© 2024 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

When A Juice Fast Turns Into A Week Without Food, Then 21 Days Without A Meal

I could hardly believe what I was looking at. There it was, star­ing right at me. I could no longer ignore, deny, or post-rationalize what I already knew as the dig­i­talevi­dence stared me down and waved its mer­ci­less accusatory fin­ger at me. This marked the end of the line for me, three months ago to the day.

My friends and I had just returned from an over­whelm­ingly fun and unex­pect­edly glut­to­nous week­end in the Florida Keys. It wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily our inten­tion to gorge on food, but we man­aged to turn a great idea — “Let’s hold our annual SxSE (South by South­east) shindig in Key West” — into a convenient excuse to par­tic­i­pate in a three-day orgy of food and drink. We kicked off the week­end on Fri­day with a cre­ative and deli­ciously rich, choco­late concoction at Better Than Sex dessert lounge, which, by the way, almost lives up to its name. We fin­ished with a big order of spareribs at Porky’s Bayside BBQ on our way back home on Sun­day. Sure, we had a lot of fun besides eat­ing, and I did make a valiant effort to burn off the excess calo­ries with a good bike ride around the island, but in hind­sight, our var­i­ous deli­cious but rich meals stood out most for me.

So as I sat on my couch at home star­ing at my friends’ new albums on Face­book, I was taken aback, shocked, and hor­ri­fied by what I saw. How did my mir­ror lie so much to me for so long? Did I not notice the weight creep­ing on? What about all that daily bik­ing I had done over the past four months, for nearly an hour a day — what did I have to show for that?

The high water mark for my weight was also an emo­tional low point for my spirit.

After metic­u­lously untag­ging myself from the offend­ing pic­tures, I shut down the lap­top and turned on Net­flix, hop­ing to dis­tract myself. By some inge­nious if slightly creepy and syn­chro­nous design, Net­flix divined my state of mind and sug­gested a doc­u­men­tary: “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” Of course I watched it. This is the compelling story of an Aussie who spends two months dri­ving around the United States “juic­ing” his way back to health with fruits, sal­ads and veg­eta­bles. Along the way, he meets a trucker who looks to be twice as heavy as he is, who then pro­ceeds to juice his own way back to health.

I watched the movie twice and started juic­ing the very next morn­ing. I had bought a juicer years ago that I hadn’t really put it to use. Luck­ily I had some leafy greens, pep­pers and car­rots in the fridge, which made for a bizarre tast­ing break­fast. I was so eager to get started that I didn’t bother to look up a recipe.

I remember those first days well. I looked for juice bars in Miami, which are few and far between, and would drive miles dur­ing lunch to buy two juices. They were tasty but gone in a few sips. I did this for three days, then switched to water. Yes, water.

While on my juice fast — or feast, rather, as the juices are really refresh­ing — I was read­ing all I could about fast­ing. Some of the resources I came across sug­gested an alter­nate juic­ing with water days. That is, once you’ve “cleansed” your sys­tem through juic­ing, you can eas­ily and safely spend some days on a water fast. That’s exactly what I did.

When I tell peo­ple about my expe­ri­ence, they like to con­clude that I fol­lowed a “cold turkey” approach: one moment I was eat­ing and the next I had stopped eat­ing, for­ever. But that’s not quite how it hap­pened. I had noticed I had gained a lot of weight over time, because my scale told me so, because my par­ents dropped not-so-subtle hints, and because my clos­est friends would nee­dle me. I knew I had to do some­thing about it one day, but I kept putting it off as I pri­or­i­tized other areas of my life, mostly work and pro­fes­sional activities.

When I did start the water fast, I did so grad­u­ally by juic­ing first for a num­ber of days. Had I gone straight from eat­ing a dozen spareribs at Porky’s to fast­ing for 21 days … well … I would not have made it through the first day. Juic­ing for three days was key to com­plet­ing a pro­longed fast.

I ini­tially set out to fast for five days, then 10, then 21. As I reached each stage, I felt bet­ter and bet­ter. By day three I no longer felt hun­gry, by day five I no longer felt the occa­sional but infre­quent nau­sea, and from day 10 to 21 it was smooth and plea­sur­able sailing.

