The first rule of fast club is: Don’t talk about fast club.
The second rule of fast club is that skinny guys no longer get to tell me what to do. (Although I love you guys. You look so cute with your pants falling down!)
I come not to bury young male ectomorphs, but to praise them. In fact, I married one. They are a fascinating species. I have observed my own specimen for years, like Jane Goodall amongst the chimps.
Here are some interesting facts about these wonderful creatures.
1. Many of them can live on fumes. Craving neither food nor drink, these hominid hummingbirds apparently draw nourishment from the air. They sup on dew and dine on dust.
2. When they are stressed out, they don’t eat. Actually, when they aren’t starving, they don’t eat. Which is to say, most of the time. Can you believe not eating when you’re stressed? I know! Ha ha! Crazy! I keep trying to explain to my specimen that giving a loaf of bread a butter enema then dipping the whole thing in chocolate and rubbing it all over your esophagus will always make you feel better. Thus far I have failed to convince him.
3. When they do eat, it doesn’t seem to matter. Have you seen the food these guys can put down? It’s like they encode for some MAKE_ABS1 gene. In their bodies, somehow cookies turn into tummy bumps.
4. To lose weight, they do crazy shit like give up drinking so much beer. I hear women from all over the globe gnashing their teeth at their partners’ superhuman abilities to get riptshizzled with no effort. I’ve been busting my ass and I lost 1 lb in a month! That jerk’s doing my nutrition plan along with me and he’s lost 40 lb in the same time, just by eating one less strand of spaghetti a day! I hate him!
I hear ya. My home dinner table conversation sometimes goes like this.
Me: Ugh, I feel the estrogen demons again. I feel like an inflated wet sponge. The only thing that fits me is the Snuggie my grandma gave me last Christmas.
Him: I don’t feel so good myself. I had a whiff of anxiety today and dropped 5 lbs. Then my shirt tore itself on my abs.
There there ladies. Cry it out.
And here is point #5, which may be the most obvious:
5. They are not us.
Not most of us reading, anyway. (If you are, welcome! I know you probably have your own struggles. Go eat some steak and do some squats. And may I recommend the work of my esteemed colleagues over at Scrawny to Brawny?)
Here’s what this means.
If you are non-ectomorphic (i.e. not naturally lanky and lean), non-young, non-male, your experience will probably not be the same as theirs.
(By the way, for most of this article, I am going to address the “you” of my site that is not a naturally lean young guy. If you are a young male ectomorph, please don’t be offended. Feel free to keep reading. This may be helpful if you are in the position of giving advice to others who are not like you.)
This doesn’t mean that lean young guys don’t have great things to say. There are many awesome young lean dudes working in the field of fitness and nutrition. Many are my colleagues and friends. (See S2B, above.)
But it does mean that you (again, I mean the “you” that is not those guys) should take their advice with caution.
Most lean young guys giving fitness and nutrition advice are basing that advice — in part — on their own bodily experience. Which won’t match yours. (See above.)
Most lean young guys giving fitness and nutrition advice have not seen a sufficiently diverse client base. Hey, that’s what happens when you’re young. It’s not bad. It’s just the math of reality. In a few decades, then they’ll be Dave Draper and have some awesome yarns to spin. And then maybe I’ll take their advice.
Many people — male or female — giving fitness and nutrition advice don’t have clients at all. Maybe they’ve trained a few friends. But many of them are researchers or enjoy reading in the field. Which is awesome. And admirable. But it doesn’t make you equipped to cope with the weirdness and messiness of real human bodies. Especially when there are lots of them.
“Lab significant” is not “real world significant”. Minute details of experimental results, while intriguing, do not necessarily translate into expected results in diverse human bodies. And all the fructose knowledge in the world won’t help you deal with a 47-year-old client who is literally sobbing for her mother because she can’t pull herself out of a binge cycle and feels insane. (Yes, this has happened to me, way more often than you’d think.)
Context is everything. A fasted mouse without much else to do except hang out and not-eat is a lot different than a fasted human with a job, kids, sleep deprivation, and a killer commute. A fasted young guy whose biggest life stress is 10 hours a week of university coursework is a lot different than a fasted woman in her 30s who might be juggling a full-time job, a family, and a complex and shifting hormonal environment.
