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I Went Without Food for 40 Days. Here’s What I Learned.

By Robyn Openshaw | Apr 19, 2018

I’m completely fascinated by the process and benefits of fasting.

I’m talking about eating absolutely nothing for a long period of time. (With water, it’s called “water fasting”–or without water, it’s called “dry fasting.”)

And I’ve always felt that when Christians, Muslims, and Jews quit fasting routinely, we lost something important.

After all, some sects in those religious traditions used to fast, at length, for weeks at a time.

Now, my research into fasting—including doing it myself 4 times in the past 2 years (for 12 days, 9 days, and 7 days twice, and some shorter fasts in between)–has less to do with spiritual purification, and more to do with the health benefits.

I developed what qualifies as a fasting-mimicking detox, five years ago, which 13,000 people have now done.

(By “fasting mimicking,” I mean you can eat three times a day, but food is completely prescribed to achieve similar benefits to fasting.)

And I do not honestly believe that most people can or will do what I just did.

(Go completely without food for a week or more.)

In fact, I’m not sure they even should. More on that later.

Let’s talk about what crazy, slightly disgusting and simultaneously amazing things happen in the human body when you fast for a long period of time.

And why I keep doing this, about every year.

What I get from it. And why you might want to consider doing some form of fasting.

Why I didn’t do my water fasting at home

I have very little self discipline.

I’m not a biohacker, constantly using technology on myself, to experiment. I’ve never run a race longer than a 10k and don’t plan to.

And I don’t have any self-denial fetishes. I don’t just do every hard thing, because it’s a challenge.

Besides being raised Mormon, where we fasted Saturday night to Sunday night one Sunday every month, from the age of 8, I have absolutely no reason why fasting for a long period of time would be easy for me.

I’m one of those people who, if something hurts, or I’m hungry, everybody around me is gonna know about it.

In fact, I knew I couldn’t do it from home.

I would start with the best of intentions, I’m sure. I might even last a whole day. But the fridge would be right there. 100 steps away, max.

My car would be in the garage, with food just a 10-minute drive from food. Really good food.

No, wait, it’s worse than that—there’s a Thai restaurant literally 3 minutes from my house.

My willpower is nothing, when I get ferociously hungry.

I’m a vegetarian, and very frankly, I’d eat a t-bone cooked rare, if I got hungry enough. Maybe even a hot dog. (I suffered actual pain, writing that.)

So I fly to a spiritual retreat in Texas, run by Hindu monks and nuns, to fast. It’s called Siddhayatan.

What it’s like to fast at Siddhayatan

Siddhayatan is in Nowhere, Texas. Truly, it is miles from anything, and you cannot use your Uber or Lyft app, from there. To sneak out and get food, in a moment of weakness.

It’s insanely cheap, maybe the cost of a Motel 6.

Which makes sense, considering they’re feeding you nothing, and you might be sharing a bathroom, or staying in a room with no drywall, and a naked lightbulb your only form of light.

I could go to True North in California, where they’ll “medically supervise” me and the lodgings are really nice.

But heck, while I’m facing all my addictions, might as well face my addiction to upper-middle-class luxuries, as well.

I take a sliver of soap and a towel. (Correct, the Hindu ashram does not provide a towel or washcloths.)

I take a $100 Uber from the airport, where you can actually get a ride. You can Uber to the ashram, but not back to the airport.

Later, I’ll have a private car company drive me back. But you can’t just call them when you’re freaking out and wanting food. You can schedule them to pick you up tomorrow.

So this saves me from my freakouts. I mean, freakouts are by definition short-term.

You see how it’s the perfect place for water fasting? Temptation is completely removed.

Also: you CAN have a meal there, if you find you aren’t doing well, fasting.

You would have to be in a serious crisis to just drop in for lunch, though. First of all, that would be embarrassing.

You’re supposed to give them a heads up, because this is the most frugal place you’ve ever been.

The monks and nuns (dressed all in white) make a homemade vegetarian Hindu meal three meals a day, but they make just enough for the exact number of people they have there doing the yoga, meditation, silent, and spiritual retreats.

(You, the water faster? No soup for you. They didn’t plan on you crashing the meal.)

So besides being embarrassing to fail to ask well in advance if you can eat a meal with everybody else, you might actually be causing everyone they did plan for, to not get enough to eat, if you just crashed a meal.

