Lessons Learned from a First-Time "Faster"

Originally Published: 8/23/16

Disclaimer:  I am NOT a doctor/nutrionist/expert in the health field.  Thus, none of the information provided in this article should be construed as medical advice.  Please do your research before experimenting with fasting, ESPECIALLY if you already have physical/medical ailments and conditions you are dealing with.  For healthy individuals, a simple google search may suffice. 

Alright, enough with the disclaimers, let's get on to the goods!

"30 hours... that's it.  You can do this... Okay, it's going to be tough, but really, you can do this.  'Pain is weakness leaving the body.'  'No pain no gain.'" 
   -  Inner dialogue from my brain

Self-talk can be a powerful thing!  Humor aside, this was my first experience with fasting (defined by me as: choosing not to eat food for 24 hours or longer).  As a Christian, this is humbling and saddening to admit. 

Fasting is a biblical practice, long been forgotten by our generation.  One of the earliest mentions of the concept of fasting is found in Deuteronomy 8:3 -

"And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."

This was quoted by Jesus in Matthew 4:4 when being tempted by Satan after fasting 40 days and 40 nights (some SERIOUS fasting).  Jesus further explains fasting in Matthew 6:16-18.  Fasting is referenced all throughout the Bible, in both the New Testament and the Old Testament, and is prescribed by Jesus (Matthew 9:15) and implemented by the early church (Acts 13:2-3). 

Simply put, fasting is important to Jesus, and thus it should be important to us.  But why? 

God ultimately wants our trust and reliance fully on Him.  This means, we are literally clinging to Him for our strength, each and every day.  Without this being a daily habit and pursuit, we quickly become puffed up in our own pride and self-reliance. 

Now, to be perfectly honest, these were not my main motivations going into this "virgin fast".  Recently, I have been hearing a lot from various individuals in the health world about how beneficial fasting is for your body.  The suggested benefits are quite numerous -- lowering insulin levels and insulin resistance, higher growth hormone levels, increased production of norepinephrine and thus your metabolic rate, reduction of oxidative stress, assistance in the removal of waste materials from our cells, promotes a healthy brain, etc., etc.  The list goes on and on, it is quite impressive.  (Disclaimer: research is still being done, and on many of the studies rats were the test subjects and not humans, thus it is largely theoretical on several of the "benefits".)

Along with the health benefits, it would add another practice and exercise in my toolkit that increases my own self-discipline and mental toughness.  "Enjoying" the absence of food and nutrition I so dearly love was the mindset I aimed to produce during this time. 

So, what did I experience?

I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't as "scary" or harrowing as our minds make it out to be.  While there were definite times I felt the hunger pains that induce our beloved "HANGRY" state, they weren't as powerful or painful as I imagined.  That was the positive side of the experience...

On the negative side (more so a positive, just wasn't enjoyable), I experienced several, unexpected physical effects from the fasting.  (These were unexpected largely because I came into this with no experience and little knowledge, but they are very common and logical.)  The main experience was the reduction of many of the body's functions.  This included: lower energy levels, reduced brain-capacity and a slowing down of thought-stream, common brain-fog, and other reductions on physical capacities.  Everything seemed to slow down a bit, and normal activities started to seem more like work and took substantial effort.  

The interesting aspect of the negative side effects were their irregularity.  They didn't remain constant throughout the entire fasting period, ebbing and flowing during different times of the day.  It likely occurred during periods when the body was biologically dealing with the absence of nutrition that it's been trained to expect to receive.  The same was true with the brain-fog, coming and going during different times of the day. 

Okay, I named this article "lessons learned" for a reason...  what did I learn? 

The takeaway that hit me hardest in the face from this initial fast was the humbling nature of the experience.  We, as human beings, are fully and utterly dependent on sleep and food for survival and flourishing.  Sure, we can last longer than we think without either of those, but there comes a point where it is required or death will be the very real outcome. 

For someone like myself, who is constantly trying to maximize all of my capabilities - from mental performance, to physical fitness, to maximizing strength, power, and endurance, to creating a life of discipline that facilitates my strengths and inhibits my weaknesses - this exercise really reminded me that I am not inherently strong and am not more "special" than anyone other individual.  I am equally dependent on such base things as food and sleep (and oxygen!) as every single human being is, and am inherently weak. 

It's such a good reminder how blessed 95%+ of us are here in America, to ALWAYS have food available.  Eating three meals a day (or whatever your diet protocols are) allows us to achieve much higher capabilities than we could ever accomplish with an absence of food, or living in a malnourished state. 

I was also reminded how unnecessary most of "life" is.  We value and treasure so many things that have no real value in light of eternity.  The newest clothing, shiny cars with the newest technology, organic and eco-friendly food from non-gmo sources (buzzword abuse), a 52" high-definition TV with Netflix, etc., etc., fill in the blank with what you value most.  I'm not saying that owning these things should be looked down upon, I just want to remind us all (myself included) that we truly don't need these things - need, meaning: we must have them for our survival/existence. 

The final lesson I took away from this experience was how powerful it is to truly rely on the Lord for strength!  So often I find myself saying that phrase without actually pursuing it or living it.  Fasting eliminates many of the alternative options we have for gleaning strength, ambition, or fuel for life, and allows us to come before God on bended-knees, genuinely asking to give us strength that we don't possess in and of ourselves.  THAT is a powerful place to be. 

Moral of the story: slow down and FAST.