Aging has a sense of humour. And it’s like that practical joker roommate who thinks it’s hi-larious to prop a bucket of water above a half-open door. Hee hee hee! I made your knees fall apart! Enjoy the hemorrhoids! And now you pee when you run! Hee! Whether male or female, when you’re young you sorta fail to appreciate this laff riot. (Don’t worry. It’s coming to visit you too.)
Young lean males are not everyone else. Especially females. Now, we’re going to get into human variation in a minute. But for now, I’m going to put “men” in one bucket and “women” in another (along with respective buckets for “young”, “older”, “leaner”, etc.), so bear with me.
In my role as Big Coach over at Precision Nutrition I see literally thousands of clients who go through our coaching programs.
I see people at their most vulnerable. I read the words they write. I speak to them. I connect with them in intense, one-on-one sessions where we do a kind of chest-bump of the soul. I see and carry their pain with them. It is immense. This pain is diverse, yet oddly familiar. (As therapist Carl Rogers once wrote, “The most personal is the most universal.”)
People come to our Lean Eating coaching program at Precision Nutrition when they are struggling. Many feel that they are at the end of their rope. Like there is nothing else for them. They’ve tried this program or that program, and none have lasted.
We take them in, hundreds at a time, and care for them. We tinker with their machinery, polish them up, and send them on their way, renewed.
Our Lean Eating program is currently 12 months long. Years ago, we offered a 6-month program. Now, let me give you some context for this. Imagine: Daily lessons. Daily check-ins. Daily assigned habits. Daily workouts. Every day, as one of our coaching clients, you do some small meaningful task that works towards a goal that is salient and resonant to you — whether that’s better athletic performance, losing fat, or improving your general health. You get coaching and a support group. Major accountability and support. We are in your face helping you bigtime. (We’re like nutritional weirdos lurking outside in your bushes. In a good way.)
The program itself offers solid nutritional habits. I mean solid. Like bulletproof solid. You couldn’t contest these habits in any court of nutritional law. They’re nutritional Kevlar. We have a team of PhDs and MScs cranking these bad boys out, and constantly testing and revising them as new research or client experience emerges.
So. Previous incarnation of Lean Eating. 6 months instead of a year. Again — 6 months of hands-on coaching, support, daily lessons, simple yet awesome habits.
And guess what.
Many people who finished the 6-month program went off into their new lives renewed and rejuvenated. They were launched from the nest, and they flew. But many rebounded. Off the wagon with a splat. Not because they were bad, stupid, or lazy. Simply because life happens. Because aging happens. Because reality happens. Most importantly:
Because even 6 months of doing everything “right” is often not enough to be sustainable.
Sustainable. That’s the million-dollar-word here. Sustainable.
And that’s why our coaching program is now one full year of simple, sustainable habits that nourish body, mind, and soul. Because that’s what really works. That’s what people will stick with for the rest of their lives. (We have the thousands of client data points to prove it.)
As Saint Dan John is frequently heard to opine, up there in his heavenly squat rack, “Everything works, for a short time.”
He should know. As should I. One reason I think I like Dan so much is that he, like me, is up for just about any ridiculous gym challenge. Although his seem to involve more drinking than mine. But maybe that’s his secret to being so cool.
So no matter what dumbshit idea you try (500-rep deadlifts! The cabbage soup diet! Doing 1-rep maxes every day! Doing leg presses from the handstand position!), it’ll probably work.
Until it doesn’t.
In some cases, “doesn’t work” is no big deal. It just… doesn’t work.
In other cases, “doesn’t work” is a car crash. It fucks your shit up like a two-bit hockey goon.
Which brings me to one of the current nutritional trends: Intermittent fasting (IF).
Of course, just like calling Paleo eating a “fad” (I can hear Robb Wolf grinding his teeth from here), calling IF a “trend” is not the right word.