I know, it’s really Dickensian.

So my point is, your food cravings are not easily indulged at this place. And for me, that’s half the battle.

There’s the actual hunger and physical weakness itself—sometimes even symptoms from long-term fasting (I’ll get to that)—but the constant temptations you’d have at home are removed.

I know a guy at home who recently fasted for 23 days. He went out to lunch and coffee with people, the whole time, and just abstained.

I guess some people are motivated or more self-disciplined than I am.

I almost lost my mind watching Netflix on my laptop, during my last fast.

(Do you know how much food they show, on most movies and TV shows? No, you don’t. You notice this kind of thing only when you’re fasting.)

So, some people might have an iron will and be able to fast at home, but I am not one of them.

The total isolation at Siddhayatan is hard (I like being around people!) but it’s also helpful.

Should you try water fasting?

Now, if you’re thinking about this for yourself, a few caveats.

One, there is no medical supervision here. No nurses or doctors. They have people fasting here all the time, without serious incident, but people have actually died from fasting before. Or so I’ve heard.

I mean, the odds of you dying from fasting are probably about as high as you dying from taking most over-the-counter medications. Or driving in a car.

That is, pretty low.

But when I interviewed Valter Longo, PhD, a fasting and longevity expert and author of The Longevity Diet, he did cite two deaths he knows of, from people fasting for a length of time, one of them with diabetes, and one with multiple sclerosis.

While Longo recites the many incredible health benefits of fasting, including rebuilding myelin sheath and regenerating insulin-producing capacity of the pancreas—long term benefits, not just short term, after the fast–I imagine he doesn’t want the liability of people at risk fasting for long periods of time, due to his recommendations.

Frankly, neither do I, in an age of litigiousness.

Which seems ridiculous, given that millions of people have fasted, accidentally due to lack of food, or on purpose, for literally millenia.

But here we are, in 2018. Where most Americans have never gone a whole day without food, and some tell me they’ve never even skipped a meal.

I think we’re more in need of fasting, than any culture in the history of mankind.

So here’s my onerous disclaimer: if you undergo a water fast or dry fast longer than a day, don’t say that I told you to do it. Please do it under supervision of a trusted functional medicine practitioner.

This blog post is about my experience, and is not medical advice and does not substitute for competent medical care.

What Are the Side Effects of Fasting?

 Hunger and energy fluctuations

It goes without saying that you’re really insanely hungry the first few days. Then, your body and mind settle in.

Some people describe having lots of energy. Most don’t! Generally, the longer you fast, the more your cravings for food subside, but so does your energy.

Your spirits will stay higher if you’re “doing the mental work” of challenging yourself with the task of confronting your addictions, congratulating yourself on your progress each day (or hour), reminding yourself of the health benefits, and staying positive.

If you’re smart, you don’t take a laptop with a huge writing project and deadline, like I do. (Every single time. A single mom’s gotta work!)

If you can afford the time off from Life, you can just lie in bed, take short walks now and then, but not do much of anything unless you feel like it.

That said, you know yourself, and some of us do better when we’re as productive as energy allows.

I think fasting would actually be harder for me if I were like everyone else at the Siddhayatan retreat, and didn’t work at all.

On about Day 4, I start to have periods of not feeling hunger. One of the nuns told me that this is my body and mind “accepting” the fast.

Muscle, tissue, organ, and fat cleanup

I also, however, in each of my last 3 fasts, start to have lower back pain on day 4. Since I never experience this at home, I researched it, and I believe it is—don’t be scared now, this is going to sound scary—

–my kidneys backlogged with broken-down muscle tissue. Possibly compounded by over-drinking water (which is easy to do, when that’s all you can have).

Yeah, your muscle breaks down. A little bit. This may sound like a bad thing.

But if you’re a weight lifter and your trainer has you believing that all your nutrition habits should be geared to just one thing—preserving and building muscle mass—let me share  a revolutionary concept. Well, two of them.

One, every time you lift weights, you’re tearing down muscle fiber. And as it builds, that’s how your muscles grow.

And two, your muscle needs cleanup, just like your organs, joints, even every cell, does! If a tiny amount of your muscle breaks down, it was the body tearing out the parts that needed rebuilding anyway.

