Ketogenic Thursday: Why Not Fast in Survival Situations?

Sometimes I watch moments of those survival shows where they dump people on an island or in the wilderness and watch them try to survive. On one of the shows, they have to be naked, and are not allowed to use their carry-bags to fashion loincloths. But the one thing I haven’t seen is the use of fasting as a survival strategy.

People who have tried the low-carb, Atkins or ketogenic lifestyle know that these diets put you in a state of ketosis, and when you are in ketosis you are not hungry. Similarly— if you fast— don’t eat food at all but drink water— you get into ketosis and are not hungry.

If I were scheduled to be on a survival show, or met with a survival situation in real life, my first move would be to fast. No food, no attempt to find food, no worries about food. Average people can fast for 20, 30 or 40 days, so when you land in a survival situation, food is not your big worry.

The first few hours should be devoted to one thing— finding a good source of water. You can live without food for many days, but without water you die quick. And unsafe water— like sea water— is no substitute.

After you find out where the water is, the next move is to find shelter. Often, you need to fashion something for yourself from branches or palm fronds. And usually it won’t stand up to a hailstorm. But humans are better off under at least minimum shelter.

Only after you have got the water and shelter thing in hand do you have to start worrying about food. And there is no hurry. You are not going to die after a few days of fasting. Many people fast for multiple days at home for health reasons. Surely you can do it for a bit to survive in a survival situation or in a pretended survival situation.

It helps to do a bit of research beforehand on wilderness food sources. Wild vegetable foods and fruits can potentially be poison. Meats are not poison, but overly lean meat, such as rabbit, can lead to ‘rabbit starvation,’ which makes you die quicker than eating nothing at all. Fish is mostly safe, except for pufferfish. Which you probably won’t find.

If you normally are a heavy carbohydrate eater, it will help you if you avoid gorging on any available carbs. Carbs are not necessary for survival, and tend to make you hungry for more carbs. Fat and protein, the components of meat, are necessary, and as you will find when you try a ketogenic diet, will make you feel unhungry and sustain you for a long time.

In the artificial situation of a survival show, the faster also has the advantage that while he is fasting, he can donate any food he finds to the other survivors, thus winning points for generosity. People are more helpful to you when you give them a banana or a fish and go without food yourself.

In a real survival situation, just knowing that hunger won’t kill you in hours or days will help you. I hear stories of people lost in the woods who ‘survived’ a couple of days by eating cough drops or some such. They might well have ‘survived’ more comfortably without the cough drops!

To learn more of the science behind fasting, I recommend the book ‘The Complete Guide to Fasting’ by Jason Fung, MD, with Jimmy Moore. Besides learning things you can use for your own health, as writers we might always benefit by learning facts we can put to use when we make our characters get into a survival situation with no food.

I sometimes blog about health issues and the ketogenic ‘diet’, and I think I am going to post on Thursdays about the topic, rather than have a separate blog, which is harder to keep up with my health issues.


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