the stress that is digestion, and fast for the day. By ‘fast’ I mean from the moment of waking I consumed nothing but water, and a smidgen of salt. I’ve been dabbling with fasting for a while now; I routinely keep eating windows to less than 8 hours a day. This is called Intermittent fasting. For example I’ll skip breakfast, have lunch at 12, a BIG dinner at 7pm, and that’s me done for the day. I try not to snack, but don’t beat myself up if I do. I’ve also got into the habit of doing a 24 hour fast at least once or twice a month. I’ll have dinner and then won’t eat again until dinner the next day. I find this pretty easy nowadays, but I have built up to it. When I take long haul flights I aim to not eat after leaving the house, and not eat again until I reach my destination. This means 30+ hours without food if I’m flying back to UK. Weirdly I find my jetlag is lessened when I do this. It’s a bit of a mental chore, but let’s be honest, I’m not missing much in those in-flight meals… barf.
Why do I do this? Well, there is a bunch of science out there that is starting to show that our approach of eating three square meals a day, with snacks in between, is not ideal for our physiology. We have not evolved over millions of years eating 3 routine meals between waking and sleeping. Especially not a bowl of cereal grains for breakfast, a sandwich and crisps for lunch, and a Thai takeaway for dinner. That’s not to mention the apple, the Dairy Milk, the latte with a biscuit, and blueberry muffins in between our main meals. I’ll write a brief summary of the benefits of fasting that I’m aware of, but I strongly recommend watching the video of fasting expert – Jason Fung. Both of these are posted at the bottom of this article.
For now I’m going to give you a summary of the 4 day fasting experience that I just encountered. Remember, I was doing this to fix a problem, I was motivated. Would I have been able to go 4 days without food if it weren’t for that? I don’t know, possibly not. Sometimes a curse can be a blessing… Here goes:
Day 1 – Monday
As described above, I felt lousy on Sunday. I had a small dinner of homemade fried rice with slowcooked lamb and a few veggies and went to bed early. I woke up and felt dreadful, in the full throes of an autoimmune flare up. Called in sick to work and put my head back down. I lazed around all morning and then went for a long walk along the coast. I came back and worked on a blog post, which was tough because my brain was ‘foggy’. Went to bed at 8pm. Consumed nothing but water all day, and lots of it. No hunger pangs.
Day 2 – Tuesday
Woke up, now 36 hours without calories of any sort. Sleep was broken at best, but that’s the gluten doing that, not the lack of food. Felt marginally better, got up and went for a walk on the beach. Forced myself to go to work. Could not concentrate for shit. Achieved little. Went to a Melbourne Cup event in the afternoon, drank a few soda waters, made polite conversation. Felt hot in the face, looked in the mirror – looked red in the face. Smoke bombed out of dodge after the race and took myself home to bed. I was bloated all day. Had a headache. Couldn’t concentrate on anything for very long. My face became really oily (which it never does). I had a racing heart at times, but that settled when I got home and added some salt and magnesium to some water. My knees hurt sporadically. Had an epsom salts bath (great for detoxing) and got myself to bed by 8pm, again. Real fun time Frankie this week! 🙂
Day 3 – Wednesday
Woke up (now 60 hours without food) feeling better, which was a surprise as I had the worst night of sleep, was tossing and turning all night, and sweating buckets, it hadn’t been too hot. Clearly my body was doing some sort of detoxification. I also noticed a rash on the backs of my legs. Couldn’t have been a food reaction so I’m guessing it was my body purging something gross out. I got to work and struggled through the morning, lacking in energy or motivation to do much of anything.
And then, something clicked, and I started to perk up just after my lunch of, you guessed it, water. I started to become chatty, I could concentrate, I even laughed a few times. I got some good work done. I started to consider having dinner when I got home – I had a loose target of 3 full days of fasting in my head, and would have achieved that by then. I did have some muscle cramps in my legs, but they abated when I took in some more salt. Quite enjoyed being able to recognise a problem and apply an organic solution. ‘Biohacking’ if you were…
When I got home I crashed, developed a bit of a headache, so instead of dinner had another epsom salts bath and went to bed at 8pm, again! 3rd full day of nothing but water and a few minerals. At this point I should point out that I never really felt that hungry, but I eat a high fat diet normally, so I’m quite well adjusted to not having glucose pouring in all the time. When I did get pangs of hunger I sank 500ml of water with a small pinch of salt and they went away.
