The three-day water fast

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 ketosisKetosis 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?

Day 1:
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.

Day 2:
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)


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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.

Day 3:
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.

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268 Comments

  1. Christina says

    Hello,
    I’ve been reading your blog posts with interest. I have Epstein Barr Virus and have been working on getting rid of it and am making progress, but it’s taking its time. I miss the energy and vitality I used to have. I may have hypoglycemia, don’t know if I still do–if I do it’s not as bad as it used to be. I also used to be pre-diabetic, but am not anymore. I am 54 yrs old, 120 lbs, 5′ 5″. Do you think that 3-day water fasting is something I’d benefit from? I’ve read in the past that those with hypoglycemia shouldn’t fast. What is your opinion?

    Thank you,
    Christina

    • Tallis Shivantar says

      Hi Christina,

      Thanks for writing. You have two good questions. In terms of dealing with the Epstein Barr Virus (which causes mononucleosis): it’s a tough and stubborn virus, as you’ve already experienced. As much as a 3-day water fast might kill off a flu virus, it’s probably going to have less impact on EBV. Having said that, it may still help to some degree – and that’s certainly better than nothing. What I’d suggest is trying out a 3-day fast and then monitoring your sense of well-being over the next week or so. If you feel a little better afterwards, it might be worth considering a longer fast when you feel ready to do so (perhaps a week or two later). A longer fast will allow your immune system more time and power to attack the virus, with a greater chance of full success. One thing to consider: given the effect of EBV, it’s likely that you’ll feel quite tired during the actual fast, so don’t use this to gauge whether or not your fast is successful. You’ll probably know only afterwards, in retrospect.

      There’s also another factor to consider here. If you don’t already have some experience in water fasting, your body may very well prioritise the lifetime build-up of toxins over attacking the virus. I’ve certainly experienced this myself. In fact, over my first couple of years of fasting, fasts didn’t always have much effect on bacterial and viral illness at all. After I’d reached a point, though, fasting became much more effective in this respect, and nowadays I fast the moment I feel any virus beginning to stir inside me – usually with complete success.

      As far as your other question about hypoglycemia goes: I can’t comment on your particular case, but in my experience there’s a lot of fearful hype around the whole issue. I concur with people like Dr Joel Fuhrman, who writes that hypoglycemia is often a blanket term misapplied and misdiagnosed much, if not most, of the time. I’ve even had people suffering from caffeine withdrawal symptoms swear that they’re suffering from hypoglycemia – despite the fact that symptoms of true hypoglycemia occur at a completely different rate than those of caffeine withdrawal!

      If you’re worried about hypoglycemia during your fast, my advice would be to first try out a shorter 24 hour fast. This is more than enough time to discover how things stand. In the worst case, if you start to feel overcome by symptoms, then you can always break off by sipping a sugary drink – preferably one made from natural sugars, such as orange juice. If you have trouble, then online coaching may be an appropriate solution. (I’ve successfully worked with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics.)

      All the best,
      Tallis

  2. Hi Tallis! Hope you are doing good. I find your post most helpful and informative out of the other blogs/ sites I have come across. Its my second time to do a 3 day fast but I am thinking to do a 5 day fast.. Just would like to ask if is it okay for me to start my fast tom eventhough I have eaten so much this dinner? Thank you.

    • Tallis Shivantar says

      Hi Kitin,

      Thanks for writing and your kind words. Congratulations on going for another 3 day fast – and possibly even making it last for 5 days :-).

      A large last supper isn’t going to kill you, but there IS a difference between a 3 day fast and 5 say fast in terms of how much your digestive system will want to switch off. 3 days really isn’t enough for it to fully go into dormancy, but after 5 days it will have switched off much more fully. This is revealed after the fast. Many people can jump more or less straight back into everyday eating after a 3 day fast (although it’s MUCH better to have a proper period of refeeding instead!). After a 5 day fast, though, most people find that if they return to everyday eating too soon, their digestive system simply can’t cope.

      This is all by way of saying that a large dinner really isn’t the best, especially before a 5 day or longer fast. It will only prevent your digestive system from switching off or may end up just sitting in your intestines for the whole fast.

