Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Gall of a Glutton

Wow.  Two posts in one month.  I'm on a roll.

So the rumor is that I'm starving myself.  Well, the rumor is true.  I'm doing a 10 day fast for an inpatient neuroendocrine study at Brigham and Women's Hospital.  It's been 70 hours since I have had food, and I have about 7 days left.  The reactions to this have varied, but most commonly, I get a somewhat exasperated "Why are you doing this?"

Well, the short answer is, 'cuz I felt like it.'

Intuition is the driver of most of my...lets call them interesting....choices.  I feel like I want to do something, and it feels like it's a good thing to do, then I do it.  This intuitive approach to choice is how I decided where to go to college, my decision to do a year abroad, my choice of career, my move to Boston, and potentially how I chose a grad school (still workin' on that one...).  This is also the case with this fasting study.  It interested me from when the director first explained it to me in a collaborative context.  Then, when the collaboration fell through, I felt like it would be a good thing to participate in.

Initially, I just told people I wanted a chance to participate in a research study, earn some extra money, and finally unwind from the hectic craziness that has been the last several months of my life.  This was not untrue, but probably only covered about half of my actual motivations. 

Don't worry, this will NOT be me.
When I was in India, I heard a lot about ashrams who would practice long-term fasts.  I thought this was stupid because starvation induced kidney failure is a real thing, not to mention other metabolic and neurological problems that can arise from the potassium imbalance.  However, their reasons for the long-term fasts always interested me.  A lot of Hinduism is about detaching from the material things and appetites of life we are mentally/emotionally/physically attached to.  The belief is that there is freedom and clarity in rising above these things and that doing so is the only way to connect with the divine within you.  I saw the parallel of this belief with the Judeo-Christian's call against idolatry and prioritizing things above God.  When we want some THING more than we want exaltation or happiness, we don't make choices that get us to where we ultimately want to go.

I'm a pretty adaptable person, and there's not much that I'd ever put before God or family, because I have faith in the Plan of Salvation and I want the things that are promised (eternal families, joy, creation, life, etc).  But, I'm a glutton.  I don't mean in the 'I emotionally compensate with food' kind of way.  I mean I'm a glutton in the 'I have no desire to stop eating and never stop enjoying food,' kind of way.  I love food.  I love the sensory experience of food much like some people enjoy art or music.  I love the tastes, textures, smells, colors, and I love the feel of food in my belly.  I love exploring and creating new foods, flavors, and combinations.  I love to study our physiological and psychological relationship with food.  I've wished, countless times, that I was one of those people who never gained weight, not for vanity, but purely so that I could forever indulge and consume without consequences to my long-term health.  I'm so passionate about food, that I know it would be the most difficult thing for me to temper or sacrifice if life and circumstance ever required (I have a hard enough time with Fast Sunday).      

And passion is a funny thing.  It's powerful, impressive, moving, and often destructive.  It thwarts the shackles of logic, reason, and common sense and winks at consequence with a playful "don't worry about it."  At times, passion can be the driving force of success, and at other times, be the very reason success is never achieved.  We're told to pursue things we feel passionately about, but then watch in horror as passion-infused-people pursue things, paths, or relationships that lead to their self-destructive, and often gory, demise.

Passion is something I've thought on for much of my life.  I was born with a lot of it, grew up surrounded by a lot of it, and have learned intimately how it can be both a glorious blessing and an cataclysmic curse.  I was probably 19 years old before I realized not all families discussed their perspectives and desires with the fire of a thousand suns.  Experiencing and seeing the power of that double edged sword has led me to become fixated with Alma 3:12 "See that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love;"

How does one actually go about doing that?  Bridling passions.  Isn't that kind of like trying to bridle fire?  In my experience, passions are just as ready and willing to thwart a bridle as they are logic and reason.  When it flares, I always feel like I'm more likely to get consumed than be successful reigning it in.  And even if you manage to succeed with the bridle, how do you learn to direct and utilize that force to be filled with love?  How do you maintain the kind of focus that moves you toward a rational or healthy destination when passion flares and bolts after its own desires?

