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The 3rd Annual IHD Holiday Fast
And how subtraction can be the best addition to your life
Howdy everyone! We’re in the calm between our two biggest feasts of the year and it’s time to practice a little of the opposite. We have done an extended fast twice a year since our first one—about this time two years ago. Many of you joined us that first year. It was the first time that Shane or I had ever fasted longer than 24 hours. Many more of you joined us for one of the subsequent fasts. I’ll share more details at the end for those of you interested in joining us this time, but first, a brief look at why we fast.
“There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts.”
Source: Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach
In the most simple possible terms, we fast because it is difficult. As Richard Bach suggests above, problems always bring gifts. Challenges always bring growth, especially when we lean into the hardship and use it to find levels of strength that we have yet to access. Nearly every religious and philosophical tradition prescribes fasting in some form. And as with nearly all longstanding human traditions, fasting has huge benefits, both to our physical health and our emotional stability.
Fasting has been proven to improve metabolic flexibility, body weight regulation, cancer prevention, longevity, skin health, circadian rhythm, and nearly every imaginable aspect of human health. Every human prior to modern times had to endure frequent periods of food scarcity. Our bodies evolved to expect cycles of feast and famine and came to capitalize on this pattern. While fasting, our bodies focus on many of the processes that it puts on the backburner when metabolic demands are higher — cellular repair and hormone regulation to name only a few. Though the biological benefits are many, they are not the primary reason why we fast.
The greatest inspiration for our annual fast is, like so many other aspects of IHD, the Stoics — in this case, Seneca the Younger. In the eighteenth of his famous letters to Lucilius (known as: “On Festivals and Fasting”), Seneca makes the best possible case for practicing hardship. He explains that only by practicing hardship can we truly prepare for when it inevitably strikes.
“It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence…If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes…that [he] might never recoil from what [he] had so often rehearsed.”
Then, Seneca even offers practical advice on the specific practice:
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’”
“Endure all this for three or four days at a time, sometimes for more, so that it may be a test of yourself instead of a mere hobby. Then, I assure you, my dear Lucilius, you will leap for joy when filled with a pennyworth of food, and you will understand that a man’s peace of mind does not depend upon Fortune.”
So, it is by this wisdom that we enter our fast. To do something difficult, simply to prove to ourselves that we can and to practice our instinct to lean in rather than to shy away.
And now to the details:
Fast between December 10 and 19. This gives two-weekend options and the week between. We plan to fast from December 17-19 but want to make this accessible during a traditionally busy month.
Choose a time that aligns with your schedule. Expect to have lower energy and a little difficulty focusing and choose accordingly.
Shane, Marika, and I (as well as many past participants) will fast for a full 48-hours. Friday breakfast to Sunday breakfast is a great way to schedule it.
Join us or choose a shorter version for any reason. 24 hours and 36 hours are both great options. But remember, a good rule of thumb is to pick a duration that makes you nervous…that’s the point!
No food, caffeine, or liquids other than water.
Rules are meant to be broken. Choose a version that is right for you. This time around I’m going pure water, but in the past, I have allowed things like a single cup of black coffee, herbal tea, or salt in my water.
Double (at least) your daily water consumption. Not only will it help staunch the hunger cravings but you also need to replace all the hydration that you typically get from food.
A cup of hot water is a good replacement for morning coffee or tea.
Avoid super cold water that shocks your system.
Fatigue and Fogginess
It’s normal to feel cold, lethargic, and a little cloudy in your mind. You might not feel any of this (I sometimes get random bouts of high energy too), but if you do just lean into the process.
Choose some “slow” activities and enjoy the less frantic pace of life. Read a book, meditate, journal, sit and chat. This is supposed to be a little break from the normal pace of life.
Starting and Ending
Eat high-fat, low-carb for your final meal. This will break down slowly and ease you into the fast.
Break your fast gently. Don’t gorge yourself and choose foods that are easy to break down. Last time we ate a small bowl of oatmeal and then waited an hour or two to eat a full meal. This worked great.
And remember, life is too short to be normal (and constantly satiated!)