Mission Failure : The 5-Day Water Fast Tries to Kill Me

First, this isn’t really a food blog. It’s an account of escaping this, and instead, vagabonding around the world while gaining new experience.

Now, on to my water fasting experience…

I could feel every dimple and imperfection on the blueberry as I rolled it around on my tongue.

It was like eating a blueberry for the first time. I could even sense its temperature with my mouth. When I finally got bold enough to chew it, the flavor was surprising. So was the sound when I swallowed and it hit my empty stomach, which then convulsed in surprise and annoyance that we were starting with fruit rather than saturated fat.

Going just these 2.5 days with no food has given me a new appreciation for both eating and the people scattered around the globe who can’t eat when they want.

I am a failure. After nearly 60 hours of starvation, just barely half way through my planned five-day water fast, I had to stop. When I woke up this morning, my right kidney was swollen, and it felt like someone had stuck me with a sword. I could barely drag around the house, and to make matters worse, I had a photo shoot for work. Nothing like trying to get people to smile when you are pastier than Neo from the Matrix and can’t straighten up all the way.

I know, I know. I can hear the “I told you so” resonating all over the internet.

As soon as I posted the start of my five-day starvation period — also known as a “fast” — I received a hail of criticism on the web.

Facebook, Twitter, email — you name the network — the caring nastygrams came like a winter storm into my various inboxes. Yes, I know deliberate starvation is one of my more pathetic, half-baked adventures, but isn’t there a thin line between genius and madness? Completing a five-day water fast has been on my life bucket list for years, so I had to try.

I do appreciate the concern, but I’ve got a date to climb a jungle-tangled Sumatran volcano in the near future. I definitely won’t jeopardize that with voluntary kidney shutdown.

2017 Update: I climbed an even bigger Sumatran volcano this year!

While consuming so much water (two full gallons a day) to fill my stomach, I assumed that I would be flushing my kidneys — a good thing, right?

A quick check with DuckDuckGo (try it) confirmed that many people suffer the same back/kidney pain when starting a fast. Apparently so much water has the opposite effect on your kidneys; organs aren’t happy about having to work overtime to process so much new fluid without getting paid back in nutrients.

All that waste rides a rushing river down to your kidneys and accumulates faster than they can clear it. Doh!

Fun Statistics and Observations

The first 24 hours:

  • The fast was mainly psychological. My stomach rumbled, but there were no other negatives other than my lack of concentration on anything not edible.
  • I consumed two gallons of drinking water. I did get a rush from the sudden drop in sodium since I was not getting any salt in food. Plummeting sodium levels can actually be dangerous.
  • I couldn’t sleep a wink — half because of hunger pain and half because I had a lot of energy. Metabolism change?

The next 48 hours:

  • I felt dizzy because of low blood sugar and drank a glass of juice. It may as well have been a tall glass of absinthe — the sugar made my head spin and warmed me up immediately.
  • I no longer felt hungry unless I saw food or walked by the kitchen.
  • Energy levels dropped signifigantly, and I had all the physical motivation of Jabba the Hutt.
  • Drank another two gallons of water, but my back and kidney were already starting to hurt — I knew the gig was up.

Start weight: 178 pounds; end weight: 175 pounds. Only a loss of 3 pounds.

Per VeryWell.com: 1 pound of fat = 3,500 calories. Their diet calculator says I need 2,577 calories a day to maintain my current weight — wow! Water fasting weight loss is possible but tricky.

Trying to show some restraint, I ate only a bowl of soup to start back into the real world. My stomach is about as messed up as it was on day two in Beijing — not pretty. Where are my Shaolin mystery cure-all pills?

No more fasting for a while, but I haven’t given up completely. I will reattempt another fast again some day a little better prepared.  This crazy guy in Pai, Thailand (imagine that) managed to do it for 40 days!

Fortunately, I encounter plenty of delicious — and sometimes terrifying — food while vagabonding.

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11 Responses to “Mission Failure : The 5-Day Water Fast Tries to Kill Me”

  1. Wow, 3 out of 5 days is no small accomplishment! Glad to hear you came through you fast safe and sound.

  2. Whew, I also began a five-day fast and experienced those awful kidney aches during the process. I inadvisably stuck with it for the full five days, and my kidneys still ache after a week of “real food”. Worst of all, I can’t really be forgiven for my poor choice–I have a history of kidney disease, and simply didn’t do the necessary research to learn that this might be a bad idea. Even worse, I marched on with the fast AFTER my poor kidneys began rebelling. My doctor says it should be okay, but will take time to heal. I suppose the moral of the story is: research well before you dive into a water fast, and listen to your body during the process! Don’t be a hero, as they say (in my case, an idiot).

  3. I finished a 7 day water fast a few months back. Well done for making it that far. You actually got past the really hard part. And those kidney pains suck, but from what I’ve heard, don’t cause any damage. Mine only really were present in the mornings and evenings, when I was moving less. They went away by day 5.

  4. I have been fasting at least once a year for 40 years. I find that the fast has little value unless you go at least two weeks. By the way, the only fast is the so called water fast. Anything else is a diet. There are a lot of aches and pains the first few days depending on your level of bad habits and toxicity. After that, hunger disappears and the fast is quite comfortable. You should have gutted it out. You would have enjoyed it

  5. You definitely broke the fast when you drank juice. You didn’t complete 5 days at all. Please look up water fasting. You will see that you must consume ONLY water and if you drink anything else or eat a morsel of food your fast is broken because your body comes out of ketosis.

  6. Listen to a podcast by Tim Ferriss interviewing Dr Dom DAgostino. It’s an eye opening amount of information, explains the kidney pain and the amazing benefits of ketosis. Also, you can eat and stay in ketosis, but no sugar. Congratulations and good luck. Keep fasting.

  7. To the person who said “even a morsel of food” knocks you out of ketosis… could you elaborate? How is that possible if high fat low carb keeps you in ketosis? That’s definitely more than a “morsel” of food.

  8. Technically ketosis doesn’t end when you eat food, but rather when you eat too many net carbs in a day. There are ketogenic diets that allow eggs, vegetables’ almost any kind of meat, butter, cheese, and more. I am on day 4 of my five day fast and i am excited to start my ketogenic diet to stay in ketosis.

  9. Go careful with the water, electrolyte balance is important. Your body actually produces some metabolic water from fat breakdown while you fast, so forcing water down just to have something in your stomach is not a great plan. Makes you hungrier if you keep stretching your stomach too! Anything can be toxic in the wrong quantities, homeostasis is the goal to let your body rest, heal and regenerate. Peace + Healing.

  10. I recently completed a 5 day water fast only. I did however on day 3 add a tiny amount of lemon juice and a pinch of Himalayan sea salt.

    Since completing my fast I am a whole new person. I now sleep well after being an insomniac. I no longer crave all the bad foods that I was otherwise unable to deny. My mental and physical energy levels are the best that I believe they have ever been. Honestly, I have never felt so great in all of my life! I am 42 years old but feel as thought I am much younger now. Everything about my body has changed in so many positive ways. My whole outlook on life has changed! I feel so positive!

    I’m now almost 3 weeks since starting back on food and have begun to try and only eat 1 meal a day. It seems to work well for me. I’m stronger then I’ve ever been. More confident then I’ve ever been. And more happy then ever. I’m eat a very clean diet and I’m staying away from most of the foods I use to indulge in.

    I highly recommend giving it a try so long as you are healthy enough to do so safely. And have the proper support behind you. It just may change your life!

  11. Great to hear about your positive experience, Jake! Way to go! I may email you for some more details…it may be the year for me to give fasting another go.

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