Food Glorious Food

My attempts to do a 48 hour fast.

05/05 06:00
Actually start the fast, in the easiest way possible. Going to sleep.

05/05 12:30
Wake up. There's hungry as in "empty growling stomach", hungry as in "I'm bored so I'll eat something to pass the time", hungry as in "cravings", and hungry as in "I just feel like tasting something". I've got number 4. The bathroom scales tell me I'm exactly 15 stone (210 lbs). At the risk of becomming obsessed with how much I weigh at any given moment, my bathroom scales have become my bedroom scales.

05/05 13:30
The trouble with headaches is, so many things cause them, and usually you've got no idea which it is. Do I have a hunger headache, an "I slept in an awkward position" headache, an "I ate too much before going to bed last night" headache, or what? Let's assume dehydration, on the grounds that it's hard to go wrong drinking water.

05/05 14:30
Okay, according to most intermittant fasting plans, I'm allowed up to 500 calories per day. So, a stick of celery, some beetroot, two pickles, a dozen olives, and three glasses of water. Now feeling up to the task. Anything you eat produces a spike in insulin, taking at least an hour to return to baseline. Chocolate gives a big spike and a slow return, foods that are basically celulose and water the opposite.

05/05 16:20
I think I picked a good day to do this. It's sunday, and tomorrow's a bank holiday. The weather's bright and warm, there's a small crowd of children playing happily outside, I have no other pressing engagements...and thanks to the miracle of Tivo, I'm binge-watching season 3 of Babylon 5.

05/05 17:30
There is a moment when the empty stomach stops complaining. I'm not sure of the physiological details, but there's a definite shifting feeling in the digestive tract. But I can't tell if it's the stomach contracting, matter passing into the deuodenum, or into the small intestine proper, or the large. Something else to research, but whatever it is, it's just happened. So, provisional rule-of-thumb: It takes about 12 hours to stop feeling hungry.

Still got this damn headache though. Fortunately, there's no dietry restriction on ibuprofen.

05/05 18:00
Sleep for two hours.

05/05 21:00 - Celery, olives, pickle, beetroot, and onion. Didn't actually need to do that.

07/05 00:00
Hmm. Rather seriously fell off the proverbial wagon around 11pm. As in, an entire bar of galaxy caramel chocolate, snaffled in 10 minutes. Om nom nom. Maybe having a 24-hour headache isn't so good for the willpower.

Many years ago, I tried the Atkins diet with mother, for seven days. Apart from the mental constipation at one end, and non-mental conspipation at the other, it was seven days of non-stop head pain. Well, as of this moment, try again.

07/05 09:50
Once again I'm starting the day at 210 lbs - having evidently lost 2 lbs overnight. Once again the children playing outside, and the pleasant weather. But this time, no growling stomach and no pain behind the eyes.

07/05 14:15
I'm feeling absolutely fine, I've lost another pound while dozing, and I'm not even thirsty. My urine is clear, so according to some of the less insane youtube videos I've watched on how to do fasting, I'm not living off fat stores yet.

So in all, I wonder if I'm doing something wrong. Many years ago, when I joined a gym at age 27, I adopted the mantra: "If it hurts a little, you're probably doing it right. If it hurts a lot, you're probably doing it wrong.". Well this doesn't hurt at all.

07/05 15:30
I'm not, strictly speaking, supposed to have milk in tea during a fast. Because although tea has zero calories, a splash of milk has a few.

But, a few points. First, if this process is so delicate that two grams of (semi-skimmed) milk ruins it, then this process is too delicate to be performed in the real world. Second, there's little point in being on a diet you don't enjoy. The virtuous feeling of "I'm don't like this, so it must be good for me, aren't I so noble" is (a) hard to maintain and (b) bullshit.

I'm sufficiently british to not like black tea. I'm sufficiently middle-class to like lemon tea, or lime tea, or green tea. And I'm sufficiently eccentric to have a row or sugar-free fruit squash concentrates (lemon, lime, peach) specifically for putting in tea. Except...I've found that during a fast, I don't like sweet drinks. So, milky it is.

07/05 18:00
It's been 18 hours, and I've just eaten some slices of beetroot, in vinegar. Those four types of hunger I talked about - this was number four, "I just feel like tasting something". Being on guard against one doesn't mean you're guarded against the others. Fighting a war on four fronts - not easy. Knowing which fronts you need to fight, and which will take care of themselves - necessary.

