My three day fast: lessons from an extended fast

I fasted from food for three days last week, consuming only water for 72 hours.

Here’s what I learned.

I love pizza and not eating sucks.

Ha! That’s true, but here are some other, more meaningful lessons.

Before I start, a disclaimer, I’m not a doctor. You may want to get their advice before trying this. Now back to the piece.

I learned that the mind will do anything to get what it wants. If you could have seen the visions going through my brain.

I imagined mounds of food. Actually, there were just piles of pizza, everywhere. And, pepperoni was raining from the heavens. And, I was twirling around giddy with my head tilted back and my mouth gaping open catching the falling meat in slow-motion.

During the fast, I was in Boston for business, and I found myself walking by a Jimmy Johns and the aroma was so amazing that my mind was doing everything it could to rationalize me getting a freaky fast sandwich.

Here was what I said to myself as I walked past the storefront: “I’ve already fasted close to two days. I don’t need to do anymore. That sandwich would be great for you. You can do a full three day fast another time. Don’t walk by so fast, you fool!”

I haven’t eaten any Jimmy Johns in years and never found them particularly tasty, yet I still yearned for that freaky fast sub. That is how powerful the mind is when you are desperate. It makes you think you want something that you never wanted when you are satisfied. But when you are desperate, the mind can make anything look tempting. It twists our desires and makes fools of us.

Somehow I was able to resist temptation.

I think it was because I had a clear goal. I wanted to avoid eating out and wanted to finish a three day fast. I have found that eating out makes me feel terrible, and this fast was going to help with that. Having a clear goal focused me, but so did the understanding of the benefits of an extended fast.

Fasting starts the process of autophagy in your body, which means self-eating. It is basically our body’s way of cleaning away bad cells that develop over time by eating and destroying them. Autophagy is believed to help cancer cells stop growing and even shrink them, and fasting can even prevent cancerous cells from developing.

Scientists have found that rats that fast live longer and reduce their chances of disease and cancer. They have a stronger immune system, better digestion, brain and heart function and others. I have links to resources below.

I also learned that even though I was hungry most of the time, I felt better overall than I usually do when I’m eating.

Over the past several years, I’ve had some serious issues with congestion, inflammation, eczema and chronic pain. I used to think that I had to put up with those symptoms and was helpless against them. And, when I had serious congestion, I thought I was just sick with a cold or flu. In fact, I was congested most of the time for years. I felt so badly for so long that I had forgotten what it was like to actually feel good.

But recently, I discovered it might be food related. And, after experimenting with what I ate and fasting, I found that it was true. What I was eating caused me to feel terrible. If I ate certain foods and avoided others, I felt great. And, when I was fasting my congestion completely disappeared, and I could easily and freely breath in the crisp, sweet Bostonian air.

Fasting didn’t wipe me out. I was tired, but I also had the energy to go about my day. During those few days, I had meetings. A couple of them went for over three hours. My mind was sharp, and the meetings actually made me feel better since my focus was utterly drawn away from images of delicious cheese, crust and tomato sauce and onto whatever we were discussing at the meeting. I also walked everywhere. And, it was odd, when I did I actually got less hungry, except when I passed the Jimmy Johns.

I did have a meeting over a meal, which was pure torture.

It was at a breakfast place, and I love everything breakfast. Even the word was tempting me–break fast. That’s exactly what I desperately wanted.

I told the guys I was meeting with that I was fasting and wouldn’t be able to eat with them. But, I encouraged them not to feel guilty and order something delicious.

Something died inside of me, while I uttered those words. And, I dared not look at the menu.

Then their dishes came out. My brain and stomach conspired against me. I was on fire with a desire to crush their food. I was seriously tempted to use my hand and just grab a bite of their scrambled eggs and jam it into my mouth.

But, I didn’t.

Outside, I kept my composure and desperately tried not to look at their food. But the aroma was impossible to avoid. And not breathing wasn’t an option. So, I just had to suffer through it and prayed that God would help me. He did.

As I walked back to my hotel the hunger pangs subsided.

I had a lot more time on my hands than I usually did. Eating takes more time than we think. We think about it, plan for it, pick it up, buy it, then we eat with each other or take it to our desk and consume it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do those things. We absolutely should. When I wasn’t eating, I had to figure out how to fill that time.

I prayed, read, thought, wrote. I was able to process what has happened in the past year, what I am thinking in the present and my hopes for the future. There have been a lot of possibilities to consider, and the time without food afforded me the space to weigh them.

After the 72 hours, I lost a surprising amount of weight–ten pounds. I didn’t know exactly what it would be and didn’t really even consider it until I finished fasting. But, ten was a lot.

Weight-loss was not the goal. It was merely a byproduct, but even they can become a benefit. And, I’ve managed to keep off half of the loss since I went right back into my original eating regimen which includes intermittent fasting where I fast about nineteen and a half hours and fit over three meals in the remaining four and a half.

One last parting thought, food isn’t ultimate. I love food. I’m passionate about it. Great food experiences probably make up at least fifty percent of my happy memories. When I talk about the food I ate in Portugal, you might feel as if I’m talking about a loved one. But there are more important things than food.

Fasting drew that line clearly for me. Sometimes many of us can just go about our days popping little bits into our mouths without even thinking about it. But when you’re fasting you have to refocus your mind away from food and onto other subjects, ones that are weightier than food. There are thoughts, experiences, feelings, hurts that should be worked out and fasting gives us the space to do that.

To me, doing that is more important than even my beloved pepperoni pizza, dripping with golden oil in all of its glory.


Here are a few links to introductory pieces that outline fasting (mostly intermittent fasting) and its benefits and background:

Fasting for Health and Longevity: Nobel Prize Winning Research on Cell Aging

In-depth more scientific piece:

A couple of interesting documentaries:


  1. Gary Leibovich says:

    Thanks for this post John. I like your thought that, “When your fasting you have to refocus your mind away from food and on to other subjects, ones that are weightier than food…..” I just recently read Brene Brown in “Dare to Lead” talk about food as one of many ways that we numb instead of leaning into the vulnerability and pain we feel in life. Are you saying that for you fasting was a way for you to lean into your “thoughts experiences feelings and hurts”?


    1. John Pa says:

      Thanks, Gary! I am saying that. It was a intentional time to spend contemplating those seasons in my life and working through them. I’ll def have to check out Brown’s book. Thanks! Hope you’re well.


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