Every now and again, someone asks me what’s been my favorite month? What’s been the best thing I’ve done with “One Month at a Time”?
Sometimes, I’ll punt and tell them, “Whatever I’m doing next month.”
It all depends on when they ask, but I usually don’t have a great answer. Sometimes, I’ll rattle off a couple of particularly memorable projects — doing stand-up comedy, the month spent rehearsing with the Charleston Ballet for “The Nutcracker,” the time I spent with Read Aloud (which I’m still doing, COVID-19 or not).
It’s always easier to mention the month-long projects I didn’t like, like flying or trying to unplug from technology.
I had limited success with unplugging, was largely miserable the entire month and flooding cut the project short. Learning to fly an airplane was a struggle because of weather, my rattled nerves, a chaotic time at the newspaper and the death of my mother.
Still, even with failures, especially with failures, I learn something.
With unplugging, I learned social media was part of my work-life whether I wanted it to be or not, and that if deer want to come inside your tent, they’re going to try to come inside your tent.
From flying, I got a better idea of who actually reads my column and who doesn’t.
This month trying fasting falls squarely into the “not favorite” category. It was a struggle, never fun (how would not eating be fun?), but I came away with lessons I never expected.
After the fast …
I was surprised at how crummy I felt during and following the two-day fast. I’d expected to fare better than the character in a Snickers commercial, but I got hangry fast and stayed that way. Beyond feeling like I’d been cursed by man and God, my joints and muscles ached like they didn’t normally.
While I fasted, I never gave up on physical activity. I still ran my miles and went to the gym. According to the various fitness tracker apps on my phone, I actually went a little more often. I was a little more consistent than the month before.
During the two-day fast, I spent the day doing yard work, picking up fallen branches, cutting grass and weeding. Then, I’d straightened up around the house (or as much of that as I normally do).
I was used to feeling sore, but this felt different, like a rotten tooth.
Breaking my fast in the evening hadn’t instantly refreshed me. It improved my mood by leaps and bounds, but I was still worn out and my stomach felt slightly off.
The aches faded after a good night’s sleep, but I felt off the next few days, even though my appetite had turned feral.
I wanted to eat everything all the time.
Going back to maintaining my food diary and counting calories (the very dull, very tedious method I’ve used for the past two years to lose and maintain my weight) was hard. Nothing was enough.
It took days to get back to something approaching normal.
The bright spots
While multi-day fasting, intermittent fasting and alternate fasting were absolutely not for me, I did learn more about my food tolerances and what I required.
Contrary to what I thought, I don’t actually need to have something to eat right after I get up in the morning. I don’t need something in my stomach before I go to the gym or go for a morning run.
Doing push-ups at 7 in the morning or going for a brisk jog on an empty stomach is absolutely fine for me.
As dumb as this sounds, it’s new information for me. I’ve spent the last year trying to figure out how much I need to eat before I work out in the morning.
The answer is nothing.
I still really like to have that cup of coffee first thing, though. That makes it possible for me to do things like drive a car while wearing pants.
Intermittent fasting also showed me that I didn’t need to eat on such a rote schedule, that I often eat not because I’m hungry, but because it’s just the time I’ve determined that I’m supposed to take a meal.
It’s OK for me to have breakfast in the middle of the morning, if that’s when I’m hungry. Dinner can be early.
If anything, I should probably eat a little more in the afternoon, rather than save up most of the day to feast at dinner. It’s just a bad habit that cheats me out of a decent lunch in favor of eating like a bear who stumbled into a church potluck.
By the end of the month, I did lose a couple of pounds, but also came to the realization that I needed to be done with serious dieting. Trying to further tweak my weight toward what I weighed as a high school sophomore was a great way to develop an eating disorder.
And I’ve already been there.
Past, present and future
For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with food issues and my weight. Being too big, being slow and sluggish, signaled weakness.
Kids could be cruel. Adults could be, too. I soaked in the criticism and contempt like a sponge. I just never wrung it out.
We draw so much joy and pleasure from food.
Growing up, like a lot of people, I loved family gatherings at Christmas and Thanksgiving, takeout pizza shared at the family dining room table, buttered popcorn at the movies and whatever candy I could get my greedy little mitts on.
Food brought happiness, but I felt humiliated when I swelled in my still-new school clothes. I remember the terror of sucking in my gut, struggling to button the top of my jeans and failing.
I was 13 when I put myself on my first crash diet, dropped 45 pounds, and nearly wound up hospitalized.
Through my adult life, I’ve spent a small fortune on diet books, pills or programs, trying to get some control of my weight. The joke was on me. The food diary app on my phone cost nothing.
I still have food issues. When I have a bad day, the urge to grab a pint (or a quart) of ice cream is still there. The urge to hate myself over occasionally giving in is still there, too.
I will always have to watch what I eat if I want to stay leaner, but I can be satisfied that I weigh less than when I graduated from high school. I have proof.
While working on what I wanted to write for this week, I found my class sweatshirt stuffed in the back of a closet, crammed under an extra blanket I needed to fight off the recent chill.
It must have been back there since I reclaimed it from my mother’s house, right before we sold it years ago.
I slipped the sweatshirt on. The fabric was thin and there were a few stains. Issuing teenagers white sweatshirts was madness, but by accident my old school shirt had survived for decades, if only barely.
It looked as if it had shrunk in the wash once or twice. The long sleeves didn’t meet my wrists and it was a little snug in the shoulders, but the shirt fit fine otherwise, maybe better than it did when I was 17.
Of course, I had better hair then, but maybe it’s time to accept that the battle to get to my healthiest weight is over. And I won.