I’m at it again, this time with a 30-day challenge. So why do I want to do this? Aside from the challenge, there are aspects of my previous water fast that I was not happy with. I also have curiosities about cycling into a ketonic state and want to try some new things out. Also a reminder that I am #NotADoctor. This is all from my experience, don’t take this as medical advice!
After my 3-day water fast, I crashed/binged pretty badly. Knowing I’ll be strict keto after the fast should put myself in a different mindset. Secondly, I’m curious how my blood glucose and ketone bodies (β-hydroxybutyrate, BhB) will react coming out of a fasted state. I’ve always charted the readings entering into and staying in ketosis but seeing the numbers presumably come down from a fasted state is interesting to me. Third, I’ll use this opportunity to journal on questions I’ve been receiving about doing a ketogenic diet.
I’ll be updating with daily progress and notes in tabs here. The dashboard I’m using to monitor and track my progress is below as well as a prep list for both aspects of the challenge. Use it as a guide if you’re so inclined. Should be fun boys and girls!
Day 1: The fast has begun! I’m admittedly a bit nervous because I woke up hungry already this morning. The plan is simple, to get into ketosis and a fasted state as quickly as possible. Date with the gym tonight to keep myself busy and burn off whatever glucose I have. It’s 7:45 PM and I just logged a 0.6 BhB which technically means I’m in a nutritional ketosis! That’s fast, even for me. The conclusion I’m drawing is that despite eating poorly over the last 3 weeks I’m still relatively fat-adapted.
Day 2: Woke up easily this morning, fog and hunger are gone. Feeling motivated to get my day going. I am freezing in the office though. My core temp seems to drop any time I fast, should stabilize eventually, but I definitely should have brought an extra sweatshirt. As of 5:30 PM I’m in deep ketosis (2.4 mmol/L) and the energy levels are going up. Took four electrolyte tablets, two around 11AM and two more around 4PM. Things should be on auto-pilot from here on out.
So much for auto-pilot. I still feel fine but my glucose/ketone numbers are wonky. Measured around 3 hours after taking a BJJ class and the readings were dramatically worse. We’ll see what the morning holds…
Day 3: Blood readings are correcting a bit, but still not as good as they were 5PM yesterday. Wondering what triggered the dip and if it has any implications. Around lunch time now, either my coworkers got a lot better at cooking or my sense of smell is more sensitive right now. Blood test results came back much better, I’m where I expected to be. Working out again tonight so I’ll try to mimic the testing cycle from yesterday and see if it’s consistent.
Workout didn’t happen, started to feel weaker towards the end of the day. My ketone reading was 5.1 mmol/L, shattering my previous high of 3.8, which I attained during my previous 3-Day Water Fast. I worried a bit, I’d read about ketoacidosis, but I found this article on The Quantified Body where his numbers were eerily similar to mine. Taking it easy tonight, we’ll see how I feel in the morning.
Day 4: Phew, woke up feeling good. I was worried after yesterday evening but seems like I’ve broken through another barrier. Picked up some San Pellegrino to help with mineral intake and it made a huge difference. I think overall I felt the best today out of the four days. That’s partly the mineral water and also I worked from home today. Got to celebrate closing in on 96 hours with a 6.0 ketone reading!
Day 5: Final day. I’m noticeably weaker waking up this morning compared to others. Stood up a bit too fast, but now that I’m up I feel good other than a slight neck tightness and a mild fogginess. This day was easily the hardest of the entire fast. Through the morning and early afternoon I felt like 50% of myself. Took a short nap and that helped, but this day was simply unenjoyable. Why? My guess is because I knew I was breaking my fast that night and my body responded in kind. It saw a weakness and exploited the opportunity trying to goad me into eating early. Didn’t work. Completed the full five days and I’m damn proud of it.
Day 6: First day post-fast and now it’s on to a 25-day keto cycle. This is familiar territory for me. I regularly cycle onto a ketogenic diet a few times a year. I’m skeptical about staying keto for extended periods of time, plus I love potatoes, rice, and Chinese food so all things in moderation. My interest shifts to two things now: how will my ketone readings look coming down from “starvation ketosis” levels as well as what the effect will be on my bodily inflammation vis-a-vis seasonal allergies.
Before starting this challenge I did what’s called a C-Reactive Protein (CRP) blood test, which is a marker for inflammation. I suspect a low carb lifestyle has effectively cured my seasonal allergies, which have always been awful. Yet, when I went to the allergist a month ago my arm lit up like a Christmas tree! So I obviously still have allergies but I’m not symptomatic anymore. Anecdotally I’ve read and experienced a reduction in bodily inflammation from a keto diet so I decided to put some numbers behind it.
Day 7: My numbers are slowly dropping. I’ll only be measuring first thing in the morning because things like eating and exercising will trigger a raise in glucose and subsequent drop in ketones. Not that I’m trying to pad my numbers, but I want consistency. When coming up from a regular diet I’ve stabilized around 2.4 mmol/L so that’s my anchor for these 25 days. Started off the day with keto pizza bread using this bread recipe, then putting a very thin layer of tomato sauce, two slices of pepperoni, and provolone on top.
