7/8/08

My Year Without Eating

Well, I finally finished a long-term project. It took me eight years and three days, but I did it - I went a whole year without eating.

No breakfast, lunch, dinner. No dessert. No snack. Nothing solid for at least 24 hours at a time, and usually 36 hours. Three hundred and sixty-five times. I made Mondays my fasting day, except when on vacation or holiday. My normal routine was to eat nothing between Sunday dinner and Tuesday breakfast. If I felt particularly stressed, I sometimes trimmed it to midnight-to-midnight, going the calendar day without.

I grew up with the admonition, "Clean your plate! Children are starving in Europe!" And eating a meal on a regular schedule got to be, well, a regular habit. And then I would catch the other side of the coin: "You've never known what it's like to go hungry." So when emergencies or other events needing my attention took me out in the plant at lunch (or dinner), my stomach would grumble and complain about the disruption and I found myself distracted from what was causing me to miss the meal.

So, in part this regimen was to silence this inconvenient critic. It could inform me I was hungry all it wanted. After a few months of regular fasting, that became just background noise, easy to ignore.

Another part was a desire to lose some weight. My weight has always been pretty stable, but the middle-age expansion was quietly asserting itself. I'd heard that after age 40, most American adults gain a pound a year, and that was about right in my case. I'd tried to prevent it, but no combination of foreswearing midnight snacks and exercising had yet reversed the trend. But I finished my year of fasting at almost exactly the weight I started. I experienced some downs & ups. I can't recommend this regimen for weight loss for two reasons. First, you find yourself counting 2,000 calories not consumed on Monday, and so Tuesday you have seconds. Hah! You're going nowhere! But the second reason is that even if you control your impulses all week, your body is busy adjusting to the new dietary reality. It learns to be more efficient, and so you end up maintaining the same weight on fewer calories per week. I guess I can only claim the eight pounds I didn't gain over the last eight years! Ah well, that's something.

The gains have been mental. After the first successful trial, I knew I could survive and function even at work. After a few months, I could sit down with the family at Monday dinner and be content with a glass of tea while they ate. When I had done this for over a year, I took stock and asked myself where I was going with this. Surely any benefits that could be ascribed to fasting were already achieved (my doctor told me that if everyone did this, Type 2 diabetes would probably disappear from his practice). I looked down the road and decided to go for a year of fasting. Staring down seven more years of this was a bit daunting; it's not like weekly fasts are fun!

Two years ago I confirmed my plan to finish my 365 days and drop the fasts. The calendar told me I should be finishing up about the time Hunter graduated from high school and Brenda and I became empty nesters. I didn't want to impose on Brenda to eat alone or in front of me, so that seemed like a perfect time to finish up.

But I can't quite give up the habit. For one reason, I'm afraid my more-efficient metabolism might let me balloon if I go back to eating every day. So I'm now on a modified plan: two days a week I give up breakfast and lunch and only have dinner, so I drop four meals over two days.

A short calculation reveals I've gone without food 1.77% of my life. I think that entitles me to say I know now what it's like to go hungry. But it's over. I did it.

It was enough.

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