I could hardly believe what I was looking at. There it was, staring right at me. I could no longer ignore, deny, or post-rationalize what I already knew as the digital evidence stared me down and waved its merciless accusatory finger at me. This marked the end of the line for me, three months ago to the day.
My friends and I had just returned from an overwhelmingly fun and unexpectedly gluttonous weekend in the Florida Keys. It wasn’t necessarily our intention to gorge on food, but we managed to turn a great idea — “Let’s hold our annual SxSE (South by Southeast) shindig in Key West” — into a convenient excuse to participate in a three-day orgy of food and drink. We kicked off the weekend on Friday with a creative and deliciously rich, chocolate concoction at Better Than Sex dessert lounge, which, by the way, almost lives up to its name. We finished with a big order of spareribs at Porky’s Bayside BBQ on our way back home on Sunday. Sure, we had a lot of fun besides eating, and I did make a valiant effort to burn off the excess calories with a good bike ride around the island, but in hindsight, our various delicious but rich meals stood out most for me.
So as I sat on my couch at home staring at my friends’ new albums on Facebook, I was taken aback, shocked, and horrified by what I saw. How did my mirror lie so much to me for so long? Did I not notice the weight creeping on? What about all that daily biking I had done over the past four months, for nearly an hour a day — what did I have to show for that?
The high water mark for my weight was also an emotional low point for my spirit.
After meticulously untagging myself from the offending pictures, I shut down the laptop and turned on Netflix, hoping to distract myself. By some ingenious if slightly creepy and synchronous design, Netflix divined my state of mind and suggested a documentary: “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” Of course I watched it. This is the compelling story of an Aussie who spends two months driving around the United States “juicing” his way back to health with fruits, salads and vegetables. Along the way, he meets a trucker who looks to be twice as heavy as he is, who then proceeds to juice his own way back to health.
I watched the movie twice and started juicing the very next morning. I had bought a juicer years ago that I hadn’t really put it to use. Luckily I had some leafy greens, peppers and carrots in the fridge, which made for a bizarre tasting breakfast. I was so eager to get started that I didn’t bother to look up a recipe.
I remember those first days well. I looked for juice bars in Miami, which are few and far between, and would drive miles during lunch to buy two juices. They were tasty but gone in a few sips. I did this for three days, then switched to water. Yes, water.
While on my juice fast — or feast, rather, as the juices are really refreshing — I was reading all I could about fasting. Some of the resources I came across suggested an alternate juicing with water days. That is, once you’ve “cleansed” your system through juicing, you can easily and safely spend some days on a water fast. That’s exactly what I did.
When I tell people about my experience, they like to conclude that I followed a “cold turkey” approach: one moment I was eating and the next I had stopped eating, forever. But that’s not quite how it happened. I had noticed I had gained a lot of weight over time, because my scale told me so, because my parents dropped not-so-subtle hints, and because my closest friends would needle me. I knew I had to do something about it one day, but I kept putting it off as I prioritized other areas of my life, mostly work and professional activities.
When I did start the water fast, I did so gradually by juicing first for a number of days. Had I gone straight from eating a dozen spareribs at Porky’s to fasting for 21 days … well … I would not have made it through the first day. Juicing for three days was key to completing a prolonged fast.
I initially set out to fast for five days, then 10, then 21. As I reached each stage, I felt better and better. By day three I no longer felt hungry, by day five I no longer felt the occasional but infrequent nausea, and from day 10 to 21 it was smooth and pleasurable sailing.
I discovered that fasting is a voyage of discovery larger than just the weight loss alone. Because eating is such an important part of our lives, the nihilism of our modern way of eating is an affirmation of self. So much of our daily lives is dedicated to food, between grocery shopping, cooking, driving to restaurants, and eating. So much of our body’s energy is spent on digesting the food we eat. For some people, so much mental effort is spent obsessing about their body image. When you remove these things, your choices in life are laid bare: how you spend your time, who you keep company with, what you do. When you figure out the direct link between the food you eat and your body, so much else in life becomes crystal clear.
What helped me most was to settle into a daily routine. I found myself waking up well before dawn, at which point I would put on some light clothes and go for a long walk. It’s refreshing to be up when everyone is still sleeping, when few cars are on the road, when cats and owls peer at you through the darkness, and when you can hear the wind rustling the leaves. Of greatest value was taking the time to meditate for about 20 minutes after the morning walk. This morning routine nourished my senses, cleared my mind, and reinforced my will.
At times, it felt like the passage of time itself slowed down, especially during my early morning walks. Even as time slowed down, issues unraveled, my motivations became clear, and I gained new insights about myself and about others.
I lost a ton of weight, about 50 pounds, a quarter of my body weight and what seems like half my body mass. Beyond that, I felt many additional benefits, including more energy, healthier skin, clearer eyes, better sleep and improved digestion. My gums improved, much to my dentist’s delight. My sinuses cleared up. I feel less tense. These are permanent and unexpected improvements.
My fast was going so well that I delayed the break by another day; I fasted for 22 days and approached my first meal with some apprehension. As important as fasting is breaking the fast. There is an abundance of advice on how to do this, but the main principle is to ease yourself back into eating. Ideally, a fast is followed by many days of juicing, followed by fruits, then vegetables, then other foods.
It should be fairly obvious that eating a burger after a fast ranks among the worst things you can do to your body. It’s very unlikely to happen, because after an extended fast you crave healthier foods. In my case I juiced first and then ate a light meal of brown rice and vegetables. That proved too much and I paid for it with strong intestinal pain some hours later. Subsequent meals were thankfully uneventful. I took the opportunity to switch to a vegan diet and have immensely enjoyed new tastes I was unaccustomed to before. I cannot imagine returning to the way I used to eat.
After this first fast, I ate for three weeks and then went through a 10-day fast. This time, the fast was a breeze, without any unease or hunger. Three more weeks of eating and I’ve just now broken my third fast, of seven days. This one was relatively easy.
Just three months ago, I was paralyzed by dejection as I faced that fellow looking back at me in the photos my friends uploaded. I revisited those pictures for the first time today. I now commiserate with that fellow.
There is hope.
There is a way.
And it is so worth following that path.
This item was reprinted with permission from Alex de Carvalho’s blog. Based in Miami, de Carvalho has helped unite South Florida’s tech community by founding Social Media Club, BarCamp, Ignite, Social Media Day and Mobile Monday events for South Florida new media professionals. He is also a founding member of RefreshMiami. He has co-founded several startups and recently co-authored Securing the Clicks: Network Security in the Age of Social Media. Connect with Alex on Twitter, @alexdc.