I think this fasting lark would have been a lot easier if I had started from a position of health, bear that in mind if you’re reading this and thinking it sounds atrocious. I did it to heal from a position of poor health. If you decide to do a fast, and you’re healthy, I would bet you would have an easier time of it.
Day 4 – Thursday
Wow! Slept 9 hours – First time I’ve done that in well over a year (I am not a good sleeper – coeliacs often aren’t). I did wake up in the middle of the night bathed in sweat, but rolled over and went back to sleep. Felt like some major detox work was being done whilst I was away in the land of nod. 84 hours sans nourishment, and counting.
I was up by 6am, felt amazing, felt happy, felt calm, skin looked amazing, stomach was ridiculously flat. I went for a short walk to see the beach, came home, had a short sauna (yes I have sauna – read why here). Watched some of the Man Utd Champions League game. Had a lovely breakfast of water and magnesium powder, with a teaspoon of sea salt. DELICIOUS.
When I got to work I was positively bouncing. My colleagues, bless them, were starting to get concerned about me on day 3, I didn’t look too healthy and I wasn’t exactly vibrant. Today, however, I think they were somewhat taken aback by what walked into the office, almost wary that I was going to explode and die. I had no physical complaints, and my brain was on fire. I was demolishing tasks on my action list with ruthless efficiency, cracking jokes, winding people up, whistling, singing, I was even considering going for a run at ‘lunch’.
Alas, midday approached I started to feel really cold, and really twitchy – like I’d sunk 4 large espressos on an empty stomach. I drank some water with salt, but it had no effect. I went for a walk in the park and felt exhausted. I laid in the sun and thoughts were racing uncontrollably through my head. I got back to the air-conditioned office, removed from the sun and felt freezing cold. I took it that my body was telling me it was time to break the fast. I drank a mug of beef bone broth that I’d brought into work especially for this purpose, and then two hours later at 3pm I ate a tiny meal of wilted salad, a can of sardines and a fork full of organic fermented sauerkraut. Chewing felt weird AF. Didn’t really enjoy it, wasn’t exactly the pot of gold I was hoping for at the end of the rainbow. I’d gone 92 hours without food or any kind. It felt like an achievement. It certainly wasn’t easy.
I got home last night and ate a modest bowl of vegetable soup made with beef stock, and typed this up. I think I could have gone on for longer if it wasn’t for the fact I was at work. If I had been at home, chilling, with blankets and sleep available to me on demand, I could have undoubtedly gone on for longer.
Now, I realise that I haven’t made fasting look particularly appetising as a concept. It’s not a nice experience, but it is interesting, and from what I can tell it’s hellish good for you. I’m definitely going to do more. The next target will be to do 5 full days, and then 7, and then, well who knows. Obviously you don’t want to starve, most of us have ample body fat on us to keep us going for well over 30 days. The longer you fast the more self-healing work your body can do.
I’ve detailed some of the benefits I’ve read about below:
Benefits of fasting:
- The removal of food from your diet forces the body to remember how to burn fat. Burn fat = lose weight
- The removal of food results in a lowering of insulin levels. Equals less tax on the body, and less fat storage. Also means less chance of developing insulin resistance (where the insulin your pancreas releases fails to properly lower your blood sugar levels after eating carbohydrates), and the less chance you have of developing diabetes.
- Some evidence has shown that utilising fasting and restricting carbohydrate consumption can help reverse Type 2 diabetes.
- Autophagy – most of what I have read states that somewhere between day 2 and day 4 of a fast a process autophagy commences – Autophagy is essentially a process where the body, starved of food, gets resourceful and starts eating up old and damaged cells and mitochondria for food. This is now being tested as part of a cancer curing protocol (since cancer cells are damaged cells).
- Immune System reboot – a 3 day water fast (water and electrolytes are consumed only) will remove your old white blood cells and replace them with a whole new set. Hence the old saying: “starve a virus, feed a cold”. A brand new immune system is better than old, obviously.
If I haven’t convinced you by this point then the master of fasting, Jason Fung, probably will:
For advice on how to do extended fasts I recommend Jimmy Moore and Dr Jason Fung’s book on fasting:
For advice on how to end a fast I recommend Camille Julia’s website here
Another cool vid here: