Lou Schuler

Author, Journalist, Presenter

Posted 10/25/2011

My Reluctant Fast


The first to come after you when you turn 50 is the AARP. Nonstop pressure to join, nonstop pressure to buy useless crap while you’re in, and nonstop pressure to rejoin when you quit because you’re sick of the AARP selling your address to every company that wants to make a quick buck off people who’re slipping into dementia. The second is the healthcare industry, which give you the full-court press for a colonoscopy.

I have nothing against diagnostic procedures in general, but I have a real problem with procedures that require an empty stomach. That’s why I minimize blood tests. I’m as concerned about my HDLs as the next guy; I just don’t want to have to fast 12 hours to get a reading.

A colonoscopy requires a full 24 hours without food, about 6 of which are spent on the toilet. Looking at the bright side, I figured I’d come out of it lighter, leaner, and totally not full of anything that would earn this post a PG-13 rating.

So here’s what happened as I went a day without food for the first time in my life when I wasn’t sick:

  • I got hungry almost immediately, and stayed hungry the entire time. I never felt not hungry.
  • I felt cold most of the day, until I realized I could drink chicken stock. A few cups of that warmed me up.
  • I felt distracted and lethargic. I never got that burst of energy you’re supposed to get on a fast.
  • I skipped my workout. I can’t train on an empty stomach.
  • I drank so many fluids that I felt bloated.

I was allowed to drink clear liquids that have calories, so for the first time in memory I had apple juice and Gatorade. Since I never have sports drinks, I didn’t realize that 32 ounces of Gatorade has just 213 calories. Add in 3 cups of apple juice, and that’s another 350 calories. I don’t know how many calories are in the chicken stock, but I’m going to guess I got a week’s worth of sodium.

I wish I would’ve weighed myself before I started. Late in the day, when I was in full bloat, I weighed 195, which is 10 more than normal. This morning, fully depleted, I was at 184.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I reached the “lighter and leaner” goal. Maybe not a lot lighter, but this morning my stomach looked flatter than it has in months.

I’d also be lying if I said it was anything short of a miserable experience. I’ve been eating 4 to 6 small meals a day for so long that my body and brain just don’t function without them.

I understand my 24 hours of nutritional hell wasn’t an actual fast; I never went more than a few hours without some calories, and the 600 calories’ worth of carbs, without any protein or fat, is among the worst meal plans imaginable for a health-conscious person.

As soon as I got my release from the butt-probing center, Kimberly and I went to Perkins for a refeed. It was hard to sit up at first — they pump you full of air during the procedure, and it’s up to you to deflate on your own schedule — but once I got used to it I was able to put away an omelet, 2 pieces of toast, a glass of orange juice, and one of Kimberly’s pancakes. (They’re even better than I remember, and as soon as I had one I wanted the rest … which is why I stopped eating them in the first place.)

I’m back to my small-meals-throughout-the-day plan. It may not work perfectly, but it sure beats the alternative.



  • Fasting is something that takes getting used to, but once you do, it’s nothing. I no longer feel hunger until 11am at the earliest. I might want to eat, but it’s rarely hunger. Sometimes I’m not hungry until 1pm or 2, and even that is manageable. Not like the hunger of actually being hungry for days (or without a snack when I was fat).

    I’m dreading the “fast” for that colonoscopy, but the fast for my cholesterol? I can phone that one in.

  • chris leavy

    Disapointed – I thought you were following John Berardi’s intermittent fasting techniques.

  • Chris Correia

    This 51 year old is up to bat for the first time on November 14. Thanks for the heads up, Lou.

  • Leslie Spencer

    I’ve had three colonoscopies, starting when I was 35. I have to get them every seven years. I’ve learned a few things along the way that make it not so bad:

    1. I schedule myself for the very first available appointment on the morning of the procedure. It helps me A LOT to not have to wait until 11am or so to have it done. I always make sure I am my doctor’s first patient that day.

    2. I eat jello (just not the red kind) to help get a feeling of fullness. Chicken broth also helps.

    3. I keep my expectations of the prep day low. I don’t plan to do anything very physically or mentally demanding.

    4. I also cut out caffeine a day or two before prep day. It keeps headaches at bay.

    When I went through chemotherapy (another thing entirely, I realize), I learned that laughing made me feel MUCH better. I started taking funny movies to watch during my chemo infusions and they reduced all of my unpleasant physical symptoms. I would encourage anyone getting a colonoscopy to watch a funny movie the night before and engage in a little “laughter therapy”.

