Yesterday, I did something that I thought I would never do. I fasted for 24 hours. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about trying since I read about it in my Precision Nutrition ProCoach materials. One of my nutrition clients was interested in trying a one-day fast, so I read up on it so I could have an intelligent conversation with her and check on her mindset. You don’t want to fast if you have a history of disordered eating (she doesn’t) and you want to be really careful if you tend to embrace restrictive eating habits (she doesn’t).
I’m going to repeat that more clearly: don’t fast if you have a history of disordered eating.
Anyway, I read the Precision Nutrition (PN) e-book, Experiments with Intermittent Fasting and I did find parts of the exercise interesting. Jon Berardi, who runs PN, wanted to compete at a masters-level in track and decided that, to be competitive, he would need to lose about 20 pounds (while retaining most of his muscle mass). He had read the research about intermittent fasting and decided to give that a try rather than follow a consistently restrictive diet (which often left him cranky). After experimenting with intermittent fasting, overall, he had great results.
Now, I don’t want to lose weight. I repeat, I don’t want to lose weight. I do, however, want to have a healthy relationship with food and regularly make choices that help me reach my goals: being a healthy, happy, strong human being. So here’s what intrigued me about intermittent fasting:
Intermittent fasting can be helpful for in-shape people (who ideally have a healthy and sane relationship with food) who want to really get lean without following conventional bodybuilding diets, or for anyone who needs to learn the difference between body hunger and mental hunger. [emphasis mine] (And for the latter, I only recommend the Trial Fast.)
—Jon Berardi, Experiments in Intermittent Fasting
For months I’ve been toying with the idea of doing the 1-day trial fast, where you only drink water, green tea, and powdered greens beverages. (Jon Berardi also recommends including an essential amino acids supplement, but I don’t have one on hand so I didn’t.) Yesterday, like the slightly impulsive person I am, I woke up and decided that the previous night’s 730 pm dinner was going to be my last food-intake until 730 that night. I already drink green tea and a greens beverage every day, so I was still in my normal routine there. And I had a relatively busy day at work, so I’d be somewhat distracted from the desire to eat.
Sure, this decision might have been informed by the fact that we had no clean forks and all of my favorite breakfast bowls were in the dirty dishwasher, so I couldn’t easily eat my normal spinach and eggs breakfast. But, in reality, I chose to do this now because I’m off my healthy eating routine. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of emotional eating and I’m messing up my body’s hunger and fullness cues. What was a normal or even large power bowl portion for me 3 weeks ago isn’t keeping me satiated for more than a couple of hours — and then I go for the cheese. So. Much. Cheese. And not even good cheese. Crap cheese. Any cheese I can find. It’s not ideal.
I want to be clear; I wasn't punishing myself for being "bad" or eating "bad foods." I was getting back in touch with my body. Through the practice of mindfulness, I’ve come to realize that I’ve been using food (and TV and over-work and wine spritzers) as a way to numb myself. These habits aren’t new (though my realization of their purpose is). Most recently, these habits escalated as I’ve been semi-consciously distancing myself from grieving my friend and colleague Sarah Moore’s recent illness and death.
What’s up, girl! I miss you!
To me, Sarah’s death seemed simultaneously fast and slow. Though we weren't close friends, I loved her and losing her really affected me. At first, I dealt with my grief by going for long walks and throwing myself into work and meditating and reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart and talking to friends. But, just like when in an emergency you keep it together only to fall apart later, once the funeral was over and time brought me further away from the initial trauma of losing Sarah, I started paying less attention to my self-care. I fell into a rut of television and the aforementioned cheese and randomly telling my partner Jes that I don't want her to die.
One of the things I wanted to come out of my fast was a better understanding of my feelings. If you’re constantly making yourself numb, you don’t know that your feelings won’t wreck you. I needed to remind myself that I could feel sad and powerless and that I could still be okay. I don't need to numb myself with food or TV or whatever else. (See, even nutritionists have bad habits! Even nutritionists need to work on shit!)
Furthermore, I recognize what a privileged person I am that I have enough food and the opportunity for food and the means to acquire food. I understand that if I were in a different economic circumstance, not eating when there is food around would be a stupid thing to do. I recognize that intentionally fasting for a day could even be offensive to people who don’t have the economic means to acquire food whenever they want it. Ultimately, using food to numb my feelings is a problem supported by privilege.
Fasting helped remind me of how lucky I am. I live in a particularly privileged location: Cambridge, MA, outside Boston. According to the Cambridge government website, the median household income is just over 20% higher than the national median income (though the cost of living is also much higher).
In the Boston-Cambridge area, we have universities (even famous ones), research institutions, and fantastic hospitals. I have clients in dozens of professions, ranging from college professors to scientists to lawyers to non-profit fundraisers to teachers to CEOs to administrative assistants. Cambridge is highly educated and (luckily for my queer ass) very liberal.
I recognize how lucky I am to be an educated white lesbian in Cambridge, MA. I feel unendingly grateful that I don’t have to worry about my children being taken from me at the border or held indefinitely as I try to make a better life for them. And I don’t have to worry about someone yelling racial slurs at me. I don’t have to worry about losing my housing or going hungry. And even if I lost my job tomorrow, I have a safety net. I have people who would feed me and who would give me a place to live. I’m lucky to be me. I recognize that.
As Berardi states, “Taking a day to fast reminds us that there are people out there who fast regularly – not voluntarily – but because they don’t have food. We’re reminded that eating is a privilege.”
So those were the main reasons that I wanted to try the 1-day fast. I wanted to reset my hunger and fullness cues, to stop using food as a salve for my feelings, and to actively recognize how lucky and privileged I am.
OK, I’m going to leave it here for now. Next week, I’ll get into what I experienced on the day of the fast and in the days after. Was it a terrible experience that I’ll never repeat? Was it a revelation and now I want to do it weekly? Did it have any lasting effects? If so, what were they? Tune in to find out!