Friday, June 13, 2014


Earlier this week, inspection work took me on a three day trip to South Dakota. Normally I stay in hotels so that I can work in the evenings, but I decided to turn it into a camping trip. Knowing that camping meant a bit of isolation, I thought I would treat it as an opportunity to do something I've never done before: fast for three days.

Today is Friday. From 8 p.m. on Sunday until 8 p.m. on Wednesday, I didn't eat anything. I had a cup of black coffee (without sugar) each morning, but otherwise it was nothing but water for 72 hours. To me, this was a big deal. I can't remember ever going even 24 hours without eating, even on those days during Lent when I'm supposed to at least act like I'm doing so.

My motivation wasn't spiritual or physical, although I do believe I saw and will continue to see benefits in those areas as a result. Seeing 148 on the bathroom scale was fun, and denying your body of something it is used to receiving does encourage you to focus on things you don't usually dwell on. But for me, it was more of a mental issue.

It wasn't a matter of seeing if I could do it; the challenge was to see that I could do it. It sounds like an almost stupid distinction even to me, but it was almost like looking back on something that was still in the future. I knew that I was physically capable, so that removed the "if" part of the challenge. But as I hadn't done it yet, I knew that the key to success was entirely in my head. And knowing myself, that's not the most sure-fire place to be looking for keys.


The driving day started at 6:30 a.m., heading west out of Norfolk. Other than skipping breakfast, it seemed like a normal morning of inspections. The long drives between stops helped to spread out the work, which made for a pretty easy first day. And with the route going through almost exclusively small towns, there wasn't much of a temptation to stop and eat half of a familiar restaurant's menu.

As the day went on, I followed some fasting advice that I heard somewhere: when you start to feel hungry, drink water right away. So each time I started to feel hungry, I made sure to drink the entire contents of one of my 21 oz. water bottles. Surprisingly enough, that worked, and I went the entire day without wanting to chew on the steering wheel.

The biggest symptoms that I experienced as the day went were occasional dizziness upon standing up (such as getting out of the car), a slight headache in the afternoon and evening, and having to go to the bathroom from drinking 170 oz. of water (about 1.3 gallons). All and all, not bad for someone who hadn't ever gone even 24 hours without eating before.

Day one ended at the beautiful but sparsely occupied West Whitlock Recreation Area in Gettysburg, SD. Camping can be a very aromatic thing when a campground is full of people grilling and cooking over campfires, so the lack of population at the area was very welcome.


At the beginning of day two, there was no mistaking that something was amiss. I woke up with one of those headaches that just sits behind your eyes and aches. I'd had a mild headache all night, but one of the benefits of sleeping is that it makes things less noticeable. I felt it when I would wake up throughout the night, but by morning it was in full force. two? Not off to a great start. I downed one of my water bottles to help get things moving.

Once I got cleaned up and dressed, and upon completing my first inspection, I found a gas station that had a decent looking coffee area. After all, even if I was fasting, that didn't mean I had to settle for bad coffee. It helped take the edge off of my headache. I spent the rest of the morning trying to drown the remainder of the headache with water, which was almost entirely successful.

The biggest issue I ran into on day two was that the dizziness was more consistent—as in, every time I got out of the car—and more intense. I never felt like I was going to fall over, but it was an extreme motivator to take it easy as I moved throughout the day. Staying uber-hydrated helped, so I kept drinking as the day went on. In day two, I drank 1.5 gallons of water. 

Surprisingly enough—or nearly shocking, to me—I wasn't hungry. I didn't feel the need to stop and order fries, or eat the chips that I had in the back of the car. And I didn't feel the need to roast the marshmallows that I brought when I stopped for the second night. As long as I had my water, I was fine.

Another headache began to show up in the evening on day two, but it was very mild. Once the rain started hitting the topper on my pickup—I slept on an inflatable mattress in the bed of the pickup both nights—I drifted off to sleep, and managed to stay that way until the next morning.

Day two ended in some unoccupied section of the Fort Thompson Recreation Area near Fort Thompson, SD. The pay camping area was pretty busy, and really didn't look that much better than anything one would find in Nebraska. The hidden area, which required driving on (gasp) gravel roads, was not only empty, but didn't appear to be maintained. It made for the perfect place to be alone and do things like read books and not eat.


Day three started with a very slight headache. After one water bottle and a cup of coffee, I felt almost normal. With the better part of the day spent in the car, I was pretty well set to have a physically easy third day of fasting—which was good, since I the one thing that wasn't normal was my energy level. It was running pretty low.

On my way home, I stopped in Neligh, NE to do some house cleaning at the shooting range. We've had a broken laptop and a broken backup drive laying around the house for close enough to forever, so it was time to get rid of them. This made for a fun reward after nearly three days in a mental desert.

As the afternoon wore on, I tried not to think about dinner. And it really wasn't that hard. I got back to Norfolk around 4:30 and went straight to Walmart to pick up some fruit juice, ribs, and charcoal for smoking this upcoming weekend. The juice was to help break my fast, since I'd read that juice was a good way to get your body going on things with calories again. Did that work? I'm shrugging. More on that later. As far as buying ribs and charcoal, well—that's always fun.

8 p.m. arrived before I knew it, and—just like that—I had fasted for three days. Upon the conclusion of my fast, I was not sitting in the kitchen with bowls of M&M's and a glass of beer to consume as a celebration, as I knew that such an act would end in tears. Instead, I had a relatively small dinner of fish and mixed vegetables. This seemed much safer.

As it turned out, though, no solid foods were safe until late the next day. It was as though my body forgot how to process food and turned into a slow gravity machine, so I'm still going light on food. I drank a lot of juice yesterday, and I just ate some vegetable soup for lunch. My body is getting back to normal again, so hopefully I'll be ready to eat a bit of smoked chicken and ribs on Sunday.


Going three days without eating was a challenge. Staying away from areas with food and what I would call "sensational clutter" helped significantly. It was physically draining, but not overwhelming. And it wasn't as much of a mental challenge as I thought it would be. I spend lots of time in my own head, so it was just a more intense version of normal. 

The trickiest part was ending the fast, and now I've got a better plan if I ever do this again: start with juice for the first meal and then move up to more exotic things like cooked veggies for that third or fourth meal.

Was it worth it? I'm not even sure how to define the question, much less how to answer it—yet, for some reason, my mind is saying yes! But I don't really like exclamation points, so I'll rephrase that to a calm "yes."

I did this without knowing what I was looking for, or if I was even looking for anything at all. I wanted to know that I could do it, and now I know that I can do it. So, in that sense, I accomplished my goal. I don't know if I encountered any great revelations beyond what I see in the day-to-day of my normal routine, but it was a process which did force me to focus rather than allowing myself to rely on my lazy habit of eating in order to pass the time. And if it somehow made me healthier inside, I'll take it.

The one thing that stood out was the control. I controlled what I allowed myself to have in an area of my life where I am terrible about doing so. I was able to say "no" in an area where I don't even bother saying "yes" before indulging. And the results felt free—as though I had opened the door to a packed closet and removed its entire contents all at once. That was a great feeling, and one that may entice me to do this again.