Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I pulled a fast one

Over the past several days (or weeks—maybe we should say weeks) I’ve taken in far more calories than I needed. So yesterday, our day of travel to return home from the holidays, I took in far fewer than I needed. For such a largely secular person as myself, I’ve done rather a lot of fasting in my lifetime.

I cannot now recall how we hit upon it, but early in our senior year of college, my best friend and I decided to try out fasting one day each week. We chose Sunday not so much because of its commonly-held holiness or its supposed Sabbatical qualities, but simply because it was the most convenient. During the week, we figured to be too busy to go without calories. Anyway, if Saturday was particularly good—as college kids might define it—we wouldn’t necessarily feel like eating much on Sunday anyway and some kind of cleansing might well be in order.

For us, we didn’t consider it spiritual, per se. Certainly, there was nothing we would have called religious about the practice. Instead, it was an exercise of willpower. Just as we expected exercise in the gym to pay off (mostly, we didn’t exercise in the gym, but we understood the principle), we expected this exercise to pay off as well, in greater self-control and discipline. Our fasting rules were pretty basic: absolutely no solid foods; getting liquid calories was permissible, but not ideal; drink lots of water; if necessary, food could be eaten after the sun went down (this was a sort of safety valve).

For the most part it went well—better for me than for him, I suppose, as he had a tendency to get headaches, either because he wasn’t drinking enough water or for some other esoteric reason. He used the safety valve more than I did. But in any case, we did it and we made it through, week after week. I found that it actually seemed easier to go without food than it was to moderate my intake of food. Easier, you might say, to avoid being led into temptation than to be delivered from evil. If you don’t even go to the dining hall or spend time around food, it’s just not that tempting, especially if you’re able to distract yourself with something else. And as bright, motivated college seniors, we always had plenty to think about on a Sunday.

One of the benefits I found was that although I felt like there was a certain edge to my consciousness—something that was hard to define as better or worse, just different—overall I felt more even-keeled. Without the spikes and dips of blood sugar that typically go with eating, I felt very steady. And either because of that steadiness or because I was spending 2-3 fewer hours on the task of eating, I felt incredibly productive on those Sundays when I fasted. Aside from that, we just felt after each fast some sense of being cleaner or purer or better than we had been before we did it. Even knowing that might well be illusory didn’t mean that the feeling didn’t have a real effect, and it’s hard to call that mindset difference a negligible one.

Yesterday's fast went nicely. I had some grape juice in the morning, as well as some green tea, and some vitamin water as we were driving back, and a whole lot of water, which was more or less running right through me all day. The sugar in the vitamin water actually made me feel worse for a little while there, but I soon returned to an equilibrium. And now I'm back on my regularly-scheduled nutrition plan.

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