With nine hours left to my own exercise in self-starvation, I feel neither healthy nor sharp. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m hallucinating. I’m imagining the taste of last night’s dinner. Fatty salmon. The salt on my tongue. A bed made of arugula. Alas, just cotton sheets and pillow to chew on. My only consolation? I’m not alone.
It’s been 27 hours since my last meal and my body is starting to eat itself.
Autophagy, literally self-eating, is the latest dietary trend in the crypto community. More commonly known as fasting, the idea is to abstain from ingesting food for a set amount of time, ranging anywhere from 24 hours to an entire month or beyond. In doing so, proponents hope to improve their bodily health and mental acuity.
I’m skipping meals alongside the Bitcoin Fasting Group, a Telegram channel for crypto-minded people to discuss nutrition, organize fasts and encourage one another through their hunger. Using the predictable pattern of the bitcoin blockchain, which hashes a new set of transactions every 10 minutes, the group schedules 36- to 72-hour communal fasts once in a 2,000-block cycle, or about every two weeks if using a calendar.
I joined the channel in the middle of January after seeing a tweet promoting a fast. Beginning at block-height 614,000, a bunch of us (it’s impossible to say how many of the 242 members voluntarily participated) planned to forgo breakfast, lunch and dinner for the sport of it. The fast would start in the middle of the week, and I wanted to test the claims it would improve my productivity.
Katie Ananina, the channel’s founder, citizen journalist, and crypto bohemian from Siberia, gave me some pointers before embarking on this extreme – though relatively short – diet. First, don’t expect much; second, like a good Austrian economist, “try to keep a low time preference” (meaning I should value long term gain over short term discomfort).
“She now sees the fasting group as a parallel conduit to ‘hyperbitcoinization’”
Ananina started fasting after going down the bitcoin rabbit hole in 2017. Once she began questioning the basic tenets of economics (which she studied at St. Petersburg University, before dropping out) her skepticism spread to other areas of her life. She now sees the fasting group as a parallel conduit to “hyperbitcoinization”, as both bitcoin and fasting encourage people to “exercise free will and self-discovery.”
“For a subset of the cryptocurrency community, getting interested and invested in this technology meant throwing out orthodoxy about the nature of money and other parts of society”, Neeraj Agrawal, Coin Center’s director of communications, said over email. “Including nutrition.”
Though the process isn’t fully understood, fasting kick-starts a metabolic state called ketosis, where the body burns fat instead of carbohydrates, which has been linked to improved feelings of well-being, increased longevity and something called the best-known nerve growth factor.
“There’s a mountain of evidence that has caught on with the trend”, said Dr. Monique Tello, an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Tello has become a fasting evangelist after picking up the habit in medical school. She added that the best example may be how the practice has spread organically by word of mouth and on social media. (It’s how I heard of it!)
«Still Life with Peaches and Grapes» by Auguste Renoir
“The internet has allowed alternative theories of nutrition to circulate, with communities forming around them”, Agrawal said. “The more people try it, the more data there will be. If that data looks promising to someone they may try it, too.”
Successful accounts of fasts in the crypto community aren’t hard for Tello to imagine. “Our bodies are very well adapted to deal with long periods of less food or no food”, she said. The story goes something like this:
Imagine our cave-dwelling ancestors, who hunted and gathered every meal: Their very existence was tied to the precarities of nature. Millennia of living through cycles of bounty and dearth are proof, for some, why human beings are not meant to be in a constant state of digestion.
It’s this evolutionary perspective that may explain coiners’ experiments with heterodox diets. “The diet our culture has slipped into, high in added sugars and refined grains, is not good for clear thinking at all”, Tello said.
Just as bitcoin seeks a return to a sustainable economic system that challenges modern monetary policy, fasting subverts the received wisdom around “healthy diets” and modern supply chains, which produce foodstuff in total excess. “Beef is to food as bitcoin is to money”, said a member of the bitcoin fasting group, arguing for a ketogenic lifestyle.
“Ananina encourages members to be self-sovereign and do their own research.”
The essential nature of a bitcoiner is “someone who can search out valuable information, think critically, and is capable of taking responsibility for their own life, health, and finances”, said Hodlonaut, the astronautical feline Twitter personality and early member of the Bitcoin Fasting Group, in a private message.
Hodlonaut was an early member of the channel, and has been experimenting with fasting since 2017, about two years after he discovered bitcoin.
The ever-quotable Nic Carter, venture capitalist with Castle Island Ventures, called this phenomenon “epiphany-induced general skepticism.”
That this enlightenment to modernity’s shortcomings has resulted in as deep a skepticism of carbohydrates as central banking has taken the coin community pretty far out.
In 2017, it was reported bitcoiners were switching to all-meat diets. The trend led at least one person to eat nothing but meat for two weeks. (For what it’s worth, Teller said carnivorous diets are “hardly sustainable” and “have been associated with high levels of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream”, though could lead to “short-term weight loss.”)
A similar spurt of interest has been directed towards fasting. Since October, the Bitcoin Fasting Group has ballooned to more than 250 members, with more joining every day.
No matter how someone comes to bitcoin or heterodox diets, proponents of both will likely offer their support. However, this assistance is conditioned on whether the person is able to make their own informed decisions.
«Eating a low carbohydrate diet is a good way to prepare for fasting”, said Dr. Jason Fung, author of “The Complete Guide to Fasting”, and frequently cited source in the Telegram channel. “The average weight loss during fasting is 1/2 pound of body fat per day. Total weight loss is often more than this because of water loss.»
Ananina encourages members to be self-sovereign and do their own research. “Obviously, feel free to share your experience and ask questions, but the decision is always on you”, she said. Her philosophy is interwoven with the culture of the chat. With every documentary that’s recommended or research report posted, is a comment reminding others to draw their conclusions.
Kiernan Wright, former CEO of the Canadian mining company Honey Badger, is also new to the fasting group. I asked him if it seemed cultish to schedule fasts around the bitcoin block schedule. “This is more like a club than a religion, anyone can leave or join at will”, he said. “Bitcoin is a wonderful tool for organizing things, to push the boundaries of what is possible and to do it in a non-violent, non-coercive way, which is crucial to our survival.”
At the end of my 36-hour fast, I found myself neither hungry nor tired. After a period of ravenousness, the pangs settled and I was able to comfortably fall asleep. I woke up feeling fine, but wanting steak.