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The benefits of fasting
What I've learned from 20+ years of (unintentional) fasts
In September 2018, 58 activists were charged with felony conspiracy and held on $25,000 bond for walking onto a massive “free range” chicken farm and attempting to give aid to collapsed and starving animals we found on site. The farm, part of the Perdue Farms network, had previously been reported to the authorities on multiple occasions as a site of criminal neglect. Numerous animals were found to be too sick or weak to stand, and therefore were slowly starving to death. This is, in fact, quite common on factory farms.
It is a cruel irony of our food system that animals starve so that we might eat.
The folks in my jail cell that day decided that, in solidarity with the animals we had seen, each of us would decline food for the duration of our stay in jail. For me, that was 3 days. We also agreed that we would fast one day out of the week for the duration of the year. For many folks, this was a significant hardship. I was proud to fast with my cell mates, and we started a chat to support one another in that effort.
But for me, fasting was getting back to something I have done since I was 17 years old. And it has had immense benefits. Much of the research on this has come out only in the past few years. But the preliminary data was available, based on research done on longevity (in human and non-human animals) around 20 years ago. And even then, it showed some remarkable impacts.
Extending lifespan. Preventing cognitive decline. Improving metabolic health and thereby preventing diabetes. Stopping the growth of cancer cells. And the list goes on and on and on. But fasting has been especially important to me, not for its biological, but its psychological and spiritual impacts. Here are some of the key benefits:
Mental clarity. While initial experiences with fasting often lead to mental confusion, when one becomes more experienced, the clarity one receives is pretty astonishing. There is something about forsaking a key daily habit that allows one to focus attention on the things that matter most.
Improved sleep and meditation. These two are related to mental clarity. But something about fasting has always improved my sleep — dramatically — and my meditation practice.
Gratitude. This is a surprising one. But there's something about the small sacrifice of a fast that makes one more appreciative of all the little things in life. And the people around you.
Confidence. My consistent ability to forego food has gifted me the belief in my own emotional control. That has extended to other areas of life.
I’m not saying all these things will accrue to all people who fast. It’s just what happens to me. And I think more research can and should be done on how much of an impact fasting has on people in general.
But I highly encourage everyone, other than perhaps those with eating disorders, to try a fast. It’s quite simple to start. Just try skipping one meal (and eat more at another meal if that helps). Then try sticking to one meal on a day. Then, as a last step, give that last meal up.
It helps to find something to distract you, especially the first few times you fast. A good movie (or TV series). A video game. Or good conversation with friends. You’ll be surprised by how much you can mitigate the negative impacts of a fast, even in the early stages, simply by distraction.
Finally, do it for a reason. I’m not super familiar with what exactly is going on, but I know many animal advocates do a monthly fast called “Animals First on the Second.” Having a purpose of this sort, even if it’s just a commitment to a friend, will help you maintain the fast.
Who else has had experiences with fasting? What are your thoughts?