personalOn fasting.

On fasting

Recently, I went ten days without eating.

Some background: I come from a religious tradition that occasionally encourages fasting, but not in any particular schedule or associated with any particular ritual. Fasting is mentioned in the Bible, therefore it is permissable. I am no stranger to voluntary and intentional starvation.

Fasting comes in many forms. One can simply abstain from some favourite treat, as in Lent, or one can shun comestibles entirely, as in Ramadan. For my purposes, I chose to consume nothing but water. I ingested no calories whatsoever for 240 hours.

My wife, you see, was away visiting her friends and relations in the States.

Typically, while my spouse is present, she generates leftovers, which I feel compelled to eat. I am unsure, exactly, as to the source of this compulsion, except that it somehow involves starving children in Africa in ways I can't quite explain. With her out of the picture, fasting became convenient.

I must mention here that I wasn't fasting for any particular reason, at least not initially. It wasn't a religious thing, I wasn't in mourning, nor did I hate myself or have poor body image. I simply wanted to do it. To be quite honest, I couldn't have told you why.

Now, there are many people who really shouldn't do this. Diabetics, hypoglycemics, the very young or very old, pregnant women... really anyone with any sort of metabolic, gastrointestinal or psychological issues should not fast. I, however, am blessedly free of all of the above. There are many things I do not do especially well, but there are two things I can do: eat, and not eat.

I was careful, of course, to be mindful of my body's condition. I told myself I would cancel the exercise at the first sign of faintness, dizziness, blackouts, or extreme pain. Luckily, I experienced none of the above. What I did experience, physiologically, was as follows:

1) The actual feelings of hunger dissipated on the second day. They were replaced by a mere awareness - not unpleasant, but consistent - of a need for food.
2) From about the third day onwards, my sense of smell became heightened. It wasn't like gaining a bloodhound's nose, I wouldn't have called it a superpower... but scents, especially food scents, were more intense.
3) At the same time, the dropoff point at which a new smell becomes familiar and therefore ignored also came quicker, and was more noticeable.
4) From about the third day to the sixth, there was a feeling of weakness in my arms and legs. The interesting thing was that it wasn't an actual weakness - just a feeling of weakness. I could still do all the same things I wanted to, with no noticeable decrease in endurance or strength. Once the feeling left, it simply didn't return, and my arms and legs felt perfectly normal.
5) At around the seventh day, I noticed that thinking about food would cause my mouth to water more readily than before. Also, in extreme cases, my stomach would produce acid, which, as it was shrunken, had no place to go but up my esophagus. I had the ability to mentally give myself heartburn from nothing.
6) Starting at around the eighth day, I had to forcibly stop myself from thinking about food. My thought processes, at any given time, went as follows: "Baaaaconnnnn...DON'T THINK ABOUT FOOD! mushroooooooms...DON'T THINK ABOUT FOOD! Riiiiiiiiiibs...DON'T THINK ABOUT FOOD!" I craved meat and savoury food primarily, but anything would set me off.
7) There was no real weight loss to speak of. I crunched the numbers - given my usually sedentary lifestyle and the ratio of calories to body fat, even on a diet of 0 calories, I would lose less than a pound a day.
8) Obviously, I stopped pooping almost immediately. That one was actually rather nice, I've never really enjoyed defecation. I still produced gas on occasion, but none of it had a strong smell - I think it was just swallowed air.

Although I recognize my extreme good fortune in having such a resilient meathusk, I have never been on particularly good terms with my body, nor with corporeality in general. Thus, after a few days, I decided that my fast would be more than a mere whim. No. This was a statement. This was an act of will, mind over matter. I would fast for ten days because I was in control of my body and not vice versa.

I work in a location where I'm constantly seeing TV screens, so I was forever being bombarded with alluring ads for food I couldn't eat, especially American restaurants like Sonic and Denny's that aren't common here in Canada. When I publicly bemoaned this fact, I was quickly corrected; there is, in fact, a Denny's in Canada, indeed, one right on the outskirts of town!

This Denny's became my mission.

I called together a group of my friends and invited them to an outing! We would drink, then show up at Denny's late at night whilst inebriated, as the good Lord intended. I, in particular, would be publicly breaking my fast with a shot of straight gin.

The gin has significance, but it really is its own anecdote. I shall thus indent it, like so.

I am not a heavy drinker. I would say I drink maybe 5-6 times a year, and certainly never to the point of vomiting or passing out.

One day, I went to a friend's house, and he mixed me a martini. I had never had a martini. I liked it. I drank it, and felt sophisticated.

A few minutes later, I was writhing on the ground. There was a strong, knife-like pain in my gut that only intensified until I could crawl to my friend's toilet and get rid of the martini.

I was most embarrassed. I couldn't hold my liquor! I apologized profusely, but then thought nothing of it. A few months went by.

I was over at the same friend's house, and I tried my first Long Island Iced Tea. I experienced the same distinct pain, albeit lessened. With some confusion, we checked the ingredients in the beverages, and there was only one common component: gin. After some Googling, we discovered that yes, one can be allergic to gin (which makes sense, as it is a poison made from poison).

So I was allergic to gin. My first allergy! As I was not a heavy drinker, I didn't expect it to impact my life. I shrugged and moved on.

Again, months go by. I was in a liquor store with my wife. She likes Long Island Iced Teas, so she began picking up the requisite ingredients, and assured me "Don't worry, honey, I'll make a pitcher for you without any gin in it."

Something about the way she said that rubbed me the wrong way.

I grabbed a bottle of Beefeater gin, and stuck it in the cart. For the next two weeks, every time I came home from work, the first thing I would do was go straight to the fridge and swig a shot of gin straight from the bottle on an empty stomach.

It should be noted that I don't actually enjoy straight gin. Still don't. It tastes like toilet bowl cleaner. And yeah, it hurt my stomach.

But you know what? At the end of those two weeks, it didn't hurt any more.

And now I don't have any allergies.

So you see, gin is, to me, another symbol of my dominance over my own biochemistry.

So, late Sunday evening, with all (or, at least, most) of my friends gathered round, we broke my fast with a shot of gin, followed by a nice weak screwdriver, then all headed out to Denny's, the magical land of bad culinary decisions. By the time we arrived, I was comfortably tipsy and had a tendency to lean, but I wasn't really full-on babbling drunk.

You may have experienced, at a particularly good restaurant, with a particularly good meal, when you're especially hungry, the sensation of a wash of endorphins on the first bite. It's an intense sensation, strong and overwhelming like an orgasm, a burst of flavour that nearly renders you catatonic.

Every bite of solid food I took for the first ten minutes of the meal was like that. It was easily the most intense culinary experience of my life.

Hungry though I was, I took it slow - or, at any rate, I slowed my usual rate of consumption from "human garbage disposal" to "normal". Eventually, my shrunken stomach could take no more, and I had to box up some of my pancakes for later.

I was anticipating failure. I thought I might have an adverse reaction to consuming alcohol on a truly empty stomach, or that I'd overeat and vomit there in the diner, but no such tragedy occurred. In fact, the next morning, I was up on time and able to go to work with absolutely no ill effects.

My name is Mason "Tailsteak" Williams, and I am a goddamn tank.

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