Intermittent Fasting: Burn the Broken Chairs

So, let’s talk about something practical for a change, a useful experience I can perhaps offer the world that is neither sad nor entirely nebulous. I’m going to tell you about my 3 months of experimenting with Intermittent Fasting.

What it is

Intermittent Fasting, if you don’t already know, is including a “fast” within each day. You can do this every day, or on certain days—there’s not a wrong way to do it. Your fast starts when you finish eating in the evening and continues until you break the fast. Obviously. You can fast for as long as you want, but people working within this model often aim for a 16 – 20 hour fast.

This means that if I finish eating/drinking at 9 pm and I am aiming for a 20 hour fast, the next time I eat food will be at 5 PM the next day. Another name for this is the 20/4—20 hours of fasting with a 4 hour eating window.


What I was always told

I was always told what you were always told:
You have to eat 3 square meals a day in order to be healthy.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
If you don’t eat enough, you will feel weak and be improperly nourished.
You have to eat an amazing number of portions of certain types of food, or else.
If you don’t eat enough calories, your body will think it’s starving and you will get fat. (?? Thus, all the fat starving people??)
It’s ideal to eat 5 small meals per day.

Etc etc etc

 

What I am discovering

All of that appears to be incorrect, or at best, incomplete. I’ve been doing more 20-hour fast days than not since the end of August, and I am not: starving, fat, too skinny, weak, dizzy, ill. I can surf, ride my bike, run, do yoga and even though several colds have gone around the office lately, I haven’t gotten any of them. I got an infection in my foot from a thorn I stepped on and it went away without me having to take antibiotics. Doing pretty well, all things considered.

 

What made me try this

Two things happened simultaneously that made me so curious I couldn’t resist trying something that I was sure I would hate:

1. Riding along in the car with a friend of mine, discussing longevity in Blue Zones vs all-the-people-getting-cancer-nowadays, I watched him have a complete Eureka moment when I explained that in Guanacaste, the dry season ended in an epoch of virtual famine back when people lived off of the land, not the tourists. Could times of fasting/famine may be one of the Blue Zone common denominators? I saw how much this discovery illuminated him, and I understood that it’s worth paying attention to.

2. Listening to a pod cast this friend send to me later in the day, I heard an analogy that made all the sense in the world about how it is that fasting can be good for you—what your body does when it is hungry that can save your life. Let me paraphrase:

The body is like a wood-burning ship or train crossing the ocean or desert. The food you eat, obviously, is the fuel. So what happens when, in the middle of the ocean, the captain realizes that there is never going to be enough wood to make it to the port? He sends the crew through the ship, room by room, to check the furniture and haul out everything that is obsolete, wobbly, or broken. And they throw it all into the fire. Burn the broken chairs. That is the phrase that grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me. Burn the broken chairs. The extra fat cells, the unhealthy cells that can get out of hand and form tumors, tissue that is damage by too much sun or too much wine or too much whatever. Burn the broken chairs. God knows the closets are full of them. Stuff we save up in our bodies and our hearts because we don’t want to throw it overboard. Burn the broken chairs. When we get to the port, we can build new ones out of solid materials that will hold us up but not create clutter.

This is a link to the podcast.  There’s a lot of discussion in it of other, um, unconventional health measures people take, but don’t let that scare you.  No, I haven’t tried all of them!

I had to try it. I had to know. I’d spent 47 years believing that I could not live without breakfast, lunch and dinner, and actually experiencing very real symptoms of hypoglycemia if I didn’t eat “on time.” So? How in the world could this possibly work for me?

I do not know. But it does. I am not weak, dizzy, grumpy, miserable, or any of the other things you would think I would be. I am also not losing weight. This is ok with me because right now I do not need to lose weight–although many people who want to lose weight are able to do it this way. I kind of feel like a rock star.