Not-eating is as old as eating. It’s not like prokaryotic bacteria had Pizza Hut on every corner, 3.5 billion years ago. Anorexics and ascetics alike have repped the purposely-not-eating camp for thousands of years. And the nutrition and fitness world is kinda like the weather in Scotland: If you don’t like what you’ve got, just wait five minutes for it to change. It’ll seem like a novelty when the sun comes out after the storm, even though it was out 27 minutes ago, and 53 minutes before that.
Thus I call IF a “trend” only in the sense that not-eating has (once again) hit the mainstream consciousness as a “new” thing to do to improve one’s health.
“Trends” are funny like that, especially in this biz.
Gather round, children, and I will tell you of another time, when this land was green and new, and bodybuilders wore silly pants and said silly things. When a great dynasty of Weider ruled the land, and we waited breathlessly for new issues of Muscle and Fiction to arrive in our mailboxes, to be pawed through by fingers sticky with steak juice.
For years, we had no way to argue with one another, except one-on-one, in corners of gyms, over leather-clad benches that were ripped and worn, and smelled like sweaty dogs. We had to speak face-to-face, using our eye orbs to look at other people’s eye orbs, and listen to their voices. I mean to say that we were in the same room with these people, looking directly at them rather than down at a glowing tablet in our hands.
During these ancient times, there was no way to know our body fat unless we wanted some gym teacher of questionable sexuality to pinch our belly rolls. No way to log our food except to use a writing stick on paper and then consult a small booklet of “calorie counts”. And no way to share the contents of our breakfast with thousands of mildly interested strangers.
We carried large gray brick-like objects in awkward purse-like carriers, plugged into our cars’ cigarette lighters, and called “cellular phones”. Sadly, there was no texting. Or sexting. Or taking pictures of ur weenur and sending them to your prospective girlfriend and ending your political career.
Then one day a brilliant wizard named Al Gore invented a magical network of tubes. And on this network of tubes, we nerds did “log in” with our “modems” through the phone lines (I know, right?) to “newsgroups”.
On this network of tubes, we did curse and flame one another over matters of great import, such as whether Jesus would squat using a Smith machine. We impugned the modesty and grooming habits of each others’ mothers.
We had flamewars so magnificent I still recall a stinging rebuke, delivered somewhere around post #163 in a thread worthy of Beowulf: “Well, I can tell you’ve never baled hay before, you piece of shit.” Yes, we started out talking about biceps curl hand position and somewhere along the way launched invective regarding proper agricultural technique. That’s just how we rolled, bitches.
And lo, it was good.
We tried everything back then, too. ECA stacks. German Volume Training. Timing our rep tempos with stopwatches. Making tuna shakes. We thought we were original. Except the guys and gals who’d been in gyms in the 70s and 80s knew we were just stealing their stuff. Which was a ripoff of the 1950s and 60s bodybuilder stuff. Which was a ripoff of the 19th century physical culture movement.
And so it goes. We all love to think we’ve found the Next Big Thing. (Meanwhile someone who died in 10,000 BCE is rolling in their peat-bog-mummified grave because we’re ripping off their schtick.)
Of course, most things fell by the wayside. The interwebs changed into the LOLCAT celebration and meme generation machine it is today. The MFW crew drifted away. Many quit training. A handful died, some spectacularly. A handful imploded, also spectacularly. (See Arnold, Pat.)
If you asked those of us who still train what we’re doing these days, you’ll find one clear trend: We almost never stuck with any of the stuff we tried.
Because it wasn’t sustainable. Because it was almost always produced by people who used a garden hose as their steroid needle. Or by people trying to make shit up to fill editorial space in a “magazine” whose actual purpose was to make us buy pills, powders, and the fantasy that we could look like Dorian Yates if we just tried hard enough.
It was fun, sure. It generated terabytes of spreadsheets as we meticulously tracked our calf girths and skinfolds and daily calories and mileage and sleep hours and basal temperature and RPE and BPM and WTF. It gave us stuff to talk (and argue) about. It gave us an excuse to bust out front-double-biceps poses in our bathroom mirrors yeah buddy!!
It didn’t last.
