My adventures in fasting


Let’s put it this way…


I am a man of unorthodox habits and behaviors. In other words, I’m slightly “adventurous.”


In appraising my life through this point in my life (something I suspect most 45-year-olds fall prey to), I’ve noticed a common theme that has been in place since the moment I was a small child first learning to walk: I’ve always had that “fuck it, gotta try it at least once” attitude.


I suspect this might be perceived as a positive trait; perhaps even admirable. And while I do agree, it is also a curse and has proven to be toxic.


A sense of adventurousness is an asset for the mature adult who has a good dose of wisdom under his belt. This enhanced maturity keeps his adventurousness in check; it is constrained and channeled into healthier avenues now. As an immature youth, my tendency to experiment landed me in more than a few scrapes and at the center of countless boondoggles.


Now, I pick and choose with care the absurdities I decide to try on for size.


Case in point.


I’ve been trying something for about 3 or 4 months now. Intermittent fasting.
Yeah, fasting. As in going through periods of time where I don’t eat a thing. Dig it?


I’ve been loosely following a program detailed in an e-book written by a nutritionist who has trumpeted the benefits of fasting. At the risk of sounding like a cheap pitch man, I won’t give his name or the name of his e-book in this post. The aim of this post is not to explain the medical and scientific intricacies of fasting. I’ll just say that he convinced me. Perhaps another post, another time, I will link back to his body of work.


He makes a persuasive argument detailing the benefits of fasting.


One of the most convincing facts he mentioned was the concept of dual “fed” and “fasted” states.


In a fed state, we are eating and storing calories. Physiologically, it is very simple. If we are not in a fed state, we are in a fasted state, which simply means we are not fed and burning calories. If your body is processing food, it is storing; if your body has no food to digest, it reverts to burning calories. The body seeks equilibrium and it needs energy for this.


Before the wonders of the modern era with its tools of food manufacturing and air travel and preserving mediums such as chemicals and artificially frozen environments, food was not so readily available. Meat used to be (and should be) an infrequent and expensive luxury.


And if you go back a little further, food was not even guaranteed. Before the “3 squares a day” paradigm ruled the kitchen and the gullet, humans only ate when they could, meaning when food was available. Periods of food scarcity were inevitable.


This set the cycle in motion, that of “eat/store” and “fast/burn.”


Mother nature’s system struck an ingenious balance. Fasting periods complemented feeding periods and calories were not allowed to accumulate in our asses. Until now. One study cited in the e-book said that we now spend, on average, about 20 hours per day in a fed state. That means we are only burning calories about 4 hours per day. This is because food is so readily available, and available in such inhumanly large quantities. We eat around the clock, and we eat so much that even after we stop stuffing our faces, our bodies continue to struggle storing latent calories from the previous feast. And as soon as we finally enter a fasted period, we eat again. Hunger is a bad word with terrible connotations. We seek to alleviate hunger the minute we feel an inkling of it creep into our consciousness. We are not taught that hunger is a very natural sensation and is quite endurable.


Some of the benefits of fasting include decreased body weight and body fat, decreased insulin levels and increased insulin sensitivity and increased growth hormone levels, just to name a few. The book proceeds to list various examples which the author illustrates with charts and studies.


And this is where I enter, always ready to try something at least once.
I am not obese, nowhere near it.


My BMI, at 24.1 (gotta be careful interpreting that, it’s a shaky measurement) is near the top of the normal range. This is owing to the fact that I weight train and much of my body weight is comprised of muscle mass. For this reason, you need to take into account your body structure when looking at your BMI. My waist measurement is 31 but I could stand to tighten up my abdominal area. I eat too many carbs.


This was my thinking when I first considered intermittent fasting. Most people fixate on weight when they should be looking at weight and body proportions. Only the very obese need to worry solely about weight.


However, most people are not morbidly obese and are better off embarking on a program in which they increase muscle mass while simultaneously targeting body fat. Simply stated, they need to eat less (maintaining a caloric deficit) while adding an exercise regime  regimen (ha!) to their lifestyle.


Initially I fasted 2 days per week. That was my big entrance into the world of intermittent fasting. Tuesday’s and Thursday’s I did not eat for 24 hours. This consisted of eating a normal dinner one night then skipping all food until 24 hours had passed, in time for dinner the next night. For the most part, it worked out quite well. Coffee was my most difficult hurdle. Food I could do without, but I was absolutely unable to resist coffee. According to the fasting program, a small cup of coffee or tea are allowed as long you don’t add sweeteners or milk. Keep it down to 3 or 4 calories, tops. In lieu of that, feel free to have a slice of gum.


Many fasters complain of irritability or headaches. By the late afternoons on my fast days I begin to get very hungry. The first few times I tried this, it was torture, but by the 3rd week it began to get a little easier. It’s amazing how vivid and strong the taste of food sits in your mouth after 24 hours of fasting. That first bite is like the best food you’ve ever tasted, even when it’s some crappy steamed broccoli.


