On Sunday, I started a 2 day fast. Although I have read and agree with many of the merits of intermittent fasting, I remember lasting 45 minutes as I reached into my jersey pocket for a bite of a bar during my morning bike ride. I am a snacker. I would even say that I am a compulsive snacker. Yes, I eat healthy foods but eating a box of cereal throughout the course of a day as a snack, even if it is organic Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes, is a bit of a concern. I digress! I snack on apples, nuts, grapes, cereal, veggies, hummus, yogurt, granola, cottage cheese, hard boiled eggs all day long. I do not like being hungry. So when the CF clinic sent me the form for a colonoscopy and stipulated that it required a 2-day fast, I cancelled it. That was 5 years ago when I actually had exhibited signs of “needing a peak at the colon”. The IV antibiotics I took for 5 weeks in 2010 wrecked havoc on my GI tract and it was frightening. But a 2-day fast was even more frightening. So I bailed. But after my last CF consult, the doctors recommended a colonoscopy. The dreaded appointment was on June 19th and the fast would start on June 17th.
Colon cancer is more prevalent with CF patients. It isn’t a big subject since years ago the median age of survival was in the 20’s so cancer wasn’t a big concern. But now, thankfully, as the adult population grows and CF patients live longer, colon screening is important.
CF patients require a 2-day fast vs the typical 1-day or 18 hour fast. A CF colon takes longer to empty and so we get to have 2-days of prep and 6 litres of prep fluids to ensure a squeaky clean tract! I re-named the fast as a cleanse. It would be a good lesson in self discipline, give me an opportunity to rest and allow me to reset my scattered eating habits. I was going to learn and come back healthier and less dependent on food.
The fast began on Sunday June 17th. I went for a run at 5 am using the energy from my feeding the night before. I didn’t officially begin fasting until 8 am. I was allowed a light snack before 8 am! I chose 3 hard boiled eggs and cottage cheese and blueberries as my last supper!
I got hungry at 1 pm. The list of allowable edibles was jello, coke, popsicles and broth. I drank a lot of soda water and then resorted to soup broth. After walking Fenway in the evening, I needed calories. I resorted to popsicles. I swore I would never eat such artificial sugary garbage. But I did. The sugar surge made me feel so jittery so I chased it with a cup of soup broth.
I figured I would sleep well since I had no energy but I woke up constantly counting down the hours until the procedure. I tried to sleep in past my usual 4:30 am wake up in order to “sleep off” as much of the fast as possible to get to the finish line quicker. I woke up at 6 am and walked Fenway. I staggered home, ate a popsicle followed by soup broth and tried to ride my bike for a little endorphin rush. I had nothing in my legs. Food truly is fuel.
We were now at 28 hours into the fast and I was starving. I had to put a cloth over my fruit bowl to hide the apples. I found myself opening the cupboard reaching for a handful of almonds or cereal. But that reactive grab was all a habit. Snacking had become my little naughty habit!
But then I was over the hump. It was almost bedtime and 15 hours later, it would be over. I had no fantasy meal planned. I had packed 3 apples and a Zone RX bar in my bag. I thought I would like a bagel with peanut butter but knew that Chipotle was around the corner from the hospital so a rice and bean burrito would do the trick.
I could have nothing to eat or drink in the morning. My procedure was at 2 pm but got bumped up to 11 am. Thank you God! But 53 hours later, at 1 pm, I had a glass of water and a Zone RX bar (10 grams fat, 24 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams protein) as soon as the IV was removed. I was a new person. Prior to the procedure, I lumbered up Yonge Street from Union Station to St. Michael’s Hospital, 2 steps behind Dave because I physically could not keep up. But now, after getting some nutrition, I was a new person. Next was the apple. Then the burrito. I could have run a marathon! I was happy. I had energy and the best part was that my colon was sparkling clean, free of polyps and healthy!
So what did I learn:
- My patience was definitely limited when fasting. Fenway sniffs way too much while walking and forgetting the Apple TV password can lead to divorce. Or maybe I was just hungry!
- Baking and preparing dinner is out of the question. Giving Fenway a treat was a challenge. A crunchy doggie biscuit is similar to cereal isn’t it?
- I had so much more time without the need to prepare my meals and eat them. I even got to sit down and watch some TV although that did cause frustration as there was nothing on TV and the Apple TV password was .. ahem .. forgotten!
- I snack too much out of habit and ease of reach. I need to focus on healthy full meals a bit more and less on habitual snacking. I believe I will get in more nutrients that way.
- That said, I really like eating and even though I eat a limited variety of foods, I really like what I eat and it brings me pleasure. I do like bland food and I don’t have a sweet tooth even after 53 hours of no food.
- It is ok to be hungry. Hunger may allow me to draw more pleasure from my food and meal time.
- Cravings are “encouraged” by our habits. Hunger is satisfied by our needs. While I was starving for 53 hours, I did not have any significant cravings. I did not crave sugar. I craved food. I was only allowed popsicles, jello and soda as calorie sources. None appealed to me. Dave ate lasagna at dinner. I did not want any. I really just wanted plain boring food with a dash of fat which is why a bagel with peanut butter was my first thought as a post fasting meal. Carbs and fats are great fuel sources and of course we need protein for muscle retention and growth. When you are hungry, your body will tell you what you need. You don’t need to read it online.
- Hunger and poverty is a problem. I kept telling myself that poor people are hungry all the time. How I feel is how they feel every single day. I tried to be productive. I worked all day each day but when real difficult cognitive tasks presented themselves, I had to step back and leave it for another day. The brain does not work without fuel – in particular without carbohydrates. Children in the poverty cycle cannot learn in our schools. And if they cannot learn, they are unlikely to stay in school and thus the cycle of poverty continues. School food programs can prevent the poverty cycle from perpetuating. School food programs ultimately can take a burden off of health care and police services if we look at the big picture.
- “Food is fuel” is not a cliche. Without food, you cannot function properly. If you feel sluggish, look at your diet.
- With a strong mind and will, you can accomplish anything even something you don’t really want to do. Self talk is key.
- I took my own suggestion – “list your assets before embarking on any difficult undertaking”. I referenced my list of assets and all of the reasons I would be successful in this fast. That became the backbone of managing this 53 hours. This was my mindset:
- When I felt unbearable hunger, I recalled that many people are starving and will never feel full whereas I get to eat in 2 days.
- With 6 hours to go and unable to eat or drink anything, I reminded myself to “finish what I start”.
- Instead of focusing on the 2 days of not eating, I lived in the moment and got through each hour.
- Once I got “halfway” and then told myself I was in the finishing stretch.
- I turned the fast into a “detox” and a “reset” and test of will power. I used it as a learning experience. This gave it purpose and gave me a theme and a “why”.
- I was grateful to have such great doctors at the CF Clinic being proactive with my health care.
And so, today is a new day. I was back to my 4:30 am wake up call and excited to do a run and swim session. I ate breakfast with joy. I feel more patient and content. I am not reaching for a non-stop flow of grapes or nuts or cereal. I am pretty proud of myself.
So instead of saying “I can’t do that” whether it be going for a run, starting a diet, taking a second look at a potential new career, tell yourself why you “can” do it. Then make the choice whether it is something that you actually want to do. When our hand is forced, we can do incredible things.
Find your “why” and change that “impossible task” into a “do-able challenge”.