07/05 19:30
207 lbs. Feeling moderately pleased about that.

Parents are tucking into a fry-up. Mashed potato, miscellaneous vegetables, slices of pork, all crisped in too much fat. Smells and looks very tempting. I've asked them to save me some, for if I really really want it later. "Later" being four hours or so.

Not a food/diet related item but: I've spent the day discovering the joys of pre-packaged background noise. Recordings of rivers, rain, thunderstorms, electric heaters and fans, distant traffic, birdsong etc. Exactly why the sound of rain pattering onto a tent roof should help you drift off to sleep, I'm not sure. And why underwater bubbling should enhance a podcast reviewing 90s sci-fi shows, I couldn't say. But they do. It's like the best part of ambient music is...not the music.

07/05 21:00
It's between 9 and 10PM - 21 hours in - that I generally get really hungry. That's in the first sense, of "growling, empty stomach". And drinking lots of tea or water doesn't help. This is the time I weaken and break the fast - and when I break it, I break it good and hard.

So, what to do? Try to get through it? Eat something small and vegetable, trying not to eat more? Try to sleep through it? See if I can keep myself distracted? I don't know yet.

07/05 22:30
I've just eaten an apple. On autopilot. The first bite was swallowed before I noticed what I was doing.

07/05 23:00
One pound is 453.6 grams. The scales have just informed me that eating one apple has taken me from 207 pounds back up to 210. So I'm 95,256 grams. And therefore 95.256 kilograms. My eventual target is 168 pounds, or 76,205 grams.

My BMI by the way is just under 33, which is officially "obese". My BMR ("Base Metabolic Rate") is supposedly 1,768 - the number of calories I need per day to just live. And one pound of fat is apparently equivalent to 3,500 calories.

I'm fairly sure these numbers don't mean much.

07/05 23:30
Everything I read today about ketosis contradicts everything I read yesterday about ketosis. Yesterday, Dr Google said it takes 12 hours to start in a water fast. Today, Dr Google says...3 days?

That fry-up I mentioned? I'll put it in the microwave, ready to reheat, anytime after midnight. Possibly after sunrise.

08/05 00:30
I'm going to try to sleep.

08/05 02:30
Can't sleep. A small experiment:

Me without clothes, and emptied bladder: 206 lbs
Me with clothes: 208
Me with clothes, and 3 cups of water: 210 lbs
Me with clothes, and re-emptied bladder: Don't know. Two hours later and it still hasn't filtered through.

Conclusion: I have really heavy clothes. And drinking water makes me hungry again. Bugger.

08/05 06:30
Well. One day and six hours. 30 hours. Looks like I might actually manage the full 48. Have another go at sleep.

07/05 09:00
Wake up to empty the bladder and do a quick weigh. 106 lbs. Feel quite pleased, and go back to bed.

07/05 12:00
Wake up properly and do a quick weigh. 105 lbs. Feel quite pleased again.

There are plenty of fasting vlogs on youtube - "My 8 day water fast", "What they don't tell you about not eating for 21 days", and the like. One common item is that days 3-5 are especially difficult. So far, I can tell you, in very round numbers:

* First 20 hours - Slightly difficult
* Next 8 hours - Significantly more difficult
* Next 8 hours - A lot easier. The temptation to eat through boredom, or just for pleasure, is still there. There is still a kind of empty stomach feeling, and it isn't pleasant, but it's more like a slight itch than an insistent pain. My stomach does feel delicate, as though it would react badly to a sudden heavy meal now.

As for the next 12 hours, we'll see. Another common item is increased mental clarity. That's part of it, but I spent a few hours last night listening to music, and that also was somehow clearer, more defined, sweeter, as though hearing through better quality speakers. This might be my version of hypoglycemic ephoria. Well, there's one way to check that.

06/05 16:30
I used to have a blood-sugar test gizmo, but it broke. So I got myself a new one today, and my blood glucose level, 40 hours into my first ever 48 hour fast is: 7.9.

So. Given the "normal" range is 5-10, and the last test I did using a borrowed kit after 22 hours of not eating gave me 11.5...I must have spent the last 30 years with blood you could ice a cake with.

