Of all fasts, the three-day water fast is in many ways the most important. Three days is the period your body needs to unlock your healing metabolism. These three days are also the stepping stone required to move on to even longer fasts (such as the 7-10 day water fast and more prolonged fasts), in which the deepest healing can occur. The more you practise the three-day fast, the easier you’ll find water fasting of any length.
I’ll be honest with you, though. In the beginning, the three-day water fast is also often the hardest.
Because of this, it’s important to do everything you can do to maximise your chances of a smooth experience. This can include following a well laid-out plan, such as that found in: The Complete 3-Day Water Fasting Program®. Alternatively, it also can help to undertake your first couple of three-day water fasts while on retreat.
In any case, because of the quantum leap ahead compared to shorter fasts, it’s definitely better not to try to bite off more than you can chew 🙂 with a 3-day fast until you feel comfortable with one-day (36-hour) water fasts.
Before you gain greater experience, most of the challenges of the three-day water fast are physical, as your body learns how to enter the state of ketosis. Ketosis is the process of burning fat directly from adipose (fat) tissue, which is achieved through the production of so-called ‘ketone bodies’ in order to metabolise the fat. Unless you happen to be following an extremely low-carb diet, this is entirely different from how your body normally extracts the energy needed to power each cell. As a result, the vast majority of people never experience ketosis in everyday life, and rely instead on metabolising carbohydrates until the day they die. This is a real shame. We have two eyes, and we use them both. We have two arms and two legs, and we use each of them. We also have two metabolisms: our everyday carbohydrate-based metabolism, as well as ketosis. They each serve their own function.
So what actually happens over these three days? How do you actually feel?
Of course, the first day feels the same as on a one-day fast (described in greater detail here), as you slowly exhaust your reserves of carbohydrates, which are stored as glycogen mostly in the liver, as well as in the tissue surrounding your muscles. Psychologically, though, you should feel much more comfortable – given that you already have experience in surviving one day without food. Surviving three days without food is simply an extension of this, and so hopefully you’ll be freer to concentrate on the physical changes taking place inside you. You may indeed find yourself facing your ego over these three days, but it’s more likely to take the form of facing your addictions to food rather than facing your ego’s existential fear for survival.
By the beginning of the second day your glycogen reserves will have run out. At this point, how you feel depends on how much experience you have in fasting. Nowadays when I fast, I feel great because my body has made the switch to ketosis in tandem with my glycogen stores running out. In other words, I don’t suffer any ‘power loss’. In fact, I usually feel even fuller with energy towards the end of the first day because I’m powered by two sources: my usual carbohydrate-based metabolism (before the glycogen stores completely run down), as well as by ketosis – which starts to kick in a couple of hours after I miss my first meal. It’s a great feeling, and, in time, you can look forward to it too!
However, if your body isn’t adapted to ketosis, things will probably be rather different… Your glycogen fuel tanks will hit empty, and your body will have to (continued below)
search for an alternative power source – and quickly too! The burning of fat through ketosis is highly efficient, but the problem is that your body hasn’t yet learned how to access this metabolism, because the chemical reactions involved are so different from what you’re normally used to. Instead, the next closest source of energy is through burning protein – and this comes from metabolising your own muscle tissue. Don’t worry, you’re not going to lose any significant muscle mass. We’re talking about only a few hundred grams until your body has started to perfect ketosis by the end of the third day. From this point on, any further loss of muscle mass is minimal.
In the meantime, though, you’ll probably feel extremely low on energy. Your muscles may ache, especially in your legs and back, as your body sacrifices muscle tissue. Headaches are also common, both from low blood sugar and lack of energy, as well as from the beginnings of detoxification. Dull aches around the kidneys are also common, as your kidneys start to work overtime, flushing out the first toxins from your fat cells as well as the extra acids caused by metabolising protein. If so, make sure you’re drinking enough: at least a quart/litre or two per day. There is no fixed minimal limit to drink. This depends mostly on a person’s level of toxicity. The higher the toxicity, the more you’ll have to drink. Many people drink 3-4 quarts/litres a day.
I don’t want to lie to you. Personally, I feel that too many books and websites on fasting paint a rosy-coloured picture of how you’ll feel. Telling the full truth might turn off potential converts to water fasting… Yes, perhaps you’ll feel like a million bucks. But for the first couple of three-day water fasts it’s more likely that you’ll feel pretty awful, not entirely dissimilar to how you experience the flu: with aches and pains, and a general lack of energy. But don’t worry. And don’t give up at this point!!! You’ll survive. Just hang in there. All these symptoms will pass.
The third day is more or less a continuation of the second, both in terms of the physiological processes taking place, as well as how you feel. Many people feel at their lowest at the end of the second or at the beginning of the third day. Generally, though, things start to improve after this, as the switch to ketosis is completed.
If the toughest part of a fast is getting through the first three days, then isn’t it worth diving straight into a longer fast and reaping the benefits of what you’ve suffered through? Maybe. If you have the energy to do so, then by all means! Most likely, though, your first few three-day fasts will leave you feeling drained both physically and emotionally. There’s no need to do any more at this point. Three days is enough. Mission accomplished. You’ve successfully awoken your body’s healing metabolism, which you’ll be able to rely on increasingly in the future. You’ve also already experienced a significant degree of detox. Instead, take on a longer, more cleansing fast once your body has more fully acclimatised to three-day fasts.
At the end of the third day, enjoy a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and pat yourself on the back. Unlike longer fasts, there’s no need for a long transition back to eating. Nor is there any need for a long transition before the fast itself. However, do keep the first few meals light: mostly just fruits and/or vegetables (just as the last few meals before the fast should also be light). Don’t eat too much! If your ego is telling you to gorge yourself, avoid the temptation and try to honestly follow your appetite. Your stomach will have shrunk, your digestive system will have slowed down considerably, so you need a little time to get things up and running again. If you do follow your appetite, you’ll find you’re eating normally again in a couple of days.