Someone had to do it. Someone had to go: Rishi Sunak, the person who runs the country has come out on record saying that from Sunday evening to Tuesday morning, he fasts, and therefore, I should try it. That person, for VICE, is me.
Like all things emerging health, the evidence of pros and cons of fasting are varied. Some people do it for religious reasons, obviously, but there are claims it may help inflammation and brain function, and even lower your risk of heart disease. Many of the reported claims, though, are long-term, and there are definitely more immediate side effects: poor concentration, low energy, sleep issues and bad breath among them. None of which sound ideal for running the country.
Of course, when you’re doing big boi things like governing a declining superpower, decisions generally aren’t made in a day. But there are a few key moments of the unelected Rishi Sunak’s political career that – assuming he has been on the diet the entire time – did happen on an empty stomach. These include the time he claimed China was “stealing our technology”; when he said “I know that Brexit can deliver, and is already delivering” (misleading!); and that time he brought David Cameron back from the dead and into politics via the backdoor of a lordship.
It follows that someone had to figure out whether his variant on a 5:2 diet could be the reason the country has its worst performing economy since the 1920s, right? Here’s how it went.
I started after an “indulgent weekend”, just like Sunak. Except my weekend was a wedding and a birthday pub crawl. I stopped eating at 8PM, but I made extra sure that my food was indulgent enough in the 24 hours previous: a macaroni pie and a half, a Muller corner, a Scotch pie, a bridie (a Scottish beef pasty) and two M&S salads, because I figured some nutrients might help me feel less hungry.
When I woke up a bit late for work, I realised I didn’t need to worry about breakfast. This made me on time. I decided to wear a suit because I assume he wears a suit at his home, 10 Downing Street. I figured I’d either be warmer and would therefore sweat more and be more hungry, or that the heat would reduce my appetite, or the suit itself would feel all business and affirming and therefore help my discipline.
Suited, not booted, I had a black decaf coffee and a pint of water. Sunak drinks black coffee and tea throughout his no-eating day. Research makes out that both are a mild appetite suppressant, though not effective enough to be used as an appetite suppressing treatment.
I walked past my food cupboard and felt the instinct to open it and start making something to eat. Then I stopped and felt my stomach contract a little. Not hungry, but confused – like a dog not getting a treat. There’s six hours of the working day to go – plenty of time to get things done.
I’ve had three decaf coffees, two litres of sparkling water, and five pints of still water. Up until this point, I had a pretty productive day, but I was still behind on work. I pushed on, smashed the work out and got it done. Was it good? I don’t know. Do I care? Well yes, but it’s done, and it’s 6.05PM. It all feels a bit like when you are up late trying to get something over the line and the delirium kicks in and you come out the other side with something done but you don’t really know what or how or why.
By the end of the day, I’ve had four decafs. I don’t know how many Sunak has, but I feel like four actual coffees would be a lot for the bloodstream on an empty stomach. The jitters, I bet, are hitting. I don’t think decisions that affect a country should occur in this state. I don’t think I’d safely operate a car in this state. Perhaps that’s why he’s got a driver.
In the interest of being a hardworking important person, I have decided to do freelance work until 11PM, including a mock game of Prime Minister’s Questions, but I am really struggling to do anything productive. We’re creeping toward the 24 hour mark in terms of not eating. My stomach feels fine but I feel knackered, like I could comfortably spend the rest of the evening napping. That is, until someone in my house has started cooking. Sweating onions and garlic in butter – there is no smell like it. It goes to my stomach like a poison dart. I want to go to sleep just to get through to when I can eat. This isn’t conducive to running a country.
I decided to do exercise. Sunak likes Peloton, but I cannot afford a Peloton because I am a normal human being. I improvised with my cheap exercise bike and a YouTube video in my room (I’m sure his bike is also in his room he rents in a four bedroom house). The suit does not stay on for bike ride.
I started answering Prime Minister’s Questions (read: playing the recorded session on my laptop and pretending to give the answers), but after the second question I realised that it didn’t really matter. Sunak is just applying things he’s been briefed on to questions he’s being asked. It is all a charade to pretend the PM is looking into the topics of the day. Plus, who could critique me alone in my room? I am an effective dictatorship. So instead, I watched the darts, which I managed with no difficulty.
During which, I thought to myself that Sunak going hungry every week might mean he thinks he understands the people. Why the facts don’t convert to action, assuming they get as far as empathy, I can’t tell you. Except I can because I’ve followed his diet: Tonight, it feels as though every human being on the planet except me went out for dinner, or had a nice meal. I am an ungrateful cunt who wants to live like a king tomorrow.
I am ready to shut the day off and wake up the next day ready to eat. I think it is slightly mental behaviour to self-induce this, but it’s also arguably a good way to force discipline around getting your eight hours, assuming you can sleep on an empty stomach. When it came to it, I struggled to sleep. I could probably have worked through the night if my brain wasn’t fog. I binge-watched cooking videos until I drifted off at 3.30AM. Then I had two nightmares and finally got out of bed at 8.30.
My stomach felt empty, my head groggy and my mouth dry. My piss stank of coffee, my breath was even worse. By all accounts, it was a minging start to the day. I felt perhaps the food might give me something akin to an epiphany.
To break my 36 hour fast, I ordered a burger and tater tots at a trendy (but justifiably because delicious) spot in east London. I felt nothing change upon the first bite. My mouth was happy, the food banged, but my stomach didn’t do that thing where it feels like it’s physically grabbing the food while your soul salivates.
Halfway through the meal, though, I felt my brain clear as though the sun had come out. When I’d finished, my stomach started pushing about like a cat making biscuits. Feeling my body move around was quite nice but distracting. I didn’t feel full or hungry. Or anything, actually. If I had chosen a salad, maybe I’d have felt something spiritual pour over me, my body soaking up nutrients like people doing lines in a Berlin toilet. Maybe I just needed vitamin C. Either way, I felt nothing.
I feel dreadful. My brain fog is so thick it looks like a solid wall. I am still dehydrated, despite smashing water. I have a back-of-the-head headache. I got absolutely nothing done today. I could barely hold a conversation. It felt as bad as a noticeable hangover.
This being said, the actual not eating part wasn’t hard. People in the world are malnourished and starving all the time anyway, while doing far more difficult jobs than saying yes and no and butchering a country’s economy and wellbeing – and many people fast without being given the attention of a billionaire who has decided to become a prime minister. I check my notes from yesterday which I’d written for this article. They include the following, unedited:
- My prime minister would be drinking Pot Noodles and shovelling biscuits into the early hours. I want an athlete of the mind going fucking ham at getting the country to be better, all the time
- Wanna destress? Maybe have a cig. Maybe just do that
- It is sort of like a natural Ozempic, the idea of wanting food and brain reward for eating food feels gone. Food is an outlet of pleasure and a vice that feels repressed here, and there’s something beyond body standards and how we want to look in all of this for the tech bros and prime minister