What Happens To Me When I’m Not Eating?

It has now been 69 hours since I have eaten anything. In the process of trying to find out what it’s really like to be hungry I am striving to go three days without food. The first year I participated in TDC I completed twenty-four hours, and the following year was forty-eight. Now going on seventy-two, I have become relatively familiar with the process of fasting. It’s nothing special, given that many people practice it from purifications to teenagers protesting their parents. It’s like having an argument between your body and your mind, where you only have control of the latter.

For Day 1 I noticed my body highlighting all the senses to search for food. I noticed my eyes lingered on restaurant windows longer than usual, and the smell of cotton candy yogurt from outside an elementary school was so potent I thought they must have had a vat of it in the scant cafeteria. The stomach pains were minor at first and then grew to a sore growl by the end of the night. It felt like scraping my stomach lining for the dregs of my last meal and turning my esophagus upside down, like trying to get the last of a smoothie from a blender.

For Day 2 I woke up in the morning and immediately knew the following twenty-four hours would be more difficult than the last. I felt empty like a shell stripped of all its contents and nearly lost my footing when I got out of bed. A persistent feeling of weakness set in for the rest of the day that told me I was entering the starvation mode: digestion shuts down as my metabolism and circulation slows at the same time. My heart starts to pump quicker to try and keep up, but regardless of its efforts head rushes are frequently causing me to hold the wall getting out of my seat. This is only worsened by the fact that Cuzco sits at roughly 11,200 feet and the altitude requires higher calories and rate of respiration than I am currently providing.

Day 3 has turned into a countdown for dinner. The feeling of emptiness continues, but any hunger cravings have been replaced by a thin feebleness. My body is smart and doesn’t burn the fat first. Fat has the most amount of energy and should therefore be saved for the absolute last resort. The muscle and lean mass are burned beforehand and I can feel my biceps and thighs are less certain than they were. Water weight decreases as well and demands a constant intake of water. Contrary to popular belief, fasting does not actually cause you to lose weight. When I start eating normally again my muscles will be rejuvenated and the demand for liquids will subside. Unless I go for a long time without food, I will lose little to no fat reserves.

Hunger is an interesting monster to tussle with. The arctic expedition Jeanette in 1879 saw men abandoning their sinking vessel and going sixteen days with no food until starvation overtook them. Reading about their adventures, Martha and I (a Canadian traveler who decided to do the fast with me) compared notes on just how our bodies were reacting and how three days seemed incomparable to such suffering. Like I said, fasting is relatively common around the world. The decision to familiarize ourselves with it helps us better understand what it means to live on less.


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