Going without food - what effects and their timeline?
I've got a couple of characters in my WIP that are going to go without food, with the possible exception of maybe a candy bar, a bag of chips and improvised tea made out of pine needles, for a period of around 4 to 6 days depending upon what is realistic and will work for the story.
What I need to know is what kind of physical and psychological effects that would have on a healthy couple of around 25 years of age? I don't want to torture or seriously weaken them, but I do want them bouncing off the walls and for the situation to deteriorate enough that they would chance a risky hike back to civiliation, especially when circumstances present them with the real possibility of being trapped for another week if they don't immediately act.
The conditions are very cold but they have found shelter and a source of heat, their major physical activities will primarily be collecting firewood and making a few trips back and forth to their wrecked car, which is about 1/4 of a mile away in 2-feet of snow.
Last edited by Tornadoboy; 10-16-2006 at 06:44 PM.
"I wish I was where I am"
Don't Call Me Sweetheart
The hunger, of course, begins after a few hours. That same day you'll get a headache that won't allow you to concentrate on anything else, and only gets worse. By the next day, food will literally be all you can think about. Your head will still hurt. On the third day, if you haven't eaten ANYTHING, the sharp hunger pains will start to be covered. The hunger is still there if you concentrate on it, but it's like a blanket has been stuck over it. This is if you haven't eaten anything at all--eat even a bag of potato chips and you start from scratch. Your body goes into starvation mode, which means you are cold. Exceptionally cold. Your body doesn't want to expend precious calories on warmth.
Sorry, all I have time for. Must run.
It's going to make a huge difference that your characters have heat and water. A complete nothing-by-mouth (no liquids) gets ugly real fast, not from lack of food but from dehydration. So make sure they melt water to drink. (Eating snow will make them colder and is a bad idea.)
Physical effects of fasting
When food is not eaten, the body looks for other ways to find energy, such as drawing on glucose from the liver's stored glycogen and fatty acids from stored fat and eventually moving on to vital protein tissues. Body, brain and nerve tissue depend on glucose for metabolism. Once the glucose is significantly used up, the body's metabolism changes, producing ketone bodies (acetoactate, hydroxy-butyrate, and acetone). [Me: Anybody who's ever tried one of those ridiculous diets which artificially induce ketosis and rapid weight loss knows you feel yucky.] Even though this transformation to an alternative form of energy has been made, some parts of the brain exclusively need glucose, and protein is still needed to produce it. If body protein loss were to continue, death will ensue.
After approximately three days of fasting, feelings of hunger usually become infrequent or disappear altogether.
What to Expect: Starvation 101:
If a person is healthy and well-nourished, prolonged fasting is generally well tolerated with few and relatively minor complications. Even though most of us never try it, our bodies are made to routinely go as long as a month or two without any food, surely because famines in early history occurred and humans had to survive. A healthy, normal adult has enough calories stored in his or her body to last up to 80 days, according to scientific research. Young adults may survive much longer than children or older persons and women can survive longer than men because of their greater proportion of body fat which results from the action of female hormones.
So what exactly happens? Your body needs energy to function and prefers to use carbs (glycogen) first. For the first few days of starvation the body uses its stores of glycogen in liver and muscle. This is accompanied by salt excretion with substantial weight loss. The next phase lasts up to day 10-14, during which time glycogen stores are exhausted and certain amino acids are used to make more glycogen. In the final phase, most energy comes from ketones produced by the breakdown of fatty acids. When fat stores are used up there is catastrophic protein use, but generally other complications arise first.
Benefits: Clarity and Emotional Highs
The weakness and fatigue that eventually accompany prolonged fasting can be viewed positively as wonderful quieting state. There is a commonly described sense of "well-being" and "clear-headedness" after the initial few days which makes the short hunger strike not at all unpleasant. Many describe it simply as a renewed happiness just to be alive. This high has some physiological basis a fasting can lead to increased endorphin levels similar to the endorphin-high experienced by long distance running or drugs. During The Ups, it feels as if there is an endless supply of physical energy, but beware, energy may be fickle especially in the early parts of a fast. Also, thoughts are intensified in this state and excessive emotions are common and misdirected.
Maryn, who eats
practical experience, FTW
That sounds pretty much it. Due to extremely poor financial planning, I went without food (but with heat and water), for stretches of three to four days at a time back in my early-20s. The hunger goes away after about a day and you just feel worn out and tired all the time. I don't remember any moments of transcendent clarity but then again, I was also walking across half of London to get to and from work. It's not something I'd want to go through again but it wasn't that bad...
Last edited by britwrit; 10-17-2006 at 02:08 PM.
^^^ Yea that's basically it in a nutshell. After 24 hours you think you're going crazy and you will almost eat paint chips just to have something in your stomach. After 48 hours you're not in distress anymore, but there's this strange "non-existant" feeling that begins. After 72 hours you enter a state of lethargy.
I've never gone hungry for 72 hours straight, however, because I have good scavenging, foraging, and begging skills. I HAVE been in states where I didn't FEEL like eating for days and days, but even then I would eat something, a snack or a piece of bread, just to keep my stomach down-- so that doesn't qualify as true starvation.
Tornadoboy, that's what I was thinking, too--have them think they're being smart, rationing, when it makes their hunger feelings more acute. It's always fun to torture your characters to test the composition of their inner core.
Maryn, whose core is creamy nougat
practical experience, FTW
I once intentionally fasted for health reasons for five days -- only water and one ounce of juice a day....my point is, you begin having visions of what you will eat when you can again. I couldn't go right to pizza, but I could tell you every inch of what a slice of pizza looked like, from the bubbling cheese to the scorch marks to the puddles of grease....heaven. Over and over. It was both a solace and torture. Maybe your characters could intimately imagine every molecule of their dream foods -- I did.
I probably will, you kind of have to in such a scenerio because its a normal human reaction to become obsessed with food when really hungry.
Originally Posted by cree
Actually I've got what I think is a pretty funny scene when they do finally get back to the world, they ravage the menu of the first diner they come upon and don't give a damn in the slightest about how they look to the waitress or fellow patrons , ultimately ending in what I hope is a touching way.
Last edited by Tornadoboy; 11-11-2006 at 07:36 AM.
"I wish I was where I am"