What happens if you don’t eat for 382 days? That’s what one man did, and as far as I know, it’s the longest ‘fast’ ever. I’ve known about this particular case for quite a while, but every time I go looking for information about it, I have a hard time finding it . So I’m posting a review of the account here along with the write-up in the Postgraduate Medical Journal (March 1973). As you can see, this all happened nearly 40 years ago, but I think it remains an important study; especially for anyone contemplating fasting for weight loss.
Features of a Successful Therapeutic Fast of 382 Day’s Duration details the 382 day fast that a 27-year-old man undertook under medical supervision. When this report was made, it was the longest reported fast. To date, I don’t think it’s ever been beaten.
Details of the Fast: How it Was Done
During the fast, the patient received vitamin supplements, yeast, and Paladac (used to treat vitamin deficiencies). There is no mention of how much yeast he consumed. Because he ate yeast, this isn’t the kind of fast that might come to mind when you hear the word. It’s not like he just had water and vitamin pills. The yeast would have provided some protein. Unfortunately, we don’t know how much protein or carbohydrate he obtained from the diet, because there is no mention of how much yeast he took.
We also don’t know how much fat and how much lean tissue were left over at the end of the fast. One of the problems associated with fasting is that a faster can lose as much muscle and lean tissue (such as your internal organs) as he does fat. This isn’t healthy. What most dieters want is to lose a lot of fat and end up looking lean and cut like Brad Pit; not emaciated like Ally McBeal.
Curious Details of the Fast
- The patient would go 37-48 days without taking a poop.
- The patient lost 276 pounds.
- That’s .7 pounds a day!
- 5 years later, he had only gained 16 pounds back.
- After 4 months, the patient’s blood glucose remained around 30mg/100ml (very low), but he felt fine.
Benefits of Fasting
In terms of pure fat-loss, fasting doesn’t always come out ahead when compared with other diets. It also tends to have a negative impact on lean body mass such as your liver and heart as well as skeletal muscle. Fasters, however, seem to be able to stick to the fast fairly well after the initial few days. Fasting also has a great track-record when it comes to weight-loss, although in some studies, a low-carb diet has been more successful. Fasting is also probably the cheapest diet plan known to mankind.
Dangers of Fasting
Genetically obese rodents have been forced to fast until the point of death. You might think that these chubby rodents would end up super lean before the keel over, but the reality is that they run out of protein before they run out of fat. After death, they still seem to be a fairly normal size. When we slice them open, we find that they still have plenty of fat, but their muscles and other lean organs are wasted away.
Losing lean tissue is one of the dangers of fasting, and there is another. When you aren’t taking in vitamins and minerals with food, your body continues to use them and lose them. This is especially dangerous in the case of potassium. Potassium is required for normal heart functioning. Without enough, your heart can stop pumping and you will die. This is a condition called, hypokalemia: low blood potassium. Strangely, too much potassium in the blood can also stop the heart; go figure.
So a complete fast threatens to kill you in two ways. It breaks down the muscle in your heart to provide your body with protein, and it lowers your level of potassium. There are other problems, but I’ll just stick to these two because I think they are probably the most common and the most likely to cause problems. Tragically, fasting also produces a sense of euphoria in the faster. So someone can be fasting and be getting closer and closer to heart failure, but feel great and not want to stop the fast. This is explained in much more detail by Dr. Eades in his book, Thin So Fast.
In the case of the faster in this article, levels of potassium and other minerals were monitored, and the he took supplements. It’s possible that yeast provided enough protein to keep him healthy, or perhaps he started out with enough lean tissue mass to last him 382 days. I don’t know how much of an issue protein loss was for him because it really wasn’t mentioned in the article.
It is true that protein loss will slow down as your body adjusts to a fast, but it will never stop. You can not endlessly recycle the proteins that you have so that you don’t need to eat more. If you ever read that protein loss is not an issue from a fasting fanatic (you know they exist), please know that it is a very real danger.
Avoiding the Dangers of Fasting
I think it’s pretty obvious that one of the ways to lessen the dangers of fasting is to take vitamin and mineral supplements. Some minerals, such as potassium, should be ingested in larger than usual amounts. It would also be smart to ingest enough protein to prevent your body from breaking down its own muscles and organs. If you did those two things, you might have all the benefits of fasting with few of the risks.
Well, that’s exactly what some bariatric (weight-loss) doctors did when they created the protein sparing modified fast (PSMF). Protein sparing modified fasts were created in the late 70s and became very popular for a while; especially after Oprah Winfrey used it to lose 67lbs. Most current versions of the PSMF allow for solid food, though I’m not sure if this makes them more effective, less effective, or if it has no impact at all.
A Surprising Benefit of Fasting
I mentioned the euphoria that many people feel on a fast, and I’m going to close with one last benefit; one that most people aren’t aware of. Apparently, after the first four days or so, you aren’t hungry anymore. People who have done fasts longer than just a few days stop wanting to eat. So not only does fasting lead to rapid weight loss (.72lbs per day in the case I’ve mentioned), but it makes you feel better and you don’t want to eat. It seems to me that a protein sparing modified fast is probably the best possible way to lose weight; once you make it past the first four days.
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