I recently wrote that I was giving up meals. I made this declaration as part of my attempt to unburden myself from the tyranny of big, formalized feedings. But why stop there? I have decided to give up eating altogether. And maybe you should too.
Let me clarify. I’m not saying that you should completely give up food, in the manner of various yogis, hunger strikers or desert fathers who over the ages have renounced their own bodies in some greater service. Unlike these better men, I cannot fathom anything greater than my own body. I think about it all the time. And, as a result of liking food, especially at this time of year, it’s way too fat.
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So I’ve taken to not eating. It’s really the easiest thing to do. I’m not hungry when I get up, and so I put off eating as long as possible. Some days I can skip dinner and just have a protein shake or a few slices of pepperoni and call it a day. And those days are like bliss to me, perhaps a bit light-headed from the low blood sugar but blissful all the same. Those days clear my system and salve my conscience. On weekends, with the aid of a protein shake and plenty of Crystal Light and coffee, I can go the whole way through until Sunday night, and then a saucer of warmed-over barbecue or porchetta makes me as sated as a man walking out of an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast.
My fasting might not seem relevant for a column that purports to comment on national eating trends. But it is, because it’s a tonic that many Americans, like me, find indispensable. The fact is that a lot of us are overweight. Some of us obsess about it, silently brooding or blathering anxiously all day; others doggedly attend to a thousand contradictory tips and techniques recommended by magazines, websites, TV shows and our parents. Even those lucky few who are thin can feel fatness waiting around the corner, crouched inside every cake tray and lurking in every eggshell. The holidays only make this anxiety so much worse. There is more and better food available to us than at any other time, and less opportunity for burning it off.
(Don’t tell me about going to the gym, either. I don’t know what your employment situation is, but I don’t have time to take three hours out of my work day to go to the gym, change, work out, shower, change and travel back to my desk. I know a lot of people feel the same way.)
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That’s where fasting comes in. I have always sympathized with that vast and portly swath of the American people who can’t find it in themselves to eat the kind of food that keeps some sedentary people thin: flayed chicken breasts, watery milk, steamed vegetables and worse. Like so many Americans, I not only want to avoid this jailhouse grub, but I also look to my meals for gladness and relief from the hardships of the day. Kid threw a tantrum? Time for a Hot Pocket. Bad fight with the girlfriend? This calls for a meatball sandwich. Long day at a crappy job? Let’s all go for chicken wings after work! Food is our universal self-medication, our mood elevator and regular consolation prize.
And that’s why instead of eating healthier, I’m going for longer stretches without eating so I can actually enjoy a whole meal. I don’t starve myself; I drink a protein shake if I get hungry and consume endless glasses of diet iced tea. People tell me this is bad, that I will soon gain back all the weight I’ve lost – and these rejoinders are always given with a smug malice, as if the people uttering them actually despise me for trying to compensate for the pleasures of the plate.
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I’m not claiming that intermittent fasting is an ideal weight-control method. But it has helped me balance my love of fattening foods with my health needs, and I am betting that it can do so for others as well. As with any method of weight loss, it’s not hard to summon some random expert to support it. (I came across this post on a site for bodybuilders called wannabebig.com, about the “meal-frequency fallacy.”) Nor do I want the burden of claiming to speak with medical authority, which I obviously don’t have. I’m not a doctor. I’m a man who loves to eat and who often eats a lot more than he should. So, at other times, he eats a lot less. Am I crazy, or is that not the best and simplest solution to our national fatness nightmare?