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January 7th, 2019
What is the difference between an individual who says they’re starving and someone who says their fasting?
Both are presumably in much the same state: they haven’t eaten food in a while.
The only difference is the intention and emotional disposition of each person. The person who claims to be starving did not plan on going so long without eating, nor are they enjoying it and remain blind to any good the experience could be doing. Such a person’s only focus is almost always to end it.
A person who is fasting on the other hand has quite a strong intention with regards to not eating food, and many who have not tried this exercise nor read any of the literature on the subject might be quick to assume some kind of religious reason.
Because, why wouldn’t you eat some food if you have it available?
Like many of the things that are good for us, the answer and the process of experiencing that answer is counter-intuitive.
The question: why wouldn’t you eat some food if you have it available? is a similar inverted form of this question regarding exercise:
Why would you do something that’s kind of painful if you don’t have to?
While we’ve come a long way from the 1960’s when doctors would endorse certain brands of cigarettes on television commercials and we now generally acknowledge that the difficult experience of working out is very good for us, there is still much that has yet to be incorporated into our cultural understanding of healthy living.
Fasting has decades of research showing a host of positive benefits. One way of understanding some of these benefits is through this analogy: If you were running a business and suddenly had a decrease in profits, perhaps due to a recession, and you had to cut some staff for this business, who would you cut first? Would you let go of your best people? Absolutely not. You would let the least effective workers go first. If, for a moment, we regard the body as a system like this business, then it behaves in much the same way when the resource of constant food suddenly disappears. The body turns on mechanisms that start analyzing and deconstructing poorly made proteins and cells in order to reuse the material. Organs become smaller but benefit as a result and grow back healthier after the fast. While this platform does not purport to be any kind of medical authority and advises anyone interested to do their due diligence before trying anything, there are non-medical benefits that we can also analyze.
For example, we might ask how much time is spent dealing with food during a given day. We prepare food, eat the food, clean up afterwards and then of course there’s getting rid of what we’ve eaten. All of these things take time.
A few years ago the Bureau of Labor Statistics released some metrics for this. Apparently, during workdays, a little over an hour is spent eating and just under 40 minutes is spent in food preparation and cleaning. For our purposes here we’ll lowball the number and say that an hour and half is spent solely with regards to food each day.
Fasting just one day a week would give us an extra 78 hours a year. That’s more than 3 days. Imagine for a moment what you could do with 3 days? How many books could be read, or projects started or finished?
And of course, time is not the only thing we save. Without eating, less money is spent, and while the cost of a meal is going to vary greatly depending on location, eating habits and whether we go out or cook at home, it’s undeniable that the cost of between 50 and 150 meals is going to be substantial. And all of this comes with health benefits.
Like anything, it’s very difficult the first time it’s attempted. Much like going for the gym after a long hiatus from physical activity, the beginning is very rough going. But also like going to the gym, it gets much easier every time we fast. And if fasts extend beyond a day, many people report increasing energy and mental clarity on the 3rd day onward. Further gifts of an underutilized practice.
This practice also equips us more robustly for times when there are no good food options around. Perhaps we find ourselves at a conference that only has junk food. Having fasted a few times gives one a much greater chance of resisting the emotional logic that makes us give in. Instead, we know we can survive just fine for a few more hours or even a few more days.
While the wisdom of mothers and grandmothers is usually on point, their ubiquitous insistence that we eat… pretty much all the time is perhaps an area where the wisdom falls short.
Culturally we have removed all restraint when it comes to food. We use food as emotional therapy far more than we do to nourish our bodies, and fasting can also be a way to remove a guilty vice and confront the reasons we wish to retreat into short term pleasure more effectively.
While there are loads of reasons to start playing around with fasting, whether it be intermittent fasting or longer fasts, it does well to remember the case of Angus Barbieri who in 1965 fasted for 382 days, consuming only water, tea, coffee and vitamins. At the beginning of his fast he was 456lbs, and a little over a year later he was 180lbs. The guy went more than a year without eating solid food. Just let that sink in today as you have your next craving and hear yourself say “I’m starving!”
Chances are, if you can grab a love handle on your side, you aren’t starving, you’re either lacking in real nutrients, or your just addicted to the foods you’ve been eating.
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