Some time in the 00’s, I did a 7 day “water” fast on Koh Samui in Thailand. It was a harrowing experience, in which I suffered incredible hardship and the heights of ecstasy.
Why on earth would I want to starve myself?
These days fasting has become mainstream. Everyone seems to be doing either intermittent or prolonged fasting for weight loss or other health benefits. When I was contemplating this fast, it was still considered to be quite out there, like how we thought yoga was just for wierdos when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s.
So, why would I want to do it? I had several motivations. I wanted to lose weight. I have been skinny fat my whole life and tried every kind of diet and thought this just might be a miracle cure for my flabbiness. I had read about the magical “detox” effect of fasting and heard incredible stories of the fantastic energy one gets when the body has a chance to rest its digestive system and purge itself of years of toxic waste that has been accummulating.
But most of all, was the anecdotal evidence of 2 Australian friends of mine whom I had met in Japan. They had gone back repeatedly to Thailand just to experience “the taste of the first joint” after breaking the fast! That had to be something else!
I booked the 7 day fast on Koh Samui, a popular tourist island in Thailand, on the recommendation of my Australian friends. The “retreat” was pretty basic and run by a yoga teacher and a couple of Raw Veganers, if that is the correct term. It was on the quiet side of the island away from the party crowd. There were about 10 of us in the group – all white Europeans or Australians. I was the only male. We each had a private basic bunglow on the beach.
We had a programme for the 7 days – morning yoga classes followed by basic nutrition lessons – what is a carbohydrate, what is protein, etc. The afternoons were free for lounging around, getting massages or steam baths. In the evening we gathered again for more classes, sing songs and more lectures.
These days most fasting retreats in Portugal or Thailand offer so-called “juice” fasts. That means, you are allowed a fresh juice once per day. Strict water fasts are considered to be too hard on the body and after about 3 days, you start to lose vital nutrients, like electrolytes. This fast was instead a “water” fast, meaning we were only allowed to drink water. One of the benefits of fasting is a reset of your insulin sensitivity. Every time you consume calories, your blood sugar spikes, thus defeating the purpose of the fast.
This fast was not a strict water fast however. Additionally, we were allowed as much coconut water as we wanted (I hate coconut water) and were served soup in the evening, which was just the water from boiled vegetables with no seasonings. It was disgusting. After 3 days of this soup, I could hardly keep it down it was so vile.
We were also given a bag of “herbs” to mix with water. These herbs were mostly Psyllium Husk, a bulking laxative, which helped ease the hunger pangs and facilitate purging of toxins. These herbs were foul, but I forced myself to take them to ease the horrible hunger.
Finally, we had to self-administer a coffee enema. This delicate operation was performed in the privacy of our bungalows once per day. We were given a bucket with the water/coffee mixture, a long thin rubber tube and some butter as a lubricant. We had to siphon the coffee water by placing one end of the tube in the bucket and sucking on the other end. As the coffee water started to flow through the tube, we had to stick the other lubricated end up our arse and let the liquid flow into our intestines. It was a really wierd feeling. I hated it! But I couldn’t wait to get it over and done with every day because I always felt better afterwards – less nauseous.
In addition to the lectures on nutrition, which were quite useful, we had some optional extras. Some were included in the retreat price and others were supplemental. One woman was offering Reiki and past live therapy. Pass.
I decided to do the Iridology. The woman leading the retreat was a qualified practitioner and it sounded great. The idea is, you can examine someone’s eye and assess their health based on certain discolourations of the iris. The practitioner then provides a diagnosis, which could range from IBS to cancer. All total BS, which I found out later once I got the chance to research it (internet not being available at the retreat). Iridology is a pseudo-science. It is based on one observation a dude made when he found an injured bird and noticed it had a funny colour in its eye. No randomised double blind clinical trials. In fact, they tested a bunch of these so-called Iridology practitioners by giving them pictures of people’s eyes and they completely failed to diagnose the sick ones. But even worse, they gave false positives to people who were not even sick! This kind of quackery is simply dangerous.
