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®.

Even better is to join a 3-day home fasting group, in which you’ll receive online support through group video chats, a private Facebook page and support videos.

Whether you choose support or to go it alone, it’s definitely better not to try and bite off more than you can chew 🙂 with a 3-day fast until you feel comfortable with one-day (36-hour) water fasts. This is because a 3-day fast really is a quantum leap ahead in terms of what it demands from your body.

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. Yesterday was my 3rd day of a water fast, I was really struggling so I had about 350ml grape juice in the late afternoon. Will this have really offset the effects of the water fast? I’m planning on continuing on water for now but how will that have affected it? Will it take longer for my body to get to ketosis? Thanks!!

    • Hi Kayla,
      Unfortunately grape juice is pretty packed with sugars. The general “rule” is that anything over 100 calories is going to interfere with ketosis – and especially so if your body doesn’t experience ketosis on a regular basis. (If you were really struggling, I’m guessing you have done much water fasting in the past.) Go check the side of your grape juice for the exact information on calories, but I’m guessing it’s in the region of 600 calories per litre. The rest is just maths 🙂 – or maybe instead of 🙂 it should be 🙁
      In the end, if you continue with just water of course you’ll return to ketosis. Disrupting it with sugars, though, will delay deeper levels of cleansing.
      Hope this helps,
      Tallis

    • Yes, jumping into a water fast from a big meal beforehand isn’t the best idea :-). But it sounds like you’ve got a better plan for the next time! Namaste

  2. Namaste Tallis
    I am almost end of (67 hours) 3rd day water fast .
    (It is my second 3 day full water fast ,earlier i did water fast in 2015).

    I am considering to extend this water fast into 5-7 days long(2-4 more days).

    I have little pain in my knee joints, when I use to walk4-10 km in one session.
    I am thinking this fast will help me a lot to overcome that pain or reduce pain.
    I am drinking sometime Luke warm water or hot water daily 1 -3 times.
    I would like your motivational + expert knowledge comment .

    • Hi Amit,
      I’ll do my best to give you some motivational and expert comments 🙂
      Fasting can certainly help with joint pain. If this is your goal, then I’d go for the 5-7 days you mention, as this will allow deeper levels of healing. I don’t know how serious your joint pain is, but in my experience you may need at least a couple of week-long day fasts (with at least a few months recovery time in between) in order to notice much improvement. If this feels like too much right now, then no worries, you can gradually get used to longer fasts until seven days feels manageable. It’s just a matter of time and fasting experience.
      Best of luck, and let us know if your knee improves in the future!
      Tallis

      • Thnks Tallis
        I am male 46 (18 year old by 💝 )
        My weight remain 176-187 lb
        And my target is to fix around 156 lb because I am 5.11 feet tall.

        I think due to bad eating habits and over weight I am getting pain in my knees after walk.(otherwise it is alarming for me)
        That is not permanent but appears when I use to walk 4 -10 km long.
        And slowly disappear in 2 -3 days when I stop walking.
        So I thought I should try water fast .
        I will write my experience after finishing fasting with post 4 day meal or food experience liquid to solid food.
        Basically I am in mood to become supra fit.
        If I find this fast helping me than I will go for weekly 1 day water fast and yearly 7-10 days long fast . I will go for longer fast gradually increase up to 41 days water fast within 5 year☺️ .

        Because I think it is possible and super helpful to become vibrant and young.

        Ps.- Thanks for your blog. It will definitely motivate others to adopt water fast.👏👏

      • Namaste Tallis,
        Today I finished my water fast after completing 5th day.

        Actually I did blunder by eating very heavy on 20th night and started direct water fast from there only.
        Due to this I started farting and passing wind due to my stuck meals in my intenstine, I think .

        I must follow very planned water fast from next time.
        Ibwill follow slowing routine of intake Before three days of starting my water fast . I will switch gradually on fruits, juice, soup, and lemon water and later on 4th day start water fast 7-10 days and later follow lemon water , soup, juice ,fruits and meals from 11th day to 14th.
        Means 4 day before and 4 days after DAYS OF WATER FAST.

        it is great experience and eagerly waiting my next water fast in 90-180 days.

        I will follow weekly 36 hour water fast.
        👏👏👏👏👏👏

  3. Hi Tallis,

    I’m on day one of my second water fast – the intention is for it to be a 3-day fast.

    My first fast was supposed to be a 3-day one but I started off with a vegetable broth on the morning of day one and ended my fast on the evening of day 3 with a veggie juice… so technically it was a 2.5-day fast. On the day after I broke that fast (whilst still on small portions of steamed veggies and soup), I had some pretty bad diarrhoea. Is this normal? Should I expect the same this time around?

