With apologies to Suzanne Collins: This has nothing to do with that.
It recently occurred to me that I am drowning in food.
I have often remarked that during the Katrina crisis and the flooding of New Orleans, despite being displaced, I never missed a night’s sleep, and I never missed a meal.
What’s even more remarkable is that I don’t think I’ve missed a meal in many a year, and I could hardly remember what true hunger felt like. Until now.
Because of my metabolism and narrow frame, I’ve never been labeled obese. People still sometimes call me “Slim.” Nevertheless my doctor usually advises me to lose a few pounds. He’s a stickler.
Once upon a time, I was alarmingly skinny. I ate like a teenage boy well into my twenties, yet remained almost skeletal. I gained twenty pounds after getting married in 1993, and another twenty pounds or so upon moving to New Orleans in 1999. I got fatter, but it wasn’t all fat. Several rounds of strength training regimens added some muscle mass as well. But I was still eating like a teenage boy. Meanwhile my metabolism was catching up — a little.
Eating voluminous amounts of food became part of my identity. I would always go back for seconds or thirds. I was a human garbage disposal. Once upon a time I needed the fuel. Now it’s just habitual gluttony. If the average American eats like I do, no wonder we have an obesity epidemic.
But about a month ago something changed. As part of my seasonal purification rituals, I thought about fasting. Hmm, fasting, what a concept. That would involve being hungry.
And that’s when I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I was truly hungry.
I was never taught to fast. Fasting was not a part of the religious or secular culture in which I was raised. One might even say that I was taught never to fast, not explicitly but implicitly. The very notion seems to run counter to our national psyche. As Americans, we like to believe we live in a land of plenty. We like to celebrate abundance.
I went looking for information on the subject of fasting. Here a few resources I uncovered:
- This month’s Harper’s features a relevant essay that looks interesting. You have to be a subscriber to read it, and sadly my subscription has lapsed. But the Tulane library has it and I hope to bike over there and read it soon. A friend who’s read it tells me that, “Apparently Mark Twain would always cure himself of cold and flu by fasting until it went away.” Intriguing.
- The International Natural Hygiene Society is ostensibly grounded in science. Then again it may be pseudoscience; I haven’t done the research. They’ve got an article on “What to expect on your first fast.” I’m skeptical of orthopathy by reflex, but this seems like pretty solid advice, at least at first glance.
- Associated: Fasting for Renewal of Life by Herbert M. Shelton who seems to be an authority on the subject. Shelton was a key proponent of the Natural Hygiene movement. The book is several decades old, which makes me wonder if the science is current.
- A more recent volume is Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctor’s Program for Conquering Disease (1998) by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.
- And there is a functioning Yahoo Group on the topic of Water Fasting.
I’m not sure I’m ready for a fast quite yet, because I’m exploring a radical new concept, namely eating less on a daily basis. This means experiencing a radical new sensation, namely hunger.
At a rough guess I figure I’ve knocked out about 10-20% of my daily calorie intake by the following simple measures:
- I’m not drinking alcohol.
- I used to eat a snack every evening before bed, essentially a fourth meal. Usually this was a small meal, a bowl of cereal perhaps. But it often was more substantial, especially if I’d a few drinks earlier in the evening.
- I’m not having second helpings at dinner, and I’m trying to keep what portions I do have at dinner modest.
In fact I’m aiming to follow the advice of fellow Hoosier Adelle Davis, to “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”
But most of all, I’m learning not to mind being a little hungry, or even pretty darn hungry, from time to time. It’s not a bad feeling. It reminds me that I’m alive. Mindfulness meditation has taught me the value of simply observing such sensation, and realizing I have a choice to respond to them or not. And if the craving for food gets me too cranky, a glass of water or a cup of tea often helps.
What’s especially interesting to me is how quickly my standards have changed. After just one month, I’ve already noted that if I eat a large meal like I used to enjoy, I now feel bloated and overfull. In fact, even my standard lunch (carrot, sandwich, apple, water) is starting to seem like a lot. I no longer crave a cookie or something extra afterward.
Even more wonderful, I’ve noted that healthier food, like fresh fruits and vegetables, are more appealing when I’m really hungry. Ironically, something about overeating seems to make fatty and salty foods more attractive, to me anyhow; I don’t know how other people experience this.
Despite what I wrote above, these changes are not truly radical. They are incremental. But I think that’s for the best.
We may even save on our grocery bill.
Photo credit: Cropped from original, Four Baby Robins by Ruth Everson.