For the first few days, I was really sick. Weak. Nauseous. I could hardly walk the 5 meters from my bungalow to the beach and had to skip morning yoga a couple of times. It was horrible. We were told we would purge all kinds of horrible gunk out of our bowels – undigested pieces of meat, big black stringy things. I was disappointed. Hardly anything came out. I was beginning to think the fast was a horrible mistake
From agony to ecstasy
On the 4th day, we had to walk down the beach to another location, where the raw veganers had an open air kitchen. We were going to make a juice (to drink there and then) and a raw vegan cabbage burger (to dehydrate and eat after the fast). I was feeling so sick, I didn’t think I could walk the 200m along the beach.
As I walked, I began talking to some of the other fasters and they told me they were also back for a second dose. They said they had so much energy after the fast, they felt like they could run a marathon or climb a mountain. I don’t know if that triggered something, but I started to feel much better. The horrible hunger pangs began to dissipate. The nausea vanished. I started to feel really, really good. It was like coming up on a magic mushroom trip! I felt this incredible euphoria and elation, like we were on our way to a beach rave!
When we got to the kitchen, the yoga teacher started to the cooking lesson. No-one could bear to look at the food, they were so ill. I, on the other hand, could not stop giggling! I had to sit in the corner and hold my hand over my mouth. Suddenly I couldn’t hold it any longer and burst out laughing. Everyone turned and stared at the freak!
Breaking the fast
I thought to myself, if it is this good after 4 days, how much better is it going to be on day 5 and beyond. Note, I was the only one who planned to stop at 7 days. All the others planned to continue to 10 days or more. I thought about changing my ticket. But alas, it was all in vain as the next day I was back to being sick again and this continued to the end of the fast. I was the only one who had this experience on the fast.
I had booked one extra day to recover from the fast and wanted to hire a motorbike to go to the other side of the island and hopefully find some weed. We had been told to break the fast with some kind of light fruit like watermelon. I swear this watermelon was the best goddamn watermelon I had ever tasted in my entire life! But after a while, I got sick of it and jumped on my bike to explore.
I headed over to the tourist side of the island and found a nice Thai vegetarian restaurant. The restaurant was part of a resort which also offered fasting retreats, but more the luxurious kind with special machines for administering the enema, for example.
I told the server I had just broken a 7 day fast and asked him what I could eat. He pointed to the most basic salad – just lettuce, tomato and cucumber. I started to eat it and felt so bizarre to have solid food passing through your digestive system. I started tentatively, but soon lost all control and devoured the salad and licked the side bowl of dressing clean. That was the best dressing I ever tasted in my entire life.
It was getting dark, so I jumped on the bike and headed back to the retreat. All the others who were continuing the fast were gathered for their evening soup. I took my walkman and lay down in a hammock on the beach. It was a perfect evening. Perfectly quiet. The night sky was beautiful. I felt the energy from the salad pulse through my veins all through my body. It was not quite the euphoria I felt on the 4th day, but it was pretty damn good.
The aftermath – “some girls can’t lift that much!”
I never managed to score any weed and took my onward flight to New Zealand. I felt amazing and had no desire to drink alcohol or smoke weed. I went to my favourite burger bar in Auckland and ordered my usual. I couldn’t finish half the burger! Your stomach shrinks after a fast and you just can’t eat as much as before.
I lost a lot of weight. 15 kilos after the fast, which was mostly water. In the end, I had lost 6 kilos, but I had not achieved my goal of getting rid of my man boobs and love handles. After 3 days of not eating, your body starts to cannibalise muscle. When I got back home to London, I went to my gym and asked my trainer for a new programme. My gym was just one big room full of gym bros. My trainer was a huge guy and he put me on the bench press. The weight was what I used to warm up with and I couldn’t even lift it! He picked up the bar with one hand and said in a loud voice so that everyone in the gym could hear: “Don’t worry Steven, some girls can’t lift that much!”