    I should probably also mention that on both occasions, I was eating extremely unhealthily before the fasts (without a weaning off of the quantities or kinds of foods before I began), so I’m guessing my body has plenty of toxins to eliminate.

    Thanks in advance

    • Nat says

      Hi Tallis,

      (I’m hoping you simply missed this question last year, and didn’t avoid it on purpose 🙂 )

      I’m on another 3-day fast – started in a similar way to the last 2 where I wasn’t eating well at all just before the fast. I’m wondering if the fact that I was constipated just before I started the water fast will affect anything? Should I have tried a laxative before beginning the fast?

      Thanks.

      Nat

      • Tallis Shivantar says

        Hi Nat,

        Sorry if I missed your question last year – it certainly wasn’t on purpose! Of course, in an ideal situation, if you had eaten well before the fast it should have helped prevent the constipation. (The same thing can also happen after a fast, so watch out!)

        For a fast of only three days the constipation hopefully won’t make too much of a difference. A herbal laxative before the fast might have helped, but now that you’ve already begun the fast you don’t want to overly stimulate your digestive system in this way. If you start to feel heavy or bloated, then a better idea at this point would be to take an enema, as this stimulates an evacuation through only physical means, as opposed to forcing your bowels to contract through herbal or chemical irritation.
        Good luck!
        Tallis

  4. Hi Tallis,
    I’m on the last day of my first ever 3 day water fast. I have recently had an intestinal parasite which was probably the worst thing ever! Dr says it’s all clear and this should help re-set my body. My experience has been a positive one! Day 1 was hard I was tired and cranky and by the end of the day I had a headache, which for me is pretty normal! I went to work as usual. On the second day I felt good! By mid to late morning I wasn’t hungry and I was quite happy drinking boiling water (it was a cold day) and normal water. I felt so good I even went to the gym, I took it easy but generally felt fine. Today I feel fine as well no headache, not hungry, my muscles are a little sore but nothing too uncomfortable! Day one I struggled with focusing but day 2 and 3 were fine. I am tired but no more tired than my body running at it’s usual capacity without food I don’t think. Is it unusual to not feel almost any negative symptoms? Am I doing it right? I have had nothing but water since Sunday lunch time and it’s now Wednesday evening?!

    • Hi Stef,
      Congratulations, sounds like you’re doing great!!!
      Of course you’re “doing it right” – you’ve only been drinking water 🙂
      People’s experience of their first few three-day water fasts can vary really widely. It depends on your emotional state, your environment, your level of toxicity, your body weight, whether you’re doing it alone or together in a retreat: all in all, lots of different factors. Just be glad it’s been so easy for you and enjoy your last day of fasting :-).
      All the best,
      Tallis

  5. Rob Olson says

    Hi Tallis. I have just completed day one of my 3 day water fast. I typically try to work out every day and want to do a cardio workout for 40 minutes tomorrow ( day 2). As long as I feel ok, do you think this would be problematic? Thanks so much, Rob

    • Hi Rob,
      I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “as long as I feel ok”. I do the same when I’m fasting, and I find my body always tell me when enough is enough. So just make sure you pay attention not to overdo your heart-rate (ie. avoid the anaerobic threshold) and not to exhaust yourself. You’ll probably find any exertion raises breathing and heart-rate faster than usual, but so long as you respect this and don’t try to push through to your usual level of fitness you should be fine.
      All the best,
      Tallis

    • Hi Jo,
      Congratulations on your first three-day fast!
      Do you mean doing a 3-day fast once per week? I suppose you could, but there’d be quite a lot of physical confusion in your body: digesting half the time, fasting half the time, and transitioning in and out of ketosis each time. If you want to get in a deeper level of fasting (for cleansing and detox), it would make more sense instead to do one or two longer fasts, backing this up with weekly, one-day “maintenance” fasts. On a regular weekly basis I wouldn’t recommend fasting any longer than 36 hours.
      Tallis

  6. I’ve now done 63 hours of my first 3 day fast, feeling very tired but might push it to a 86hr one if I can manage it. Thanks for the advice. I’ve done lots of one day Ines before so expected this to be easy, but although I’m managing not to eat absolutely fine, I didn’t expect the feelings of tiredness and aches, so it’s really good to know that that’s normal.

  7. jeanettedavidson says

    Hi Tallis,

    Just today I am starting my 3 day water fast. I have done various fasts before but have one done a water fast once before and I made it to 2.5 days. I started it because I have been feeling extremely lethargic, heavy and foggy lately. Whenever I eat food I feel worse. I have been eating so much sugar, chocolate and really anything that’s in front of me!