I began to lose weight…too much weight. It started to impact my weight lifting. My deadlift suffered the most. I don’t know if it was psychological, but my strength tanked. It seemed to me that fasting twice a week was too much. I downsized to one day per week. Thursday. It also seemed fasting the day before a weight day was hampering my lifts as well, and Thursday was the perfect day since I lift on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday.


Fasting takes practice. The first few times you try it, it’s grueling and the difficulty is proportional to the role food plays in your life before you start fasting.


In my case, food, while important, was not my life. I had narrowed food down to its essential role, a necessary utility involved in my survival. I worked, mentally, to deconstruct its place in my life, to pure sustenance and nothing more. Food was compartmentalized into that part of my mind which has nothing to do with emotions or feelings or sensuality. Yet, despite this, fasting proved difficult at the beginning. Demonstrating that many times we are oblivious of our relationship with food. A relationship distorted by ritual and habit.Fasting illustrates the role of food in your life.


You’ll be shocked to learn just how centered around eating your daily existence really is.


Food, more than any other tool of survival, has been perverted and tainted by modern society. It has become larger than life. It is entertainment; it is the center of rituals; most apparently, it is also a moral and physical battle for a whole bunch of people as well. The fact that food is “abused” and the center of such conflict is a revealing insight into our nuanced relationship with it.


For instance, fasting allowed me to see just how much I depend on breakfast to start my day “right.” Seems I bought into that “breakfast as the salvation of the modern diet” mentality espoused by the food industry. Lacking food and coffee made my mornings feel empty and unfulfilled. For the first time I saw how incredibly excited I was at the prospect of eating breakfast as I bounded out of bed in the morning. On fast mornings, there is no bounding. I drag my ass to the kitchen and pour myself a glass of water. That’s the highlight of fast mornings. And I discovered that lunch was vital to filling the midday void when I’m at work. Without it I feel bored and slightly uncomfortable. Fasting has allowed me to recognize and work towards overcoming these attitudes, but they still linger.


Yesterday was my first fully fasted Thursday in about month due to the holidays. I took advantage of the beautiful day and walked to Borders and browsed the shelves in an attempt to avoid dealing with the fact that it is was lunch hour for chrissakes. The clock seems to tick just a bit slower on fast days. I found myself in the nutrition section looking at some Michael Pollan books. At times it seems my life is a twisted, ironic circus.


By the afternoon on a typical fast day my mouth gets dry and cottony. My cold sensitivity is heightened…and this from someone who doesn’t get cold easily.


One peculiar mental byproduct of fasting is that I feel crappy-looking. The greatest psychological phenomena of starvation is my sense of invisibility! I lack the vibrant and confident reassurance about myself that usually puts many people off. I have no edge and I feel flat.


In spite of all this, I don’t feel physically bad. Just deprived. And insignificant. Or is it this blog? Who knows.


That’s the bad.


I hope I’m not painting a miserable picture of fasting.


If it was as miserable and painful as I’ve made it sound, I wouldn’t continue doing it.
Fasting is one of the most self-empowering things I’ve ever done.
Fasting is the ultimate manipulation of the modern environment. You assert control of food.


All you need to do is look around you and it’s easy to see the hold that food has on most people. Refuting this gastric enslavement is to rise above gluttony while proclaiming a disciplined saintliness and asceticism while the lazy spoils of our world beckon humanity into their lazy depths. Fasting is a common and ancient religious tradition believed to help achieve a sense of higher awareness and spirituality.


In my case it’s about control of my environment and escaping the “culture of comfort.” Many of my unorthodox habits which I’ll detail in the future center around this concept. One goal of modern man should be that of overcoming the culture of comfort while learning to reign in his exaggerated physical urges. I’ve chosen to fast as a way of overcoming “food,” the most misunderstood and distorted environmental variable plaguing our health today.


As I said, fasting is a skill which needs refinement and practice. Coming off a one-month layoff yesterday, I needed a refresher. Other than a cup of coffee in the morning and a cup of tea in the afternoon, I did well. Next Thursday I’ll shoot to keep it to only one cup of either coffee or tea.


By dinner time I was pretty damn hungry. Sitting in the bus, I didn’t think about eating, but the minute I walked in my door I pounced on my car keys and sped off to Taco Bell. I ordered 2 tacos and a cheese pizza…the girl obviously flustered by my great looks (or maybe it was the fact the place was packed and the drive thru line stretched into the parking lot) accidentally gave me 4 tacos with the pizza. I didn’t notice this little gift until I opened my bag at home. Ugh. So hungry. I ate everything.


That’s the pitfall of fasting…your first meal back needs to be normal. Your fasted voraciousness will steer you to overeat. Which I did, quite happily so. My first meal is normally something simple and home-cooked. Like I said, I need to get back in the groove. Maybe next week.