Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fasting as fast as I can

Note: This column appears in the 5/31 issue of The Glendale Star and the 6/1 issue of the Peoria Times.

My wife works as a therapist in other people’s homes. She oftentimes becomes close with the families she works with, and it is not uncommon for her to discover new and exciting non-therapy-related things during her conversations with these families. She then relays this information to me over dinner, like, “So and so saw a rattlesnake in their backyard, so I don’t think we should go outside for a few weeks,” and “One of my kids is singing ‘Yankee-Doodle Dandy’ at the library Saturday morning and we’re going.” Months ago, one of her families told her about a religious fast they were undertaking where they only consume fruit, nuts, vegetables and water for three weeks. My wife told me about this with a spark of curiosity and intrigue, so like an excellent husband I responded, “Good luck.”

She did the fast on her own and did an amazing job. She said it was the best she had felt in years, and I was really proud of her and, quite honestly, inspired by her. So much so that by the next time she was ready to get her fast on, I decided I would join her.

It’s called the Daniel Fast, and it’s modeled after a verse from the Book of Daniel: In those days, I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three full weeks were fulfilled. I have never read the Book of Daniel -- my many attempts to read the Bible from beginning to end always stop at the list of descendants of Abraham -- but he sounds like a dedicated person. Also, I am assuming the anointing part refers to bathing, and I want to make it explicitly clear that we ignore this aspect of the fast. I have anointed myself daily, so if I smell bad, it’s for other reasons.

We began the fast at an opportune time, after six straight weeks of family visits that included, among other things, food in excess. A detox was in order. Now, among the things forbidden by the fast, I would list my top three by degree of difficulty as 1) coffee, 2) beer, and 3) cheese.

The first day was okay, and I thought, “I can do this!” The second day I thought I was going to die, and I wanted someone to inject me with coffee intravenously. I could barely stay awake the entire day, and it embarrassed me how much my body relied on caffeine. Each day after that I began feeling better and better.

An interesting aspect of the fast is that, if done right, you won’t battle hunger, although you will battle your body’s natural desire to experience taste. The good news is that you can eat whole wheat pasta; the bad news is that whole wheat pasta is nasty. Also, if anyone needs to know where they keep the whole wheat Matzo at Safeway, it’s aisle one, left-hand side. You’re welcome.

Once your body adjusts, the fast is much less physical than mental. We’ve attempted to seclude ourselves from society so as not to be tempted, but last weekend we went to our friend’s pool party that featured pizza and beer. We drank water and brought our own vegetables, and everybody thought we were both pregnant or imposters.

Besides having health benefits, the fast is truly intended to draw us closer to God through depriving ourselves of everyday things we take for granted. I’ve never really given anything up on this level, and this fast has given me an entire new appreciation of simple things, like a sandwich. I should thank the families my wife works with, both sarcastically and literally, for making my new appreciation of sandwiches possible.

 By the time you read this, we will almost be done. The next biggest challenge will be not binging on everything I’ve missed, although it’s not my fault that coffee goes great with mac and cheese.

Personally, I would go with zero forks. 

UPDATE: I am off the fast. So basically, I was having some, uh ... internal issues. I paid a doctor at an urgent care $60 to tell me to stop fasting immediately and stop eating so much dang peanut butter, which apparently has too much bacteria ... who knew? I'm still off coffee and beer to the end, but I'm back on dairy, baby! Doctor's orders. My attempt to complete this fast has proven equal to my attempts to read the Bible. My wife thinks I'm a total wuss, which isn't far from the truth. Anyway, sorry, Daniel. Please don't let this dissuade any of you from trying the fast, which is great, if you're the type of person who doesn't mind discomfort after urination. I've said too much.

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