Don’t overattach, as the Hindu monks would tell you.

Remember, the fasting process doesn’t want to break down healthy muscle. It’s strong and it is serving you well.

As you deprive your body of food, it’s nasties like bacteria and cancer and yeast that are gobbled up like crazy. Oh, and belly fat!

Fasting Is Different For Everyone.

My friend Katie Wells, who has one of the most popular wellness blogs online, “The Wellness Mama,” recently water fasted for 2 weeks, and found that after the first three days of weakness and hunger, she was insanely productive.

She cooked for her family of six children, and just abstained.

As I mentioned before, if I was at home cooking for my own children, I lack confidence that I wouldn’t cave and throw in the towel, after a day or two, promising myself, “I’ll start again tomorrow.”

Total isolation and removal from food temptation, like I get at the Texas ashram, is very beneficial to me. (Also a little lonely.)

Fasting gets you “up close and personal” with all your addictions. You know how you need a coffee to wake you up? (Or, in my case, you like it as a pick-me-up while you’re working, in the afternoon.)

Well, you can’t have one. You can’t have a glass of wine (or three) on Saturday night, you can’t snack, you can’t even have a cup of tea.

And this becomes an interesting deep dive into your soul, where you learn how addicted to stimulation, in general, you are.

What will you do with that knowledge? I think even the awareness is helpful. Towards managing addictions and moving through them to a healthier place.

I think that if you can soldier on and do your work and tend to your family, the time will pass more quickly, than if you do what I do:

Sit around in bed, mostly, working on your laptop and watching movies. p.s. Try not to watch movies about food.

When I was hitting a wall, in my most recent 7-day fast, on day 3, the nuns told me about some of their other water fasters.

The longest? An older man fasted for 40 days. Pretty Biblical, right? They said he would pretty much lay in bed the whole time and was very, very weak.

But the woman who stayed in my room before me had come for a 30-day fast, brought her dog, and planned to confront her emotional eating problem.

She ended up extending two more days. (Wow.)

Another woman came for three weeks, and walked 10 miles a day.

Like I said, fasting is different for everyone. In fact, while each of my long fasts have had similarities, my process and struggles and epiphanies are different each time, too.

What Does Research Show the Benefits of Fasting Are?

There are a host of health benefits that results from giving your body and your digestive system a break.

Cancer benefits

I was first handed a bibliography of books on fasting by Thomas Lodi, M.D., when I was on a worldwide research tour of 19 clinics, studying non-toxic cancer treatment.

Lodi feels that fasting for 30 days is the best thing a cancer patient can do. Those books on fasting are found in the References section below.

Some disagree. In fact, Valter Longo, PhD, who specializes in fasting and in oncology in his research, feels that fasting while doing chemo is highly effective, protective of healthy cells, but he says that in both animals and human studies, he’s never seen fasting alone turn cancer around.

And, I think it’s clear that when a patient is in Stage IV and cachexia has set in, where the body is metabolizing muscle to feed the cancer and stay alive, fasting may be a very poor idea.

But Dr. Lodi maintains that the evidence shows it to be a powerful cancer preventative and treatment adjuvant.

With quite a bit of cancer in my family, my primary reason to fast, periodically, is cancer prevention.

Diabetes benefits

One study shows fasting to be regenerative for insulin production, as the pancreas repairs itself during a period with no food. And the results weren’t short term: months later, they remained.

Especially when the person fasting begins “re-feeding” on a plant-based diet. (Longo says the evidence is clear that the plant-based diet is best, for longevity, with small amounts of wild-caught fish as well.)

Several studies in Longo’s book cite turning around Type II diabetes, though Longo feels that a “fasting mimicking diet” is preferable and less risky. Those taking insulin should not go without food for a long period of time.

Our 26-day detox qualifies as “fasting mimicking.”

You’re eating three meals a day, but all the food is easy to prepare, high in fiber and micronutrients, and the detoxer is eating no processed food, no animal products, and no highly allergenic foods.

There are periods of significant calorie suppression, which Longo’s research shows to be powerful in increasing stem cells, increasing human growth hormone, and disease reversal.

Having guided 13,000 people, now, through our detox program in the past 5 years, I agree with Dr. Longo that many people are simply too toxic to do a full-blown fast, with no food at all.

