{the new year} Fasting

Editor’s Note: This is our second week of reflective posts contemplating the start of a new year. We are putting these lists, reflections and helpful links out onto the interwebs to keep ourselves accountable and hopefully, to inspire your food/gardening/homesteady-related antics in 2012. Take it away Dianna! -Christina

water, many cupfuls

My New Year’s resolution is to fast at least five times this year.

For the last six months I have been writing every day on a website called 750words.com. At the beginning of a new month, I make a pledge as to how I will reward myself if I succeed in writing at least 750 words each day that month and how I will penalize myself if I miss a day.  Usually my reward involves balloons and my penalty involves no balloons.  However, I tend to get philosophical toward the end of the year so in December I wrote, “If I miss a day or more I will donate $15 to 750words.com and fast for one day.”  I missed a day, December 13, when I had to drive 400 miles round trip to New York City on a work-related excursion to Rikers Island.  I just forgot to write when I came home at 10 that night.

Fasting interests me, even though I seldom do it.  I fast every year on Yom Kippur and every year it is an intense experience.  The purpose of the fast is to help you think about your sins and atone.  On Yom Kippur you don’t eat, drink, brush your teeth or bathe.  You don’t have sex or wear leather or use cosmetics or lotions. You think about how bad you have been and promise to be better and then think about how you are likely to fail at being better.

The Yom Kippur fast lasts 25 hours, from sunset to sunset, so most people eat a big dinner before the sun goes down and then have an elaborate “break fast” at the end of the next day after the last service is concluded at temple . Toward the end of the last service I sometimes find myself visualizing the water I am about to sip.  I never think about water as intently as I do on Yom Kippur. That said, it is not a difficult food fast because you don’t go to bed hungry on either day.

Besides Yom Kippur, I fasted one other day in 2011, inadvertently.  We went to the wedding of my son’s South Sudanese friend, who is ethnically Dinka.  I didn’t bother eating before we left because I wasn’t hungry and knew I would be going to a wedding, which means lots of food and canapés, right?  Wrong.  The Dinka do not eat like we do.  The wedding was scheduled for 2 p.m., didn’t actually occur until around 4 p.m., and we didn’t eat anything at all until after 9:30, when the outdoor dancing and indoor speeches were done.  There was no alcohol served, but I snagged a Coke from the bar at around 5:30, before we went out to the soccer field next door to the reception hall to dance and sing.  My son explained that Dinka hunters often go two or three days without eating while running through the forest looking for game.  The groom was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan; at the age of five he walked from South Sudan to Ethiopia with his 18 year-old uncle, with nothing to eat except what they scrounged and hunted along the way.

Jacob smiles at the camera while a group of tall Dinka men surround Vanessa, asking her to dance with them.

It was my favorite wedding ever, even though I sat through two hours of speeches in Dinka.

These are the reasons to fast that I could come up with in 60 seconds:  It is an absorbing and effective spiritual practice; it changes your relationship to food and makes you more thoughtful about the things you put in your mouth; it makes you really appreciate eating when you get to do it; it helps you realize the plight of people who fast out of necessity rather than by choice; it is cleansing and liberating; it saves money; it is environmentally friendly; it is not fattening; it is oddly energizing; it reminds you that you are an animal.  The downside is that if you are not used to it, it can make you anxious about food.  I am attempting to get used to it.

I decided to take my penalty fast on January 1, since my husband was going out of town that day to visit his father.  Not wanting to be as stringent as a ritual fast, I allowed myself to drink water and, if I wanted, tea, coffee or seltzer, since hydration is good not only for the soul but also for the body.  And a little caffeine keeps the caffeine-withdrawal headaches away, making my fast more pleasant and less overtly painful.  I thought for a while about juice, but decided against it since my fast was only going to last for one day.  I also decided that my fast should run from the time I woke up in the morning until the time I woke up the next morning, making it one perceptual day rather than one Jewish or Muslim day.  That way I wouldn’t be tempted to gorge myself in preparation, just have one normal day, skip a day, another normal day.  I wanted it to be a plain old ordinary, slightly difficult, one day fast.

This is a picture of what I ate that day:


This is a picture of everything I drank that day.  Yes, I put some milk in my morning coffee, I mean really, you are going to criticize me for that?  There wasn’t any sugar.

