When I arrived in Thailand on the 16th of January of this year, my initial lodging for 4 nights was at a hotel near the location of a Digital Nomad conference I was attending. I’d arranged for a studio condo for a month thereafter and within a day or two of setting up there, I met an Australian expat living in the same complex long term.
Dry fasting is when you not only withhold all food, but all hydration as well. You’re consuming nothing for a period of time. I initially dismissed John, mostly because of his approach to it. Not only was dry fasting beneficial in just a base health way, but it was a cure all, including cancer, et al.
Then I began to think about it, not even having any clue that it appears to have become somewhat of a thing or fad, now. Having just done a water fast of about 60 hours around the same time I met John, I recalled how important water, coffee, and tea (unsweetened) were to “get through the fast.” Then I recalled admonitions like “if you’re hungry, drink glass of water” (the hunger might resolve).
Curiosity piqued, I Googled around a bit and thought even more. I am not one to spend hours listening to what others think. Of course, part of the science on the benefits of fasting is gleaned from the Muslims who, during the entire month of Ramadan, dry fast from sunrise to sunset. In high latitude climates, these no-intake-at-all fasts during May can be be pretty short in the Northern hemisphere and pretty long in the Southern. But nominally, it’s 11-16 hours for most.
I initially experimented with that. I consumed nothing from last intake of either food or fluid for 12 hours or so (12 minimum always). But this was different because most of that is during sleep which is a fast anyway and dry for most of it.
I did a 24-hr dry fast and was rather shocked. It turned out to be, by far, the easiest fast I’ve ever done. There can only be one reason for that: the fluid restriction curbed hunger. Hmmm….
Well, it appears to have been understood as early as 1942 that the body metabolizes fat to create “metabolic water” (water by any other name).
THE utilization by the body of ingested food substances and of tissue reserves yields among other things quantities of metabolic water. As the complete combustion of 100 gm. of fat produces about 110 gm. of metabolic water, whereas 100 gm. of carbohydrate yields only 55 gm. of water, fat reserves and fatty foods are believed to be particularly valuable as a protection against desiccation. This contention would appear to be supported by the fact that many animals which exist in deserts have large reserves of fat.Nature; Metabolic Water and Desiccation. https://www.nature.com/articles/150021a0
What I found even more interesting is that in just my case alone, the single 24-hr dry fast seemed to equal the subjective benefits I felt from three days of a water fast. Things like clear sinus, large reduction in any bloating or swelling, and disappearance of inflammatory markers like redness. And the pants fit better.
Seems there’s science to it. Beyond the numerous studies that substantiate the benefits of Ramadan fasting, there’s a single study from 2013 that dry fasted 10 individuals for 5 days. The results are nothing short of astounding, in my view.
Background: Although there is considerable research in the field of fasting and fluid restriction, little is known about the impact of food and water deprivation (FWD) on body circumferences and vital parameters. Methods: During 5 days of FWD in 10 healthy adults, hemodynamic, metabolic, and renal parameters, such as weight, 5 circumferences at neck, waist, hip, chest at axilla, chest at nipples, and 1 new oblique hip circumference were measured daily. For each circumference, new quotients of daily circumference-to-weight decrease were calculated. The set of employed parameters quantified and monitored dieting persons’ compliance and efficacy of the method. Results: The values of blood pressure, heart rate, hemoglobin oxygen saturation, glucose, K+, Na+, Cl-, urea, creatinine, and serum osmolality proved to be stable. The mean creatinine clearance increased up to 167%. The mean daily weight decrease (1,390 ± 60 g) demonstrated the effectiveness of FWD in weight reduction. The daily decrease of all measured circumferences and the values of the corresponding circumference-to-weight decrease quotients reflected considerable volume decrease in all measured body parts per day and kg of weight loss during FWD. Conclusion: The intervention of 5 FWD days in 10 healthy adults was found to be safe, decreased weight and all measured circumferences, and improved renal function considerably.Complementary Medicine Research; Anthropometric, Hemodynamic, Metabolic, and Renal Responses during 5 Days of Food and Water Deprivation. https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/357718
The first takeaway is the weight loss. An average of 1.4 kilograms per day over 5 days. That’s astounding. For you people who have to live in America—and not a tropical paradise in Southeast Asia writing on the beach—that’s three pounds per day, or 15 pounds over the 5-day fast. Of course, low carbers and ketos know that a portion is water dump via glycogen depletion because of no energy intake. BUT, and a BIG BUT in my view, is that because there was no fluid intake, it’s quite likely that additional fat was metabolized beyond energy requirements in order to produce “metabolic water.” It’s the latter portion that’s real fat loss, since the water dump will come back physiologically as soon as glycogen is restored to normal levels.
The other big takeaway is “improved renal function considerably.” That, I found nearly unbelievable as it seems well established that severe dehydration can cause kidney damage and in fact, that happened to a family member once, when stranded in a jungle in central America for days. So it raises the question as to whether controlled, low activity dry fasting in healthy people constitutes severe dehydration or even dehydration at all.
Let’s revisit my friend John. It turns out that his search for a cure was because of kidney disease and he came upon dry fasting. He’s gone up to 11 days (after 5, under medical supervision). Ten years later, his health is fine, he looks great for being in his 70s, and most importantly, he reports that his kidneys are at full function, verified by regular clinical testing (which he gets cheap here in Thailand, where people haven’t been priced out of medical services by insurance and drug companies, but I digress).
Look, I don’t pay much attention at all to the cure claims. If they’re there, fine. Try it. My primary interest is in the accelerated fat loss and I suspect, so-called stubborn fat. I’ve seen micro changes in this area, and I’ve yet to go more than 24 hours.
Here’s what I’ve done and I’ve found it simple. I have this crazy notion that while excess hydration can’t make you gain and store fat directly, perhaps it inhibits fat that could otherwise be shed. Wouldn’t it be ironic if, for all the talk of sugar drinks being the root cause of all obesity, it’s really the obsession with hydration at all waking hours, per se? So, one person enjoys a soda sugar drink over the course of the day but otherwise, drinks nothing but maybe a cup or two of Joe in the morning, and whatever other sips are necessary to wash down food, vs. the people who have their hydration bottle near at all times and drink a few liters of completely unnecessary water over the course of the day?
So, for me, it’s a cup or two of coffee in the morning, only sips to wash down meals, and evening cocktails, if any. Nothing else. Zero intake overnight. And it’s easy, and it’s become normal. The feeling of never being bloated with excess is nice. Another factor is that I try to sip as little as possible with a meal (don’t forget: there’s water in your food). This took a few days of adaptation but once there, stomach digestion and emptying is superb. Could it be that excess fluids during meals dilutes the digestive juices and often ends with slowed digestion, bloating, gas, and heartburn?
The other day I went on a 5-island snorkeling trip here in Koh Chang, Thailand by speedboat, from 9am to 5pm. I had a cup of coffee and a small plate of watermelon at 7am or so, and zero intake throughout the day. No food, no water. It was easy. No problem at all. I was in the sun, but also the cool ocean. All the while, everyone else was almost constantly sipping at their water. And the boat crew kept handing them out. And I’m proof that it was all unnecessary. What I’d really like to know is whether I lost a few grams of fat that others didn’t, in order to make my required water.
So there you have it. Lot’s of water for thought, I hope.