21 day water fast: one-month follow-up after the fast

fullsteamaheadI’m writing this 38 days after the end of the fast.  Why now?  Because yesterday I finally ran a solid half marathon in the hills at my usual pace and with no sore muscles today.  Because the day before that I reached my usual number of push-ups for the first time since finishing the fast.  Because earlier in the week I stood on the scales and found that I’m fully back to my pre-fast weight again.  In other words, physically, I feel myself again.  This may seem like a long time to recover, but it’s more or less what I had expected.  After previous week-long fasts, I’ve noticed it usually takes double the length of time to return to life as usual, and so, in this case, after 21 days of fasting, 42 days of recovery or thereabouts would correspond to this.

For me, the process of physical rebuilding tends not to take place linearly.  Following a bell curve instead, it starts relatively slowly as my everyday metabolism gradually reawakens.  This then intensifies into an accelerated period of regaining fat and muscle strength, after which the process gradually tapers off until I reach my ‘old self’.  For the last week or two I’ve felt somewhere near 90 percent, and this has been reflected quite precisely in terms of the number of push-ups I’ve been able to manage each day, their number gradually inching up from around 130 a couple of weeks ago to my usual 160 yesterday.  Likewise, already 21 days after the fast, I had returned to within a kilo or two of my pre-fast weight, but it’s taken another three weeks to finish the process.

Despite the usual bell curve to the physical rebuilding process, I sense that an additional element has played into the equation this time.  Whereas shorter fasts have involved a relatively straightforward path, I feel that recovery from this 21-day fast has followed two distinct phases.  The first 7-10 days were definitely focussed on regenerating the core and inner organs of my body, whereas the rebuilding since then has gradually shifted to restoring the peripheral surface muscles, the intermuscular fat stores which help feed them, as well as surface fat.  The way I perceive this is in how ‘strong’ I feel.  In the first week or two after the fast, for example, any attempt to train too hard quickly led to sore muscles and exhaustion.  In terms of push-ups, which represent a brief but intense challenge to strength, I simply lacked the ability to continue beyond a certain point.  Literally running out of power, I had to stop or fall flat on my face.  In terms of running, which is more a question of stamina, I had to accept a slower pace in order to keep going.  Even then I felt low on energy, and frequently ended up with sore muscles the next day.  Both in terms of strength and stamina, it felt that my body was imposing a certain daily limit beyond which I paid a heavy price physically.  Over the last few weeks, this limit has slowly but surely increased to the point where it feels good to challenge myself again.

Running has also illustrated the way that rebuilding after a fast begins with the core of the body.  Whereas normally there’s an equilibrium between my cardiovascular effort and that in my legs, for the last week or two I’ve felt a distinct imbalance, with my heart and lungs doing their job without any strain, while my legs have had to work harder to keep up.  This isn’t something I’ve noticed on previous fasts, and I wonder whether this reflects the possibility that shorter fasts don’t work so deeply on the central core of the body, instead drawing energy mostly out from intermuscular and subcutaneous fat tissue.

Now that I’m (more or less) fully recovered, I’ve noticed a subtle change to both eating and drinking.  First, my appetite isn’t as strong as it was before the fast, and I find that I need less food to satisfy my hunger.  This is especially true after longer runs, which in the past tended to increase my appetite within an hour or two.  Yesterday’s run, for instance, had no effect on appetite whatsoever, even though it consumed 1300-1500 calories.  In the end, though, I’m not too surprised by all this, given the way that fasting induces the body to digest more efficiently.  Second, I’m not as thirsty as I used to be before the fast.  I’m drinking about 25 percent less now, despite the hot summer weather.  Concerned about dehydration, I forced myself to stick to my usual amount of fluids for the first week or so.  But it didn’t feel right, and even contributed to the feeling of bloating (see previous entry).  Now I just drink whatever feels right.  I don’t know why I feel less thirsty since the end of the fast, but suspect that it relates to the deep and extended detox which took place.  Quite simply, with a lower toxic load, you need less water to flush the system out.

Emotionally and spiritually, I’m not quite sure what to say.  On the one hand, the fast and its open, effortless experience of being feel a million miles away: almost as if it were all just a figment of my imagination.  On the other hand, there are frequent moments throughout each day, especially when I’m not wrapped up in doing, when I spontaneously slip back into the feeling: not just a body-memory of what it was like to be while fasting, but a direct and unadulterated experience of the real thing.  It feels just as deep, just as expansive as before.  Yes, sometimes I forget it’s there, sometimes I get wrapped up – perhaps too wrapped up – in the trivialities of everyday life.  To be honest, a part of me still has difficulty reconciling doing and being: not in terms of a metaphysical and philosophical struggle (like that experienced during the fast), but in a more practical, down-to-earth way.  The task is so simple: to bring being into doing – always.  In recent years, I’ve been headed on this trajectory anyway, but having just been continually immersed in being for three whole weeks, I’m even more acutely aware of how essential this synthesis is for me.  Because it’s only when being and doing are seamlessly fused together that you truly become conscious of and at one with life.

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