It did, however, leave many of us with some serious crazy brain, whether that’s feeling a twinge of guilt about not eating “small meals every 5-6 hours” or not “getting 1 g protein per lb of bodyweight” or not “doing 63% 1RM on Week 2 Day 5”, or “the net carb intake is X g of carbs minus Y g of fibre” or something else — whatever “missing the forest for the trees” BS lodged in our neocortex and is presently making the rounds like a dog chasing its tail.
It didn’t last.
It “worked” only for a while. And then, all rivers flowed to the sea again.
Eventually, we all returned to something approximating the basics — whatever “the basics” look like for our 21st century, highly flawed human selves who are just trying to stave off mortality and not scare the horses when nude.
Nearly 25 years later, one fact is pretty clear: Everything changes… and everything stays the same.
The internet has given us more and better ways to flame the pants off each other. More — if not actually better — information. More opinions ranging from enlightened and informed to “Did your mother snort Drano while she was pregnant with you, by any chance?” stupid.
Among these opinions, the tone of insistent I’m right and you’re an ignorant motherhumper has persisted in many domains of the nutrition and fitness communities. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Same shit, different day. Same lack of meaningful connection with actual humans and what they truly need to be healthy in a sustainable and sane way.
Which brings me back round to the discussions around intermittent fasting.
I’ll cover the research more extensively in another article, but I wanted to break the first rule of fast club and actually talk about fast club.
Fasting is not-eating. That’s all. (In this, I admire Brad Pilon’s elegant simplicity. His Eat Stop Eat kinda just sums it up right there. Sometimes you eat, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.)
Fasting does some interesting and cool things, which I’ll discuss in an upcoming article.
Indeed, it was the research that turned me on to fasting in the first place — the worms and mice being starved by sadistic researchers, and religious or nutritional devotees choosing to starve themselves for some particular worldview or ritual, were nevertheless doing quite well for themselves.
Among fasted animals and humans, for example, markers of inflammation seemed to go down. Insulin sensitivity seemed to go up. Occasionally fasted critters seemed to live longer.
So: Better health. Longer life. Improved athletic performance.
All seems pretty awesome, right?
Fitness devotees found the research and started trying it on themselves. The rave reviews continued to roll in. Fasting cured cancer! Fasting balanced your chequebook! Fasting fixed ingrown toenails! (I may have made the last bit up.)
We were thrumming with the thrill of self-experimentation. Despite the asceticism, it all seemed luxuriously naughty, too. We were breaking the rules of “5-6 small meals a day”! How delicious! How rebellious we were! How free! We were like braless hippies flipping the bird to girdles and garter belts as we danced, muddy and hairy, in the fields of Woodstock.
We trained fasted! We fasted longer! Fuck 14 hour fasts, I’m doing 24. Fuck 24, I’m doing 36. A friend of mine did 70+ hours before she kind of just got bored.
Adrenaline flowed like cheap beer at a frat party. We were buzzed as shit, long-haul truckers whacked and frenzied, hooked on our own amphetamines. We were fucking invincible!
Until we weren’t.
The first clues were easy to miss.
A bad night’s sleep here. An extra cup of coffee to stave off the hunger pangs there. Maybe we thought about food a little more. (But let’s be honest… food is fucking rad.) Maybe a little more food in our post-fast meal, but hey — a girl needs her energy, right? Gotta fuel that fire now that it’s a fat-blasting, disease-crushing inferno!
We talked about our eating and not-eating a lot. A lot. To the point where we started to sound like the Jehovah’s Witnesses of not-eating. Excuse me sir, may I take three hours of your time to tell you about whether I think Jesus did an 18- or 24-hour fast?
But we were talking to each other, so that was OK. We didn’t notice that our conversation was mostly an angst sandwich, garnished with covert self-comparison, between two slices of flagellant egocentrism.
We weighed ourselves compulsively, or discreetly poked our tummy rolls, pretending that it was about “getting into fighting shape”.
I loved the way my face looked as my bodyfat dwindled. Leonine, I said to myself, looking at my chiseled jaw. Androfemme. I enjoyed the feel of both of these words in my mouth. My father had other words for it. You look like you just got out of a prison camp, he said. (Actually he said Auschwitz. But he has a flair for inappropriate hyperbole. Please excuse him. As you can see, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. Love you dad!)
