About a month ago, David Brinker asked me to participate in the “30 Day Stoic Challenge.” The Challenge runs through October and is hosted by the mainstream Stoic writer, Ryan Holiday. As someone trying to learn more about Stoic Philosophy, I was intrigued, but I had one condition: if we do it, we have to keep each other accountable. I didn’t want to sign up for a challenge like this is then slack off halfway through the month. Brinker agreed, so we signed up.
The first few challenges were either something I was already doing, or were easy to accomplish. Then we were challenged to fast for 24 hours. That’s right, we couldn’t eat for 24 hours, we could only drink water. The challenges are released each morning, and I know I wasn’t supposed to prepare for the challenge, but this one was rough to just jump into. So, I planned to do it from after dinner Friday night (7:30pm) to Saturday night at 7:30pm. Coach Jen did it with me too. We successfully completed the challenge and here is what I learned:
- I had no idea how much I ate out of unconscious habit. There were a ton of times during the 24 hour period that I would walk into the kitchen just looking for something to eat. I wouldn’t even realize I was doing it. Or, I would have the desire to eat and I would start thinking of things I could eat similarly to the way I think of things to eat when I am watching my macros during the day. It would be like, “What can I eat that isn’t high in macros? I don’t want to spoil my dinner.” I kept having to remind myself that I can’t eat. I wasn’t even that hungry most of the day. I just had this habit if grabbing something to eat.
- I don’t have to eat as often as I do. Along the same lines as an unconscious habit is the unnecessary habit. Clearly, I don’t need that piece of chocolate in the middle of the afternoon. I don’t need to take an apple in the car with me when we are going to the store. I don’t have to grab something from the fridge just because part of me wants to eat. I won’t die, I won’t actually be that hungry, I don’t actually need whatever it is I am going to eat.
- I have the will power to do what I want to do. I can overcome adversity. I love to eat. I love food. If I can go 24 hours without something I love, then I am in control to do whatever I want to do, or don’t want to do. If I want to stop eating sugar, I can do it. I did it for 24 hours. I didn’t instantly eat 5lbs of cookies as soon as the fast was over. So, my “need” for sugar is just an uncontrolled desire to eat it. As I like say, if you want to change a habit, find a purpose for changing it. Otherwise, you won’t change it.
- I want to do it again. But, this time, I want to make it harder. There were moments of weakness around hour 20, but that was because I put myself around food. In the end, it wasn’t that hard. I learned things like how foggy my brain gets from lack of food. How sleepy I get. Additionally, I was really cold all day. Now, I want to know if I can do things like a morning CrossFit workout during the fast. What will happen. I might find out.
- Don’t go to Costco. Really, don’t go anywhere around food. This is a good life lesson for any time you are trying to break a habit or complete a challenge: don’t put yourself in a situation that encourages failure. If you are trying to stop drinking alcohol, don’t go to the bar. If you are trying to stop eating sugar, don’t go to the bakery. If you want to stop smoking, don’t hang out with people who smoke.
For anyone looking to try fasting, start small. Try 12 hours and see how it goes. Or, do what I did, set some plans, and jump in for 24 hours. What’s the worst that will happen? If you start feeling light headed, just eat something. You learned your limit for now. Oh, and if you have a medical issue, like low blood sugar, don’t try this without consulting a doctor, you may actually die.
The benefits of fasting are numerous. They include: reducing risk of heart disease and diabetes, boost human growth hormone, improve brain function, and rest the digestive system. There are a lot of debates out there about which fancy diet is the best. However, there are very few debates about the benefits of controlled limitations on your life.
The Stoics practiced fasting as a tool to increase will power, a reminder of what you have, and as preparation for what life could be like if Fate turns her evil hand on your life.
My next challenge? Fast from 7:30pm Friday night to noon on Saturday (16.5 hours) with a CrossFit class at hour 13. We will see how that goes.