Thursday, July 5, 2012

a fast fast - 60 hours without food

Since the WSOP began, I've trained jiujitsu five times, and taken three Muay Thai lessons. Eight sessions of training is usually a week for me, but instead it's constituted my last five weeks here in Las Vegas. Last Friday, after frustratingly busting out from Day 2 of the 5k NL tournament, I went over to Cobra Kai Jiujitsu here in Las Vegas for a pair of classes. I got whooped on, as one would expect. I had been planning to attend the Grapplers Quest tournament here in Las Vegas, but given my performance I was starting to reconsider. Then J.C. Alvarado, another poker pro who has taken up grappling and MMA, tweeted at me and said that despite his inexperience, he would be willing to compete. Well, I figured if J.C. was willing to sack up and compete, then I could too.

The problem, of course, is that I haven't been training. Not only that, I've been playing poker, sitting for hours on end, eating poorly, sleeping worse, and just generally getting fat and out of shape. On Monday the 2nd, I bought a new battery for the scale and checked in at 138 lbs, needing to get down to 129.9 lbs on what would be today, Thursday the 5th. So starting on Monday, I went zero-carb, and had my last real meal on Tuesday morning: a big, greasy mess of bacon, eggs, and avocado. I basically haven't eaten since that Tuesday breakfast. I'm a voracious eater, so I had assumed that going 60 hours without eating would be pretty miserable and questioned whether I should even do it.

Fasting is something that I have always meant to do but never gotten around to doing. I've adopted a paleo-type lifestyle for a while now, and (mostly) adopted protocols with respect to nutrition, sleep, activity levels and so forth, but one thing I have never really felt strong enough to do was fast. I've always been scared to do it because I know that in the past I have been, quite frankly, a short-tempered asshole when I'm hungry. And I'm frequently hungry. Like 99% of the first-world population, I have grown accustomed to food-on-demand. I have often raided the fridge out of boredom, or simply eaten because the clock -- not my stomach -- has dictated that it is mealtime. I'm a very physically active person 11 months out of the year and so despite my size, I burn and consume a lot of calories. The thought of even going 24 hours without food had always terrified me.

But I'm now past the 48-hour mark, and it's not so bad. Yes, I'm hungry right now. But it's merely "hungry", not "starving" or "famished" or "dying".  My body has accepted that it's not going to get some convenient external source of glucose but that instead it will have to use up this body fat to fuel the systems. I played an entire day of poker (well, 8.5 levels anyway) yesterday and for the most part felt very mentally sharp. I thought about food only occasionally, whereas if you would have told me I would play a poker tournament after having not eaten for a day I would have guessed that the thought of food would be all-consuming. I was in a good mood most of the day and am in a perfectly good mood now, although I imagine as tonight's 6 PM weigh-in approaches I'll start to anticipate breaking the fast in a very big way.

Overall, I am completely surprised at how well I am handling my first 48 hours without food, and I think it's been a great learning experience. The old me would have freaked out at the thought of 48 hours without food, that my body would wither away and die. But really, the most difficult part of this is leaping that psychological hurdle. I've had to force myself to recognize that a fast of this length is not that big a deal and that humans are in fact designed and have evolved to deal with food scarcity. Sometimes the caveman threw the spear at the buffalo and missed.

As for the grappling itself, unfortunately I survived Day 1A of yesterday's 1k NL with a measly 8500 in chips, so I end up with the worst of both worlds: I have no chips, and barring an absolute snap-bust, won't get to compete in Friday's no-gi tournament. But since I have gotten this far, I will still cut the remainder of the weight (down to 133.6 this morning without cutting water) and register for Saturday's gi tournament, with the intent to compete in it unless I manage to somehow luckbox my way to a day 3. If, as expected, I bust out efficiently on Day 2, I'll jet it over to the Mandalay and coach J.C. in his no-gi grappling debut.

I guess I would wrap this entry up by saying that if you're a person who, like me, has considered himself a slave to food, you might benefit from attempting some sort of fast. Numerous studies have shown the tremendous health benefits of intermittent fasting, and not only has this been not nearly as hard as I thought it would be, it's been educational. Give it a try!


  1. I did a 48 hr fast last year, just for the challenge, and it was tough...and I dont eat much anyway. Must be doubly so for an active eater!

  2. Just wondering: How does intermittent fasting jive with the conventional wisdom that skipping breakfast is bad? Is the conventional wisdom wrong? Do fasting people drink coffee/tea and call it breakfast? What is the tradeoff here?

    1. Skipping breakfast occasionally is not a big deal, nor is skipping any meal, really. See my "myths" post from a few weeks ago. I usually work out in the morning on an empty stomach and eat afterwards, so I often functionally skip breakfast.

    2. the word "intermittent" is probably a help.

      the conventional wisdom that there's one perfect way for everyone or one perfect way for someone to act 100% of the time is at fault here, i think.

      most people skip breakfast to IF but this is actually really bad for me. i don't get hungry or cranky but it messes me up otherwise. on the flip hand, eating immediately when i wake up and eating all my food by mid afternoon works awesome.