Disclaimer: This article is meant to reflect the opinion and experience of the author. It is not to be taken as medical advice. Fast at one’s own risk and discretion, and consult a doctor if uncertain.
I know I’m not alone in this when I say that cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products give a mundane life some semblance of meaning. Yet, of late, dairy products have been giving me digestive problems. Furthermore, I’d just returned from one year in Hokkaido, where winter was long, cold and dark.
While the delicious combination of charcoal-grilled yakitori and beer helped beat my winter blues, it’s also left me with a shapely, well-formed belly.
Since I had experimented with fasting twice during my university days in New York, I thought, why not? Almost ten years have passed since then, but at the time, it seemed to help my lactose problems.
So one Saturday morning, when I woke up with no desire to eat, I thought, “This happens today.”
A church friend once said, “We always associate sex with sin. But what about *name of overweight leader*? Isn’t gluttony a sin too?”
At the time, I remember laughing out loud at such an unexpected remark. I had also wondered if I would ever burn in hell for finding this hilarious.
Today, having survived pretty well till about 4 PM, my retribution finally comes in the form of my first temptation: homemade gyoza dumplings with a beautifully crispy, caramelised base.
A friend I visited so happened to be experimenting with making the dish, and upon reaching her house, she pushed a plate of nicely arranged pieces in my face. The pan-seared aroma mixed with the evaporating vinegar dip in the middle of the plate almost crystallised in my mouth to form an actual dumpling.
“I am fasting,” I mumbled through my saliva.
“Har? Don’t fast lah, just eat!” she quipped.
Thoughts of “What the hell am I doing? Am I crazy to do this?” flashed through my mind. The oily fragrance was so intense and the chopsticks lay easily within grasp, I thought of just stuffing one gyoza in my mouth to end my ordeal.
Somehow, I persisted.
This emotional up and down would go on to characterise this episode of fasting. At some points, I really felt like giving up.
From my previous experiences with fasting, I realised the most difficult part isn’t the not eating. It was missing the social experience of eating out. Unless you play a team sport, it’s hard to think of social experiences that do not involve food or drinks. Even if you do play sports, the “makan” or binge session after is probably the most social and rewarding part.
This time, I decided I wouldn’t deprive myself of that.
And of course I regretted it.
On this Sunday afternoon, my friends have decided on Old Airport food centre for lunch. Besides their individual portions, this was what they ordered to share: chicken wings, kway chap, and a plate of sliced, glistening red char siew dripping in house sauce.
As I watched them wolf down their food and snarling with laughter like a pack of hyenas after a zebra hunt, I sat with arms on the table gulping.
“Omg, this one so nice!” they exclaimed in turn while smacking their lips. Thanks guys, really, for not holding back.
Later that day, as my stomach rumbled, I found myself gunning for the nearest toilet. Not that I’m trying to gross you out, but what followed was, amidst other junk, lots of yellow liquid.
Lots of it.
If you’re curious, it was probably bile that my liver had been producing to digest fat.
Gross, but man, it felt amazing. Seems like our bodies are able to regulate and dispose of what is not needed; a metaphor for reducing, restocking one’s life, and reconsidering who we really are in the midst of our circumstances.
Resisting food was hard, but it was tea and coffee I missed the most; a sure sign of addiction.
When we sat beside a modern-looking drink store with an open shop front so you could see what was going on, the owner was passionately “tarik-ing” the tea and coffee with each order. There was something about that caramel-coloured liquid collecting froth along the way of being tossed between containers that triggered my FOMO anxiety.
I also realised that I should not be talking about this immediately after relating the thrill of my emergency trip to the bathroom.
Final thought of the day: We have plenty of opinions about other people’s sexuality and behaviour, but somehow our unbridled appetite, especially at buffets, is celebrated with pride. Watching Singaporeans pile on food at buffets always reminds me of the opening scene of Spirited Away, where the protagonist’s parents stumble across a feast, indulge in the food, and subsequently turn into pigs.
With my limbs feeling really weak, I feel like I can barely crawl out of bed. However, after pushing on, energy floods back into my veins and I even experience an emotional high.
During the first two days of my fast, which people tend to describe as the hardest, accompanying the hunger pangs was a mild headache that throbbed away through the entirety of each day. Not exactly migraine level of distressing, but annoying enough to make you want to get rid of it.
Based on fasting journals, most of which employ a pseudo-medical, new age tone, the pains are supposed to be your body detoxing that particular body part. This would mean that most of my body’s toxicity has accumulated in my brain, which probably isn’t too far from the truth.
But by today, day 3, I am no longer feeling the headaches.
At the same time, I have quickly realised how losing the lunch-break reduces life’s pleasure to a minimum. After all, with the stressors at work, it had always been something to look forward to.
To fill the vacuum, I binge-watched Netflix’s Ugly Delicious and Buzzfeed’s Worth It. Feeding off each chef’s passion when talking about creating their dishes, my mind began participating in lurid fantasies of tasting the food on screen. With such high quality videos, the taste of the food was almost palpable.
In other words, I learnt that if you want a more immersive experience when watching Masterchef US, try fasting before watching it.
Not having to think about what to eat for lunch and where to satisfy my cravings, I find myself with more time. As I begin to embrace the hunger and weakness, I’m learning to be comfortable with feelings of incompleteness.
Every morning, I’ve been checking the mirror to see if my belly has shrunk. Today, I notice that it visibly has, and again, I get an emotional high. I feel like I have truly achieved something that planking and sit ups could not.
Today is also a day filled with lots of thinking. Here goes, without any particular coherence:
My belly had become such a part of my body’s status quo that it took something drastic like fasting to get rid of it. Similarly, I think a lot of my worrying and negative thought patterns had become status quo. Depriving myself of food for five days gave me the push to reconsider some of my thought patterns.
Deprived of food, I’ve managed, both emotionally and maybe even spiritually, to let go of what I do not like about myself. Because your body is calling out for food, food, food all the time, other emotional needs can become less pressing as a result.
I now care less about how long people are taking to reply me, I worry less about whether I will have enough money for the future, and thoughts that used to plague me like, “I am not good enough,” seem to have left me.
Through food-deprivation, I’ve found a space where I can sit calmly and consider how much of these thoughts I want to keep or modify.
In Buddhism, pain is associated with attachment. Maybe I was experiencing some form of light epiphany where I no longer felt so attached to certain outcomes I had wanted for my life. I held on to the hunger, and from it I found a sense of strength, not needing to constantly succumb to my body’s quirks and whims.
I broke my fast after day 5 as I felt the ketosis state my body had achieved was starting to eat away at my muscles.
It has been about a week since I started eating again, and I enjoy the taste of food a lot more. Every sip of coffee is pure pleasure, a little like wiping the fog from your goggles while swimming; there is a new clarity to taste and life in general.
On the whole, having been through a few personal crises, I had felt that it was difficult to move away from a negative frame of thinking. Recently, I had been feeling stressed and easily worried, even facing problems with insomnia. I remember that the first night of fasting was one of the best sleeps I had gotten in a while, although it was probably also due to the lack of energy that accompanies a lack of food.
In any case, all of this strengthens my theory that a lot of eating is emotion-based. If you watch weight loss shows like The Biggest Loser or Revenge Body with Khloe Kardashian, you come to observe an emotional and psychological transformation as these contestants shed their extra weight.
Something to note when participating in a water fast is to occasionally include salt in your water. The body is unable to retain water without salt, and maybe, this fast is a reminder to take everything in stride, with a pinch of salt.