 

How it feels to fast

You wonder, am I not starving hungry all day? I’ll be honest. I’ve been starving hungry since the day I was born. I love food. But I am not more starving hungry now than I ever was before. It depends more on how much I ate the day before than on anything else.  If I don’t eat enough food during my 4 hours of “feeding,” I can be pretty miserable by about 10 AM. I get terribly hungry, then I get distracted and forget about it. Exercise helps. Endorphins wipe out everything else. I’m the hungriest between about 2-3 PM, for some reason. When 5 o’clock finally rolls around and it’s time for me to eat something, I couldn’t care less if I have something to immediately start stuffing in my mouth, or not. It’s amazing.

And this fasting, as I mentioned in a previous post, has also (I believe) affected my heart/spirit. I absolutely believe that this has helped me burn the broken chairs in my heart. How, I don’t know. But if fasting has been a spiritual discipline for thousands of years, there must be a reason. I have not tasked myself with being the one to define it, but I will tell you that I do experience it. If you have shit to get rid of in your body or in your heart/soul/spirit—stop eating and let the employees haul out everything that doesn’t serve you well. Burn the broken chairs.

When I am very very hungry and I feel like I don’t want to do this anymore, I tell myself it’s alright to be hungry. It’s alright to feel that way. And I love proving to myself over and over that I can do hard things. Hell, this is nothing.

I feel like I “burn cleaner.” And I don’t even know exactly what I mean by this. If you do intermittent fasting, I’ll bet you know what I’m talking about, though. I feel more….sharp. More like I am made up only of essential elements. I mean my body and my mind. Because who are we kidding—we are all only One Thing. I’m done with those bogus separations. I’ve never been able to separate myself into compartments and I’m not interested in starting now.

 

Practically

Practically speaking, this is a difficult way to live. There are all kinds of occasions where you kind of can’t get out of fast-breaking social occasions. So, ok. I go out to breakfast and don’t fast that day. I go out to lunch and don’t fast that day either. It’s alright. There’s always tomorrow. You don’t accumulate a boat full of broken chairs in one day, anyway.

For how long am I planning to do this? I don’t know. Until further notice? Until I change my mind? For how long are you planning to eat the way you eat? Until I decide I have a better idea, I guess. For now, I like it. My body/spirit feels strong and uncomplicated. I also have zero problems with acid reflux, which I suffered from for 12 years. So, there’s that to consider. I am completely off the meds I thought I couldn’t live without.  As Pio would say: Fa’ti delle domande.

 

My takeaway

Let go of everything you thing you know; it’s all somebody’s best guess.  Let go of it all. Truth will arrive on its own to fill up the empty space.

Burn the broken chairs.

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Dawning

Something is going on with me. After a year of what may have looked not-so-bad on the outside but was really deep mourning on the inside, something is happening. It is not something I am doing. I have done many things, but this one is not starting inside me and moving out. This one is coming to me from the outside in, and I am observing it, witnessing it.

To tell you you about it, here are 3 things as they were born from my pen into my journal on 3 separate days, all in the month of November. Turn off Grammar Correct. It’s choppy, but if you hold on, it will get you there.

 

ONE

I feel Pio. Calling me to be alright already. To be happy. To knock it off. To open and close and hold on and let go and be ok. To live. To open my closed hands. To honor him by being joyful and free and engaged with/in my life. With Life.

That is not coming from me. I want to hide and pine and ponder and pontificate and gestate and all. He says no. I am in between these two things, both pulling.

 

TWO

I went to an intense yoga class and then I laid on the floor and understood Everything.

Thankfulness. For Pio. For what we had. For what he was.

For Life that we have while we have it. And we all move into it and out of it, all of us. All. And it isn’t fair to sulk or to be bitter that someone moved out of it before we wanted, because we didn’t will them into it in the first place, and none of us belong to anything but Life.

Pio didn’t belong to me. He belonged to Life.

And when he is gone the world, the planet, cannot keep him. I cannot keep any more of him than what he has planted in me. When we are gone no one can keep us.

There is so much beauty moving in and out of our lives all the time. Pio wants me to experience the beautiful things and people that are with me now today in life, and not hate the space he isn’t filling.

