Fasting with a foodie
If you know me (or follow me on Instagram), you know my entire life evolves around food. I eat about every two hours and when I am not eating, I am either talking or thinking about food…
So fasting was the last thing on my mind… The idea of being without food for more than two hours scares me. I don’t like the idea of feeling shaky and weak, of having no energy. I get ‘hangry’ so stay out of my way…
Time to face my greatest fear head on…
Many people I met in Thailand talked about some kind of detox or fasting program. It triggered me. I decided to challenge my beliefs that I need food. Really step out of my comfort zone. So I booked a detox: not the 3,5 day, but the 7,5 day program…
As the date got closer, I started to get a bit worried. Was this such a good idea? How would my body react? Would I be strong enough? And, most importantly; if I had no food photo’s, what was I going to post on instagram?!? 🙂
The week leading up to the detox I tried to prepare by eating less and choosing lighter and healthier options.
But apparently I am not that strong. The day before I left to fly to the detox island, a ‘normal’ day, I ate no less than 6 times! At the airport, in the Bangkok Airways lounge, there was a free buffet with all kinds of local sweets. I tried to resist, but my good intentions lasted only 2 minutes. I tried ALL the sweets…
So there I was, at Ananda detox and yoga retreat on Koh Phan Ang island. I decided to start one day later, to get a chance to slow down on food, before I went ‘cold turkey’… And boy, that was hard! I ate three healthy, simple, clean, small meals that day: an omelet with veggies in the morning. A small portion of steamed vegetables with some brown rice for lunch. I drank a big coconut water in the afternoon and ate the flesh. But all the time my body was anxious, panicked almost. I felt like something was missing. Something salty maybe? In the local 7/11 I found a bag of seaweed chips. Something healthy like this wouldn’t be cheating, right? I ate the entire bag within 5 minutes… Dinner was a delicious (but small) cup of broccoli soup and I had some watermelon for dessert. All were recommended pre-detox foods (except for the seaweed chips of course). That night and the following morning I felt hungry, shaky and weak. And the detox hadn’t even started!
The first day of the detox I learned the rhythm of the days to follow. It started at 7AM with meditation and ended at 9PM with the last supplements. The detox program is well structured: every 1,5 hours you get something. Five times per day a ‘shake’ of clay and fiber, to help the detoxification process, but also to make you feel full. Five times a day you take herbal supplements (capsules) with water. At noon you get a glass of freshly pressed carrot juice: soon this was my highlight of the day. At 3PM a glass of coconut water: the second highlight. And 6PM was ‘dinner’ time: a glass of very (VERY!) watery ‘broth’, made from celery and potato. The rest of the day was meditation and yoga, a massage (great!), colemas to clean the colon, some swimming in the pool and lots of resting.
To my surprise I wasn’t feeling hungry. The fiber and clay shakes, which expand in your stomach, took care of that (they taste as horrible as they sound by the way). I realized that I was, in fact, cheating my body. I did feel weak and shaky, but didn’t experience the hunger pangs that normally go with that.
The weird thing was that I wasn’t thinking about food that much. Everybody said that not eating gets to your mind first. My mind is apparently strong. I had decided that I wasn’t going to eat for 7 days, so I didn’t think about food. But what I didn’t anticipate was the shaky feeling I would have all day. It’s like you’re recovering from a bad flu; the physical symptoms are gone, but so is your energy. Normally that is something I am trying to avoid, or remedy a.s.a.p. with some food.
Having to live with this feeling of weakness, of low energy was the hardest part for me. I had no energy and spent most of the day in bed, browsing Facebook, or just doing nothing. How can you accept that your body and mind are not functioning optimally?
The second night I dreamed that I took my dad out to dinner in his favorite restaurant. The detox was somehow on my mind, because I only ordered a healthy salad. But then I also had a dessert… Afterwards, I felt so bad! I was in this 7 day detox and now I had broken the fast! Did this mean I had to stop? Or start again? Had I wasted two days? When I woke up, I smiled, happy that I hadn’t broken the fast and I was still in ‘the race’.
The daily carrot juice soon became the ‘highlight’ of my day. Never knew carrots could taste so sweet. The sugar must have gone straight to my brain, because the fog cleared and I felt like I could actually think again. Needless to say I spend the hour after the juice typing away, only to feel the energy seeping away again. The glass of coconut water in the afternoon only lifted my spirits a bit. It smelled really nice, though.
I used to think that my ‘obsession’ with food came into life after I survived 3,5 weeks without food on ‘Survivor’. Having participated in that reality show gave me a valid ‘excuse’ to be afraid of feeling hungry, always be the first in line at a buffet, or to start eating before everybody else at the table had their food. But when, years later, I came across photos and videos of gatherings and parties from before ‘Survivor’ I found that I was always the only one eating in the pictures. Even when everybody else was talking, dancing, socializing, drinking; the photographer always caught me with my mouth full… So my relationship with food must have been weird for much, much longer…
I remember that during Survivor I woke up on day 3, feeling so weak, that every time I opened my eyes, I nearly fainted. This horrible feeling lasted for a few hours. The doctor had to come to check on me and decided if it didn’t get better, I would have to leave the program. After a few hours, however, the weakness and fainting disappeared and never came back. I guess this was the point my body adapted to less (or no) food.