(Some feel great, the whole 26 days, but others struggle, even with eating three times a day, on the detox, as they come off their caffeine, alcohol, sugar, salt, and other addictions.)

However, with rare exceptions, anyone can do our 26-day detox protocol, or Longo’s “fasting mimicking diet” or “FMD” five-day monthly protocol.

Autophagy benefits: cleaning out for better rebuilding

At the water fasting retreat I did in 2016, I met a man named Eric.

His reason to fast was that a practitioner told him to do it for 20 days, to burn out a severe candida overgrowth.

Eric had been a heroin addict for many years, and he’d been hospitalized for the effects of his drug use, where he contracted MRSA. That required a month of antibiotics. And as you likely know, antibiotics usually lead to gut issues.

His were extreme. Absolutely anything he ate bloated his otherwise flat stomach to look like he was 8 months pregnant. He was miserably sick, and desperate.

Desperate enough to stop eating for 3 weeks.

However, contrary to Eric’s belief, arriving at the retreat, the primary benefit of fasting isn’t ketosis, although you are definitely in ketosis after a day or two.

Eric was after “ketosis,” where the body burns ketone bodies in the brain for fuel, which is all the rage currently with practitioners.

(I predict the obsession with ketosis, which is actually the body in crisis, will eventually go the way of the dodo.)

I explained autophagy to Eric, which is far more interesting to me.

It is literally defined as “self eating,” because when the body has no other fuel, it feeds its cells and does cleanup work by metabolizing cancerous growths, and breaking down yeasts, mold, fungi, viral, bacterial, and many other aberrant cells and growths.

Longo’s research culling epidemiological studies, as well as centenarian studies and his own research with various populations, points to not just the “self-eating” phenomenon of autophagy burning out aberrant cells first (not muscle mass, my friends, not unless that muscle needed replacing)—

—but also the efficacy and power of the rebuilding  process. Which happens after the fast.

Amazingly, 3 weeks of water fasting rectified Eric’s desperate situation, and a few months after finishing his fast, he texted me that he was still feeling great.

Neurological benefits

Not only does fasting help our bodies, it also benefits our brains. New studies show that fasting may actually ward off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and even improve our memory and mood.

Dr. Longo cites a study showing that fasting contributes to stripping down and rebuilding the myelin sheath, an exciting possibility for multiple sclerosis patients.

Other studies reveal a correlation between fasting and improved neural connections in the hippocampus (the part of our brain that plays a critical role in memory). It has also been shown to reduce the number of amyloid plaques–the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s.

Fasting has also been shown to increase the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that contributes to the growth and maintenance of the brain’s nerve cells, and has an anti-depression effect.

Mark Mattson, professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, explained in Johns Hopkins Health Review how fasting produces changes in the brain.

When you eat, glucose (or sugar) is stored in your liver as glycogen. Once the glycogen is used up, in about 11 hours, your body starts burning fats that are converted to ketone bodies.

It is these acidic chemicals that actually produce positive changes in the structure of synapses–or the gap that transmits information from one nerve cell to another. These cells have been shown to transmit signals to and from the brain at speeds of 200 mph.

When we constantly eat, our bodies don’t have a chance to produce these ketones. It’s interesting to note that exercise has similar positive effects on the brain.

Immune System Benefits

The results of yet another study conducted by Professor Longo and his colleagues at USC surprised even them, deeming the unexpected outcome “remarkable.” The research consisted of asking a group of people to fast for two to four days on a regular basis for a period of six months.

What surprised the researchers was this: fasting caused the immune system to regenerate. They believe that the body, put into a state of low reserves, does what it can to save energy.

The result is that a lot of damaged immune cells, along with glucose, fat and ketones, are broken down. The depletion of these immune (white blood) cells results in stem cell-based regeneration of new immune cells.

Another one of their findings was a noticeable decrease in the production of the enzyme PKA, a hormone that has been associated with an increased risk of cancer.

The reduction in PKA allows the stem cells to switch into regeneration mode, ultimately rebuilding your entire immune system.

Pretty incredible.

Anti-aging benefits

Researchers from the Department of Medicine at the University of Virginia found that fasting for just two days produced a 5-fold increase in human growth hormone (HGH).

This hormone that diminishes as we age is associated with muscle and bone growth as well as sugar and fat metabolism. It has also been shown to significantly reduce the symptoms of congestive heart failure.