    Finally, I have a friend who has spent the past year going through treatment for colon cancer. It has been a very, very hard road. The great thing about colonoscopies is that they can find problems early, before they turn into cancer. Seeing what my friend has endured has reinforced my decision to have my colonoscopies without delay.

    • Thanks Leslie! You always help me keep things in perspective!

  • Dave

    Perkins is without a doubt my favorite chain for omelets and especially pancakes. I am not sure it’s worth going through a colonoscopy to get there… but it’s close 🙂

    • I did get 10% off. I love that an endoscopy center gives its patients coupons for Perkins.

      • Good stuff Lou. Mmmmmm…pancakes! Not sure I want to get my colon cleaned first though 🙂

        I was a huge proponent of eating every 2-3 hours and it can work. The downside is that your life then revolves around food and you get cranky when there is no food.

        Ask my friends that I traveled Europe with for the big “Y2K” celebration in 1999 about that. I carried food everywhere and the running joke was “are you eating again?”

        I started looking at fasting about 4-5 years ago and it took me about 1-2 years to change my opinion as I was a dyed in the wool anti-fasting guy. Now I think it (along with exercise) are very powerful stimuli to the body.

        As you increase exercise volume, will help a ton (via GLUT4 upregulation as you know). It appears that people who are more used to carbs will have a harder time doing a fast.

        By far, the biggest mistake I see people make is assuming they need to do 24 hours tomorrow for their fast and feel like a failure if they don’t make it. Again, your case here is a bit different since you HAD to do it for the procedure.

        For people wanting to try a fast, I use these 3 steps that work amazingly well.

        Go until the hunger is not modified by one of these 3 things
        1) biomechanical–movement/exercise–a walk, training, even a few push ups,etc
        2) biochemical –water, tea, coffee (no cream,no foo foo drink), diet beverage etc.
        3) biopsyche–motivational reading, reading for fun, talking to a friend, online interaction etc.

        If it is not modified by one or two of those and you are still starving, go ahead and have your preplanned meal and just mark down your time.

        There is a great study that had people fast for 48 hours and it was a blinded study. Each group ate some “food paste” and one group had calories and the the other group had very very low calories.

        Both groups performed fine, but they also thought they were eating calories. That will make your head spin a bit!

        The mind and body can not be separated in a nice clean fashion (if you are still alive)

        Just my thoughts.
        Keep up the great work here!
        rock on
        Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

        • Thanks Mike! Great advice and insight!

          I’m happy to report that my body and mind are back together again after a series of trial separations:

          * Colonoscopy (have I mentioned that?)

          * World Series (severe sleep interruption + cognitive dissonance of seeing a not-especially-great team finish the season with two of the best months in franchise history)

          * Losing power for 4 1/2 days and living in a hotel room (which I was lucky to get!) while waiting for the lights to come back on

          Today may be the first day I’ve felt “normal,” even by my own modest standards. And I still have a couple dozen broken trees to clean up!

  • Audley

    Lou, a couple of years ago I would have agreed with you, however I am now on the intermittent fasting bandwagon. A year ago I decided to enter my first powerlift meet, I was 167 pounds, wanted to get under 165. I started a month before the meet by cutting the 10 am snack. After I got used to that, the 2 pm went next. I came in at 162, pulled my best deadlift ever at 402 ( I used to weigh 205, guess I was just fat then!). Most mornings I now skip breakfast, maybe a cup or 2 of coffee, and don’t start eating until noon. I am now even leaner than last year running around 156, but maintaining this weight has been pretty easy with this method. I can still pull around 370 in the raw deadlift. And please, let’s not tell the AARP I’m over 50.

  • The small meals diet is definitely the best for your metabolism. I have found that eating organic foods actually makes me feel full faster. I eat only 1/3 to 1/2 of what I used to eat before I went all organic. Try it and let me know what you find.

  • Fasting is not that bad a deal. But because it was first time for you, with no scope to snack in between, I suppose you felt the pinch more.

  • Hal Johnson

    Breakfast has been my favorite meal throughout adulthood, but for the last three months, I’ve been trying intermittent fasting three or four days a week. While the fat loss results were nothing astounding, I did break through a plateau. Mainly, though, I’ve noticed an improvement in my digestive health. I think intermittent fasting is no panacea for the population: it will work great for some folks, not so well for others. My wife, for instance, is one neat lady, but if she tries intermittent fasting, I’m pitching a tent out in the yard, where I’ll hide with my Kindle until she eats again.

  • Darryl Fry

    You have reminded me I am due for the second colonoscopy of my life this year. I had my first one five years ago. The best bit was definitely being able to refuel after the procedure was over.