It is inconceivable that he left his life and I am here, but I am because there are things I must do and be. In the end, no one remains unforgotten except Jesus and Shakespeare and Genghis Khan. So all of us–all of us–are like flowers and grass. We have to be beautiful while we can and that is our calling and our blessing.

And we must be open-hearted and open-handed and grateful for everything we have, and not expect not to lose things. Because everything is coming and going and only mountains remain to see it all.

I will never “find anyone like him” again because no one else is supposed to be like him. My beauty and happiness is mine, not created by him or by anyone else. It is mine and comes from me.

Things and people that I love and want may come to me. And go from me. Because my life is not The Main Storyline. The Main Storyline is so big and so long I cannot know it all.

 

THREE

I don’t want to call it a “rebirth” or “moving on” or any of the other words or phrases other people use. What is it? It’s like a fog lifting? No. The fog is there. It’s like developing a 7th sense to see/perceive through the fog.

Yes. Like developing a 7th sense. I guess that’s supposed to be 6th sense, ha ha!, but I think I already have #6. The 6th Sense is knowing on this plane, across time/space barriers. Maybe this really is Sense #7: a sense that can “see” through the fog and perceive the depth of time and space where you and the Lost One both are, but in different forms.

And this form is/was only temporary, anyway.

And no one ever really belongs to anyone else. All of us are Life’s gifts to itself. And where we came from and where we are going, who knows? But before our lives was Forever, and after is even longer, and this life was only ever going to be a flash in the pan for any of us. Whether it’s 100 days or 100 years.

This is dawning on me. That is all I can say. It is coming upon me slowly and silently out of out of deep night like a dawn. That none of us knew would come. Much less how or when.

But you have to Do All the Things during the night. You have to listen to the voice of the deep space and wait for the echo to tell you where the bottom of it is. The echo never comes, but you must wait. And while you wait comes the dawn.

I have a peace now and an understanding. It doesn’t wash away loneliness; it sits with it. This peace and this loneliness sit together. They form together in the dark like twins. There is no way to explain these things. The only thing to do is wait for them and when they come, take them in.

Walk. Stop eating. Watch the stars. Sleep with them. Pay attention. Do not stop crying.  Because you have to let go. Not of love or of pain. Of the illusion of belonging. You have to let go. Of ownership.  Nothing is yours. Nothing ever was. Even you are only being lent to your life for now.

He was never really mine. That much has always been clear if you dare to see it. He came to me to give me pizza and laughter and self-confidence and olive oil and the Italian language and 2 step-kids, a trip through the dark side and into the light, 5 years in Washington with my sister, and a motorcycle. But he would freaking kick my ass if he saw me sitting around crying for him now.

He would want me to have become more beautiful, stronger, more self-confident than ever before for having spent 14 years with him. That is what he would want. That’s what Life would want.

All of this is dawning on me. I am not doing this. I am passive; it is active. It is coming on its own over me. In the dark, I did The Work. Now it is dawning.

Yes I watched the tragedy of how he died. But if he was not angry and did not hold back from it, why should I? He told me he knew I would be alright. And I am. I feel in some ways ashamed to say it because I fear it might sound like I am falling out of love with him. I am not. But peace is coming to me like a slow dawn.

And we aren’t so far away from each other after all, are we, amore mio? Not really.

 

AFTERWARD

I stopped and cried a few times while I was writing that last one just the other day. They weren’t exactly sad tears, just the manifestation of tremendous amounts of emotion in the absence of adequate words.

The only reason I can think of that I should have been chosen for these things is because I am the one who will always bear witness, who will do The Work, tell the stories, carve the totem poles. For you. For the day a story will save your life.

Look, now. You see? The sky is beginning to lighten.

 

Pio in Mexico, on top of the world. Late 1990s.