I dis­cov­ered that fast­ing is a voy­age of dis­cov­ery larger than just the weight loss alone. Because eat­ing is such an impor­tant part of our lives, the nihilism of our mod­ern way of eat­ing is an affir­ma­tion of self. So much of our daily lives is ded­i­cated to food, between gro­cery shop­ping, cook­ing, dri­ving to restau­rants, and eat­ing. So much of our body’s energy is spent on digest­ing the food we eat. For some peo­ple, so much men­tal effort is spent obsess­ing about their body image. When you remove these things, your choices in life are laid bare: how you spend your time, who you keep com­pany with, what you do. When you fig­ure out the direct link between the food you eat and your body, so much else in life becomes crys­tal clear.

What helped me most was to set­tle into a daily rou­tine. I found myself wak­ing up well before dawn, at which point I would put on some light clothes and go for a long walk. It’s refresh­ing to be up when every­one is still sleep­ing, when few cars are on the road, when cats and owls peer at you through the dark­ness, and when you can hear the wind rustling the leaves. Of great­est value was tak­ing the time to med­i­tate for about 20 min­utes after the morn­ing walk. This morn­ing rou­tine nour­ished my senses, cleared my mind, and rein­forced my will.

At times, it felt like the pas­sage of time itself slowed down, espe­cially dur­ing my early morn­ing walks. Even as time slowed down, issues unrav­eled, my moti­va­tions became clear, and I gained new insights about myself and about others.

I lost a ton of weight, about 50 pounds, a quar­ter of my body weight and what seems like half my body mass. Beyond that, I felt many addi­tional ben­e­fits, includ­ing more energy, health­ier skin, clearer eyes, bet­ter sleep and improved diges­tion. My gums improved, much to my dentist’s delight. My sinuses cleared up. I feel less tense. These are per­ma­nent and unex­pected improvements.

My fast was going so well that I delayed the break by another day; I fasted for 22 days and approached my first meal with some appre­hen­sion. As impor­tant as fast­ing is break­ing the fast. There is an abun­dance of advice on how to do this, but the main prin­ci­ple is to ease your­self back into eat­ing. Ide­ally, a fast is fol­lowed by many days of juic­ing, fol­lowed by fruits, then veg­eta­bles, then other foods.

It should be fairly obvi­ous that eat­ing a burger after a fast ranks among the worst things you can do to your body. It’s very unlikely to hap­pen, because after an extended fast you crave health­ier foods. In my case I juiced first and then ate a light meal of brown rice and veg­eta­bles. That proved too much and I paid for it with strong intesti­nal pain some hours later. Sub­se­quent meals were thank­fully unevent­ful. I took the oppor­tu­nity to switch to a vegan diet and have immensely enjoyed new tastes I was unac­cus­tomed to before. I can­not imag­ine return­ing to the way I used to eat.

After this first fast, I ate for three weeks and then went through a 10-day fast. This time, the fast was a breeze, with­out any unease or hunger. Three more weeks of eat­ing and I’ve just now bro­ken my third fast, of seven days. This one was rel­a­tively easy.

Just three months ago, I was par­a­lyzed by dejec­tion as I faced that fel­low look­ing back at me in the pho­tos my friends uploaded. I revis­ited those pic­tures for the first time today. I now com­mis­er­ate with that fellow.

There is hope.

There is a way.

And it is so worth fol­low­ing that path.

If you fol­low a fast or skip meals, please con­sider donat­ing the value of a meal to Let’s Not Do Lunch or to the World Food Programme.

This item was reprinted with permission from Alex de Carvalho’s blog. Based in Miami, de Carvalho has helped unite South Florida’s tech com­mu­nity by found­ing Social Media Club, BarCamp, Ignite, Social Media Day and Mobile Monday events for South Florida new media pro­fes­sion­als. He is also a found­ing mem­ber of RefreshMiami. He has co-founded several startups and recently co-authored Securing the Clicks: Network Security in the Age of Social Media. Con­nect with Alex on Twit­ter, @alexdc.

More On This Topic