      All the best,
      Tallis

  3. Dear Tallis,

    You mention fasting and Multiple Sclerosis, do you have any more information regarding the treatment of MS with fasting? Many thanks, Ryan.

    • Tallis Shivantar says

      Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for writing. Generally speaking, to deal with any serious illness – and especially one which relates to autoimmune issues – it’s usually best to undertake an extended fast lasting several weeks. However, there are always potential caveats which might relate to the individual case, so it’s important not to jump to conclusions here!

      I’ve worked with cases of fibromyalgia/MS myself and have found that fasting does generally help to reduce the severity of symptoms. This can include fasts as short as three days – although such a fast is only going to have a short-term impact on symptoms rather than cause a lasting, long-term improvement in health. Intermittent fasting can also make a difference, especially when combined with dietary change. What I’m saying is that in the worst case there are always options, and there’s never just one possible solution.

      All the best,
      Tallis

  4. Michele says

    How frequently can I do a 3 day water fast? Is once per month or every other month safe?

    Many thanks!
    Michele

    • Tallis Shivantar says

      Hi Michele,
      Thanks for your question.
      If you’re eating healthily and if you really wanted to, you could do a 3-day fast even every week! In fact, I’m working with someone right now who is doing precisely this for medical reasons.

      So to answer your question, once per month or every other month should be totally safe if you’re otherwise healthy :-).
      The main thing is not to overdo it so that fasting becomes a chore.
      I hope you’ll experience the cleansing and healing of a 3-day fast, and then your body will let you know when it’s time to do another one – whether this is once a month, once every other month or perhaps only once or twice a year to begin with.

      You’ll see,
      Tallis

      • Franco Catucci says

        Tallis whats your opinion of doing a one meal a day , eating every 24 hours and then doing a 36 hour weekly water fast ???

        • Tallis Shivantar says

          Physically this is absolutely fine, so long as you’re eating healthily and keeping your nutrition up. I have clients who follow similar regimes. The only question is whether you find that it becomes a challenge emotionally, because you feel deprived of food. Give it a try if it feels right!
          Tallis

  5. Franco Catucci says

    Hello Mr. Tallis , i set out this weekend to do a 3 day water fast but i only made it to 42 hours i guess it was just the emotional and mental part of my fast so i decided this comiing weekend i am just going to do 36 hour fast for awhile , my ego gets in the sometimes i thought cause I only eat ONE-MEAL-A-DAY OMAD 23-1 that i could easily do a 7 day water fast i only made it to day 3, then i decided to do a 3 day water fast i only made it to 42 hours , so im just going to stick to the 36 hour water fast for a few months before going to a 3 day water fast i am just take baby steps i love the fasting lifestyle . Thank you Mr. Tallis for your WEBSITE its one of the best on the subject of water fasting and i am so inspired by the information you bring and the testimonials on your WEBSITE. God Bless You My Friend sincerely Franco Catucci…..

  6. Thank you!! This article was wonderfully written and full of detailed information to help and allow the reader to truly understand what they are taking on! Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. First of all i would like to appreciate your work. Really you have done a fabulous writing work so, that’s why it’s easy to understand.

    • Tallis Shivantar says

      Many thanks for your kind words, Sarvoya. Much appreciated!

  8. Charms says

    Hi Tallis! What would you recommend I take to help eliminate toxins out the body during a 3 – 15 day water fast? Are there any herbal teas that I can drink?

    Thank you

    • Hi Charms,
      Thanks for writing, and sorry for the slow response. I’ve had email problems…
      A water fast – pure and simple with no additives – is all you need :-).
      Especially if you’re fasting for a week or two, that’s already a lot of time for your body to go really deep in eliminating toxins.
      If you feel like drinking herbal teas, that’s fine too. As to which are the best herbs, there’s no single right answer. If you know you have issues with a particular organ, you can drink specific herbs which help to strengthen or cleanse it. There’s plenty of info on the internet about all this, if that’s the route you’d like to go. If you’re generally healthy, though, I wouldn’t worry about herbal teas – unless you want to treat yourself to a little flavour!
      Personally, though, I like the flavour of water 🙂
      All the best,
      Tallis

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