I change my diet every month. Not due to an illness, allergy, or travel, but simply to experiment. Call it trial and error, call it being a diet guinea pig, or call it an ironic habit, it is what it is. With the number of diets out there, it's easy to get confused. Keto, paleo, LCHF, vegan, vegetarian, carnivore, and whatnot. You can go an entire year changing your diet every month, and you’ll still have a slew of options left. But does it help? Trying a few of these diets out, I’d say it does. It allows you, like oiling a grove, passing a crevasse, or navigating a stream, to feel the body out, and find what suits you.
Everybody is different, different bodies require different nourishment and because of that, we have different needs. A “one diet fits all” approach doesn’t work out, no matter how much dietary evangelists praise their own tribe and bemoan the other. To find what fits you, what will help you achieve your specific goal, you’ve got to try out a few.
Out of all these diets, some built for performance, some for ethics, and some for longevity, the one I found that really helps me is ‘fasting,’ or ‘intermittent fasting, as its called. Diet, perhaps, is a rather rigid word for it. It doesn’t restrict any kind of foods based on macro-nutritional content, source, or caloric quantity, but rather restricts them all, based on timing.
I’m not going to harp on about the bodily benefits of intermittent fasting, or the mental clarity of the fasted state, because people with medical degrees already have, and my unscientific explanation doesn’t have the same weight. What I’d like to address, however, is the reason I fast. It’s not entirely grounded in performance benefits, reduction of brain-fog, or for higher metabolism, but something, I’d like to think, is more innate and simple that we often forget. I fast because I do not want to be afraid of being hungry.
Growing up in the lap of convenience, where the question often asked is “what’s for dinner?” rather than “will we have enough for dinner?” we often forget what being hungry feels like. I don’t mean being ‘just before lunch hungry,’ but being hungry with a hope that the next time lunchtime rolls around, you might, just might not get something to eat. The uncertainty is daunting.
Hunger? We’ve hardly ever felt it, barely experienced it, and often donated money to fight it. With the constant munching of our mouths and churning of our stomachs, what it feels like to be truly hungry is lost. We’re surrounded by food meant to please our tongues and hurt our heart. We often succumb to the cheap marketing forcing us to spend our money, increasing our waistline and shortening our lifetime. It’s quite easy to be fooled these days, with the gimmicks of ‘fat-free’ and ‘no added sugar’ as we continue to gorge ourselves with food, simply because it’s there.
Often, we have no “need” to eat, we eat because we can. We eat because it’s a form of social interaction, because we have nothing to do, or because the food is just there. You think to yourself “I might as well eat it now.” Food is seen less like means to live “within our means,” and more to broaden our means, exploit it, not for the sake of nourishment, but satisfaction.
The healthy alternatives most people adopt are also found not only in comfort, and often in luxury. Swapping the burger for the salad, rice for quinoa, white bread to brown, sugar to honey, only exacerbates the consumption cycle. Because we feel like we’re consuming “healthy” we tend to eat more, or rather in more phases. Our constant snacking increases, and if someone calls us out, our retort is “It’s healthy, I can eat as much as I like.”
Every diet has a slight caveat to it. “It's alright if you eat more fat,” cry the keto folk. “As long as it didn’t come from an animal, you’re good,” exalt the vegans. “As long as it came only from an animal, you’re good”, proclaim the carnivore crowd. These dietary cults are not only ardent but they do nothing to halt the consumption cycle. They only replace it with what they think is right to eat. Fasting has no replacement, you can’t replace eating unhealthy food with healthy food and expect to shorten your fast. You can’t replace carbs with fats, or steaks with broccoli. There’s just one rule — just don’t eat.
What fasting does is it teaches your body discipline through the consumption [or lack thereof] of a necessity. It teaches you that there is a specific time to eat, and not to eat. It teaches you to be periodic with your feeding and fasting cycles. And most importantly, it teaches you how to be hungry and not be afraid.
None of us ever train for a situation of being without food, or without food that is to our liking, though there are countless occasions where we find ourselves in such situations. Traveling to a country with different dietary preferences, being locked and alone with no access to food, or spending time working or training so much so that spending mental energy eating, let alone actual munching on something is a waste of time. Most of us won’t ever be in such a situation, because we value convenience too much to allow it.
Fasting is not a strict approach to treat all food in caloric quantities, and macro and micro-nutritional breakdowns and ignore the taste. Fasting is not a means to equate food simply as a form of fuel that our body runs on, it is to appreciate food more. It forces us to appreciate what food can allow us to do, but at the same time not fear what it can prevent us from doing.
When fasting, the preferred, and sometimes only fluid or food one can consume is water. No calories in, no fast broken. The “you need to drink more water,” adage has long been used, much to no avail, but fasting brings it out, not as a preference, but as the only option. You truly understand the significance of water when its the only thing you put into your body for 16 hours or more. No other drink quenches your thirst like water. No added flavor, no infused minerals [for the most part], no aftertaste, no alternations, just transparent, calorie-free fluid. It’s one thing that is available in all countries and sometimes the cheapest. To train your mind and body to be content with a sole bottle of water for hours in an unfamiliar environment is a useful skill to have.
Speaking of adages, the most popular one, one that has been overused is “Eat to live or live to eat.” Fasting truly brings out the essence of the former. Eat to live another day, eat not for the artificial taste, or for the dopamine kick, or because you have nothing else to do, eat so that you can keep fighting the next day. Eat because you know what it's like to be hungry, but know you can survive if you were.