Slowly Like Snow

you said take me home
to the sea and
i promised
i would

neither of us imagined then
on those last days of
pain patches and tireless visitors
the weight
of a carry-on bag
with ashes

i tried to lift it
into the space above
my seat on the plane but
couldn’t
the gentleman who helped
eyed me strangely

when the plane took off pointing
toward the endless Atlantic, i
reached for your hand
i really did
but your hand wasn’t there
it was in tiny pieces in
the overhead compartment
and i had only air
to hold on to

i cried then
as we lifted
everyone could see me

you said take me home
to the sea
and i promised

i went down into the water
with your teeth and
your bones pressed into
my skin
and watched
as the tiny pieces
fell slowly like snow
around me

Lambrate

Lambrate.

I find it on Google maps. It’s on the other side of Milan.

I’ve never been to a crematorium. The only picture I have in my mind of a crematorium is Auschwitz, and I know this is not going to be like that. But I know what happens in crematoriums and I know that my husband is there. His ashes are there. How is this possible?

I’ve waited for 29 days. 29 terrible days. First the sickness, over in 4 months. Then the death with the futile fight at the end. Then 29 days of waiting for ashes, for the legal papers that will release them to me for international travel. He told me and everyone that he wanted to go home to the ocean in Costa Rica after this was over, for the remains of his destroyed body to end in the ocean. So I wait.

I have an app on my phone that tells me how to get anywhere I want to go in Italy using public transportation. It tells me which buses and metros I need to take to get to Lambrate. The public transport system is easy. I’ve been in Italy now for 5 months–I’m not a beginner. I’m concerned about which side of the street to catch the bus on, but I have extra tickets so if I catch it going the wrong way, I can get off and wait for the same-numbered bus on the other side.  It would’t be the first time.  I am more worried about choosing the right stop to get off the bus. How will I know? And, provided I pick the right stop, how will I find the cemetery where the crematorium is located? I don’t expect giant signs to advertise it. Am I going to have to stop strangers to ask the way? What if I cannot speak?

I find the bus stop. It’s cold here on the shady side of the street. I’m early. I’m sick to my stomach–sick with fear that something will go wrong, that I’m supposed to bring some type of document that I don’t have. I have nothing in my hands except my passport. My brother-in-law told me that the funeral parlor said they have taken care of everything and all I need to do is go with my ID. Everything is ready. I do not have any faith that this is true. But I have nothing to bring. So I am empty-handed with an exploding heart and a knotted gut.

If they tell me I must leave without his ashes I will crumble to the floor and they will have to carry me out. I know it. I have nothing left. I can’t anymore.

My attention shifts back to the present. To the street corner I am standing on, to the thin stripe of sun I am trying to stand in, to the growing group of passengers around me waiting for the Lambrate bus.

Suddenly a chilly wave of relief sweeps over me, something warm like love kindles in the center of my frozen chest, and I know I am going to be alright. I will find the right bus and I will know the right stop to get off. I will find the cemetery and the crematorium.

I know this because I realize that I am standing in a growing cluster of old women. Furrowed faces, pea coats, gray hair, gnarled hands. In their arms, they carry flowers.

On this lost street corner in Milan on the last morning of October, my new tribe surrounds me. These are my people. Each of these grandmothers, one day, has done what I am doing–made her first trip to the cemetery at Lambrate. We are widows. We are waiting in the damp sun-striped shade to go to our husbands. I am the youngest, the newest. I have arrived earlier than usual to this place, to a bus stop on the route to Lambrate. There are men among us also, solemn-faced and wrapped in scarves, but largely, we are women.

The time is wrong. The place is right. I am in good company and will not be lost. I am not alone. My pain, perhaps fresher, belongs to all of us. I am home here in this unfamiliar place.

When the bus comes, I get on and stand in the aisle, allowing the seats for my elders. I stare out the window  at the ancient city as we travel, trying to breathe, envious of the serenity of the women and of the flowers. When the bus slows and the hunched passengers stand, I follow them out the door and down the street, through the gates of the cemetery at Lambrate, and follow signs to the crematorium.

Radar

It’s generally safe to assume that when I’m not posting much it’s because there’s a lot going on.  When I pick up the talking stick, it’s because I’ve had time to think—to transpose everything that’s happened into words.  It takes me a while but you know I get there.  There’s been a lot going on.  I don’t know if I’m there.

