Monday, June 22, 2015

Reflections from 5 days of Fasting

Fasting has always been something I meant to do. My university had day of fasting as a way to raise awareness on hunger and foster empathy. It appealed to me, but I used the excuse of being a competitive athlete to not participate. I've always managed to come up with various relatively good excuses but ultimately I just haven't wanted to fast. I'll cheerfully use pit latrines (or just pee behind a tree), sleep under the stairs, take bucket showers, sleep with cockroaches (yes this has happened), or try strange foods like live octopus or goat with the hair still left on it. But giving up eating? That is a kind of suffering I have never wanted to go through.

I was a kid who immediately got cranky without food in my stomach, who got hungry every two hours no matter how much I ate at one meal. The concept of an eating disorder I have never fully understood simply because I can't imagine restricting my eating and going hungry. In high school my dear mother prepared protein packed breakfasts for me, sent me armed to school with almonds so I could survive between classes (even though I was lucky enough to have the early lunch), and my friends used to joke at lunch that my lunch box never ended. While I care a lot about the food that goes into me, and I don't advocate for and try to refrain from overeating, I also just like eating.

So this Ramadan thing has been the ultimate challenge. At first I thought I wouldn't participate. I have an excuse. I'm not Muslim. But literally almost everyone in the country fasts, and even though I could cook for myself and eat secretly it somehow felt wrong. Plus, fasting is a practice that is in most major religions and if done right is supposedly healthy for you. So with all my excuses exhausted, five days ago I embarked on this fasting thing. Although I must confess, I'm cheating a bit. While everyone else eats breakfast at 4:30 (since we're supposed to fast during daylight hours), I eat mine around 7:30 as I'm getting ready to start the day. Also, I occasionally sneak into my room to take swigs of water since I'm afraid of getting dehydrated in the heat. And today I snuck a few cookies from my room while my stomach growled. So basically I'm not doing that great of a job of fasting. But it's still an effort.

Supposedly, fasting gets easier as you go on with it and the first few days are the worst. But yesterday I was exhausted and felt like my stomach was a bottomless pit that could never get full. I've felt like I am only getting progressively hungrier. Like most challenges I embark on, I tend to semi impulsively start then realize I don't know what I'm doing and start obsessively researching all viewpoints, opinions and research on the issue until my brain is overflowing and slightly confused. This is what happened last night. I guess you're not supposed to inhale food (as I've been doing) when you break the fast then get super full really fast and not want to eat anymore. Oops.

But, what am I getting out of all this? Besides the fact that I suck at fasting and I'm super spoiled and privileged. Well, being hungry is hard. And exhausting. And makes it difficult to focus. Since one of the purposes of Ramadan is to help people learn to empathize with those who have less, I have begun thinking about all the people around the world who everyday probably have this same gnawing hunger that I have (only probably worse). Who somehow still have to till their fields, work in the hot sun, and maybe study without getting the nutrients that a proper diet provides. I can better understand why maybe people in developed countries score higher on tests (this has nothing to do with intelligence). Food seriously makes you more focused and more productive. I've known this for a while since I have never been able to function well without a full stomach

If I'm honest with myself I don't know if I will ever fast again. Maybe my body will adjust and I won't feel like I'm shriveling up and tired all the time. Regardless, I'm glad I tried this. I'm glad I have a better understanding of what it means to be hungry and a deeper appreciation for how incredibly lucky I am to have been born into an environment where getting a good (and healthy!) meal has never been a concern. And kudos to anyone who regularly fasts and is a lot more mindful about it than me. You have my utmost respect.

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