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Starving yourself for 10 days in the name of science

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by Rene Williams, for outsideleft.com
originally published: December, 2004
By the last day, I was practically hallucinating
by Rene Williams, for outsideleft.com
originally published: December, 2004
By the last day, I was practically hallucinating

I love my friend Pat. To the casual observer, he's a classic loser. He's been in college for 10 years and counting, he still lives with his parents, he doesn't have a job, and he's in a band that steals blatantly from Tangerine Dream. He leads a somewhat charmed life. But the thing I admire about him, though, is his peace of mind. He's one of those meditating, New Age hippies who floats through life stress-free—and I hate him because of it. If he's not rock climbing, he's practicing karate. He says activities like that cleanse his soul. I say he's putting off life but I'm also a bitter, jealous prude, and he gets off on my resentment towards him.

It's not like he doesn't try and help me. He always invites me to his "man against nature/soul searching" camping trips and occasionally tries to teach me how to meditate because I'm an "uptight, fucking pig." I'll admit it, I'm sick. But I refuse to freeze my fat ass off in the mountains for inner serenity.

About two years ago, he got into fasting—not one of those three-day baby fasts that allow you to sip warm broth and sweet fruit juice. He went hardcore and did a popular ten-day starvation diet consisting of water with lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne chili peppers. He claimed it wiped his mental, spiritual and physical slate clean.

The theory is that your internal organs aren't busy breaking down food, instead they're working on the toxic waste that's been stored in your colon and stomach lining over the years. It's an overhaul that I've needed for a while. I've done more damage to my body in the last twelve months then my high school and college years combined. I decide to put myself to the 10-day test.

Almost ceremoniously, I started my fast at midnight on a Monday, timed perfectly to coincide with the conclusion of two seven-layer burritos and a Guinness.

I woke up the next morning feeling groggy as usual, shivering in bed and mentally preparing for the day. Things are already bad when I realize that I can't have my ritualistic pot of coffee. It was going to be a blissful ten days. Things started getting distorted at about 3 p.m. I hear my stomach growl as if to remind me that I've forgotten about it's last three meals and the in-between snacks. I put out that fire with water for the rest of the night and was thankful when hunger lost to fatigue.

I awoke the second day feeling rather sprightly. I didn't hit the snooze button or wait for inspiration before getting out of bed. Instead, I cracked open a fresh bottle of water, made my bed (which is unheard of), and proceed to make a list of things I had to do for the day. I was actually feeling confident about this fast. I convinced myself that if I can get through this fast, I could do anything.

It's also on the second day when I tell my wife what I'm doing.

"Oh. Maybe I should avoid you for the next week or so," she said cautiously. "I don't think this is going to be good for anyone meaning me."

I explained all the benefits of the fast, and I might have even convinced her that it was all in the name of science. "Plus," I added, "it's also supposed to increase sexual stamina."

I endured my first real test on the second day. I was supposed to attend a grand opening of a restaurant, and that spelled disaster. Grand openings usually mean lots of gratis cocktails, greasy hors d'oeuvres, and—in my case—a few clove cigarettes.

I purposely arrived at the restaurant late and avoid the bar for the entire night, but the waitresses are out like chicken hawks.

"What can I get ya," a waitress says. I ordered water with a twist of lemon, figuring it would look like a cocktail, and if I look like I have a full drink, nobody will ask questions. I just wanted this night to be over.

It worked. Not only did I resist that night's temptation, but I feel even better the next day. My confidence is at an all time high.

It was also the day I had to do what I refer to as the "enema." I'm not sure of the ratio, but Pat said he drank a pitcher of warm pitcher water mixed with a small amount sea salt and let Mother Nature take her course. Apparently, the weight of the salty elixir is the same as the liquid in the body, and instead of going straight to the stomach, it would go through the digestive system and out the back door—hopefully taking with it the crud on the walls of my innards.

After 15 minutes of thinking I got the mixture wrong, I was overcome by the kung-fu grip clenching of my bowels. I made it to the bathroom just as I think I can't hold it any longer. I refuse to look at what was in me but I feel instantly 5 pounds lighter.

Between the fourth and seventh days, I feel really reserved, almost lazy. Things that normally piss me off—like traffic and my co-workers—no longer fazed me. Little old ladies cut me off without bothering to use their signals or mirrors, and I laughed. Maybe this fast was working. I'd lost about a pound and a half per day, and my level of self-confidence was at an all-time high. During meals, I pitied the people around me as they gorged themselves on greasy fast food that was once my life's blood.

Things turned sour on days eight and nine. Hunger became my closest companion. I was in constant discomfort. The calm was gone. My wife and I had our first lovers' quarrel. I even had to put my TV in the closet because—suddenly, inexplicably—everything was about food. I soon found out that advertisers promote food as fun, not a necessity. Even television had forsaken me.

By the last day, I was practically hallucinating. I feel like I do after I've spent 12 hours in front of my laptop trying to make deadline. I spent my last day in bed reading a book I knew that made no references to food.

At midnight, I lamely drive to Taco Bell and order one of almost everything on the menu. I got through one and a half bean-and-cheese burritos before I nearly threw it back up. I forgot that Pat told me that I wouldn't be able to eat much at first.

Those 10 days were among the worst I've ever willingly put myself through. Everything Pat claimed came to be: I felt mentally, physically and spiritually sound—unfortunately not all at the same time.

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