My hope is that if I don't obsess about the fact that I'm not eating, I won't dwell on how much I wish I were. Just focus on work, I tell myself. After all, Moses and Jesus didn't panic about their fasts, or at least the Bible doesn't mention it. And they went 40 days. I'm only planning seven, and I'm allowing myself a glass of juice a day.
When a pang of hunger strikes mid-afternoon, I drink a quart of spring water. This seems to work, at least until just before bed, when I make the mistake of going into the kitchen to get a phone number. A feeling of comfort and relief sweeps over me. I realize it's because I'm where the food is. Here in my kitchen, no matter how tough the day's been, I can retreat and prepare myself a nice bowl of soup. Not tonight. Or tomorrow night, or the night after that. I'm getting panicky again. Then, as I leave the room, I glance at the sink and discover a benefit of fasting I hadn't considered: no dirty dishes to wash.
Paul and Patricia Bragg's book, "The Miracle of Fasting," points out that everything we ingest, even the air we breathe, is full of toxins that are poisoning us. This is pretty comforting right now. Fasting, the Braggs say, allows our digestive system, made up of our largest and most energy-consuming organs, to rest. The body can use that energy to rid itself of a lifetime's accumulation of metabolic crap. Today's the day to dwell on that crap.
But as you detox, there are ill-effects, and I'm becoming acquainted with several of them--fatigue, dizziness, irritability, headaches. My tongue feels thick and pasty, and I have an unpleasant taste in my mouth. But oddly, I swing from being sluggish one hour to feeling energetic and ready for a jog the next.
I go into New York to run some errands. Hot dog stands and falafel joints usually have no appeal to me, but today they beckon. I have to pause at a street corner until a wave of nausea and light-headedness passes.
I feel terrific all morning. I'd resolved not to let vanity enter into my fast, but I slip and weigh myself. I've lost 12 pounds. I pay for my hubris in the afternoon as the worm turns. I feel sick to my empty stomach. This might be because earlier, I crammed a whole garlic bulb into my juicer and ran it with just a couple of carrots and drank the result. My skin, especially my face and head, is burning. I'm dizzier now than I've been all week. This article is due, but now I can't bring myself to sit down and write.
My dire state, I decide, may have nothing to do with the garlic but is rather an illness brought on by fasting. Or has my body unlocked a deeper, more sinister mother lode of toxins somewhere? I lie down and sleep for three hours.
When I wake up, I find I'm reluctant to break my fast. The worst of the seven days has been the havoc fasting has wreaked on my social life. As it is, I've already skipped two dinner parties. But saying no to consumption, to excess--the twin pillars of our culture--has given me a sense of freedom, and its own weird satisfaction. I've become a little attached to nonattachment. Part of me wants to extend the fast to a full month. And I know I can do it.
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I run into an acquaintance--a hip young art dealer who once sold me some paintings and is eager to sell me some more. I explain that I'm fasting, with five days to go, and that I need to get some juice. "Let's grab a cocktail," he says, in utter seriousness. Clearly, he doesn't get the whole fasting thing, and I'm slightly embarrassed I mentioned it.
Jesus, of course, lets the devil take him to the top of the Temple, so I go with the art dealer to Balthazar, a trendy Soho restaurant known for its "French comfort food." We make our way to the bar. I feel like Christian in Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress," the part where he wanders into Vanity Fair. Only I've stumbled into the shrine of a food cult. I'm struck by how the stomach affects our perception of the material world. Balthazar is packed with the beautiful and the damned--models, artists, and investment bankers--lounging in deep-red banquettes and consuming pate en croute, moules frites, duck shepherd's pie. I want it all, but the absurdity of it all also glares at me.
We sit down at the bar. Within my reach are a dish of ripe olives, a bowl of hard-boiled eggs, and a plate of flatbread--a holy man's repast, fast-breaking food. Marshalling all my resolve, I order spring water and a tomato juice. "Why not make it a Bloody Mary?" my dealer friend persists. "It's not like it's food, right?"
I open a can of cat food and pause before I spoon it into the cats' bowls. I'd never noticed before how much the Science Diet feline maintenance formula resembles a juicy slab of meatloaf. I hold the can to my nose, close my eyes, and sniff. It even smells like meatloaf, sort of, with fish mixed in. Not bad. I examine the label: liver and chicken recipe--mmmm. Meat by-products, powdered cellulose, locust bean gum-ooooh!
My skin feels tighter, my face has a glow. My muscles are taut, healthy, as if I've been exercising. Everything I see--buildings, people, the trash in the streets--continues to look sharper, brighter. At a bookstore, I get an intoxicating whiff of perfume. I look for its bearer. The only other customer in the store, a woman, is three aisles away.
But by the time I make my purchase, fatigue has returned. The paperback I bought weighs on my arm like luggage. When someone on the street drives his shoulder into me, intentionally, it seems, I'm too exhausted to get upset. No wonder Gandhi could maintain a cool head while liberating India from the British Empire. Fasting takes the piss and vinegar out of you.
Late night at the office. The boss has ordered in Chinese for everyone. When the food arrives, my colleagues eat, talk, and laugh. I alone sit glued to my computer 15 feet away. The air fills with the aromas of dishes, but I don't allow my brain to identify them by name. But interestingly, these smells excite no hunger in me anyway.
Having learned my lesson earlier in the week, I've decided to follow Jesus' teaching that we should fast in secret. He meant that we shouldn't show off. But he probably also knew that if no one knows you're fasting, they're less likely to try to tempt you with Bloody Marys and Peking Duck.
The last day or two has been wonderful. I haven't been hungry at all, and my energy, on the whole, has been high. I'm able to concentrate harder and think more clearly than usual. I am also able to relax more deeply, and I've slept more soundly than I can remember.
I enjoy not eating now, revel in my discipline. A guy across from me on the train home tears through a Big Mac and two bags of french fries as if his life depended on it. I watch him shovel greasy fries in his mouth, where a fragment of special sauce glistens on his lip. I am revolted. A feeling of, admittedly, pharisaical superiority comes over me. Compared to this guy, I am pure spiritual fire. Why do I ever need to go back to solid food?