Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Philosophy of Fasting

This morning I was sitting around the kitchen table with my roommates, debating the merits of exercise. I was pro-exercise and others were con or somewhere in the middle. And one of them made the point that Elle MacPherson doesn't look like she does because she hits the gym every day. That exercise doesn't ever really make the life altering change to our looks that we hope it will. And I told her that in the last year I've lost roughly 20 pounds and definitely look different. She asked if this was just from exercise and I said yes...but it's not quite true.

Just after Thanksgiving last year I embarked on a five day fast. For five days I drank salt water, lemon juice and tea. During those five days I lost maybe eight pounds, most of it water weight. Which means I should have instantly put it back on in the days following the fast, but I didn't. I kept getting thinner. I ate less generally. I started exercising. So now a year later those five days of not eating have left their mark on me and I wonder if it was kind of a cheat.

This summer I was in a used bookstore and I found a slim yellow volume entitled "The Philosophy of Fasting" by Edward E. Purinton. Published in 1906 it advocates what is essentially the Master Cleanse, what I did a year ago (a very truncated version). I flipped through it, intrigued.

When you're not eating there's not much else to do but think. All the time you usually spend planning a meal, buying ingredients, preparing your food (or in lieu of that, the time you spend arguing about where to get take-out) is now just dead air. Since I was avoiding the thought of eating I thought about lots of other stuff that I had been avoiding by eating all the time. My way of dealing with difficult emotions or thoughts has always been through food, eating as a kind of sedation. Part of the reason I went on the fast was because that compulsion had begun to take over my life in a scary way.

This is a weird thing to write about because this blog is about things I think are cool or funny or interesting or poignant or would recommend other people try. But fasting is none of those things. It's personal, as is everyone's relationship to food and their bodies. As much as we do it in groups, fetishize it, torment each other over it, teach and write and talk about it, eating is like a relationship. No one knows what goes on between you and your food except the two of you. Edward E. Purinton's book touched a lot on the spiritual side of fasting, how starving yourself leads to all kinds of revelatory experiences but he sounds pretty crazy and self-obsessed, much like this post is starting to sound...but I still get it.

Because I fasted, which led to thinking which led to philosophizing. My reasons for eating more than I needed to and then more than I even wanted to became clearer to me and I found that those reasons held less power when I was aware of them. Am I cured of these compulsions? No. They manifest in a hundred other ways and I'll never abstain from all bad behavior, god willing. Do I have control over myself? What an ugly word control is especially when related to the physical self. But now I know what's possible. Change is possible. I've changed. I don't think fasting is the only way to make that happen for myself or anyone but I'm still really glad it did happen. I wont ever look like Elle MacPherson, obvs, and while I look different, kinda, maybe its not as different as I'd hoped when I started loosing weight.

Could I fast again? Well, I have one or two days at a time. It's not the same because the first time you don't eat for many days in a row you're not sure what to expect and it's kind of exciting. Now when I do it I'm like, oh yeah...that bullshit. But with it having been a year and all I'm beginning to feel some of that desire, to just set aside time for myself. Time to think, to have a headache, to reflect, to pee a hundred times a day, time to work out my philosophy. Whatever it is.


Anonymous said...

Kind of amazing, and good for you! I would like to follow in your footsteps.

Socks said...

Very nice post! I stumbled upon the Master Cleanse a long time ago (early-to-mid 80s?!) and I understood it to be an introspective thing. Exactly what you have discovered on your own. Recently, however, I have noticed that the Master Cleanse has become a trendy thing - not at all what was originally intended. ("For just $##.95, you TOO can lose untold weight and inches....") It's so refreshing to read about personal philosophy and *thinking* (heaven forbid!) Thank you for a thoughtful and interesting post.