This week, I decided to try a short fast. My brother just came off a 7-day water fast for detox purposes (he’s a seasoned faster) and my friend was fasting for religious reasons, so it seemed like the thing to do. I knew nothing about fasting, except that I’d tried it before unsuccessfully (I lasted about a day on the “Master Cleanse Recipe“). My brother seems to like to fast and seems to have no problems with it, so I figured it was just a matter of willpower and that I could do it too.
I decided to try the water fast. For the first day, I was fine– I had a caffeine headache and felt hungry, but nothing more serious than when one skips a meal on a busy day, which is essentially what I was doing– I had student conferences, classes, and work on Wednesday so I barely had time to eat anyway. About 24 hours into the fast, I started throwing up– first water and phlegm, then bright yellow gobs of bile. This was very disconcerting–the last thing one wants to be doing is throwing up bile, right? But apparently this is common during the first 24-48 hours of a fast. Vomiting can also occur during the last few days of a long fast (typically 40 days is considered a long fast) and in that case it’s dangerous. But throwing up bile during the first 24-48 hours of a fast is just your liver going, “hey, you’re not using me? You want this crap back?” and sending bilious byproduct into your unwilling stomach, which coughs it up.
After throwing up and doing a lot of research to see if I was dying, I decided to take the water fast more seriously. I couldn’t work the 14-hour days I’ve been working lately if I was going to do this, so I had to decide whether to eat or to continue the fast another 2 days. I decided in favor of the fast, because I felt like my body was telling me to take a break. The excess bile certainly seemed to indicate that I was working my body, especially my liver, too hard.
I slept most of Thursday except to grade a few papers and sip ginger tea (natural, herbal, non-caffeinated beverages are ok on the water fast, but nothing “food-like” like broth, which is what I sip as I write this, to “gently wake up the digestive system”). I went to work Thursday night as usual. I’ve been having a lot of trouble at my sales job. It’s hard to sell stuff to people in this economy, and it’s even harder to sell stuff to people when you can’t stop thinking about how it’s hard to sell stuff to people in this economy. Some people are fine–for some people, $50 tickets are nothing. It’s hard to remember that when an unforeseen $30 expense, such as the new tire I have to buy (mine popped on Tuesday), can mess with one’s tight budget. Moreover, the job is the same day in, day out, with little room for creativity or variation. I haven’t been making nearly as many sales lately. But last night I finally made a respectable sale. Maybe it was worth it to get rid of all that bile?
After work I went to bed and slept about 12 hours. I woke up feeling weak and canceled classes, choosing to sleep the rest of the day. All in all I felt the fast was stressful and scary and made me want to sleep. It didn’t make me feel more energetic or “lighter,” though I do feel cleaner.
Fasts affect everyone differently and now that I know that I might be one of the people who throw up and feel weak, instead of the type (like my brother) for whom everything goes smoothly and who feel more energetic, I will certainly schedule any future fasts when I have three days of complete downtime. I think I could do a 7-day fast if I weren’t in the middle of so much stress at work (midterm papers, student conferences, the sales job) and if I prepared myself better (more tea on hand, for instance). One thing about fasting that I didn’t expect was that I rarely felt hungry. About once a day I felt a gnawing in my stomach, but it passed quickly. I certainly didn’t feel hungry all the time. It’s interesting how little food one needs and how long one can go without food. It’s also interesting to see what your body does when it’s not required to use its digestive system, which usually takes up a lot of energy. In my case, my body wanted to expel stuff and rest. The next time I fast it might be completely different.