I never really liked breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I have anything against eating in the mornings. It’s simply that I seldom enjoy the preparation and consumption of food shortly after I wake up.
In fact, the very ritual of breakfast has always been somewhat of a monotone and mandatory experience for me and at the same time it brings back memories from a time where I would chug down a bowl of oatmeal before rushing off to school.
This resentment of the first meal of the day led me to periodically skip it, and then skip it again, and then skip it some more. By the time I enrolled in high school, I would rarely eat anything before lunch. I remember people scolded me saying that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. It almost felt like I was committing some kind of dietary treason. But no matter the reactions I received, I stuck to my routine of not eating in the mornings. And surprisingly enough, I did not experience the side-effects people told me I would: I did not have lower energy levels throughout the day, I did not get obese, I did not develop difficulties with my digestive system, I did not have trouble sleeping. I was never unhealthy.
But even though I was personally convinced that my eating habits were not unhealthy for me, you can imagine my excitement when I first discovered intermittent fasting - a food consumption pattern where all meals of the day must be consumed within a time window of eight hours followed by a fast for the remaining 16 hours. And even though this eating routine seemingly had evidence to back up its validity, I remember being hesitant to completely believe in it.
With the amounts of experiments and literature I have since consumed about nutrition, I now realize it is generally a good idea to have a critical mindset towards any science produced in this field. Because whenever a researcher are to produce new knowledge it will always entail a lot of conjectures (especially for health sciences) because it is so difficult to isolate independent variables and because long-term studies are difficult (impossible) to perform.
One central argument that proponents of fasting seems to be clinging on to is, however, the fact that historically, food has not always been available in the abundance that it is today. According to historians, humans have experienced a shortage of food almost for the entirety of the history of mankind, which gives rise to the obvious conclusion that the human body is more used to fasting than it is to having food available all the time.
A quick glance at the research from peer-reviewed journals show that fasting has been known to improve sleep, have positive effects on inflammation, help regulate blood glucose levels. It has also been shown to have other amazing benefits such as being effective in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. I will not attempt to go further into the biological benefits that fasting has on the body because there is much better information available out there. If you are interested in the topic, you should check out some of the work by Rhonda Patrick or Peter Attia both of who are big advocates of fasting.
Personally, fasting became something that I more or less embedded into my own routine as a result of my tendency to skip breakfast when I was a teenager. I have been living this way, with minor exceptions, for about six or seven years now and have absolutely grown used to getting my first meal around midday. The exceptions would occasionally happen because I never liked to be a buzz-kill. So when I stay over at a friend’s house or hang out with my family, I gladly join them for breakfast. And if invite me for brunch, I’ll be there!
My go at the 7-day “Juice detox”
I was first intrigued about going on the juice diet after my friend recently told me about his positive experiences of renewed energy, better skin and generally improved well-being. And with my own great experiences from restricted eating, it should come as no surprise that little persuasion was needed to lure me into trying the juice diet as well.
The rules were simple:
Duration of one week.
No food whatsoever.
Three juices every day.
Every juice must have a vegetable base but can be mixed with fruits
To be honest, I have never had any real experience with fasting for prolonged periods. The longest I fasted before trying out this experiment was about 24 hours. However, having been a keen adopter of intermittent fasting, and having generally good experiences with going on in everyday life without food, I was confident that I would be able to do it. When I started the diet on Monday, I weighed 77.6kg and one week later, I was down to 75.0 kg. To keep track of my well-being and general food intake, I kept a daily log containing information about my meals, exercise, and general notes about my experience.
Before I started the diet, I learned that it should be okay to do physical activity during the fast but that over-training should be avoided. So as you can see from my log, I exercised moderately each day, doing either a push up-workout, some headstands/handstands or exercises with my TRX. Usually, I enjoy a more intensive workout but I decided it would be a good precaution to go easy during this week, and that I would cut back on physical activity if it started to become uncomfortable.
Summary of my experience
With my experience from restricted eating, I had no difficulties with the hunger that naturally comes with fasting. At least that was what I thought. Because not having any meals for 16 or even 24 hours is nothing compared to being deprived for food for an entire week. In hindsight, it may have been a bit over the top to start out with 7 days of fasting instead of going for a shorter period such as 3 or 5 day period. I experienced hunger showed mostly as a roar in my stomach, short term fatigues, and as subtle headaches. Every time I was fatigued, it would go away with the next juice or a nap if I had the opportunity to take one. I took care of the headaches mostly just by drinking water. And man, did I drink a lot of water that week. Under normal circumstances, I easily drink about 2-3 litres each day, which I think is more than what an average person drinks. But during my juice fast, I would chug down 3-5 litres of water every single day!
It was extremely practical for me to go for my daily juice because there are two great juice shops both located just 100 meters from my place. The wide selection they had available made it possible for me to mix all sorts of vegetables and fruits without having to spend time buying, chopping, and blending them myself.
I found beetroot, carrots, spinach and celery to be my top choices for making the base. For my secondary layer, I would sometimes go for something creamy like avocado or dates, and other times I would go for something sweeter like oranges or a pomegranate. But as you can see from my log, I chose vegetables most of the time. Drinking the juices was no problem whatsoever. I hear some people don’t enjoy plain vegetable juices because the taste reminds them a bit of ‘dirt’. However, I had no problems in this regard and generally just went with whatever blends I wanted at the moment.
Exercising throughout the week was not a problem either. I am not sure if I would have had a different opinion had I opted for more intensive workouts. I was able to carry out my work-outs every morning with light-to-medium of amount of effort. I only had one incident during the week where I felt extremely weak and that was when I went for trip to the sauna at a wellness resort. I am normally fairly confident with heat but found myself extremely exhausted and experienced rapid heart rate even if I was sitting at the lower levels.
After completing the weekly long juice fast, I felt really great afterwards. I endured a longer fasting period than I had ever tried before. Notwithstanding the potential positive effects the diet must have had on me, it was a real accomplishment. A mental accomplishment. A show of willpower. It’s unbelievable how much you think about food when you are hungry all the time. But as you go on despite your hunger, you become accustomed to it, you learn to live with it, and sometimes even become friends with it. The hunger keeps you sharp and the more days you fast, the easier it becomes to endure.
For me, Day1 and Day4 were the real humps of the experiment. Day1 was manageable but my stomach was really upset in the evening. Day2 was easier than Day1. Day3 was easier than Day4. Day4 was when the real crisis came: I became dizzy, had multiple short term fatigues, and just felt beside myself for almost the entire day. But once I overcame that day I had some really powerful experiences on Day5, 6 and 7 where my self confidence would rise and I would generally feel very focused and “sharp”.
One week after the experiment I had put on half of the weight that I had lost again, which was of course to be expected. A surprising benefit however was that I found that my urge for sugar and other sweets, had completely vanished during my week of fasting. This is a greater benefit than you would think as it has made it very easy for me to maintain a very healthy lifestyle in the time after the fasting itself.