Your face! So skinny! said the coffee shop barista. (Yes, the barista.) Drink more milk.
You have your thin wrinkles, said my quasi-Aspie friend with no internal editor. You know, the wrinkles you get when you’re too thin. Right there, around your mouth.
Whatever. What the fuck did they know? Hatas gonna hate.
Eventually, us fast club members kinda ran out of other interests to discuss. Philately, ships in bottles, learning the banjo, having non-codependent relationships, saving the world, and actually doing something fucking useful with ourselves fell by the wayside.
The later clues were hard to ignore.
Periods MIA. Binges on weird foods, often single nutrient groups. I craved fat in any form. Straight-up, greasy, oily lipid. I mean like grab a stick of butter and start chomping. Nom! At the time, nobody could explain it. Now I’ve come to learn that lipophilia (aka wanting to face-fuck a jar of almond butter) is quite common among fasters.
I noticed that about 18 hours into a fast, I got some cool double vision and a sense of being mildly high. I had to watch the sidewalk carefully lest I lurch drunkenly into the neighbours’ rosebushes on my way home. My skull felt like it was too small for my brain.
Of course, we ignored the clues anyway. My body is special, we thought, perhaps. Just a small hiccup. We hid our post-binge bellies beneath strategic knitwear. Surely the abs would emerge after another 36-hour marathon of self-distraction.
What’s most interesting about this is how tightly we clung to our beliefs and assumptions despite powerful evidence that this was maybe not a great fit for us. It felt like it should work.
After all, research studies and anecdotes alike — indeed, apparently the entire universe of the interwebs — all seemed to confirm that we were on the right track. Dude, look at Martin Berkhan‘s abs! This hoopy fasting frood clearly knows where his towel is!
So we kept on ignoring our real bodies. Our real lives. Our real relationships. We built relationships instead with internet gurus and Facebook warriors.
Some time later, I stumbled across some writing on anorexia/bulimia (a/b). It sounded oddly familiar.
“A/b can offer a person a supreme sense of control over her body and a sense of order to her life through the imposition of mindless and exacting rituals… [A/b] has at least two means of inducing a kind of emotional anesthesia.
First, it divorces a person from her embodied experience by encouraging her to disregard or overrule physical sensations while submitting to an extreme regimen of physical exertion, self-deprivation, and restriction. It turns people into dissociated automatons who have been separated from themselves and their feelings.
Second, as the person becomes increasingly malnourished, she either will be too fatigued to feel much of anything or will experience the effects of endorphins, chemicals the body releases when it is experiencing stress and trauma, that produce a false feeling of well-being and euphoria.”
Luckily I knew better. I painstakingly explained to people during my interminable conversations about eating and not-eating that I didn’t have disordered eating. I didn’t want to be thin, for one thing. I wanted to be lean. I wanted to be a ninja. I wanted to live forever and cheat death. I was an expert. I was totally in control.
“A/b attempts to define what is morally virtuous in people it has ensnared, and it promises happiness only if they realize this particular moral vision… You feel under the ever-watchful eye of a/b, which is constantly evaluating and ‘sizing you up’. These evaluations inevitably result in confirmation of failures and deficiencies.
Such evaluations proceed through normative measures such as grades, scores, marks, weights, and other objectifications, and by the quantification of goals through numbers such as percentiles, grams, calories, minutes, miles, and so on.”
Secretly, I kept a spreadsheet of eating, not-eating, and over-eating days. I even colour coded it. Pink for binge days, like a scarlet letter of shame. Green for not-eating days — my award ribbon for self-control and commitment to good health. I also tracked my body fat. And body weight. And cycling mileage. And minutes per day of training. On the day I weighed 112 lb, I drew a sad face next to it. 112. Chunky monkey. Sad.
But FYI I was Not. Crazy. I was health-conscious!
“A/b generally worms its way into a person’s life by disguising its rules as prudent suggestions… Once a person has been caught up in a/b’s web of promises, it is not long before her life begins to revolve around the performance of these prescriptions and the enduring of these restrictions… As with any prison (or military service, or gang, or cult) getting in is far easier than getting out.”