THE LIST

For one, there’s my book.

Then, I had to move.

And the 2nd of October marked the one year anniversary of the last day I sat beside Pio and held his hand.

I took his ashes into the ocean on that day.

Also, not specifically related to any of this but happening simultaneously, I’ve started experimenting with intermittent fasting.

So there’s a lot going on inside of me, but I don’t know what to say about most of it yet.  Here’s a feeble attempt to start:

UNSOLICITED ADVICE

I guess I can begin with an unsolicited piece of advice about what to say/not to say to your friend who has lost someone as significant as air.  Do that person a favor and don’t make comments about how fast time has gone.  Have I said this before?  I’m sorry.  I’m saying it again.  Like, for example, “Wow!  Time is flying, isn’t it?  I can’t believe it’s already been one year!”  Please don’t say that.  Because to the person who lost someone, the first week took a year.  I guarantee you that friend of yours feels like they have already lived without their person for 100 years and I promise you they don’t think it’s a nice feeling.  Just so you know.  There’s that.

LUCKY AND UNLUCKY

AMAZING reviews have been coming in about Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie.  I’ve also had touching private conversations with friends who have experienced journeys that are similar to mine in one way or another.  I can see now that I was right:  this book did need to be written.  And it did need to get out of my computer and into other hands.  I’m so proud of it.

And, yeah, I moved.  My landlord suddenly needed his extra house back, so I had to make other plans.  I was SO SAD to get the news that I needed to move, but then something happened that you kind of won’t believe.  I almost immediately (2 days?) found another house.  It’s about the same price and it’s so close to the beach I can hear the waves all night long.  If there is ever a tsunami, I will never know what hit me.  But the best part is that back before I even knew him, Pio built this house.  Can you believe it?  It feels exactly like home.  It is home.  Caramelo and Ambrogio like it as much as cats can like a new house.  Is all of this some random coincidence?  I have no idea.

So again, I’m lucky.  And unlucky.

I’m not ready to tell you about the ashes yet.  I might have to write it as a poem because I don’t know now you make a thing like that fit into sentences.

And the book deserves more focus than what I’ve been giving it.  You’re supposed to blog mercilessly about your new book and drive everyone who knows you insane with shameless self-promotion when it comes out.  I don’t think I’ve been doing that.  That would have been hard for me to do even if this was the only thing on my plate.  It isn’t.

I have a good friend who does intermittent fasting and got me curious.  I didn’t think I could do it.  It sounded horrible. I  thought I would be miserable or dizzy or grumpy or…  I just thought it would be too hard or somehow unbearable.  It isn’t.  It isn’t easy, but what’s easy?  Pretty much nothing worth doing is easy.   And there’s the spiritual/emotional side of it too.  I’m not sure I have words that give this any meaning, either, but I’m acknowledging it.  Either fasting is a spiritual practice that turns out to be good for your body, or it is a health practice that turns out to be good for your spirit.  I don’t really feel the need to differentiate.  If you get curious, you can read about it on line.  If it was anywhere near as bad as you think, I would not be doing it.  I always say I’ll try anything once, and I didn’t think I could live with something as lame-sounding as “intermittent fasting” being the one thing I wimped out on and wouldn’t try.  I’ll save that for something actually dangerous.

I didn’t take all the ashes.  I saved some.  That’s cheating, but whoever does the surviving gets to make at least a few of the decisions.  I made up that rule.

BATS

I’ve been thinking a lot about bats.  How they fly around in dark caves and no, they can’t see, but they “see” with other senses.  Radar.  They turn on their radar and they can tell where they are, where other things are, where they should go.  I’ve been trying to navigate by radar.  Because I can’t see shit.  It’s all fog.  But I try to see and listen with other senses.  Sometimes when I walk or run on the deserted beach, I close my eyes and try to keep going in a straight line by listening to the sound of the ocean to the side of me, feeling the wind in my face, feeling the sun on my back.  It isn’t easy but I can do it.  I keep trying.  I follow my gut, hoping that will teach it to give good advice.

