Community Contributor
9:00 am
Wed February 6, 2013

When A Juice Fast Turns Into A Week Without Food, Then 21 Days Without A Meal

Alex de Carvalho on July 17, 2011, and Sept. 18, 2011.
Alex de Carvalho on July 17, 2011, and Sept. 18, 2011.

I could hardly believe what I was looking at. There it was, star­ing right at me. I could no longer ignore, deny, or post-rationalize what I already knew as the dig­i­tal evi­dence stared me down and waved its mer­ci­less accusatory fin­ger at me. This marked the end of the line for me, three months ago to the day.

My friends and I had just returned from an over­whelm­ingly fun and unex­pect­edly glut­to­nous week­end in the Florida Keys. It wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily our inten­tion to gorge on food, but we man­aged to turn a great idea — “Let’s hold our annual SxSE (South by South­east) shindig in Key West” — into a convenient excuse to par­tic­i­pate in a three-day orgy of food and drink. We kicked off the week­end on Fri­day with a cre­ative and deli­ciously rich, choco­late concoction at Bet­ter Than Sex dessert lounge, which, by the way, almost lives up to its name. We fin­ished with a big order of spareribs at Porky’s Bay­side BBQ on our way back home on Sun­day. Sure, we had a lot of fun besides eat­ing, and I did make a valiant effort to burn off the excess calo­ries with a good bike ride around the island, but in hind­sight, our var­i­ous deli­cious but rich meals stood out most for me.

So as I sat on my couch at home star­ing at my friends’ new albums on Face­book, I was taken aback, shocked, and hor­ri­fied by what I saw. How did my mir­ror lie so much to me for so long? Did I not notice the weight creep­ing on? What about all that daily bik­ing I had done over the past four months, for nearly an hour a day — what did I have to show for that?

The high water mark for my weight was also an emo­tional low point for my spirit.

After metic­u­lously untag­ging myself from the offend­ing pic­tures, I shut down the lap­top and turned on Net­flix, hop­ing to dis­tract myself. By some inge­nious if slightly creepy and syn­chro­nous design, Net­flix divined my state of mind and sug­gested a doc­u­men­tary: “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” Of course I watched it. This is the compelling story of an Aussie who spends two months dri­ving around the United States “juic­ing” his way back to health with fruits, sal­ads and veg­eta­bles. Along the way, he meets a trucker who looks to be twice as heavy as he is, who then pro­ceeds to juice his own way back to health.

I watched the movie twice and started juic­ing the very next morn­ing. I had bought a juicer years ago that I hadn’t really put it to use. Luck­ily I had some leafy greens, pep­pers and car­rots in the fridge, which made for a bizarre tast­ing break­fast. I was so eager to get started that I didn’t bother to look up a recipe.

I remember those first days well. I looked for juice bars in Miami, which are few and far between, and would drive miles dur­ing lunch to buy two juices. They were tasty but gone in a few sips. I did this for three days, then switched to water. Yes, water.

While on my juice fast — or feast, rather, as the juices are really refresh­ing — I was read­ing all I could about fast­ing. Some of the resources I came across sug­gested an alter­nate juic­ing with water days. That is, once you’ve “cleansed” your sys­tem through juic­ing, you can eas­ily and safely spend some days on a water fast. That’s exactly what I did.

When I tell peo­ple about my expe­ri­ence, they like to con­clude that I fol­lowed a “cold turkey” approach: one moment I was eat­ing and the next I had stopped eat­ing, for­ever. But that’s not quite how it hap­pened. I had noticed I had gained a lot of weight over time, because my scale told me so, because my par­ents dropped not-so-subtle hints, and because my clos­est friends would nee­dle me. I knew I had to do some­thing about it one day, but I kept putting it off as I pri­or­i­tized other areas of my life, mostly work and pro­fes­sional activities.

When I did start the water fast, I did so grad­u­ally by juic­ing first for a num­ber of days. Had I gone straight from eat­ing a dozen spareribs at Porky’s to fast­ing for 21 days … well … I would not have made it through the first day. Juic­ing for three days was key to com­plet­ing a pro­longed fast.