During the detox it was the same: the first 3,5 days I felt weak, shaky, tired and down. I spent most of the time in between the 1,5 hour timeslots in bed. Did not feel like talking to the other participants. My mind did not have the energy to write the simplest email or even look at my computer. I was wondering why I was doing this and if it was the right decision.
And then, after the carrot juice on day 3, I suddenly felt like the natural sugar went straight to my brain. I felt good again! My body stopped sending ‘alarm signals’ and seemed to accept the situation. I probably switched to a state of ketosis; this is when your body burns fat instead of glucose.
I felt almost normal again. Compared to the previous days I was more energetic, could swim laps for 5 minutes, go for little 10 minute walks, talked to the other participants (who got me into ‘mandala coloring’) and did not feel the need to spend the entire day in bed. I could even get very small amounts of work done, maybe 45 minutes per day.
But ketosis, even though many dieters try to achieve this state of fat burning, isn’t really my thing. It gave me a bad taste in my mouth. And my memory was failing me. When switching programs on my computer, I forgot what I was doing. I lost my keys. I even forgot to take my herbal supplements several times. The friendly staff had to remind me various times what was next on the schedule.
Even though my body lacked strength because I hadn’t eaten for so long, my energy felt more stable. Not like the first few days or before the detox, with (sugar) highs and dips.
The night of day four I had trouble falling asleep. Something rhythmical was bothering me, but I did not know exactly what it was. It was really annoying, like constantly being shaken. The next morning during meditation, I noticed the same thing. And suddenly it dawned on me: it was my heartbeat! My heart was beating much louder and much faster than normal. I got a bit worried. Was this a bad thing? Should I stop the detox? What was my body trying to tell me? I felt fine otherwise, but soon the only thing I could hear, feel and think about was this incessant drumming in my entire body.
I could not continue the meditation, I had to do something to find out how bad this was. So I went to my room, measured my heartbeat (69 beats per minute) and Googled a normal heart rate, which turned out to be 60-100. So no problem there: my heart wasn’t racing. But why did it feel like it? I Googled some more and asked the other participants. Guess what: because your belly is completely empty, your heartbeat doesn’t get muffled like it normally does. That’s why you feel it so strongly…
Breaking the fast
The last few days were relatively ‘easy’, but a bit boring. I talked to the detoxers who were finishing a few days before me and asked them about their first meal: papaya with yoghurt and bee pollen. Some said they were moved to tears when the plate was put before them. Others mentioned that just the idea to chew on something again was exciting… I wasn’t that emotional, but was definitely looking forward.
The night before the Big Day I did not get my bed-time shake and I was starting to get really hungry. The next morning, my stomach was complaining loudly. Still, I wasn’t in a hurry. Very unlike me, I stretched the moment of anticipation as long as I could. I went to the office to fill out the evaluation forms and get weighed. I had lost 4,5 kg, but was told that about half of that would return in a few days. If I kept up my new, healthy diet, I might be able to keep this weight. Still, it was great to know that 4,5 kilo’s of waste left my body! And from now on, I could decide to replace that with only goodness. Having said that, it was finally time to go to the restaurant…
After this food, I felt great. Full stomach, energy to my body and brain, healthy system and free from any programs. Guess what was the first thing that I did?
(Finishing this blog… haha)
My biggest mistake is that I ‘endured’ the detox, while still trying (though not succeeding) to be productive. It would have been better if I had completely shut off from the world and had really dived into the experience.
But I did get a big takeaway: the detox made me understand that my obsession with food was mainly because I don’t want to feel weak. I want to feel strong, energetic and be productive. That’s how I stay ‘in control’ and that’s where I get my energy.
My conclusion is that I am NOT obsessed with food, just with survival.
Having said that, I also learned (again) that life goes on, even when you feel weak…
It’s easier to stop completely, start from zero and build up a new habit from a clean slate, than trying to change your current routines. Funny enough, this was also one of the conclusions I drew from my silent retreat a few years ago, when it referred to slowing down.
Feeling my body lighter and cleaner now, I want to maintain this for as long as I can. Fortunately there is a lively health food scene on the island and lots of conscious people, so that will be great. I don’t want to think about the cruise I am going on in three weeks, to spend Christmas and New Year with my father in the complete opposite environment…
The mind is strong, but not having any food around when you’re fasting really helps, just like it did in Survivor.
The fact that I did not constantly ‘have’ to think about food gave me some peace of mind. I knew there would be food on day 8, so no need to worry.
Finally; if you want to do a detox: do it professionally guided, so you don’t have to think about anything. Having other detoxers around is also a big win. Make sure you don’t have any food around. Don’t (try to) work during the detox. And make sure you have plenty of carrot juice around! 🙂