27 January 2013


This fasting metabolism business is craaaazy.

Tuesday afternoon my digestive system powered down in the face of the flu. (Mercifully, I've not had actual nausea, like many folks seem to have suffered with this bug.) So I've had five days now of subsisting on soup, rice crackers, and Gatorade, somewhere between 500 and 1000 calories a day. It's probably burned four or five pounds, which is almost a blessing in disguise as I can totally afford to strip a bit off my middle-aged waistline. I'm still feeling pretty rough: tired, snotty, and with a very nasty cough. But I'm clearheaded (as demonstrated by the impulse to write a blog post) and I'm in that fasting state in which I don't feel hungry, just distant awareness that my system wants nourishment.

The last time I felt this way was almost twenty years ago. I had a bout of flu that hit me harder than this one but passed faster, so between the short duration of the bug's effects and the resilience of youth, I bounced back from it uncannily well. This gave me a weird day in the wake of it during which I felt fine, even energetic, but I had zero appetite. I felt a mad temptation then to conduct an experiment with myself and see how long I could stay a perpetual motion machine powered by tea and my own inner reserves, but wisdom prevailed — in those days I was a lot scrawnier, and really couldn't afford to lose weight — and I trained my system back into eating.

So in a strange moment of state-specific memory I'm reminded now of being reminded then of Kafka's story “A Hunger Artist”.

Perhaps it was not fasting at all which made him so very emaciated that many people, to their own regret, had to stay away from his performance, because they couldn’t bear to look at him. For he was also so skeletal out of dissatisfaction with himself, because he alone knew something that even initiates didn’t know—how easy it was to fast. It was the easiest thing in the world. About this he did not remain silent, but people did not believe him. At best they thought he was being modest. Most of them, however, believed he was a publicity seeker or a total swindler, for whom, at all events, fasting was easy, because he understood how to make it easy, and then still had the nerve to half admit it. He had to accept all that. Over the years he had become accustomed to it. But this dissatisfaction kept gnawing at his insides all the time and never yet—and this one had to say to his credit—had he left the cage of his own free will after any period of fasting.

1 comment:

Erik said...

I am glad you're feeling better; those around me who have had this bug report that it's a doozy.

I quite enjoyed "A Hunger Artist," particularly the last part:

"Many days went by once more, and this, too, came to an end. Finally the cage caught the attention of a supervisor, and he asked the attendant why they had left this perfectly useful cage standing here unused with rotting straw inside. Nobody knew, until one man, with the help of the table with the number on it, remembered the hunger artist. They pushed the straw around with poles and found the hunger artist in there. “Are you still fasting?” the supervisor asked. “When are you finally going to stop?” “Forgive me everything,” whispered the hunger artist. Only the supervisor, who was pressing his ear up against the cage, understood him. “Certainly,” said the supervisor, tapping his forehead with his finger in order to indicate to the staff the state the hunger artist was in, “we forgive you.” “I always wanted you to admire my fasting,” said the hunger artist. “But we do admire it,” said the supervisor obligingly. “But you shouldn’t admire it,” said the hunger artist. “Well then, we don’t admire it,” said the supervisor, “but why shouldn’t we admire it?” “Because I had to fast. I can’t do anything else,” said the hunger artist. “Just look at you,” said the supervisor, “why can’t you do anything else?” “Because,” said the hunger artist, lifting his head a little and, with his lips pursed as if for a kiss, speaking right into the supervisor’s ear so that he wouldn’t miss anything, “because I couldn’t find a food which tasted good to me. If had found that, believe me, I would not have made a spectacle of myself and would have eaten to my heart’s content, like you and everyone else.” Those were his last words, but in his failing eyes there was still the firm, if no longer proud, conviction that he was continuing to fast."

I find it's an excellent reminder that there's no virtue in eschewing that which you cannot abide, even if you can make a career out of your temperance.