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 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.
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.