In two hours, I’ll have completed a 3-day water fast. This means that I haven’t eaten, haven’t put anything into my mouth except water and mouthwash, for 70 hours. And, as it turns out, I’m still feeling great.
Having never done more than a 36-hour fast before in my life, I got worried, especially after, well, 36 hours: “I guess I shouldn’t be training and lifting weights. And what if I break down later from fatigue at my physically demanding job? And if I make it through, won’t I then waste my free time having to distract myself from the overwhelming exhaustion, or being distracted by thoughts about food and hunger and eating when I still have some writing to do?”
Thankfully, these were all non-issues. Being at the gym was awesome as ever. Even 40 hours into the fast, my performance was perfectly fine. On the third day, my strength workout took longer than usual because I needed longer pauses between sets, but volume and intensity were still ok. Work was strenuous, sure, but I was neither sluggish nor at the verge of collapse. Finally, not even my motivation to write seemed to be impaired—and I’m writing this, still fasting, with full concentration.
I must note, however, that I usually do about 80% of my workouts in a fasted state (10-20 hours without food); so I’m perfectly used to training like that. Moreover, I often eat only one high-fat, low-carb meal a day, which means that my body and particularly my brain are very much used to running on ketones; hence no food cravings and no difficulties concentrating throughout my 3-day fast.
The only negative effects I experienced were, after two days, some phases where I felt extremely cold and some phases where I felt extremely weak and fatigued. However, putting on a second shirt, sitting down for a few minutes, and focusing on my breath rapidly restored my proper functioning.
Yet all this could’ve easily played out very differently if it weren’t for my daily mindfulness practice.
As I said, I was really worried at some point and expecting the worst: zero concentration, total fatigue, and circulatory failure. My mind resolutely tried to go down a dark path of bad expectations, and sometimes an even more insidious path of obsessing about food—but I didn’t let it! I did not let it. Thanks to the metacognitive abilities I train every day with meditation, I could quickly catch my mind moving in a bad direction and use my mindfulness skills to disengage my mind from the topic of my fast.
Expectations can be disastrous. If I had let my mind uncontrolledly form the expectation that the prolonged absence of calories will make me hungry, weak, and unable to focus, I’m certain that I would’ve had feelings of hunger, poorer gym and work performance, and difficulties writing this blog post.
But by resisting such expectations and letting go of all thoughts about my fast, I managed to prevent those nocebo effects, those negative self-fulfilling prophecies. In fact, this might be the secret to mental toughness: that positive thinking is powerful, though not as powerful as non-thinking.
Lessons learned: I don’t need food to perform well. I won’t starve if I don’t eat for a few days. Eating every day is a luxury that deserves gratitude. I never need to worry about a scarcity of (healthy) food because I can always choose to fast.
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