I spent a whole year of evenings, essentially, lying in a hammock on a dark porch in silence trying to take it all in.  Not unlike a bat in a cave, except I wasn’t hanging upside down.  I was hanging though, in the hammock.  Most people are afraid of or dislike bats and dark places and sadness.  Most people run away from the cave.  Not me.  I am trying to see my way around in it like a bat.

I told you, there’s a lot going on and I’m not sure I’ve arrived at the words for it yet.  But I’m trying.  I never stop trying.  I’ll get there.

 

Those Dreams About Having Forgotten Your Clothes

It’s no accident that Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie came out two days before the date when, last year, Pio went into the hospital and never came home. I picked the release date—it wasn’t assigned to me. I had a premonition that this would be a good time to have something to be happy about, something else to talk about. Not hiding from it—I don’t hide—just adding other ingredients into the mix. It gives you something to say when you see me other than a weighty, “How are you?” and we both know what you mean.

How am I? Somehow or other I’m still alive. Most days, mostly alright. Who knew? Anyway, what are my choices? That pragmatic little rascal you just read a book about hasn’t changed all that much. I can go around being alright and not-alright at the same time.

You ask me how it feels to have Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie out there? Partly like a huge sigh of relief. That’s a lot to carry around for 20 years, KNOWING day and night, you MUST say it all and feeling, simultaneously, that you CANNOT. Well, I just did. The rest of it feels like one of those dreams about having forgotten your clothes.  Except I’m not sleeping.  Lucky me, I’m used to running around in public in my underwear (as in, a bikini) so I’m kind of over it. It is what it is. In the end, 98% of us look better dressed, not just me. My parents are going to read it. They haven’t yet, but they are going to. That’s a whole other subject.

Let me tell you about the 1st three people I heard back from about the book, and how they surprised me. All of them are friends from college days; none of them are “in” the book or were my very closest friends. The first thing that surprised me is that two of the people are men. I greatly feared that this would be more of a “chick flick” than what the story deserves to be. Because on the subject of growing up Mennonite, carrying an immense baggage of expectations, running smack into the world, and having to figure out what the sam hill to do about everything is NOT a girl story, specifically. So I was pleasantly surprised that two of the first people to contact me, who found meaning in the pages, were men. The other thing that surprised me is that nobody wrote me to tell me how funny it was—they wrote me to tell me how meaningful. I could, again, not be more delighted. Because many stories are funny (I hope), I feared that it would come off as a bunch of silliness with some complaining mixed in, and that I would somehow not convey the gut-twisting agony underlying what may seem like silly questions if you weren’t there. If they weren’t the ones your life depends upon. I am happily humbled to begin to believe that the book may do, at least in some ways, what I hoped it would: tell not only “my” story, but a personalized version of “our” story. The details are different for all of us. The underlying dilemmas, it is my best guess, are the same.

There is so much more in my head to write about. I will never have to make anything up, ever, because there are so many stories to tell. I didn’t start keeping a journal at 9 years old for the purpose of being able to look up almost any day (for sure any week) of my life, but that is the result. I have the bones of 3 more books in my computer right now. Will I live long enough to write them all? At 20 years a piece, that would make me 107 when the last one is finished, so something is going to have to change here if I’m going to make it through them all. I’m doing my best. What I really need is for a millionaire to fall in love with me so that I don’t have to scratch around for pennies in the dust during most of my waking hours instead of concentrating on The Real Work. I don’t want to rule that out, but in morning I will be up and scratching.

Write me, after you’ve read Marry a Mennonite Boy and Make Pie. Reflect it back to me. Tell me what it says to you. Tell me what made you laugh. Tell me what stabbed you. Ask me a question—I might answer it. Tell me if you think I’ve been unfair. Tell me, even if you didn’t end up as far away as Costa Rica, if you know what I’m talking about.

The first 15 people to receive “Marry A Mennonite Boy and Make Pie.”