Fasting: Caloric Deficits Make Me Cranky

5 January 2011

Recently at a truck stop in Somewhere, Alabama, I noticed a rack of specialized books: spiritual tomes, guidance on the metaphorical road of Life offered up to those of us on the literal road.  They were labeled as “uplifting.”  How nice, I thought, in this world of anger and petulance, to have an entire rack of books about nice things.  Not really my style, but nice nevertheless.

I didn’t study the selection of books, but one title did catch my eye and imagination.  It focused on fasting as a tool for getting closer to God.  Various friends of mine have gone on fasts for various reasons.  A few have done a juice fast or “cleansing fast” to purge their bodies of toxins.  Good luck on that one.  My toxins are deeply embedded in my tissues and my remaining brain cells.  Seven days of lemon water and cayenne pepper ain’t enough to dislodge them.

Several friends from different religious backgrounds have gone on fasts for the purpose in the truck stop book – to get closer to God.  A couple of friends have gone on “Daniel’s Fast,” I think it’s called, which is accompanied by guided readings on a path to enlightenment.  Interesting concept.  Again, not my style, but interesting.  While in the throes of the fast, these friends of mine were wide-eyed and nearly frantic with electric energy.  They felt that their state was both physical and spiritual, that they were more sharp and clear than they’d ever been, more focused and energetic, and that they could see their purpose and relationship to God in bright detail.  It was amazing to watch, and also a little nerve-wracking, because folks who are full of ideas tend to seek out other folks to carry out those ideas, or at least bounce those ideas off of.  Folks who are in “the Zone” may have a relationship with a spiritual entity – but not reality, so much.  Reality isn’t the intent of the Fast, anyway.  More power to them, but if you’re on the receiving end of those ideas, bring a Steno pad and all your patience.

What goes up, must come down, and I don’t recall witnessing any of these friends in their “down” swoop of the inevitable mood swings.  Perhaps the guided readings kept these people from feeling so jittery and brittle.  At any rate, severe caloric reductions make a person cranky.  All that excitement and energy and focus explodes (or implodes?).  Perhaps the crash is part of the spiritual journey – build you up, tear you down, rebuild yourself better.  I’m just guessing, here.

Here’s what I know: if I don’t eat enough, I am unpleasant to be around.  Last night, for instance, the Baby Girl was cranky and impossible to please.  I was tired, had a million things on my mind, realized I’d only had about 1000 calories for the day, and was only barely able to keep from putting my head through a wall or flinging myself off the back deck.  It’s not high enough to kill me, but I’d definitely be hurt and spend some time in the hospital and get some peace and rest.  These are the crazy thoughts one thinks when one is hungry.  Thank Heaven for my parents, who saw the wild look in my eye and gently suggested that I remove myself from the situation for a few minutes.

I’m in no position to make statements about spirituality, or how anyone reaches an understanding with the Infinite.  I am, however, here to say that fasts can be dangerous.  In the short term, they’re probably physically not a huge deal.  I can’t imagine that you can do lasting harm in a week or ten days (unless you run your mouth when you’re in “the Zone” and say things that you regret later – but here I’m talking about your bodily functions, not your life in the world).  If you’re going to do something like this, don’t go it alone.  You need at least one buddy who’s doing it, too, and another buddy or two who isn’t doing it, who can watch you and keep you from running your mouth or running your car off an embankment.

I’ve done just about every “diet” there is over the course of about 25 years or so.  I even did a severe caloric restriction diet-type-thing recently, when I was in the business of knowing better.  It’s a program that we made available at the health club – we didn’t push it, but we made it available.  Intended for the very obese, the program is based on powdered shakes and meals.  It’s been around for many years and was originally conceived to be prescribed by physicians.  I felt confident that it was safe to use in the short run, and I wanted to try it out so I could speak intelligently about it, if anyone asked.

Oh, was I ever in “the Zone.”  On about Day Three or Four, the headache abated, and I was honed in on my work.  I accomplished a TON and felt razor sharp.  Was I really sharp, or was I in La-La-I’m-So-Hungry Land?  Hard to say.  A couple of friends of mine were doing the program at the same time, and we would occasionally look at each other and laugh and laugh, because it was just so nutty and strange, the feeling, and the fact that we were reconstituting our food like astronauts.  We lost weight, so it “worked,” sure.  But it’s not possible to do something like this – any fast, or any wacky eating plan – for Life.  We couldn’t exercise much, or else we’d have fallen out.  Despite the one “real meal” allowed per day, we couldn’t really live normally.  Remember, lifestyle change is LIFE change, not “I’ll eat powdered food and lose the weight and everything will be fine.”

I learned a whole lot, though.  And ultimately, that’s probably the purpose of a fast for spiritual purposes, too.  What did you learn in “the Zone” that you can apply outside of it, in the real world?  I learned that if I don’t eat properly, there will be trouble.

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