08/05 16:45
Permit myself a salady snack. 1 slice of beetroot, two small pickled gherkins, and about a dozen green olives - plus the usual cups of water. First, it tasted amazing. Second, I now feel slightly overfull. This may be the way forward. It doesn't take much food to satisfy all the types of hunger I've mentioned, and (I rather suspect) the practical difference between hardcore water-fasting and occasional small low-carb meals is not much.

08/05 19:30
Second blood-glucose test out of curiosity. 9.2.

08/05 20:00
Maybe the snack wasn't such a good idea after all. Because I've got the growling stomach again, saying "You woke me up for that little tidbit? Where's the rest?"

08/05 21:00
In front of me is a 1 litre plastic bottle of fruit squash concentrate. It's Robinsons peach squash, with "No Added Sugar". It claims that a diluted 250ml serving contains 25 kilojoules, or 5 kilocalories. Which is absurd. 5000 calories? That's bodybuilder levels of intake over a one small cup? The labeling defines "diluted" as 1 parts squash in 4 parts water, which is way more concentrated that I have it.

Five calories in a cup, that's believable. And indeed a quick google search finds calorie listing websites that agree. So, either the "5kcal" on the label means something entirely unconventional, or I'm missing something stunningly obvious, or the good people of Robinsons (which surely ought to have an apostrophe?) are no good at basic science nomenclature. Or fruit squash is the unhealthiest foodstuff in the universe.

Anyway, the upshot is: If you want to do a water fast, the indulgence of slight flavouring in your water is probably okay.

Especially if you live in southern england, which has horrible tap water.

08/05 22:15
This has been an experiment, and I think a largely successful one - in that I've learned a few things about what I can do, what I can't do, and what I can do but with difficulty. There's no point in drawing up a diet plan you can't follow. No firm conclusions yet.

09/05 00:00
There is now a large plate of fried food waiting for me. If the last three days have been for is for slowing.

Double the Trouble

I have now done two 24 hour fasts, alternating with days of normal eating. And I can tell you a few things:

* It's remarkably easy to not eat for 24 hours.

* It's remarkably hard to not overindulge when not on fast days.

* Fasting really does make you feel better.

* Overindulging really does make you feel awful.

* What I said about 48 hour fasts...may not have been accurate.

So, starting at midnight, a further modification of my experiment:

* Zero calorie intake for 24 hours

* Then if I feel up to it, another 12 hours

* Then if I feel up to it, another 12 hours.

* After the 24/36/48 hours, a gentle reintroduction of calories.

* There's a big bar of chocolate waiting at the end...if I feel like it.

On and Off

On Sunday I weighed 210 pounds. For three days I've spent 16 hours a day not eating, and the rest trying to eat sensibly. I now weigh 215 pounds.

So, a new approach. When I start eating, it's easy to find an excuse to not stop. And when I haven't eaten for a while...the temptation to start isn't out of hunger; it's more out not having anything better to do.

My relationship to food is like other people's relationship to television. In fact, it's like my relationship to television. Binge-watching.

Where was I? Oh yes. I'm going to try alternate-day fasting. One day with no calories, the next with a little of whatever seems appealing, and so on.

This psyllium stuff. The packaging tells me I should take two capsules three times a day. It also informs me that six capsules contain 3000 milligrams. Which is an unnecessarily roundabout way of saying one capsule contains, on average, 500 milligrams. Which by a certain inexorable logic means the prescribed dose contains 1000 milligrams. Which is one gram.

Psyllium can absorb (so I read) up to 14 times it's own mass in water, so one saturated gram of psyllium is 15 grams. Which is about the weight of two sugarcubes. Which isn't very much.

Okay: Weight, mass, and size - not the same things. But it's still not very much.

It certainly does no harm in the digestion department, but as an appetite supressant...well, it isn't. And as a food's just a little oversold. I shouldn't be surprised.

What I said about not having anything better to do. I've spent so many years spending so many hours of the day feeling rubbish, having 1 or 2 hours out of 24 when I felt up to doing's a bit daunting having a whole 8 hours of energy. Or even 12.

It's possibly a bit late in life to discover most of the day can be used for doing things. Seeing as I'm now 46.

Who could have guessed? All you need to get your life back is to do less of that thing you always enjoyed less than you expected.

Please shoot me before I turn into a celibate vegan spiritual-but-not-religious nofapper.

Fast Thinking

Ask any muslim, and they'll tell you. Fasting for 12 hours gives you energy, clear-headedness, focus. The benefits of ramadan fasting are one of the reasons they give for islam being true.

