As I write this, I am about 36 hours into my first ever 40-hour fast. I cannot give you a specific reason why I decided to do it. I suppose I realized that I was fasting around 20 hours most days last week somewhat by accident (~16 hours from dinner to lunch is more the standard for me during the week) and I figured I could double that fast without too much difficulty. There is something to be said for going longer or further than you have ever gone before — whether it be running, walking, fasting or meditating. My longs are a marathon, not sure, 40 hours (soon), and 1 hour respectively, so the second, third, and fourth are all very breakable in the near-term. As for the first, I don’t know that I will be running another marathon this year, but I would not put it past myself either.
Anyway, the idea of week-long fasts and meditation retreats have long intrigued me but I have not yet gone for either. This 40-hour fast seemed like an “easy” first step. It would break my arbitrary boundary of never having fasted for longer than a day. The hardest part for me was around dinnertime last night but it was not so bad at all and I’m hardly even hungry this morning. I know I could go longer but I believe it is important sometimes to stop when you still have more in the tank. That way, when I go to do a longer fast eventually, I will remember this one as having been relatively easy and can go back and read here that I knew I could go longer at the time.
For those interested in fasting, here is my introduction to fasting in a tweet:
For the 40-hour fast, I employed a few more elements. First, I got a group together, just from the people who follow me on Twitter, and the few of us have helped each other over the last few dozen hours with a message here and there. Nothing annoying, just enough to know we are all in it together, an underrated force in any endeavor. My dad ended up joining our merry band of fasters as well, though he stayed out of the groupchat.
The second thing I did was to take any and all pressure off of myself to do anything other than the fast yesterday. I made it the only thing I needed to do. This was especially easy because the only thing I needed to do was to not do something (eat). Complete inaction would have sufficed. I am fortunate to be in a position where I have enough freedom and control over my time to be able to make that my singular priority for a day. Usually, I have a thing or two I want to get done in a day, but yesterday it was no pressure. Of course, I ended up doing some things anyway and actually had a reasonably productive day, but I made it feel more like a Sunday and less like a Monday. You want to do yourself as many favors as you can when you have something challenging to do. In other words, “make it easy”. I believe this was the term used in James Clear’s book Atomic Habits which reinforced a lot of things I knew and didn’t know I knew about habits and also taught me some new things in a much clearer framework than I had ever thought up on my own. Clear is his last name after all.
The last thing I am going to do is to eat whatever I want once I can in a few hours. This was also noted in Clear’s book. You want to give yourself a reward after the thing you want to encourage yourself to do more of. I would like to do more long fasts in the future, and while it may not be as much of a habit as the 16+ hour fasts I tend to do during the week, I want to reflect on my longest fast to date as a positive experience. Last night, I was thinking I would treat myself to an afternoon pizza (not something I would usually eat in the middle of the day on a weekday), but this morning I am realizing almost any food will do. I imagine the sheer phenomenon of taste will be a reward in and of itself. I am not starving, but I am excited to eat.
I think it is good to occasionally remind ourselves of the difference between wants and needs in this world of consistent indulgence where we so often confuse the former for the latter. Just like how when you are sick, the only thing you want is to feel better, when you are fasting for long enough, the only thing you want is to eat. It is good to summon this singular focus once in a while. As much as I try to be appreciative, I inevitably take so much for granted. Deprive yourself of food for a day and you will have no choice but to gain some appreciation for the little things.