Day 8: A sad morning, my ketone reading was a measly 2.7 mmol/L. Not sure if this is from coming off my fast and I’m normalizing or I did a bad job watching what I ate yesterday. I don’t strictly count macros, I’ve done keto enough to have a rough estimate. Plan is to fast through the morning and stay heavily in fats today (MCT oil, fat bombs, macadamia nuts) keeping protein very low and carbs even lower.
Day 9: I’m not sure what’s going on, but I feel pretty awful too. I’m not noticing any of the health benefits I normally feel from being in a keto cycle. Normally my mental clarity is heightened, digestion is much more consistent, no bloating, and increases in energy. Right now it’s none of the above.
Day 10: Well I really hate to do this but I’m throwing in the towel on this 30-day challenge. My two biggest takeaways here are 1) you have to listen to your body, and 2) I need to do more research on extended fasts. I’m not stopping due to mental weakness, laziness, or impatience. I have a lot of experience being in ketosis and this doesn’t feel right. Going to adopt a more neutral diet for a while and see if things settle down.
As for more research on extended fasts, I feel like maybe the fast screwed up something in my gut. Mostly likely, the culprit is my lackadaisical approach to the re-feeding period. Everything I’ve read has discussed a gradual reintroduction of food and I did more or less the opposite.
Despite missing the 30-day mark, I still learned a tremendous amount about my body and myself. The competitive side of me says this was a failure; however, the truth is that it was a learning experience. I go back and forth, continually impressed by the intelligence of the human body and the power of the human mind.
The way my body seamlessly transitioned to a fasted state is incredible. The mental clarity and increased energy efficiency all make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. The longer you go without food the greater need for heightened focus—think hunter mentality.
On the contrary, like clockwork my brain will overtake my body at a snap of the metaphorical fingers. I hit a legitimate wall on day 5. I knew I was at the finish line. Instead of strutting across with chin held high, I crawled there paralyzed by the thought of what I’m going to eat when I break my fast.
Reflecting back on the experience, here are some big takeaways for future fasts, cycles of keto, and general biohacking experimentation.
- Be deliberate with the execution of any biohacking experiment. Having a goal is great, but having a plan will help you achieve that goal. Even if you’re not exactly sure what to do, track the decisions and keep your body’s reaction top-of-mind throughout.
- Extended fasts are no joke, but they’re not as crazy as you would initially think. Your body will tell you to eat and it will be unhappy when you don’t, but think of the window from hour 18-30 as those weed-out classes in undergraduate. Once you clear that hurdle the sky’s the limit. If you’re thinking about trying one or have tried and failed early-on give it another shot and just push through that day 1 barrier.
- Mineral water is an absolute lifesaver. It helps keep a steady stream of minerals throughout the day instead of of periodically loading up on electrolytes after you start to feel bad. My future water fasts will include a San Pellegrino each day.
- You can and should exercise during the fast. I’d actually recommend lifting as opposed to cardio but that is purely my opinion. First of all I enjoy lifting or even better martial arts over cardio. Secondly, I’d imagine that putting strain on your muscular system has some sort of evolutionary trigger that tells your body to preserve your muscle mass during the fasted state.
- Follow a protocol coming off of an extended fast. The longer the fast the more critical that protocol is. I ultimately think this is where I failed and paid the consequences as a result. Next time I’ll do better!
Tips for Water Fasting and Starting Keto
- Pre-purchase your water. This might sound silly, I know water’s easily available, but having a gallon with you at all times makes it easier for me to continually drink throughout the day instead of binging periodically.
- Clear your schedule, then fill it. Forget hanging out, going out, and any special occasions. However, idle time is the devil’s workshop. Don’t plan on sitting in a bunker, the time will pass SO slowly. Try to do some exercise especially during the initial 48 hours when you’re transitioning into a fasted state. Know that hours 18-36 are going to be the worst of it and keep yourself busy.
- Keep up with your minerals. Feeling like crap is extremely demoralizing while fasting. I’m most prone to headaches due to mineral deficiencies so I make sure to maintain my sodium, potassium, and magnesium levels through high-dose electrolyte supplements.
- Manage your sleep. Your sleep will be affected, plan accordingly. Make sure you allow yourself the time to mentally wind down at the end of the day and allow extra time for sleep. I find that taking a melatonin supplement to helps me fall asleep and more reliably hit deep sleep.
- Take blood measurements. I do this for two reasons. One, it’s significantly more accurate than the pee sticks and when you’re first starting keto you need to monitor how your body responds. Two, it really sucks pricking your finger, using an expensive strip, and seeing a poor number. I’ve found it helps keep myself honest.
- Always have keto foods around. It’s not self-control, but actually the planning and meal prep that will most likely derail you. My favorite snacks are macadamia nuts, dark chocolate, pepperoni, vanilla fat bombs, and coffee with MCT oil. Keep them near you at all times.
- Understand your macros. I’m not the biggest advocate of logging every food and counting every gram of fat, protein, and net carbs. However, I do understand my general diet and weaknesses. I struggle with eating too much protein, which is why most of the above above snacks I listed are heavily skewed regarding the fat-protein ratio.
- Supplement your diet. Especially during the initial stages you’re probably going to lean into foods you already like, which limits your menu and causes imbalances in your nutrition profile. I’ll be trying out Onnit’s Total Human daily packs this time around.