Meanwhile, I ran tests with naturopaths and endocrinologists. I discovered I was making almost no hormones of any kind. No cortisol. No DHEA. No estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone. Lazy buggers.
My weight crept up. My shape changed. I felt alienated from myself. Like my body was possessed. (In reality it was shoving my crazy brain aside and grabbing the wheel before the bus totally hit the ditch.)
I was getting fatter, weaker, sicker, and nuttier. Emotional lability, I believe they call that last bit. I kept fasting. And bingeing. Starve, compensate. Stuff, compensate. Starve, stuff. Starve, stuff. In between, hurl myself at exercise, frantically.
Surely this must be a bump in the road. Surely if I just practiced, if I just learned more, if I just tried harder, I could be better at this.
I read more studies. I read more blogs. I read more stories by the aforementioned young lean males who dined on the manna of mealtime masochism and — praise FSM! — grew ever more riptshizzled.
Strangers probed my innards, looking for ovarian cysts. (Ladies, you have not lived until you’ve had a transvaginal ultrasound! The Republicans are right — that shit is the bomb! Imagine getting violated by a stranger wielding a cold plastic phallus while you desperately have to pee, and all you can hear are the sad moans of pregnant women waiting in the hallway.)
I had a pituitary MRI, late one night, scared and alone — my only companion a grandmotherly Bangladeshi woman who was the MRI technician. Smelling my fear, she patted my hand sweetly as I got stuffed into the tube — the proverbial pig in a blanket. (Thank you for your kindness, madam.)
I knew I shouldn’t have been frightened of the MRI, but c’mon: They shove you headfirst into a foxhole to scan your brain, it’s loud and freaky, they’re looking for a brain tumour, and all you can think of is horrible episodes of House, like the one where someone’s blood got sucked out through their skin because there was too much metal in it.
“If a/b is to succeed in working and starving a person to death, it must do so through the imposition of a morality that promotes an adversarial relationship between the person and her body. The ‘morality’ of discipline, willpower, and self-control functions in exactly that manner.
Protest and outrage against a/b will almost certainly arise from the body as a result of its mistreatment… These symptoms serve as alarm bells that have the potential to expose a/b’s fraudulent goodwill. That capacity of the body to cry out against its own destruction is an obstacle that a/b tries to overcome. The body’s voice must be gagged as the body itself is subdued, controlled, and shaped.
The elevation and glorification of the associated ‘virtues’ of self-control, discipline, and willpower provide a ‘moral’ foundation for the assault on the body.”
Eventually, I had to admit defeat. I had “failed” intermittent fasting. (It hadn’t yet dawned on me that IF failed me.) I was a bad faster. The world’s worst. Look at all these other people kicking ass! I was a fraud and a charlatan. Even the mice and worms and yeast were better than me at this IF thing.
My colleague Dr. John Berardi’s adventures with IF, which had their ups and downs but were generally positive, furthered my sense of defeat. He got so lean you could practically see his gallbladder squirting. I think he had vascularity on his eyeballs. I consoled myself by remembering that JB truly is a nutrition ninja and one of the most disciplined eaters I’ve ever met. That’s why I’m working for him, and not the other way around, eheheh.
I later realized that JB is also male, and originally an ectomorph who’d managed to transform his body through years of careful and dedicated nutritional habits. Huh. Manperson + ectomorph = fasting success. One more data point, added to the pile.
Which brings me to this article by Lauren Brooks, who’s written for this site before. The article inspired, shall we say, spirited debate.
Were men and women so different? Did women need “special treatment”? Of course, it’s clear that men and women are not “opposites” or strictly defined groups. Sexual dimorphism is more of a catchall category or a continuum with no clear cutoff. (For more on this, check out Joan Roughgarden’s delightful tome, Evolution’s Rainbow.) There is plenty of variation among women. This is an important point. We still do not know all the factors involved. Age, reproductive status, other life or training stresses, genetic/epigenetic factors, etc. etc. could all be relevant. The data collection is ongoing.