Water, many cupfuls
Tea, many cupfuls
Coffee, one and a half cupfuls

During the morning, I wasn’t even slightly hungry.  But I noticed how much my husband ate for breakfast.  Even my dog seemed to eat a lot.  I took her for a walk and she ate some pizza crust she found on the street that had  been run over by one or two cars.  Although it was gross, I sympathized with her desire.

By mid day I was bored with not eating and had a second cup of coffee. I realized what I was doing and poured it out half way through the cup.  At around two in the afternoon I got into The Zone.  By that I mean that I started to think about things other than food, like the smell of cold rain in the air, the phone call from my son, the book I am writing.  I went for a second walk with my dog and we jogged just a little, for two blocks, to feel ourselves move.  I filled my bird feeder and admired the incredibly succulent nuts among the sunflowers seeds and millet.

Not eating is fun, I thought. It leaves more time and space for everything else.

Then around 4:30, I actually got hungry.  I had some mint tea.  I had more mint tea.  I made dog biscuits, something I have been meaning to do.  They smelled delicious.

Peanut butter dog biscuits cut into the shape of ninjas

In the evening my hunger disappeared again.  I telephoned some friends, watched a movie, read, took a turn in all my on-line Scrabble games and did not eat or cook or do dishes.  I ended up staying up till two in the morning, puttering around.  I was not eating to relieve boredom, was not checking the refrigerator to see if anything had changed since I last looked.  I felt good.  This was, so to speak, a piece of cake. While I had not reached a new existential plateau, neither had I spent the day drugging myself with food, substituting food for emotion, food for intellectual work, food for exercise.

The next morning I woke up, drank a cup of water, walked my dog, brought in the newspaper, checked my email, showered and then ate some New Year’s black eyed peas, cooked with an onion and a little vinegar, to break my fast.

Breaking the fast with black eyed peas

For the January challenge at 750words.com I wrote, “If I miss a day I will donate $15 to 750words.com and fast for two days.”  I didn’t promise that they would be in a row.  And I probably won’t miss a day, since I seldom do.


13 Comments Add yours

  1. lucidscreamingguest says:

    Inspiring on many levels, Dianna!

  2. Dianna says:

    thank you. It was inspiring to live through too.

  3. i am very inspired….to go to the empanada spot down the block and gorge myself like i do every morning,,,

    1. Dianna says:

      Thanks Jacob, rock stars are just like that, I guess. Aren’t you glad I made you famous by putting your photo on my blog?

  4. courtney says:

    I think I will try it too!

  5. Mary says:

    This is a great motivator. I think fasting is really great for the body. More natural than the scheduled meal plan that we accept as the social norm. Loved your description, particularly the part when you noticed how much time there is to do other stuff (besides shopping for food, preparing food, consuming food, cleaning up afterwards). I also loved the pictures. I think I recognize that beautiful ceramic bowl that you used with the bkack-eyed peas. Love to you and yours.

    1. Dianna says:

      Thanks Mary! Yes, we have had that bowl a while now. In my next life, I plan to be Dinka. I hope we will be in the same hut.

  6. Wow, this made me teary-eyed. I’ve never thought about fasting, but now I kind of want to do it! I’ve been trying to be more conscious of food by saying a secular grace at dinner each night. Just another way to “give thanks” for all I’m afforded in this world. I loved your description of the Dinka wedding, too! So neat to hear about how marriage is celebrated around the world.

    1. Dianna says:

      Teary eyed! I am so pleased!

      The Dinka wedding was wonderful; I was very sorry my ancestors ever left Africa after watching people at the wedding dance and sing together. Aleer, the young man who was married, told me that in South Sudan they wouldn’t have had a church wedding, just a big dance for a day or two and at the end of it, they would emerge married. Here they bowed to their surroundings and had a church wedding to start off the dance.

      But go for it, fasting is not that hard.

  7. Alexis says:

    Although inspired by your fasting experience, I am more inspired by your writing. I’m going to sign up for 750 words/day – I know it’s very unlikely that I will actually do it regularly, given my current life circumstances, but even once/week would be better than nothing. And maybe once I am done breastfeeding I’ll give fasting a go again, although I hated it the few times I did try it. Thanks Dianna!

    1. Dianna says:

      750 words is great. It is free and they give you daily reminders to write. If you write every day, they give you badges! I am totally motivated by the badges. Good luck and you could wait till your baby is a little older before committing to a daily, or even weekly, writing practice.

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