In addition, clinical findings showed a decrease in cholesterol and triglycerides as well as inflammation which, as we know, is associated with a number of chronic diseases such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

Asthma benefits

In another study conducted by Mark Mattson’s team, participants with moderate asthma cut their caloric intake down to about 1/5th or 20 percent of their normal consumption every other day for eight weeks (this would be an example of a “fasting mimicking diet”).

The result? The symptoms associated with their asthma “improved significantly.”

Is Fasting Good for Weight Loss?

Fasting is great for weight loss—and then again, that’s not a great primary reason to fast. I’ll explain.

First of all, there are much, much easier ways to lose weight. Faster isn’t always better.

Second, you will gain back some or most of the weight you lost, and that’s a good thing.

You have to understand that fasting is a two part process.

There’s the first period where you aren’t eating. As discussed before, your body is breaking down old cell parts, tissues, fat stores, and healthy cells are consuming dead cells, so that they have fuel, and so that they don’t swamp the filtering organs like the kidneys.

But there’s also the “refeeding” process. That’s where you give the body very healthy fuel, after your fast, to rebuild the broken-down tissues.

Because “you are what you eat,” then, you want to eat lots of the cleanest foods possible:

That is, nutrient-dense, organic plant foods, including greens, vegetables, nuts and seeds, fruits, and legumes. And if you eat animal products, eat very clean ones, and sparingly.

So, one of the first parts of the body to break down is fat stores, especially belly fat, according to research literature cited by Longo. But as you may know, fat cells don’t disappear.

They only shrink. So if you go back to your old ways of eating, you can fairly easily rebuild those belly fat deposits.

You’ll have to end your fast with a commitment to eating mostly plant-based whole foods, if you want the belly fat not to return.

Some people respond to the idea of fasting with this: “That’s a terrible idea, because you’ll lose muscle mass!”

This seems to be a vestige of the protein-obsessed fitness industry, who thinks that (a) anything that builds muscle mass is good (not true!), and (b) anything that decreases muscle mass even to the smallest degree is bad (also not true!).

Remember, any muscle tissue that your body breaks down in the fasting process (a) needed to be broken down and metabolized anyway, which is hard on the kidneys but great for your stripped-down and rebuilt lean muscle, and (b) will be the first to be rebuilt, along with healthy organ tissue, like pancreas or kidney or liver.

I recommend if you fast, and you’re interested in weight loss, that you not weigh yourself before and after.

You’re going to lose how much you lose. And in the “refeeding” process, you will gain some of the weight back. (You need to.)

Just trust the process, don’t make weight loss the primary goal, and focus on the health benefits.

Start with a “fasting mimicking” diet, like our 26-day detox, know that you’re giving yourself an amazing health reboot–with some loss of fat stores being an inevitable result, some increase in human growth hormone and stem cells–and congratulate yourself on your wins, as you think about taking it a step further, potentially, later.

How Can I Get the Benefits of Fasting, Without Actually Fasting?

Like Dr. Longo, I wouldn’t tell any first-time faster, someone who has never done a committed detoxification protocol, or a long term (4+ days) fast without dipping a toe in the water first. Here are some ways to do that:

1. Longo’s own 5-days-a-month “fasting mimicking diet” is a place to start. That’s one idea, and you can read about it in his book The Longevity Diet. (In his program, you’re eating plant-based meals, of 800 to 1,200 calories a day.)

2. A second option, as I’ve mentioned, for a hard reboot of the body’s digestive system, and a lot of breakdown of old material and eliminations of chemicals in organs and fat deposits, our 26-day process is highly effective, based on the research and practice of the “greats” in the field of human detoxification.

These include Dr. Max Gerson, Dr. Bernard Jensen, Dr. Ann Wigmore, and Dr. Richard Anderson, among others, who have influenced my own 20-year dive into how the body purifies itself, and now to nurture it, in that process.

3. Third, you could skip lunch or dinner each day, for an extended period of time. Eat only two meals, and an approximately 100-calorie snack (like an apple, or a small green smoothie).

And, this is my suggestion: significant evidence shows breakfast to be very important. Especially as brain fuel if you work for a living or go to school. Children critically need breakfast, as this study and others show. So skip lunch or dinner, rather than breakfast.

