As a kid growing up in Kansas, I ate roughly one million gazillion Burger King Whoppers. Sometimes Double Whoppers. Until I became vegetarian as a freshman in college, I ate a ton of antibiotic-filled animals and cleared acres of rainforest with my insane eating habits. My relationship with food was wonderfully simple—eat till I can barely move, drink enough coffee to recharge, run around the block about five times, then crash. I have kept the coffee addiction as a through line, but I’m always trying experiments to get the best system I can for more energy, less sickness, more focus, etc.
When I was around 14 and obsessively buying every guitar magazine and stealing every riff I could, I came across a story that Steve Vai (the virtuoso guitarist who changed my life forever in a movie called Crossroads) fasted for four days before he played the solo on a song called “For the Love of God.” I remember thinking, WOW! California people sure are weird! (not knowing I would eventually make it to LA after I became one of the weirdos). I thought it sounded like cruel and unusual punishment, but I listened to the feats of acrobatics in the solo over and over, thinking, Could something that crazy possibly help my playing? (Note to all us guitar players: No amount of fasting will help us play this well, much to the happiness of music critics everywhere.)
I don’t like punishment and I LOVE food, but this summer has had me trying to strike at the root of some things that are bothering me and make some decisions I have been avoiding. Fasting tends to give you some extra clarity and turn you inward, so last week I tried another three-day fast (not a long time for you pros). In the past I have done water only (brutal), lemon juice (better but still brutal), fresh-squeezed juices made by wifey (awesome, but I would never take the time to do this on my own because I am impatient and way too selfish with my time), and this most recent one: water/coffee and MCT oil (much, much easier; puts body in ketosis; burns fat but doesn’t make you want to punch your friends in the face).
Benefits/Reasons I Keep Trying This Experiment
- Clear the mechanism after touring; reset sleep patterns (I’m a chronic late eater, which means you wake up at about 3:33 in the a.m.).
- Meditate more/calm down, make better decisions. It’s much easier to stop and think when you actually force yourself to slow down.
- To break reliance on sugar (which I believe is killing us all), including nature’s ultimate gift, CHOCOLATE.
- To stop drinking so much wine/whiskey (did you know Jack Daniels is vegan? This is because he wants me to buy another fifth…).
- To break my love of 57 cups of coffee per day.
- To get past a plateau with workouts.
- I wrote most of a record called Redlands after a fast, and I would like to get one of those marathons going again.
- This might be hocus-pocus, but I feel like discipline in one area creates discipline in others. When I take control of my body, it feels a little easier to take control of my monkey mind. I’m pretty good about staying busy, but when I get off tour, I’m wiped. If I don’t get out of bed and away from Netflix, it’s really easy to get behind in my duties for the band and what I want to accomplish for myself and my little family. When I’m out of the mode, it’s hard to get back in the mode.
- It’s insane how much more time you have when you don’t prepare and eat food and then wash dishes for an extra one to three hours per day or go out for a long lunch, etc. If you can keep your energy up, you can get a ton of stuff done.
- Last and most important—there is quite a bit of research that fasting kills all kinds of disease in the body
- Predinner magic. I’m only at my house about half the year, and the time before dinner, when my wife is cooking and we are drinking and telling lies, these are the moments that make everything else worth it. I also tend to get my best ideas right before dinner because everything is at peace. Not being able to enjoy this time or sit down for dinner together sucks.
- I get EXTREMELY tired and irritable without food. It’s worth it in the end, but there is always a point in the middle of the fast for a few hours where I am thinking WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING? This self-doubt and pushing through it is actually the gift, but like so many difficult things, you can’t tell you’ve gained anything till you are past it.
- I’m behind on calls and email (boo hoo, fancy problems) and fasting makes you not want to talk to ANYONE.
Day one is always hell. I realize this is hyperbolic, and even talking about fasting while half the world is starving is insane, but that’s part of why it’s great to fast: to remind yourself not to take things for granted, including food.
Day two, I always get a burst of energy, which I overuse and then regret every time. This time I got out of bed from binge-watching HBO’s Succession and Netflix’s Billions (both AWESOME) and ran down into the yard to pick up an ax. I thought I would clear some more of my little path down to the creek. I swung away like I was king of the world until I found myself so out of breath I had to sit down. Now, it takes a lot to get me out of breath—anyone who has had to deal with me talking a mile a minute knows this to be true—and I was barely able to move. I went back to bed and felt like I’d been run over by a Mack truck. Moral of the story: There are very real and serious things happening to your body with no food to process. Chill out and take it easy until you are fully in the zone, which I understand doesn’t really kick in all the way until day four.
On day three, I was rolling along beautifully until we went to a movie and the smell of popcorn made me consider killing people to get some food. I pushed through, and I will say when I finally ate again (veggie burger and waffle fries at Nashville’s fabulous ML Rose), I thought I had died and gone to heaven. This is a cool benefit to a fast—when you break it, you get one of the best meals of your entire life, no matter what it is.
I didn’t weigh myself the first couple of times I did this, but the last couple of times I went from around 164 to 155 pounds and 18 percent to 15 percent body fat. (Part of this might be losing water weight from light creatine use.)
Obsessing about weight and body fat reminds me of a great meeting I had at a gym in Colorado. A dietician named Stephanie Tarry Yo listened to me rattle on about wanting to get to 13 percent body fat, and she asked, “Who are some of your heroes?”
I started ranting: “Dylan, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Stephen King, MLK, Bono…”
“What do you think Bono’s body fat is, and do you think he cares?” she asked.
“I don’t know, and he shouldn’t care,” I responded.
“Exactly,” she said, “and neither should you.”
She was right.
A close friend of mine from childhood, Jamie Sumner, who had the discipline to become a pro NFL player, has done 12-day cayenne pepper/lemon juice fasts a couple of times. (He is on his own variation of a keto/intermittent fasting diet now and is having amazing results. He uses an app called Zero.) I’m not sure I have the willpower for a 12-day fast, but I’m curious. A very good friend who managed our tours the last couple of times in the UK, Dean Van Jones, fasts for long periods of time, too—water only. He makes a great argument for taking NOTHING but water during these fasts to kill everything bad in your body. There is solid evidence starting to come out about fasting reducing your chances of all the big diseases that are wiping us out, especially here in the Western world, where our diets are just plain garbage. (Sadly, Tennessee is now 50th in the nation for childhood obesity.)
I’m glad to be off the fast, and what I have decided to stick with as a system is intermittent fasting. I was doing this for years, and not realizing it, by skipping most breakfasts. You basically take eight to 16 hours off each day, every day, and don’t eat anything so your body and mind have some time to just cleanse and process. I try not to eat after 8:00 p.m. at night. I start the morning with coffee and try not to eat again till noon. If I am working on some music or my calls/emails are going OK, I don’t even notice. When I’m in a bad mood or feeling really uncreative, all I want to do is eat a Pancake House. I’m going to stick with this for a while and see how my energy levels maintain.
As always, we must let our bodies be our guides. I’m no doctor, nor do I have anything figured for certain except loving my wife and playing my guitar till I’m put down for the dirt nap. Thanks for reading, thanks to those who you who posted about your experiences on Facebook before I wrote this, and if you are having good luck with any of these habits, let me know. See you next week.
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- Check out pcrm.org— these folks are all just amazing, and I’m proud to know them.
- Read a book called Prescription for Nutritional Healing—all-natural remedies and a great section on health benefits to fasting.