My reasons for attempting a 72-hour water fast? An experiment to explore the power of the mind. It is not a weight-loss strategy.
There is an impressive body of evidence pointing to the health benefits of fasting, including improvements in metabolism, lowering the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and diabetes, and overall increased longevity. It’s recommended that you only do it for no longer than 72 hours; anything beyond that would typically require medical consent. (And embarking on any new health and fitness regime, or way of eating, should typically involve a consult with a doctor).
Here’s how my three-day water-only journey went in real time:
After a Last Supper-style eating feast the night before, I practically loathe the sight of food today. I cannot manage another morsel. It almost feels like a cop-out because I am not suffering on any level. It’s a Saturday as well, so I am not hunkered down at my desk.
I decide to go to IKEA to get some long overdue shelves to complete my bedroom. Two hours later, my tummy begins to groan. I have my first bottle of water and the pangs disappear.
By late afternoon, my body is expecting a refill. I distract myself from the kitchen area and go for a walk. I’m careful not to go overboard to conserve energy.
Bedtime comes exceptionally early at 10pm. I don’t remember even hitting the pillow.
I wake up at 6am hungry, but it’s not debilitating. I have a big day of proposal writing and a few meetings.
I read for 30 minutes in bed and can barely keep my eyes open. I fall asleep for another two hours. I never do this – ever. By 9am I am dressed and out the door.
I mostly work from home and therefore I am constantly aware that I have food at my disposal a few meters away.
At 1pm I open the fridge door without thinking, only to snort at the presumption of actually eating something. I realize how much we think about food and recognize that when you don’t carve out several times a day to eat, we are left with a lot more brain space.
I have the most productive day I’ve had in weeks. That post-lunch slump usually costs me a good two hours.
Late afternoon is an exercise of mind over matter . I go to a meeting where there’s a high tea situation. At this point I have passed the point of no return. I am not hungry but because it’s there, I feel I should eat it. I give myself a pep talk, telling myself to push on to the finish line within 24 hours.
Back at home, water actually makes my hunger growl on. I stop, it stops.
I develop a mild headache around the temples.
Sleep is uncomplicated.
I wake up ready to crack. It comes out of nowhere. Luckily, I have a morning filled with meetings to keep my mind preoccupied.
I come home at midday and pull out a bottle of water from the fridge and see three-day old pasta and cake. I glare at it.
I give in. I pull out both plates and stab each one with my eager fork. I take a mouthful of cake, then a mouthful of pasta. There’s no sequence to this attack. I stop after six mouthfuls. I am bursting at the seams. The roof of my mouth is on fire. The room oscillates. I sit in this whirl and feel discombobulated. I am no longer able to focus on work.
The next morning I am not hungry until 11am, at which point I have my usual oats and berries but a cup less than usual because that’s all I can handle. My stomach has evidently shrunk.
I learned that day two was by far the most energizing and focused I had been in a while. For me, water fasting for more than 48 hours doesn’t work, unless I don’t have to work. The mental power required to do a job very quickly turns into hunger. But I imagine this experiment would work very well if all you had to do was sit around all day watching Netflix – just as long as you weren’t watching shows about food.
• This article originally ran in May 2020. Please avoid fasting if you have a history of disordered eating.
Georgie Bradley is a British/Greek editor and journalist based in Dubai after being bred in Bahrain. She's been published by The Guardian UK, The Telegraph UK, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post UK, Buro 24/7 and Harper's Bazaar Arabia. Most recently she was the deputy editor of Emirates Woman. You're most likely to find her in the aisle seat.