4. Fourth, finally, you could do alternate-day fasting, where you fast one day a week, or every other day, to slow the process and shorten the refeeding cycle.

5. Dr. Bryan Walsh is an N.D. detoxification practitioner and feels that no one should undergo a fast without a sauna.

And I agree with him. There is such a flood of chemicals and metabolic waste coming through, a daily sauna session would be more than helpful.

The ashram has not invested in one. (I’ve offered to help.) Virtually all other places I’ve been, worldwide, who treat disease holistically, offer infrared sauna sessions.

Having one at home is potentially one of the most useful things you can invest in, for your health.  Make sure it’s a low-EMF sauna using untreated cedar wood.

Fasting, or even a fasting-mimicking diet, will be massively assisted by daily sauna sessions.

6. I think a coffee enema would be very helpful as a daily practice, throughout a fast. (Not allowed at the ashram either. They don’t want any potential messes in the residential rooms.)

The caffeine in the organic coffee is instantly taken up by the hemmorrhoidal vein to the liver, which not only produces a lot of glutathione (the master antioxidant), but also dilates the liver bile ducts, to release a lot of toxicity into the lower colon.

This allows it to release immediately, rather than recirculate over and over through the blood.

Our detoxers who do this optional but encouraged practice report quick and highly reliable relief from headaches, constipation, and many other symptoms of detoxing (called Herxheimer reactions).

This practice was pioneered by Max Gerson, MD, about 100 years ago, and I personally have used it with astonishing results in my own detoxification experiments and working with 13,000 detoxers, over two decades.

Dozens of holistic clinics around the world employ it, as well, especially for cancer patients to help eliminate tumors breaking down. (For example, this Swiss clinic of biological medicine I take my readers to each summer, for a liver detox.)

Who Shouldn’t Fast?

• People with renal (kidney) damage shouldn’t fast. I aborted my last fast 2 days earlier than planned, when kidney pain cropped up. However, I’d had annual testing the month before and knew my kidneys to be in perfect shape.

• Pregnant and nursing mothers shouldn’t fast.

• Children shouldn’t fast for longer than a day.

(In fact, children shouldn’t do severely “time restricted eating” or “intermittent fasting” that involves skipping breakfast, either, according to this study.)

• People with significant diagnoses shouldn’t fast without recommendation and supervision by your functional medicine practitioner.

• People with diabetes, on insulin, shouldn’t fast.

(If it were me, as noted earlier, I’d start with one of the options in How Can I Get the Benefits of Fasting, Without Actually Fasting. Before jumping right into a long water fast.)

Obese people are most likely to fast, and I’ve read of some fasting for 8 weeks or more. Obesity itself presents an enormous risk of death, and so do possibly even more extreme solutions like gastric bypass.

But those with extreme fat stores are also storing more toxins, as fat attracts chemical toxicity. So, likely all the risks of long-term fasting are much higher for obese people.

They should be under very close medical supervision. Because while it may be tempting to think “go big or go home” with the long water fasts, risk of cardiac arrhythmia and renal damage or hyperacidity is also higher.

What I Learned From Fasting

As I strip down broken parts and bits of organs and fat stores and muscle and tissues, a similar process occurs in me, emotionally and mentally.

I break down, a bit. And rebuild.

And this is why the spiritual seekers and mystics fast, for even longer periods of time than I do.

To allow spirit triumph over body, for a time. To bring the mortal body low, to humble it, so that only spirit is strong.

For many, fasting is a way to humble oneself to be more capable of giving thanks and worshiping divinity.

For me, too, it’s my shield against living in a world where I have to breathe cadmium and arsenic in the air, and occasionally, despite my significant efforts, eat genetically modified foods and refined foods with carcinogenic chemicals added, and drink water with plastics or antibiotics or fluoride in it.

In my weakness, I also learn how strong I am. I discover that I can do hard things. That I can mentally overcome the weakness of the flesh.

Amazingly, while my most recent 7-day fast was the hardest, I think—it was also the most emotionally cathartic.

I learned how my brain, deprived of fuel, affected the way I view others. I decided to observe it rather than judge it.

Basically, I was mad at everyone and everything, for two days, as energies and matter moved through me—another reason I’m glad I was at an ashram far from home.

