Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fast Fast

Ramadan.

Latter-Day Saints Fast Sunday.

Yom Kippur.

In some ways, Lent.

I'm talking about fasting because there was an article in the NYTimes recently about the health benefits of fasting.  There are recent books and studies that suggest that intermittent fasting, particularly 2 days fasting a week (hence the name 5:2 fasting) is good for cholesterol, insulin resistance, weight, and other areas.

And all those are quite interesting, but you know how I feel about diets, especially as they really are the antithesis of a healthy lifestyle, mentally and physically.

But I am intrigued by the spiritual aspects of fasting.   Self-reflection, self-discipline, mindfulness, social justice.  Now, UUs don't officially observe any fasts, but, being a non-doctrinal community means we are free to explore our own rituals.  With food insecurity in our community, which was the focus of our Girl Scout troop's Bronze Award, and all the hunger and starvation in the world plus discussions of food processing, food waste, sustainability, and the environment, I appreciate something that brings these issues to the forefront of my mind.  Of course, I recognize that choosing to fast and controlling the boundaries of any hunger I feel is a sign of my privilege; however, I don't think that negates the value of the exercise for me.

And so, twice this week, on Tuesday and now today, I've done a partial fast following the method outlined in the book mentioned by the NYTimes, Moseley and Spencer's The Fast Diet.  This means keeping to under 500 calories two days a week.  I've been fasting (though, with tea and, today, some broth) until late-afternoon or dinner.  It's not a strict fast, tops about 10 hours from wake-up to dinner.

For a spiritual practice, it was all very physical.   Perhaps because it was only 2 days, or perhaps because I wasn't praying, I didn't have the clarity or focus or any other meditative experience you sometimes here connected to fasting.  I was so busy out and about on Tuesday that I only noticed I was hungry in passing and skipping meals was easy.  Well, until I fell on my dinner at 8 pm, after a meeting.  I would guess it was more than 500 calories, being take-out Vietnamese.  But, after a bit of wolfing it down, I slowed down and think I certainly appreciated that meal more than I would have.  Today, I notice it more, more because eating while I'm home is a habit--breakfast with kids, lunch around noon, snack with kids; eating organizes my day.  So I make a lot of tea, with a little milk.  I  haven't been uncomfortable.  I haven't been weak or queasy, probably because of the milk in the tea.  Most of the time, I wasn't even thinking about food.  And when I did think of eating or hear a few rumbles, I could only imagine what days and weeks of that might be like, especially without the knowledge that dinner comes at dusk or food is so easily available all over.  Personally, I am also much more mindful of cycles of hunger and how I feel throughout the day; also, shopping, cooking, and eating habits become so visible--what we buy, how it's packaged, how I cook, what I cook, how we eat a meal, when we snack, what we waste.  I know my thoughts don't help people who are food insecure and hungry, but, with our recent Girl Scout project helping out at the soup kitchen, I am more aware of ways to help out in my area and intend to do so.

In fact, the GS troop will be working on their Savvy Shopper badges this month, which includes learning about price points, budgets, meal planning, etc.  We think we'll let them each bring $2 and work in small groups, so that they have less than $10 to spend to buy ingredients that would make a few meals for themselves.  To help them, we'll be consulting Good and Cheap, the $4 a day food guide developed by Leanne Brown that features healthy, tasty recipes and meal ideas for people who use SNAP (food stamps), which I first learned about from NPR.  The girls will actually buy the food and we'll donate it to the local food pantry (along with a few copies of the book, which you can download as a free pdf at the above link.)

So, as I type, the kids are looking for dinner, which we are privileged enough to have so easily available.  Maybe, one day, they can fast with me.

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