I’ve always approached dry fasting carefully. As a generally healthy person, I’ve never had any therapeutic need to jump into a radically long fast. Also, having experienced firsthand how much stronger the detox of dry fasting is compared to water fasting, I’ve always felt that it’s better to be safe than sorry – especially given the general lack of reliable information about dry fasting.
Up until now, I’ve experimented with 36-hour, 48-hour (2 day) and 60-hour (2.5 day) dry fasts. I’ve only ever increased the length incrementally, once I’ve felt totally comfortable with the previous duration. My first ever dry fast lasted 36 hours, which was more of a challenge psychologically than physically. After acclimatising to that length, I moved up to 48- and then 60-hour dry fasts, the length of which began to be determined instead by very physical factors. By the last 12 hours of each, my body would start giving me signs that I was pushing my natural limit, and so I respected this. I would strongly emphasise that anyone considering a dry fast do the same! For me, those signs came in the form of either a strong thirst, diminishing urination, or aches and pains from detox.
The last time I dry-fasted for 2.5 days, however, the previous pattern changed. Instead of deteriorating in the last 12 hours, my physical and emotional well-being actually began to improve. I had more energy and, interestingly, noticed that my urine output had started to increase in quantity and was becoming clearer in colour. (The observation of both quantity and quality of urination must play an important role for anyone dry-fasting, given that it is a primary indicator of dehydration.) I took this all as a sign that I could now safely move on to a slightly longer duration.
I decided on 3.5 days of dry fasting.
Transitioning into a dry fast through water fasting: how and why
In the three months since finishing that last 2.5-day dry, another thought kept crossing my mind: one I believe is actually critically important for anyone looking to dry-fast beyond a day or so.
Given that dehydration is always the biggest danger in dry fasting, transitioning into the dry fast through water fasting can provide essential support.
Why? Once ketosis is up and running, the breakdown of fat to provide fuel itself releases water as a byproduct. This so-called ‘metabolic water’ can obviously then help to substitute for the lack of drinking water during a dry fast. However, if you jump straight into a dry fast from a normal diet, you end up depleting your body’s water reserves during the period in which it takes to establish ketosis, which thereby curtails how long you can safely extend the fast. Not only that, but if you’re still actively digesting when the dry fast begins, your everyday carbohydrate-based metabolism itself requires water in order to operate, thereby further draining you of water reserves. If, on the other hand, you begin a dry fast with ketosis already on the go, you prevent dehydration to the greatest possible degree. The solution is clear: to precede a dry fast with a short water fast, during which you give your body time to enter ketosis.
How? Planning to begin my dry fast early on a Tuesday evening, I decided to taper off my calorie intake through the previous day, finishing with a small lunch of mostly salad. Between noon and 7pm I drank only water. This probably wasn’t enough time to fully establish ketosis, but I know from extensive water-fasting that I enter ketosis quickly, within hours rather than days. In retrospect, my experience of the dry fast itself also supported the fact that I was in ketosis, at least partially. (Next time, I’ll give myself more time to set up ketosis properly, but on this occasion I had family commitments the following weekend and therefore a very definite deadline to finish the dry fast!)
What actually happened?
Calories tapered until a small lunch at 12.00 on Tuesday, after which I drank only water according to thirst until 7pm. The dry fast began at this point.
All in all, the first full day of my fast felt more like how I’d experienced the second day of previous 2.5 day dry fasts. In other words, the current dry fast was moving on an accelerated path – no doubt thanks to the brief water fast which had preceded it.
– feeling of slight tightness in the head all day, something which in the past I experienced only once, towards the end of my first 36-hour dry fast
– emotional resistance to doing physical activity
– mental resistance to intellectual activity
– several 30-60 minute naps throughout the day
– slightly sore muscles
– chills, inability to control body heat
– easily out of breath while walking (2 x 5km walks, once AM, once PM)
– strong and faster-than-usual heartbeat Wednesday night
I can’t say I suffered today, but it certainly wasn’t light and easy in the way that I’ve been accustomed to on the first days of previous water- and dry fasts. Except for the constant presence of my heartbeat, I began to feel better by the evening and more like usual myself (which, again, is what happened on the second day of my last 2.5 day dry fast).
Urination: I’ve reported on previous dry fasts that urination has been slow and steady, about 150-200 ml every eight hours or so. This time it was at least double that: about 200ml every four hours or so, consistently throughout the day. I believe this shows that (1) thanks to the introductory water fast I had already accessed a deeper degree of ketosis, in which more metabolic water was being produced and (2) the deep cleansing already experienced on previous dry fasts had in itself facilitated a more efficient ketosis. The colour was completely normal and there was no strong odour indicative of heavy cleansing – which, at this point, may simply be the natural consequence of years of regular water- and dry fasting.
Fasting at home with family around, the constant presence of food tempted me much of the day – again, in contrast to previous fasts. The sight or smell of a snack, dinner or even piece of fruit would elicit an immediate instinctive response in me: I want to eat… Equally immediate and instinctive, though, a deeper voice from inside would respond with: I want but I don’t need… which would immediately dispel the animal urge to eat.