This PubMed article explains why. Adrenaline is increased in many who fast for several days. (This also explains why I had a resting heart rate of 78, when my normal is 55, and the last few days of my fast, I felt my heart pounding in my chest.)

I was working on my laptop, and occasionally phone, and I found that things I would normally take in stride, provoked a surprising amount of irritability and flashes of anger. It lasted two days, and then I woke up, peaceful, the last morning.

My awareness was heightened, I thought a lot about my weaknesses and addictions, and I stared at them. Without shaming myself. Just observing.

I realized–without even tea, or chewing gum, to entertain my mouth and my senses–how many times, during any day, I do something to increase or decrease my energy, my anxiety, or my ability to rest.

It’s not like I’m taking depression meds or sleeping pills or painkillers or street drugs.

But I do drink coffee to power through an intense afternoon of work, and I do drink wine to lubricate a stressful social engagement with strangers.

I do jumping jacks next to my desk to manipulate my energy, and I play sports every morning not just because you’re supposed to break a sweat, for your health–but also for the adrenaline rush and endorphins I draft on, all day.

It is an interesting and useful exercise to fast for a week or two, where all these tactics are off the table. And I have nothing to rely on except my mind.

And I find that my mind is strong enough to conquer difficulties. This is good to know, because if we know one thing about Life, it’s that we will face serious challenges in the future.

The main thing I accomplish, then, when I fast, is strengthening my body and mind.

Next:  I made two Facebook Live videos during my most recent water fast, answering viewer questions and giving more detail. Watch them here:

Infographic: Fasting.


  1. Longo, Valter PhD. The Longevity Diet. Avery. 2018
  2. Wells, Katie. My Experience with Water Fasting & Why I’ll Do It Again. Wellness Mama. 03/2018. https://wellnessmama.com/345549/water-fasting/
  3. Sugarman, Joe. Are There any Proven Benefits to Fasting? Johns Hopkins Health Review. 2016. http://www.johnshopkinshealthreview.com/issues/spring-summer-2016/articles/are-there-any-proven-benefits-to-fasting
  4. Wu, Suzanne. Fasting Triggers Stem Cell Regeneration of Damaged, Old Immune System. USC News. 06/2014. https://news.usc.edu/63669/fasting-triggers-stem-cell-regeneration-of-damaged-old-immune-system/
  5. Hartman, ML. et al. Augmented growth hormone (GH) secretory burst frequency and amplitude mediate enhanced GH secretion during a two-day fast in normal men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 04/1992. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1548337
  6. Johnson, James B. et al. Alternate Day Calorie Restriction Improves Clinical Findings and Reduces Markers of Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Overweight Adults with Moderate Asthma. Free Radical Biology and Medicine. 03/2007. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S089158490600801X?via%3Dihub
  7. Grantham-McGregor, S. Can the Provision of Breakfast Benefit School Performance? Food and Nutrition Bulletin. 06/2005. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16075563
  8. Zauner, C. Resting energy expenditure in short-term starvation is increased as a result of an increase in serum norepinephrine. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 06/2000. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10837292


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Posted in: 12 Steps To Whole Food, Detox, Health, Mind/Body Connection, Research

7 thoughts on “I Went Without Food for 40 Days. Here’s What I Learned.”

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  1. Cherilyn Bloomer says:

    For those who do fast 24 hours once per month. Is it better to do a dry fast or one with water? What is the best way to break the 24 hour fast?

  2. Marlyse says:

    I would like

  3. Flo Calen says:

    Hi Robyn, thank you for this highly instructive ans well-written article. One question though: why write “40 days” in the title? All the best to you.

  4. Matt says:

    I tried a 7-day water fast and thought it was a good experience, but had wicked insomnia after day 3. It was so frustrating to not fall asleep at night.

  5. Pamela says:

    Interesting and reflective reading. Sad though, that you seem to have left the health benefits taught by your up-bringing behind. Coffee? Wine? Really?

  6. Hello. impressive job. I did not anticipate this. This is a impressive story. Thanks!

  7. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

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26-Day Detox

This was exactly the kickstart I needed to regain control of my health. THANK YOU, Robyn Openshaw! I look forward to repeating the detox in the future and already have family members wanting to join me! It's amazing what we can do when we simply put our MINDS to it!"
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