Dinner had been lovely.
Over drinks on a rooftop overlooking the city, some friends and I watched the cloudy, western sky turn a velvety, glowing red. The effect was startling, only lasted a couple of minutes, but was beautiful.
We’d been granted a nearly perfect summer night. The day’s heat had been replaced by a comfortable cool. The sky was cloudy, but there hadn’t been a drop of rain.
The food, as usual, was wonderful.
This week’s Sunday potluck dinner included baked salmon, caprese salad, some kind of savory rice and baked zucchini coated in garlic and Parmesan cheese.
I’d brought the zucchini, which was mostly to get rid of it. Summer squash was all but coming out of my ears at home. I’d planted zucchini in five spaces in my backyard garden and all five had miraculously made it through July and August — sort of a new personal record.
The recipe had been simple — just a generous shaking of a few spices with Parmesan cheese over sliced zucchini on a baking sheet and shoved into the oven for half an hour.
The slicing and shaking took maybe 10 minutes.
Dessert was a homemade blackberry and black plum pie with vanilla ice cream on top. This came from Gary, our group’s resident gourmand, and the undisputed alpha cook.
I ate well that night, had double helpings of the salad and the rice, and took an extra half-slice of the pie.
It was a lot of food, but it felt a little like a last meal — and I had the strangest sense of déjà vu.
“One Month at a Time” started nearly five years ago after an animal rights group in the United Kingdom sent an email inviting me to give up all things animal and become a vegan for January.
At the time, I’d been in a sour mood over a breakup, the holidays and a general dissatisfaction with my place in the universe. My immediate thought had been, “No, you silly hippies, I’m not doing that.”
But I’d quickly reconsidered. What did I know about that? Nothing. So, I’d given something I didn’t particularly understand or believe in a try and accidentally changed my whole life.
There had been another moment like that a few weeks ago when CrossFit WV, the gym I’ve been attending for the past 21 months, sent an email about trying intermittent fasting. This was all part of a new campaign to help all the gym members get a little healthier besides all the running and push-ups.
The email gave reasons and explanations for why we might consider intermittent fasting, but I’d rolled my eyes. Last year, I’d lost nearly 90 pounds by keeping a food diary and counting calories and so far, that seemed to be working just fine. I hadn’t gained any of the weight back. Why would I even want to fast?
And besides, fasting for health seemed dubious at best, like relying on salt lamps, sun signs or comic book T-shirts for general well-being.
But like the psychologist Carl Jung said, “What you resist persists.” The subject of fasting has come up time and time again over the past few months, through other projects or in my recent religious readings.
Fasting goes back millennia. All the major religious traditions reference it as a way to cleanse and purify your mind and body — or see it as a kind of a spiritual “hack” to force yourself to rely more on God.
I’d dabbled with fasting in January during my truncated attempt at Exodus 90, but I’d been a poor adherent to the practice and felt like I’d maybe bitten off more than I could chew with everything else I’d been doing.
Fasting had been my least favorite part of that plan — well, it was a toss up between fasting and the daily cold showers. I hadn’t been fond of those, either.
Still, I’d felt like there was more to get from fasting. I wasn’t sure what, exactly, but I was still interested — and besides, even after I reached my goal weight last year, I still wanted to lose a few more pounds.
My doctor specifically said that I didn’t need to bother. My weight was great. All those pesky health issues that I’d accumulated from being wildly overweight had vanished. I was in the best shape of my life, but over the course of the past year I’d figured out that 180 pounds was still plenty heavy, particularly if you want to run much.
I wanted to lose another 10 pounds.
Over the next month, I’ll be restricting calories in a couple of different ways — beginning with intermittent fasting.
Different websites (some of them associated with legitimate medical organizations) said some research about intermittent fasting suggested that it might improve problems with inflammation, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis and asthma.
Some websites also said intermittent fasting could improve concentration — at least, temporarily.
However, no surprise, it would also likely cause hunger and fatigue and might lead to insomnia, nausea, headaches and a general feeling that life is cruel, unfair and would only be improved by a pint, no two pints, of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food.
There are a couple of different fasting plans. One plan is 5:2. You eat normally for five days in a week, but then don’t eat at all or eat very little for two days. Another plan has participants alternating between fasting and feasting — spend one day not eating and then eat whatever you can the following day.
My gym encouraged using the 16/8 intermittent fasting method, which seemed the most workable to me. Eating is restricted for 16 hours each day — generally, from 8 p.m. at night until noon the next day, so that you sleep through roughly half of the fast.
Then from noon to 8 p.m., you can eat.
Like with any other diet, you can totally game the system. You can easily undo 16 hours of calorie reduction by doing laps at your favorite Chinese buffet for eight hours or by just finishing an entire jar of peanut butter as your mid-afternoon snack.
But the spirit of the diet is to be reasonable, sort of eat like you normally do or maybe just a little bit more.
My first couple of days with intermittent fasting went better than expected. Monday morning, I woke up, had a cup of coffee, and went to the gym.
The workout went off without a hitch, which was a surprise.
For months, I’d been convinced that I needed to eat something, anything, before I exercised in the morning; some small thing to just get me through 45 minutes of vigorous activity, but having nothing worked just fine. I felt OK.
In fact, I wasn’t really that hungry until 11 in the morning and by then lunch was well within sight.
I had a normal lunch plus about half of what I’d have eaten for breakfast as a snack.
Dinners, however, felt a little rushed.
A few days a week, I meet up with a friend after work and we walk for about an hour. Getting home to make a meal and then eat it before 8 p.m. was a little challenging, but I didn’t go hungry.
When I looked back over my days fasting, just sticking with what I routinely ate, I shaved off about 400 calories per day, which equaled about half of my normal breakfast and my nightly bucket of plain popcorn.
I spent five days with this kind of intermittent fasting, before deciding to try something harder.