    I also have an autoimmune lung issue that pops up every now and again and I know fasts help from experience. What I want to ask is if you think it’s okay to take my usual melatonin tabs at night for sleep and if my headaches get bad that I can have a coffee? I am not a regular coffee drinker, I would have one maybe once every 4 months, but caffeine is the only thing that helps my headaches.

    Thank you for your wonderful blog.
    Jeanette

    • Hi Jeanette,
      Good for you in deciding to take on this fast!
      Personally, I would avoid melatonin, since it “messes” with your pineal gland – and one of the greatest benefits from a fast comes from a full glandular reset of the system. Besides, if the fast changes your sleeping pattern during the fast (and it well might, for better or for worse), regular melatonin tablets probably wouldn’t have enough strength to affect this anyway.
      As far as caffeine goes, if you really need some to deal with a headache, I would avoid coffee and drink green tea instead. The coffee will needlessly acidise your empty stomach, as well as get stomach juices flowing when you want them to be switching off instead. Plain green tea with no sugar/honey etc. has the caffeine without any of the other negative side effects.
      Best of luck and good health to you!
      Tallis

  8. Elisa says

    I would love to do a 3 day water only fast. I do have to walk my daughter 10 nyc blocks each day to and from school. I want to do the fast so I can reset my digestive system. Don’t get me wrong lol I would love to lose some of this stubborn belly fat as well. Will I be too weak to walk my daughter to and fro?

    • Hi Elisa,
      There’s no way to know in advance exactly how you’re energy levels will react to a fast, especially if this would be your first 3-day water fast. For sure you’ll be fine the first day, because you’ll still have reserves of glycogen. (In the worst case, you might be just a little hungry…) After that, even if you feel weak you’ll probably have the energy for 2×10 NYC blocks. That’s basically about a mile in total, right? It’s just a question of speed. You may well not be able to manage 10 blocks at a typical New Yorker’s tempo LOL, but if you allow yourself lots of extra time, like going for a slow walk in the park, I’m guessing you should be fine. On the fasting retreat I organise, we always go for 3-5 mile walks every day – just slowly, s l o w l y… There’s nothing wrong with this. Walking is great for moving toxins out of your cells and blood stream, even if it’s at a snail’s pace. And besides, it’ll give you a little more time to spend with your daughter in the morning 🙂

  9. Hi Tallis,

    What a great site you have here! I found the comments/questions and your answers to be very insightful.

    I’m on Day 2 of my first 3 day fast.
    I’m exhausted. I’m on retreat/vacation for ten days with no stress or obligations for the next 10 days. An ideal setting for this work.
    I knew it was needed with the past nine months being very stressful.

    I have a couple of questions being into day 2. I’ve read on other fasting sites that bone broth and herbal tea is ok to drink.

    I tried going 36 house with only water but found I was very dizzy and my arms were shaking. I ended up putting some sea salt into my water and drank 1 cup of organic chicken broth at dinner last night.

    This morning I had more water and 1 cup of the chicken broth with 1/2 a small avocado.

    Does that mean I’ve technically ended my fast?

    I have continued to drink sea salt water and ginger tea for today.

    Would you recommend continuing on more fasting or begin to come off the fast and start introducing apples, pears & vegetables?

    I am intending on being sugar-free (refined sugars) for a month and this 3 day fast was my beginning.

    Also, I had a thyroid tumor removed in 2011 and now function with 1/2 a lobe. I usually take 30mg of desiccated thyroid supplement but have stopped that for a week.

    I guess what I’m wondering is if my complete exhaustion, brain fog, headache, dizziness, and overall weakness are normal? I’m laying down reading and sleeping most of the day.

    Appreciate your opinion on this. Am thinking I may have “ended” my fast with that avocado and chicken broth but am willing to continue as I have the time and space to do so.

    Thank you!

    • I should mention that I’m a very healthy, athletic 5’6″ 140lb female. I’m not doing the fast for weight loss reasons but seeking decreased inflammation in my digestive tract and increased mental clarity.

      Thanks Tallis

      • I forgot two other things:

        I have quite low blood pressure in general. Could my dizziness & weakness have anything to do with that? I heard adding sea salt to my water would help with that.

        Also, how regular should you be during the 3 day fast? I haven’t had a movement since starting.

        Many thanks!

        • Yes, low blood pressure could definitely relate to dizziness, especially when getting up from a reclined posture.
          In terms of being regular during a fast, expect not to be regular! Exactly how this pans out, though, depends on the individual.

