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Mint Juleps
Saturday, August 28, 2004  
Several weeks ago to lose weight I decided not to eat. I thought about how every year I don’t eat or drink for the 24 hours of the Jewish new year. How much easier it would be just not to eat! So I stopped eating. My immediate motivation was that a girl I liked had told me how she’d lost interest in a guy after he gained weight; he was no longer sexy. And I myself have always had a major aversion to becoming fat. But it has a way of creeping up – last winter when my mother came to visit me in St. Barths, she told me she was very thin because she had had a flu for a month. During that month she had no appetite. As it turned out, she still didn’t – unless I was eating too. I ate to get her to eat and we both gained weight.

After I started fasting I thought about the man in London who had caged himself in a hanging platform for over a month with no food. And of the “hunger artist” from Franz Kafka I had read in college. I was curious: is it harmful to fast? And if not, for how long? I knew that experiments with mice showed that under-feeding them increases their life spans. I thought that my energy level would probably decline after a little while.

My current method of choice whenever I have a question is to search the web. There I learned about juice fasts – not eating but drinking juices – that are surprisingly in vogue. Some people fast for a week, others for a month. Some combine fasting with meditation. Some have been said to fast for 60 days. There was information about the physiology of fasting. The first few days use up amino acids; then your body switches to lipids.

As I fasted I found that on two or three occasions I had a real urge to go have a big breakfast. I told myself I could go do it, but when the morning came I resisted and waited until I no longer felt the urge. The first day or two I ate something – a banana I think. Each day I said to myself tomorrow will be the last day. And then tomorrow came and I thought why not go another day. I took long walks and found myself full of unexpected energy. I was reminded of the pet mice I had as a child that would scramble around with lots of activity when they were hungry. A biological reaction to help them find food I had thought. Eventually I fasted for four and a half days. I found it a tremendously liberating experience as I realized that I was not dependent on eating food every day or even every week.

I found that having some juice made the fasting much easier in terms of how well or not tired I felt. It seems that the brain is especially glucose dependent, so having a little each day makes the fasting process easier. Drinking juice or eating a banana didn’t bother me and made sense – a little food is more natural than none at all. And it shouldn’t hurt my ability to lose weight. Except for a couple of short times when I desired to eat, I was never hungry – even at the end of my fast. I estimate that after the four and a half days I lost about 2 pounds of pure fat. Fat goes a long way in storing energy. I had read a book by William Bebee about the Galapagos. He told how the giant tortoises would be captured for food by boats passing by. They would be kept in the ships’ holds for six months or more with no food – and unfortunately they tasted delicious when finally eaten. I realize now that people, especially overweight ones, also have a surprising ability to go without food.

I would have easily kept fasting longer. I stopped because I was going to an important meeting and thought I should be well fuelled. In retrospect I don’t think it made a difference: I would have been just as alert if I hadn’t eaten. But, oh how good that food tasted! Though I wasn’t hungry and didn’t scarf down the soul food I bought, everything tasted full of delicious nuanced flavor with bright tastes like it had when I was a child. The collard greens, the turkey, the banana bread pudding – each burst with its own flavors.

Saturday, August 28, 2004



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