It was a year ago that I finally decided to try a water-fast for myself, and experiment the practice of not eating anything for a few days. I was curious to see how it was to be empty on the inside. The plan was to keep my fast for three days, and if I felt good about myself, I’d go for as long as I could. At that point, I’d already been familiar with the concept of fasting. I’m from a Muslim country, so dry-fasting happens once every year throughout the month of Ramadan. I’d even fasted for a couple times when I was very young, eight or nine years old. My dry-fast, back then, was not motivated by any religious causes, none at all. I was only eight years old, what could I possibly know about religion anyhow?! I fasted because our school would organize an Iftar ceremony every year, which is the evening meal to end the fast at sunset, and all the students would be invited. Most of my other classmates were fasting, and I felt I needed to fast as well in order to earn the pleasure of that meal. From what I remember, it was hard not to eat, especially in the afternoon once I was back home from school. I was hungry, but mostly thirsty. The severe thirst wouldn’t allow me to concentrate on my homework; I believe I napped until the sunset. I only fasted like that for a couple years, though. I guess I grew up, and found those traditions to be irrelevant to my personal culture.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I came across the practice of intermittent fasting over the World Wide Web. The concept sounded very logical, and incredibly adaptable to my lifestyle. Intermittent fasting is the practice of fasting “part-time” throughout the day, or the week if you wish. There are many different approaches, I’m sure there are tons of articles and videos on every method. But my favorite approach happened to be sixteen to eight, which means fasting for sixteen hours in the day, and consuming all your food in an eight-hour window. You could, of course, drink water, tea, and coffee as you go through your fast. All you do is simply skipping meals, either breakfast or dinner. So in my case, all I had to do was to not start eating until it was afternoon; my breakfast would be other people’s late lunch. It wasn’t very hard to adjust this method to my daily routine. Honestly, my body was already used to staying hungry, not eating for hours and hours was relatively normal due to the way I live, including the financial obstacles. The first few days of fasting intermittently were a bit hard, but I tuned in very quickly, way faster than I thought I would, and I loved it. Life was easy again; the sun was shining and the birds were singing. My fasting hours extended over
So, there I was, pretty comfortable in my new way of eating, happy about my recent discovery, and grateful for the World Wide Web for opening another door to my life. However, I was very intrigued by the idea of water fasting for long. There were tons of examples of people fasting for different durations, one day, three days, five, forty, three hundred and eighty-two days in one case. I was tempted to go far, but I was also trying to be realistic about it, and most of all, to keep in mind the reason why I was putting myself in this experience. I wanted to see for myself what it was like to be empty, to be in the state where you haven’t consumed any food for a
I did a bit of preparation for my journey. I stopped consuming sugar and simple carbs before I started the water fast. However, I did consume a bit of alcohol a couple nights before, in fact, we partied until eight o’clock in the morning, but I decided that it shouldn’t be a problem; human body is stronger than we think it is. I cooked myself a colorful dinner as my last meal filled with vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, and a decent amount of spices. I made sure that I got enough sleep, so that the first day wouldn’t be as hard. In fact, I watched a movie before I went to sleep, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, which wasn’t all that irrelevant to the topic. The plan was to keep fasting for three days, and keep on for as long as I felt good about myself.
To my surprise, it wasn’t that hard. It was hard not to think about food, largely because it’s the main habit of our everyday life, but not eating wasn’t that bad. Also, I was living in a small village on my own at the time, so I wasn’t really distracted by food. I guess it would’ve been much harder if I was surrounded by people eating food around me. The second day, I must admit, was the hardest. I was hungry all the time. I couldn’t stop thinking about food. I imagined preparing different dishes, eating them on the terrace or by the window as I enjoyed the view of the beautiful valley as I always did, biting on an apple, snacking on olives and cheese, perhaps have some nuts and raisins with my tea or coffee, but instead, I drank water. Hot, cold, it was just water. Then I began to realize that in the world we live in today, food isn’t just for eating anymore, it’s also a big source of entertainment. Food-related contents are everywhere: cooking shows, images of mouth-watering foods, shows in which people try out different food from different part of the world and talk about the taste and the experience of eating them, TV commercials, posters on billboards and panels, and most of all, the role of food in our social life on a day to day basis. It was quite sad to realize how much food we waste every day, whether we overeat, or we dump the food because it’s gone bad; there were so much eat already, and we certainly don’t need as much food as we think to maintain a healthy diet.
It is such a nice notion to cook, for yourself or for others, and to keep the kitchen running. Eating with others is how we socialize. Sharing our food is a way of expressing our affection toward others. And doing the dishes is a great way to take the mind off of everyday concerns, and only worry if the plates are clean. The time spent in the kitchen is necessary to have a healthy mind, it’s not just physical. And that time cannot be replaced by anything else. I’d picked myself a book to read as I was going through my fast, to fill up the time that I’d be spending in the kitchen otherwise, but in the end, I didn’t even finish half of that book because I was either too distracted, or wasn’t motivated enough to keep reading; I took a nap instead.
Physically, I felt relatively tired as well. I took walks around the village which were slower than usual. By the third day, I’d go out of breath climbing up the hill or the stairs. I didn’t notice any difference in my sleeping pattern, or maintaining my usual studio work. The hunger was gone by the third day, but the thought of food didn’t go anywhere; an image of food would show up in mind every now and again, I just learned how to push it aside by drinking a glass of water.
On the morning of the fourth day, I woke up around my usual time. I was lying on the bed, waiting for my mind to come back to reality from the dream that I was just seeing. I was checking with my body to see how I was doing, how it felt like to be empty on the inside, and if there were any differences in the way I was thinking. I didn’t notice any difference than the day before. Until I got up. I was already aware of the intense dizziness and lightheadedness during the fast; I just didn’t know when it was going to strike. Even though I got up very slowly, a wave hit me from the chest. It blackened my eyes where I could see almost nothing, made me sweat coldly as my body was piping hot, and took my head off with it as if my mind didn’t belong to me anymore; it was only something placed on top of my person. I held the side rail of the bed as I gently sat down on the carpet, took my top off because it was too hot for me even though the room was fairly cold, and I started to take deep breathes. I was just waiting for the pain to go away, to be able to stand up again, and grab myself some water. I kept thinking to myself that what if something serious happened. I was almost alone in a remote village, and friends who lived nearby didn’t have the key to my room. I didn’t have a phone to call anyone; my only source of communication was the internet which I don’t think would be that helpful for a case of an emergency.
In the end, I was able to leave the room, and drink a glass of water. I decided to make “breakfast” in the afternoon to have another feast for myself, and celebrate the joy of eating. I wasn’t hungry anymore, I could’ve kept on fasting, but I decided not to. Life is boring without eating. Food is one of the simplest pleasures we have in life, and I believe we should enjoy it as long as we can.
Please feel free to watch the short film I created during this eye-opening experiment.