Which is a little strange, as they don't show any great willingness to fast outside of ramadan. And the point of ramadan is to give sympathy for those with nothing to eat. And the fasting is more than offset by the feasting with family at sunset. And I've spent time with muslim students during ramadan, eating and drinking in coffeeshops and resteraunts, hiding from each other, all pretending they don't know they're all breaking the rules. And everyone knows sales of stockpilable snacks go through the roof in the week leading up to the month of no snacking.

But they are right about giving your body the chance to use its supplies of creatine, glycogen, and fat. Diabetics can tell you about "paradoxical euphoria" - a result of low blood sugar. I've experienced it, though for me it's more a kind of sentimentality - a state I also enter when drunk.

Ask any soldier, and they'll tell you about training exercises where you're denied food. After 36 hours - certainly 48 - they've got no energy, no intellect, no willpower. If you want to know what clinical depression feels like, don't eat for two days.

So there's a sweet spot, between "digging into reserves" and "scraping the barrel". Between "Oh, so that's what being alive is supposed to feel like - I didn't realise I'd been feeling like shit for the last few decades" and "Somebody seems to have stolen my brain".

I reckon it's between 8 and 24 hours. But more empirical research needed. After supper.

Thought for Food

Intermittant Fasting is a diet plan for fat loss, where each day is split into two parts.

In the larger window you eat nothing, and in the smaller you eat sensibly. The larger is typically 16 hours, running from (say) midnight when you go to bed, through to 16:00, giving you an 8 hour window to eat at your discretion until the next cycle. Some people make it 20 and 4 hours, or other variations. You can do it every day, every second day, every weekday, or whatever suits you.

I've been trying it for a month, and can now reveal that: I lost a stone. Then gained two pounds.

My problem is not a sweet tooth. It's that once I start eating, I don't want to stop. Even if it's good healthy food with no carbohydrates, something in my brain says too much is not enough.

Two things I can tell you about the human digestive tract:

(1) It's completely incapable of digesting celulose. Dietry fibre as it's known, it makes up about 5% of most vegetables, almost all of the rest being water. It is nothing but bulk, making you feel fuller...and generating quite a lot of gas as a by-product when your gut tries to digest it. So yeah, it can make you feel bloated. And fart.

(2) If you don't eat it, you get constipated. As in: literal tough shit.

So, if you want to avoid a growling empty stomach, and an easy time on the toilet, eat plenty of vegetables. Or a fibre supplement like Psillium Husks. These are basically an edible sponge - absorbing supposedly 14 times their dry mass of liquid, first filling out your stomach with calorieless bulk, then giving your intestines a nice smooth flow.

You can eat them as grains or powder suspended in water or fruit juice, or as capsules. Either way, drink a glass (250ml) of water before, and 2 or 3 glasses immediately afterwards. Skimp on the water, and you can ironically wind up constipated again.

You can use them to replace meals, or as a starter which takes care of the initial hunger, making the meal itself a small-scale indulgence.

The problem is: most of us don't eat because we've got an empty stomach. We eat because we're bored, or because the clock says it's time for food, or the food's there in front of us, or we just like the taste. Or for night owls like me, because we're tired. Exactly what idiot god designed humans to get peckish when sleepy, I don't know. Presumably one invented before electric lights.

You can either think, or digest, but not both. So it makes sense to schedule your food according to when you'll need to be mentally active...or vice versa.

So, as if today, my new diet plan.

(1) A 16:8 day. In the 8-hour windows, one large normal meal. Keep carbs to a minimum. Zero sugar if possible. Sugar-free sweets allowed. Occasional psillium as needed, with at least 1 litre of water.

(2) In the 16-hour window, fast for as long as reasonably possible. When I really need to eat something, one dose (2-4 500mg capsules) of psillium with water. Sugar-free squash allowed.

(3) Tea/Coffee/Water/Squash at any time.

(4) Get enough sleep.

Not good. I start again.

"Photographing is an act of non-intervention." - Susan Sontag

"There is nothing like an insane asylum to tenderly incubate death." - Antonin Artaud

"Happy people make boring television." - Joss Whedon

"I only enjoy accomplishing impossible things." - Ted V Mikels

"It's just as hard to be wrong about everything as it is to be right about everything." - Kurt Godel