What Fasting for a Day Taught Me About My Relationship With Food
I used to hate supermarket shopping.
I could never get around why people liked it so much. I get easily overwhelmed by excess options (which explains my love of minimalism), so every time I walked in between those aisles, I felt ten million different things calling to me at once. In a weird way, I routinely left disappointed in myself for ending up with more than I came in to buy.
Funny how a pandemic changes your opinion on things.
Now, I look forward to supermarket shopping more than about anything else. Beyond the relief I get from leaving the house and interacting with people besides my family, the 30–45 minutes I spend every week shopping provides a sense of agency and control that I’m still struggling to find elsewhere.
Supermarkets are also the most obvious example of how the pandemic has affected daily life. As this quarantine period continues to present multiple opportunities for us to re-evaluate what we take for granted, I’ve spent the last few weeks considering my relationship with food. Now, I LOVE to eat. A good friend once told me that some people eat to live while others live to eat, and I definitely fall into that second category. I literally go to bed excited for my breakfast the next day (anyone relate to me on this?).
However, as I alluded to in my past post on empathy, it’s become extremely obvious to me how much this time period has been more of a life-pausing inconvenience than a life-changing tragedy. Over 10% of the US population identified as food insecure in 2018 (~37 million), a figure that’s risen as high as 16% in the wake of the pandemic. With inconsistent and often insufficient government stimulus checks being the sole source of income for millions of families, many have had to endure hungry nights. In fact, a report from Oxfam from July warned that the coronavirus could kill more people (mostly in developing nations) by stripping their access to reliable food than getting them sick. That obviously hasn’t happened, but it remains true that food security has been an extremely under-reported negative externality of the pandemic. Food deserts already exist in the US in lower-income neighborhoods, and the roughly 40% of people making under $40k per year who lost their job from the pandemic have had to rely on help from friendly neighbors and food banks for their meals.
The early downtime of the pandemic also gave me the chance to reflect on my relationship with food and realize that I had some unhealthy coping mechanisms surrounding eating. My sweet tooth could get out of control from time to time and I’d stuff myself until I felt sick, then try (in vain) to exercise the calories away. Without having to worry about where my next meal is coming from, I’d also developed a sense of entitlement to food that became more clear to me every time I’d aimless wander down to my pantry at night looking for something to pass the time with.
To try to resolve some of these underlying tensions, I’d taken up intermittent fasting, which I liked. I wanted to see how far I could go.
My fast happened on June 11–12th from roughly 8:30 PM to 8:30 PM. It was not easy, but for a much different reason than I expected. In full transparency, I had a binge the night before at dinner (we ordered Italian and bought Apple Pie), so I wasn’t really hungry until 2 PM or so the next day. However, when that hunger came it was fierce. I felt like my stomach was punching me. Committed to my task, I drank as much water as much as possible and switched to tea a few times to keep myself interested and distracted myself the best I could with YouTube. I realized I had never felt “real” hunger in a long time.
Around 5 PM, my hunger subsided and I tried to workout, but felt extremely drained. I didn’t want to eat, but I also didn’t want to do anything else besides lay down and wait until the 24 hours were up. Thankfully, I had nothing to do and nowhere to go, which likely made my effort more psychologically taxing, but I couldn’t imagine this as a feeling I could ever “get used to.” To further test myself, I sat with my family for dinner and drank water as they ate. When I reached my 24 hours, I enjoyed a small meal of leftovers and went to bed quite proud of what I accomplished.
My experience fasting re-framed eating as a reward, something I didn’t expect it to. Being in a house surrounded by food certainly numbs you to exactly how astounding it is that we can get Avocados from Peru and Apples from Central Asia a mere 10 minute drive away, and brought me a new sense of gratitude for what my zip code affords me. I even went into my fridge more than a few times out of boredom and had to stop and remind myself how crazy it was that in some parts of the world, surviving is not something you can just do without effort. All in all, my experience was incredibly humbling for me, and I encourage everyone to try it at least once if they want to challenge themselves to seefood in a different light.
What I Did After
After my fast, I looked into volunteering at my local food banks (search here), but they weren’t taking volunteers, so I donated money. You can also buy food directly from a wish list, created by the food bank itself, for whomever they serve.
Food waste has always been something I consciously try to manage, but this challenge made me even more motivated to spread more awareness around the issue. I hope this little ol’ blog helped you realize something you hadn’t thought about much before too.
Onwards and upwards,