Honestly, I don't know the answer to most of those questions, and I've been asking them for over 10 years.  But I have learned some things and I do know that learning to discipline those passions is incredibly individual and incredibly important.  I know that discipline starts with knowing who you are and that you are more powerful than the passions that drive you.  This is why I do like the imagery of the bridle.  Nobody doubts that a horse is more physically powerful than a human and could utilize that power to destroy said human, and yet we have managed to work with and exert power over horses for centuries.  Like horses, discipline, kindness, and consistency is what allows us to healthily take charge of the passion we feel.  Self-punishment and suppression are the abusive equivalents of that control.  I've known many people who think the best way to control their passion is to suppress it completely.  To me, that's like keeping the horse in a pin for too long, and by doing so you're not learning to control anything.  You're just asking for it to break loose. 

That being said, you're not going to be able to just bridle the untamed horse and immediately go for a ride either.  You will need to spend some time in that pin, working with, building a relationship with, and figuring out HOW to bridle that horse.  This is the stage I am at with my gluttony.  I've had times in the past that by sheer will and oppression, I diminished my love of food and the excitement I felt when creating it and eating it.  It was the only way I ever managed to practice portion control.  I kept that horse tied up until, inevitably, I got tired and it broke loose.  Then, I thought the best way to keep it under control was to tie it up with a rope (aka exercise) that allowed it to roam free periodically.  I have come to realize that this horse likes to take more and more liberties, and that there's no way around the necessity of me learning how to actually bridle it. 

So while I know all of this in theory, it's incredibly hard to put into practice.  The degree of passion, intensity, and enthusiasm I was born with is the equivalent to a bucking wild stallion.  Learning how to sustain self-discipline will probably always be something I have to work on for the rest of my life.  But one day I'd like to get to the point where guiding that passion is more natural and less exhausting than my past attempts have been, so I'll keep attempting.  And I think this fasting study is helping me with that process.     

Quick summary: These are the answers to the "why are you doing such and awful study?" question.

1. Prove to myself that food is not my idol in a way that didn't put my life at risk.  There is a peace that comes from knowing if God or those I love ever needed me to, I am capable of giving up the appetite I'm attached to most.  And I'm glad I can do that without the risk of renal failure.

2. To figure out how to enjoy food without crossing the line into overindulgence.  I want to find a way that allows me to still be passionate about it, but disciplined enough to not let that passion become destructive to me or my health.  This will extend WAY beyond the study itself, but I do see this fast as kind of experiential reset button.

3. To finally take the time I need to unwind and refocus.  I have felt overstimulated and often overwhelmed by the pace of life recently, and it distracts me from figuring out who I want to be.  This study will allow me the time to focus on what I want, what my priorities are, and how to better align the two, so that I can come back into the swing of things with some clarity.

4. To learn empathy.  Even the last few days have helped me understand hunger in ways I never would have without experiencing it.  Just having that understanding helps me to feel much more connected and empathetic to those that suffer from hunger, for whatever their reason may be.

5. Financial gain.  Yes, this is a part of things.  My plan is to take my earnings and go have an awesome time in California with my bro's family, my best friend, and the beach. 

6. Curiosity.  In addition to all the free scans and blood work I'll be getting done for free, I'm actually interested in finding out the study outcomes.  Brown fat research and metabolic changes in fasting states have had some fascinating findings in rats and other animals.  I'm curious to see if they are equally applicable to humans, and especially, what it means for me and my body if they are.

One thing people seemed worried about was that I was doing this just to lose weight.  While I'm not nor have ever been skinny, I don't think I need to lose weight.  Yes, I will lose weight, but it'll only be 5-10 lbs, I doubt it'll even be noticeable, and there are much less intense and more enjoyable ways to go about losing 5-10lbs than a 10 day fast.  Mostly, I see it as a good opportunity, and I have 5-10lbs I could lose without it harming my health.  So here I am. 

As for how I'm feeling at this point of the fast.  Mostly, I'm just kind of tired, with the occasional hunger based tummy grumble.  It's hard in ways I don't know how to describe.  I want food, I miss food, but I'm not all that hungry.  I long for taste and chewing something.  Oh, and critical thinking has definitely become more difficult.  I can tell my body has had to adapt and start functioning differently than it ever has before.  I don't feel like going for a run, but I'm also still able to walk around and do some light yoga - just to keep my sanity.  And for the most part, I've felt rather productive and peaceful.  I'm getting to finish books that I've not found the time for, I've been able to finish projects I've been procrastinating, and tomorrow I'll be doing taxes and applying for financial aid.  It's like I finally have the time to catch up, and I'm kind of enjoying that part.  If anything changes, I'll be sure to write a quick update.  But at this point, I figure there's a lot of sleep in my future - and that I don't mind either. :)     


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