After a while hunger became more of an obsession. In the newsroom, I kept checking the tin box by the editors’ desks. One of our editors keeps the tin stocked with mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and offers it to the entire office.
It’s a kindness, a bit of hospitality and a cheap comfort on a crummy day, but it’s also a preventative measure. Hungry writers can be lousy spellers and tend to make more mistakes — at least, I do.
Based on that statement, my last meal would have been somewhere around 2007, when I’d been hired on by the paper full-time.
Most of the time, I can ignore the box.
I don’t eat as much candy as I used to, part of my latter-day discipline, but when I’m hungry, I will find myself looking toward the box. I can see it clearly from my desk. The urge to help myself to a piece of candy gnaws at me.
I just want one, I tell myself, but one is never enough. They’re small. Two is OK. Why not three?
This is during a normal day, when, once again, lunch is still sitting in the trunk of my car or worse, rotting on a kitchen counter 20-minutes away.
The days of this month have not been normal. As if any of my days had been “normal” in years. But for this month, I was trying out fasting, deliberately not eating to see what would happen and how I’d cope with it.
Through the month, I would dabble in intermittent fasting, alternately fasting and finally, fasting for extended periods of time. Each week would get a little harder.
I began with intermittent fasting, which meant quitting food for 16-hour periods, followed by a window of eight hours when I could eat.
That wasn’t bad.
I was able to get through my morning workouts without much trouble. I was a little slower, a little less focused right before lunch, but managed fine through the afternoon and evening, though I missed my nightly bowl of popcorn.
That had become a habit.
Alternately fasting was much harder. This meant fasting every other day or going 24-hour periods without food and sustaining myself with one late-evening meal which would represent only 25 percent of my regular daily caloric intake.
For my activity level, I need about 2,500 calories a day to maintain my current weight.
At the end of my fasts, I’d have to keep dinner down to around 600 calories — less than a Whopper from Burger King (that’s without cheese) or a little more than three hard shell tacos from Taco Bell — no guacamole.
The effects of skipping food for this long were quick and predictable.
Not eating made me grouchy. Driving to and from work on those fasting days, I used some of my best profanity. Everyone was going too fast, too slow or driving in a way that branded them as being morally and/or spiritually bankrupt.
I was indiscriminate in my wrath, casting venom at young and old alike, regardless of sex, race or political affiliation.
I spoke poorly of their parentage and openly sneered at window stickers meant to cleverly announce that this was a family vehicle and that the whole lot of them were all one happy group of stick figures, zombies or idiotic hamster people.
But I knew I was spiraling out of control. I was snapping at everyone and had to make an effort to focus and be halfway pleasant.
At the office, I was careful about replying to emails, particularly to my various supervisors, but also to publicists.
I tiptoed through my workday and counted the hours until I could just stop.
Later, my mood went from sour to somber. General grouchiness gave way to persistent mopiness. I wanted a hug.
But what I didn’t want was food. There were no hunger pangs, no growling stomach.
I expected to be ravenous, but that never happened. I felt a little run down, more scatterbrained than usual and a little put upon by the world, but not ready to turn to cannibalism.
I got a lot done. Maybe as a way to keep my mind off being hungry or thinking that I should be hungry, I had no trouble running through my daily “to do” list. The lawn got cut. Clothes were washed and I went for a couple of walks.
Still, at the end of the first day, I was glad to eat.
Since I have some experience with diets, I figured what I really needed was to feel full, so I made a huge pot of spicy cabbage soup.
The pot contained a savory broth (some chicken bouillon cubes), onions, carrots, a small amount of chicken and a bunch of cabbage.
I made and ate about two quarts of soup, a lot of soup, but the whole pot only added up to just over 400 calories. I had enough calories left over to treat myself to a big bucket of plain popcorn.
I watched television and ate the entire bowl and then went to bed feeling satisfied and smug that I’d made it through the first day without that much trouble.
But you can’t really drink two quarts of liquid right before you sleep — at least, I can’t. You pay for it and through the night I did, making one trip after another to the bathroom.
I doubt I slept more than 90 minutes a pop.
I won’t do that again.
On days following a fast, I was supposed to have a lot more leeway with what I could eat. Eating a bit more was even expected. As with intermittent fasting, if the point was weight loss, you couldn’t eat that much more than you normally did.
Clawing back every calorie lost would be as easy as taking five bucks and heading to the nearest Dairy Queen.
When I was fasting, not eating was manageable. I just wasn’t going to eat, and maybe that decision canceled out whatever hunger I thought I was supposed to feel. But when I could eat, it was all I wanted to do.
Breakfast wasn’t enough. Lunch wasn’t enough. After lunch, I grabbed a $2 brownie at Sarah’s Bakery on Bridge Road, which seemed like the least damaging thing in her display case. I wanted a cheesecake, two cheesecakes.
I went by the tin near the editor’s desk at least three times, picked it up, hoping it was heavy. Not sensing any real weight, I shook it and waited to hear the pleasant sound of candies rattling around, but there was nothing, no matter how many times I checked.
Dinner was an order of General Tso’s chicken, fried rice and an eggroll from Main Kwong in Charleston. I finished the whole thing, along with half an order of crab rangoon.
I felt like a glutton but hoped maybe alternating fasting and feasting would somehow balance out by the end of the week.
I also began to dread what was coming next.