All in all, the second full day of my fast felt much smoother than the first. As mentioned above, I believe I had already experienced a brief foretaste of this in the last few hours of my previous 2.5 day dry fast, but now the sense of greater physical and emotional well-being had time to express itself over the entire day. Again, this would seem to show that what I had experienced at the beginning of the third day of my last dry fast now corresponded to the second day of this fast. In other words, thanks to the brief introductory water fast, I was one day ‘ahead’ this time – but with less danger of dehydrating.
– strong and faster-than-usual heartbeat (AM only)
– mental clarity, certainly as strong as in everyday non-fasting life
– physically stronger than yesterday, gladly went for a 5km walk (PM)
– only one 15-minute catnap
– no headache, but after 3+hours working at the computer, my eyes felt strained
– urination same as yesterday
– sensation of slight discomfort in the area below the kidneys, along the top area of the pelvis (PM)*
– this discomfort grew worse upon lying down and lasted most of the night
*I’ve occasionally experienced this discomfort on previous fasts. It probably corresponds not to the kidneys but rather to the main lymph ducts which run through the pelvis and join close to the base of the lumbar spine. One of the reasons I decided to fast was to deal with a sprained ankle and other old minor injuries from running. If a lot of cleansing and healing were taking place in the legs, then it would fall to these lymph nodes to detox the scar tissue. Of course we’ll never know for sure, but I suspect the discomfort reflected these lymph nodes working overtime.
Over the years, I’ve found hot baths to be the most effect solution for aches and pains during water fasts. While dry fasting, it’s best to avoid contact with water, so this time I used a heat compress to relieve the ache in my lower back and pelvis.
At this point, moving into unchartered territories, the third full day of my fast began to reveal my natural limits. For the first time since the beginning of the fast, my mouth began to dry out, feeling sticky, and I started to want to drink. But it was more than just wanting to drink, because, in contrast to the first day, my deeper self didn’t immediately respond with: I want but I don’t need.
– lymph nodes in pelvis frequently remained sensitive, especially while lying or bending over (hot bath to relieve the aches, once AM, once PM, since this provided deeper relief than a dry heat compress)
– physically weaker than yesterday but still emotionally strong, good sense of well-being
– mouth feeling sticky, but still not truly thirsty
– voice began to lose resonance along with mouth drying out (PM)
– went for 5km walk (PM) which relieved the ache in my lower back
– urination same as yesterday: still normal output, colour and odour
Yes, I was weaker today and my lower back and pelvis were often a little sore, but all in all I felt good, stable, grounded. At 7pm, as I entered the fourth day of the dry fast, I noted that I should now officially be ‘dead’ according to the wisdom of Western science, which often claims that humans can survive for up to a maximum of only three days without water!
By the evening, I was ready emotionally to finish the fast, and began to look forward to drinking the following morning.
I broke the fast by slowly drinking a half litre of water. After a couple of hours, I slowly ate an orange and drank about 300ml of orange juice, repeating the same procedure an hour later. I spent most of the remainder of the day on fluids and smoothies, but by the evening was back on solid food and was eating normally again by Sunday. This quick transition back to eating and drinking may not be appropriate for people with slower digestion. Err on the side of caution until you know from your own experience how much you can safely manage again after a dry fast! I myself was surprised by the natural speed with which I returned to normal eating after nearly five days without a full meal. Increasingly, I’m becoming aware that not only do dry fasts establish ketosis more quickly than water fasts, they also more quickly re-establish an active digestion after the fast.
If you’ve ever water-fasted, then you know what a luxuriant experience it is to taste again. Ah, that first glass of orange juice: truly a transcendental experience! This time, though, what struck me wasn’t so much the luminosity of all those living tastes, but rather the textures. Water felt so smooth, silky, voluptuous and alive in the way it flows through mouth and throat, filling the body. Juices and smoothies too: each with their own subtly distinct texture and utterly vibrant taste. Wonderful!
The only way to truly appreciate the gift of food and drink is to live without them for a while.
I undertook this fast for a variety of reasons. Over the previous weeks, my body had been asking for some detox, and then a weekend of heavy family eating and (especially) drinking was the final straw! In addition, my body was a mess, with a nasty bruised sole and recently sprained ankle, as well as chronic tendonitis in both wrists. The day before the fast (Monday) I could hardly walk, at least not without treading gingerly.
By Saturday, the sprain and bruise had cleared completely. 48 hours after the end of the fast I happily went for a 10km run, full of energy again. I’ve also regained noticeable flexibility in my wrists, although it will take more time and perhaps another fast to clear completely.
The physical healing during the 3.5/4 days of this fast is unquestionable.
What still eludes me while dry-fasting is the wide, open state of consciousness I’ve grown accustomed to during water fasts, especially those longer than just a few days. I suspect that this is because of the pure strength and cleansing still taking place when I dry fast. It’s hard to expand into a clear, calm, greater space when the cleansing and detox within your body is still roaring. It’s hard to let go into love when your body is reminding you instead of pain. I experienced the same process when I began water-fasting. It was only after I had reached, symbolically enough, about 40 cumulative days of fasting (spread over several 7-10 day fasts), that water-fasting no longer created resistance inside me and instead provided an opportunity to experience a deeper side of myself.
Perhaps one day, with more experience, dry-fasting will do the same.