I ini­tially set out to fast for five days, then 10, then 21. As I reached each stage, I felt bet­ter and bet­ter. By day three I no longer felt hun­gry, by day five I no longer felt the occa­sional but infre­quent nau­sea, and from day 10 to 21 it was smooth and plea­sur­able sailing.

I dis­cov­ered that fast­ing is a voy­age of dis­cov­ery larger than just the weight loss alone. Because eat­ing is such an impor­tant part of our lives, the nihilism of our mod­ern way of eat­ing is an affir­ma­tion of self. So much of our daily lives is ded­i­cated to food, between gro­cery shop­ping, cook­ing, dri­ving to restau­rants, and eat­ing. So much of our body’s energy is spent on digest­ing the food we eat. For some peo­ple, so much men­tal effort is spent obsess­ing about their body image. When you remove these things, your choices in life are laid bare: how you spend your time, who you keep com­pany with, what you do. When you fig­ure out the direct link between the food you eat and your body, so much else in life becomes crys­tal clear.

What helped me most was to set­tle into a daily rou­tine. I found myself wak­ing up well before dawn, at which point I would put on some light clothes and go for a long walk. It’s refresh­ing to be up when every­one is still sleep­ing, when few cars are on the road, when cats and owls peer at you through the dark­ness, and when you can hear the wind rustling the leaves. Of great­est value was tak­ing the time to med­i­tate for about 20 min­utes after the morn­ing walk. This morn­ing rou­tine nour­ished my senses, cleared my mind, and rein­forced my will.

At times, it felt like the pas­sage of time itself slowed down, espe­cially dur­ing my early morn­ing walks. Even as time slowed down, issues unrav­eled, my moti­va­tions became clear, and I gained new insights about myself and about others.

I lost a ton of weight, about 50 pounds, a quar­ter of my body weight and what seems like half my body mass. Beyond that, I felt many addi­tional ben­e­fits, includ­ing more energy, health­ier skin, clearer eyes, bet­ter sleep and improved diges­tion. My gums improved, much to my dentist’s delight. My sinuses cleared up. I feel less tense. These are per­ma­nent and unex­pected improvements.

My fast was going so well that I delayed the break by another day; I fasted for 22 days and approached my first meal with some appre­hen­sion. As impor­tant as fast­ing is break­ing the fast. There is an abun­dance of advice on how to do this, but the main prin­ci­ple is to ease your­self back into eat­ing. Ide­ally, a fast is fol­lowed by many days of juic­ing, fol­lowed by fruits, then veg­eta­bles, then other foods.

It should be fairly obvi­ous that eat­ing a burger after a fast ranks among the worst things you can do to your body. It’s very unlikely to hap­pen, because after an extended fast you crave health­ier foods. In my case I juiced first and then ate a light meal of brown rice and veg­eta­bles. That proved too much and I paid for it with strong intesti­nal pain some hours later. Sub­se­quent meals were thank­fully unevent­ful. I took the oppor­tu­nity to switch to a vegan diet and have immensely enjoyed new tastes I was unac­cus­tomed to before. I can­not imag­ine return­ing to the way I used to eat.

After this first fast, I ate for three weeks and then went through a 10-day fast. This time, the fast was a breeze, with­out any unease or hunger. Three more weeks of eat­ing and I’ve just now bro­ken my third fast, of seven days. This one was rel­a­tively easy.

Just three months ago, I was par­a­lyzed by dejec­tion as I faced that fel­low look­ing back at me in the pho­tos my friends uploaded. I revis­ited those pic­tures for the first time today. I now com­mis­er­ate with that fellow.

There is hope.

There is a way.

And it is so worth fol­low­ing that path.

If you fol­low a fast or skip meals, please con­sider donat­ing the value of a meal to Let’s Not Do Lunch or to the World Food Pro­gramme.

This item was reprinted with permission from Alex de Car­valho’s blog. Based in Miami, de Carvalho has helped unite South Florida’s tech com­mu­nity by found­ing Social Media Club, Bar­Camp, Ignite, Social Media Day and Mobile Mon­day events for South Florida new media pro­fes­sion­als. He is also a found­ing mem­ber of Refresh­Mi­ami. He has co-founded several startups and recently co-authored Secur­ing the Clicks: Net­work Secu­rity in the Age of Social Media. Con­nect with Alex on Twit­ter, @alexdc.