Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I didn’t eat, or drink for 25 hours, from 5:45 Friday night to 6:45 PM Saturday.  No, I haven’t lost my mind or my sensibility. And there’s no need to worry about me. I did it because it is my family’s tradition to fast, a complete fast, on this religious holiday, the Day of Atonement, which occurs once a year. And the experience raised some thoughts I’d like to share.
The purpose of this fast day is, in part to atone for one’s wrongdoing. But in general, it is intended to be a reflective, contemplative day, full of soul searching.

So here’s what I learned.

The act of fasting, or restricting my intake so severely, leads to anything but meaningful reflection and soul searching. Yes, it prevents us from doing other prohibited activities, including working and having sex (yes, that’s prohibited too). But meaningful contemplation? Clarity of thought and insights into our relationships and behavior?  What were those Rabbis thinking?!

It started harmlessly enough. I missed my evening snack, and in the morning I could only imagine the scent of dark roast coffee, freshly ground and brewed, as I do every morning in my French press (Melior), in addition to my breakfast, I might add. But I was fine. And then I sat through the temple services. As the morning hours passed and 1 PM was approaching, I noticed that it took me longer to read, and to comprehend the written passages.

And by 3:00 all I could think to do was to nap. And so I did. For almost 2 hours. No introspection. No making amends with friends and family. Just sleep. Quite the meaningful fast day!
As for my overall food consumption, let’s just say there was little thought or restraint to my “break-fast” meal that evening. Bagels, cream cheese spreads, smoked fish, cream cheese brownies, rich, whole-fat blintze soufflé, salad with nuts and goat cheese and of course walnut oil and dried fruit (yes, I made that one). And more brownies. Ah, and the coffee. Oh, and I had some bread with honey before going to my friend’s home for this meal (okay, so I broke the fast a bit early).

Many if not most of you, regardless of your size, have at times restricted your eating. And many of you still do. So I ask you to consider the following. Does the restricting ultimately work? Ok, I will agree, that in the short term, restrictive eating meets some needs. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t maintain the behavior. But the benefit is very short-lived. And not without consequence.

From a weight management standpoint, I’m certain it is ultimately most ineffective. As I experienced, I ate more both before the fast and after than I would usually consume. And my activity was impacted as well. I couldn’t even think of walking my dog. And I spent more hours sleeping than I ever would in a 24-hour period. And let’s say I were on a diet in which I intended to restrict types or amounts of various foods. The result? I would likely feel denied and deprived, and when I finally had a weak moment I would likely binge or overeat on the “forbidden” foods. Sound familiar?

But if the main goal, consciously or not, was avoidance—of feelings, of engaging in all life has to offer, in dealing with thoughts too challenging to contemplate—then restricting clearly works. But not without a price. It has a very short-lived benefit, and ultimately fails to fix the situations you might seek to avoid.
Perhaps the best part of this fast? It reminded me of how much better I feel when I eat to meet my needs. I appreciated that my mind and my body so depend on nourishment throughout the day. 

As for control, which many of you yearn for? My eating and your eating is far more in control when we can have delayed gratification and not eat impulsively. And when we can think clearly.

Susan recently broke up with her boyfriend of 3 years because of her eating disorder, her bulimia. She had been living with him and he had no idea of her daily, yes daily struggle with food and purging. But after working together for many months, together with her therapy work, Susan came to a realization. Several months had now passed since she had relied on purging. And she was eating regularly, and more adequately, with fewer restriction, although “healthier” foods still seemed safer. And she was feeling more grounded, more in touch with her feelings—and her self. And so Susan began to realize that she wasn’t happy in her relationship and hadn’t been for years. So she ended it. And moved into a new place of her own.

If it weren’t for her steps toward recovery Susan would not have been able to shift direction for better, to find her voice, to state her needs, to be true to herself, to have control over her life. So there’s control, let’s say over how little you choose to eat, and there’s control, over things that really matter.

Now I think I’ll need to revisit those cream cheese brownies, which I was in no position to truly savor on Saturday night.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. Tricky to know what to say because I definitely don't want to sound like I'm extolling the virtues of restricting (so I will try to be very careful). Yes, I know that it is not the best way of controlling stress and worry (and weight) - but that's the intellectual arguement. Obviously that's the arguement I try to listen to, but then there's the other part of me that will only see the up-side as it all seems to work so well - and easily. And to change is so hard...

  2. This article was really interesting to read and made me think. I always enjoy your refreshing way of viewing things, Lori! You are so smart! :)