    • Hi Joss,

      It’s totally normal for many people to feel exhausted, with all the symptoms you describe, on their first three-day water fast. These will gradually clear up through the detox of each successive fast, especially in terms of any headaches, nausea and muscle aches. It’s possible you’ll continue to feel weaker than usual, especially if you’re athletic with a low BMI – I do too, even after many years of regular fasting – but you shouldn’t feel weaker to the point of exhaustion if you continue to practise fasting. To some degree your thyroid issue could certainly add to feeling tired while fasting, but if you don’t also feel tired in everyday life it shouldn’t have much of an impact. Certainly, fasting is a proven method to restore thyroid imbalances.

      Have you ended your fast by eating a small avocado and chicken broth? I would look at this question in terms of the biology of the fast. Any intake of carbs or protein is going to work against ketosis, especially if it’s more than 100 calories or so, and especially if you don’t naturally experience ketosis on a regular basis either through a low-carb diet or through endurance sports which require you to metabolise fat during regular training.

      If you need a psychological crutch to help you get through three days by taking in more than pure water, then fine. But whatever you do, you can’t take in calories without disturbing the biology of the fast. It’s a simple fact. This means that more or less the only thing you can do is drink herbal teas.

      I don’t know where you read about adding salt, drinking broth or eating avocados in order to help a water fast. None of them help physically, period, because any calories can only reduce the efficiency of your ketosis – especially in the early days of a fast. Of course, salt doesn’t have any calories, but you certainly don’t need any extra salt while fasting over three days. Salt makes people feel good because they’re addicted to it – just like sugar. So yes, salt can help you get through a water fast if you’re addicted to it. But doesn’t a big part of a fast consist of facing your addictions so you can let them go?

      All in all, I think people should never bite off more than they can chew (!) when it comes to fasting, because if you push yourself beyond your comfortable limits, your ego will bite back afterwards. You’ll end up downing two bars of chocolate instead of just one, if you know what I mean. If you reach the point of feeling you need salt, broths, avocados etc. to keep you going through a fast, then I’d say you’re either pretty close to reaching that point or you’re already beyond your natural limit.

      In sports you have to push yourself beyond your natural limits to get the best results, but fasting is different. If you don’t love yourself (and hopefully your body too!) throughout, you’ll end up hating yourself and fasting in general. And you won’t feel the desire to fast in the future. Because ultimately, in loving your body, it also means that you’re listening to your body. In return, your body will speak back to you. It will tell you when it needs a fast. And then you’ll just feel a natural calling from within to fast. I guess this answers your other question about how frequently you can/should fast. Ultimately, it’s when your body tells you to fast.

      If at the end of your current fast you feel exhausted or you feel a kind of “thank God it’s over!” feeling, then maybe you should experiment next time with 36 hour fasts until they feel completely routine, normal, sustainable, with little or no element of exhaustion. Then you’ll be ready for a much smoother three-day water fast.

      • Thanks so much for your response Talis.

        I ended up doing about a 48 hour fast. Feeling calmer now and much less anxious.

        Very much looking forward to another fast sesh 🙂

        Appreciateyour comments and explanations of what experienced.

        I’m proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished so far.

        I’m now in the process of completing an elimination diet so all things food are an experiment at the moment.

        All the best to you and thanks again for your support.
        I’ll be in touch with my future fasts.

        Jocelyn

  10. Steve says

    Hi Tallis,

    Thank you for such great content and the insight you’ve provided.

    I planned to give my first 3 day fast a go within the next two weeks. What water do you recommend? Spring water? Distilled? Filtered tap?
    And I read in another article the idea of adding a little salt to the water. Would you advise doing so as well?

    [I am 41 years of age, 6′ 3″, 175lbs and am planning on drinking about a gallon of water a day during the 3 day fast.]

    Thank you

    • Hi Steve,
      Good for you, planning your first three-day water fast!

      When it comes to the type of water you drink, even plain tap water won’t kill you. Of course, it’s better to treat your body to something a little cleaner, especially when you’re trying to detox anyway. With that in mind, filtered tap water is okay, but it’s almost impossible to filter out all the gunk. Distilled water is certainly clean, if not the cleanest of all the options, but many people find it “dead”. Personally, I prefer fresh spring water. Bottled spring water (or for that matter any kind of water in a plastic bottle, including distilled) leaks toxins from the PET plastic if it’s been sitting on the shelf for a while. But again, none of this is going to kill you. Let’s face it, we live in an inescapably polluted world…

      As far as adding salt to the water goes, there’s absolutely no need – especially during a short three-day fast (although I realise psychologically it probably doesn’t feel short!!!).

      About planning to drink a gallon per day: 3-4 litres/quarts is totally normal – and in my experience is the quantity people most commonly feel like drinking – but I wouldn’t rigidly plan and hold yourself to this quantity. Follow your thirst. Body knows best. So long as you’re drinking at least a litre/quart a day, you should be fine.

      Tallis

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