Reduced to Zero: A Personal Experiment with Fasting

35 hours in

At Wegman’s to pick up milk for the baby. A bonanza of food. Millions of calories of food. Stacks and stacks of food. Mountains of it.

36 hours

On the way home, I stop at a red light next to the neighborhood’s new BBQ joint. I can almost taste the smoked ribs melting on my tongue.
It’s not the hunger which brings pangs yet, but I can feel it lurking around the corner. It’s coming. I must have opened the fridge 30 times out of habit.

We don’t realize how easy it is to eat. 

44 hours

I walked into the staff lounge. On the table was a single powdered donut left in a box. The note said “please eat me.” Is this a sign from the universe? A cosmic joke. Or am I just hungry. How many signs do we not pay attention to when we are full, when our stomachs are satisfied? 
I think I know what the ascetics are talking about. Hunger bleeds awareness.

45 hours

Food slows us down. It is not necessarily a bad thing. It just slows us down. When the need to find food is gone, a certain sluggishness sets in. That’s when hunger becomes the root of all desire. 
But what of the desire to be hungry? To move without the baggage of stored waste? How Gandhi talked about reducing himself to zero.

47 hours

Food gets in the way of seeing who we are. I am no Gandhi. I am just a man trying to lose weight and gain some much needed self-confidence. Fasting is the only diet that works because it is about controlling the ego. The ego consumes everything in its path. The ego is a gorging, reptilian monster. Fasting strips the beast of its prey, like pulling a severed leg out of the jaws of a crocodile.

50 hours

Past 48 hours. But when you are fasting, time is not kept in hours. The seconds are what counts.

60 hours

Breakfast. Everything bagel with chive and onion cream cheese. Scrambled eggs and cheddar. Sausage links and a bowl of blueberries with a dollop of Greek yogurt. Are these just flavors? Abstractions? They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But what is the most important non meal of the day? Perhaps what matters is the purpose we bring to the food. What we do with the energy is what makes the food essential. Parfait without purpose is just bacteria swirling in a cup. Omelets without ontology are just fried embryos on a pan. Andouille without awareness is just slaughtered pig wrapped in its own casing.

63 hours

Fasting reminds us that food is not nearly as meaningful as the words we use to describe it. The attachment we have to these names is a form of grasping. Simply put: Food is the conversion of energy into action, nothing more and nothing less.

65 hours

Such a privilege to have the choice not to eat. As I stare at a three day old leftover dish of chicken tikka masala, I get to choose not to touch it. I can leave it in the tray, shut the fridge, and walk away. Yet at this very moment a little girl is peeling through heaps of garbage for dinner. She does not get to choose. No vitamin infused nutrition shakes to take the edge off. No probiotic fermented teas to chase away the thirst. If she doesn’t eat, she dies. My fast is one that only an American could afford to endure.70 hours

Rather than hide from the temptation, I wanted to participate in the routine of dinner. Not sure if I was testing my will power or just needing to touch food. To be close to it. I squeezed each individual edamame. Massaging them out of their sealed caterpillar shaped satchels. I notice that when we are eating, the texture of food becomes less significant. The sensation of taste overrides everything. When fasting, I am only left with the touch. The feeling of food. The bumps and grooves; the straight edges and curvatures; the prickly parts and gooey innards. Could the desire to touch life be what drives hunger? To feel connected with the source. Taste never lasts, but the touch, until it is destroyed by taste, exists forever.   

80 hours

I am now reflecting on the Nevada Democratic Primary debate. Lots of talk about billionaires, wealth taxes, trade, climate change, racism, and electability. Not much was said about hunger, or the fact that 40 million people face food insecurity. In Rochester, 1 out of 3 children are not meeting their daily calorie intake. And look how much is thrown out! It’s insane. Maybe that’s why the politicians do not want to talk about it. It makes them look insane.

85 hours

Noticeable weight loss. I can feel my body eating away at the fat reserves. Silently cannibalizing all of that shit: the sugars and fatty acids, carbs and saturated guck- the guck those on the outside call chub and flab. The guck that makes people on the outside think less of you because there is more of you. The only thing I hate more than being chubby is people hating me for being chubby. That’s ugly. I am ashamed at my ugliness. 

92 hours

We have it backwards. Food consumes us. We are either thinking about what we want to eat or regretting what we ate already. To fast is to be present. It’s to see what is right in front of you.

95 hours

The fatigue has arrived. Finally. Leg soreness. Lack of energy. I suppose it doesn’t help that I am still going to the gym. The nutrition shakes are keeping me going. But it’s no compensation for real food. With the tiredness and discomfort, the mental game kicks into a different level. The mind begins plotting its exit strategy. 100 hours is a long, long time. You have done enough. Why not take a break. You deserve it. After all, you never thought this would last.

The mind is what stops and starts any endeavor. But I don’t want to stop. It feels good in the way working hard and showing self- discipline always does. Who (or what) is this mind that tries to interfere with the best interest of the self?

96 hours

I’m no Buddha. That’s for sure. Legend has it that he meditated and fasted for months at a time. Right now, a measly 4 days into this, that feat might as well be like going to Mars in a paraglider.  

101 hours

Break Fast. I realize how misleading this word is. When you never stop eating, there is no break. Breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, snacks, breakfast. Repeat. Endlessly.

I will admit that it feels good to eclipse the century mark. A hundred hours of doing anything with mindfulness is an accomplishment. It’s better than I thought I could do…. there goes the clever mind again.

110 hours

Feeling too distracted to write much. Just staying present. It’s all good. 

120 hours

First full day at work since I began my fast. I feel like a different person. I like people. I like myself. I want to help. I want to listen to others and hear what they are feeling. I want to make eye contact with them. To say something nice about how they look. I want to go the extra yard. Is this what it is all about? I am not blaming food for my depression. But I needed to stop eating to get over myself. I needed to stop consuming in order to be of service to others. I needed to deny myself in order to give myself up to something higher than my own selfishness. Gandhi said, “The only way we find ourselves is to lose it in the service of others.”

Round 2

Last night I ate. Alot. Two pieces of baked chicken. Rice and beans. Beef stew. A tuna wrap and more than one pint of milky, sweet Guinness. I savored the first bite. Each subsequent bite felt like defeat. But I needed to eat in order to keep my fast going. If I do not learn how to fully appreciate the irony of fasting, I will not learn anything worth fasting for in the first place. It is not the food which is the problem. Without humans, there is no such thing as food.

George Cassidy Payne is a poet from Rochester, NY. His work has been included in such publications as the Hazmat ReviewMoria Poetry JournalChronogram JournalAmpersand Literary ReviewThe Angle at St. John Fisher College, and 3:16 Journal. George’s blogs, essays and letters have appeared in USA TodayThe Wall Street JournalThe AtlanticHavana TimesSouth China Morning PostThe Buffalo News, and more. 

See all his poems on Tea House here.

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