Still, she claims her energy never flagged. She had so much, in fact, that she cooked for her husband and remodeled her kitchen. (“When you fast, as your body gets away from digestion, it has so much more energy to do other things,” she told me.) Though occasionally she would sense an empty pang in the pit of her gut, most days she didn’t feel hungry.
Other faster-bloggers similarly claimed they worked long hours almost every day of the fast. (“90 percent of eating is EMOTIONAL,” one person wrote, in bold.)
Even if they’re technically possible, though, medical experts don’t recommend fasts of more than a day or two. Most people, including overweight people, lose some muscle mass with every pound they shed. Without glucose going to the brain, thinking becomes more difficult. Blood pressure drops, and you risk passing out.
“In the absence of getting protein and glucose from the food that you eat, you start to cannibalize the body’s protein,” explained Thomas Wadden, the director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania. After using up the liver’s glycogen stores, the body comes for the glucose in the muscles. “You end up eating up the body’s muscle tissue,” Wadden said.
This includes the heart, which, after all, is just a large muscle. Eventually, the heart may slip out of rhythm. If the heart doesn’t fail before the fast ends, heart troubles can persist after the person starts eating again.
Decades ago, doctors tried treating obese patients with fasting, but they stopped after five patients died, two from heart problems. In the 1970s, nearly 60 people died after spending an average of four months on a fad liquid protein diet. People with severe anorexia most commonly die of heart disorders.
Ryczek, who was about a size 10 when she began her fast, didn’t worry about the health impacts. In an effort to balance her electrolytes, she drank Himalayan sea-salt water.
Prolonged fasting is also not as effective a weight-loss strategy as it may seem, experts told me. Though intermittent fasting—in which people consume little or nothing for up to 24 hours at a time—has been shown to help some people lose weight, the same is not true of long-term fasts.
“One of the big-picture ideas behind intermittent fasting is called ‘hormesis,’” said Grant M. Tinsley, a Texas Tech University professor of exercise physiology who has studied intermittent fasting, via email. “Hormesis refers to an exposure to a relatively small amount of some stressor, which could cause the body to adapt and become more able to deal with other stressors. This is in contrast to exposure to a large stressor, which could cause harm to the body. In my opinion, short-term fasts, such as those used during intermittent fasting, would fall into the category of the small stressors which could promote health benefits. However, long-term fasts could potentially fall into the ‘large stressor’ category.”