Yet there are some features — whether physiological, psychological, social-environmental, whatever — that seem to make IF work differently in women (on average) than men (on average). At least in the messy data we have. And at least in the long-term. (Key point. Remember: Sustainability is the goal.)
Wasn’t this article anecdotal? Yes, absolutely. It was simply a collection of stories, one of which (in abbreviated form) was mine. Stories that were eerily familiar to the ones I was hearing from dozens of our female coaching clients. And the ones beginning to emerge from other women like Stefani Ruper, Melissa McEwan, and the Paleo Angel.
Was Lauren hatin’ on fasting? Hey! Hatas gonna hate! Circle the wagons! Defend the fort! She must be an eejit! And those women must be liars! Or stupid!
Boy, that sounds familiar. Too familiar. Because 5 years ago, that could have been me. 15 years ago, I could have been furiously typing yo momma insults into the electronic ether.
I could have been the one turning up my nose at these stories. I could have been the one protesting that the plural of anecdote isn’t data. (And it isn’t. But it’s often the canary in the data coal mine.)
Today, I’m not that person.
Experience sobers us. Humbles us. Grabs our eyelids and cranks them open. Forces us to see. Really see.
A woman’s life can really be a succession of lives, each revolving around some emotionally compelling situation or challenge, and each marked off by some intense experience.
Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing.
So what have we learned?
Well, first, that criticism and flamewarring are worth exactly jack shit. We never learned anything from each other’s momma-baiting, and we never will. (OK, I did say “Fuck IF”, but you have to understand this is at the tail end of my own insanity and seeing many other women’s madness as well. Plus I was inspired by Margaret Cho’s Fuck It diet.)
Nobody in the real world gives a crap about your minutiae. In fact, consider having a timer handy. Start it every time you start thinking about eating and not-eating. Every time you start writing a blog post or Facebook entry about eating and not-eating. Every time you talk about eating and not-eating to other people who, like you, are interested in eating and not-eating. Throw in the hours you also spend thinking, talking, writing, and reading about body stuff, your WOD time, new ways to eat and not-eat, recipes related to your way of eating or not-eating, etc.
See how much time, energy, resources, and mental real estate you actually devote to this eating and not-eating thing. Ask yourself if this is truly healthy. Ask yourself what is happening in the rest of your life. (Do you remember? When was the last time you checked? These are not flippant questions.)
Be curious and compassionate about the experiences of others. Allow room for their stories. A lovely comment on my Facebook page came from a nice woman who posted:
All of this is in direct contrast to my own experience with IF. My first reaction is to be even more grateful that I’ve found something which works for me. Whenever anyone has asked me about my experiment, I’ve made sure to point out it won’t work as well for everyone as it has for me… but I had no idea it could be THIS painful for anyone. I’m truly impressed that these women would endure pain for the sake of experiment (and bummed that they suffered). **hugs**
This warmed my heart like you cannot believe. Nice lady, thank you. Thank you for gently making space for yourself while also embracing others. You are an inspiration to us all.
If you find yourself leaping to defend your way of eating or not-eating, and/or to dismiss the lived experiences of others, ask yourself: Why do I feel so strongly about this? Why can I not allow this story to be present in my world? What uncomfortable truth might be revealed to me if I allow this story to sit here, unchallenged?
Our experiences are diverse. I can allow room for the stories of people who have succeeded with IF. I can allow room for the young male ectomorphs. (Half my house, in fact. Although technically he ain’t so young any more. Ha ha, just kidding, sweetie.) I can allow room for these wide-ranging human experiences because we are large; we contain multitudes. There is so much we don’t yet know about our amazing bodies.
Some things work for some people, some of the time. Assume nothing. Take nothing on faith. Human biology is a wonderful carnival. If something doesn’t work for you the same way it seems to work for “everyone else” (whoever that is), you’re not a failure, bad, stupid, lazy, etc. You’re probably just YOU.
Draw conclusions based on evidence. Nutritional theories can be seductive in their elegance. But until they’re proven in the court of your body, they’re just that: theories. Gather research, stories, personal data — anything you can get your hands on. Ask yourself, “How’s this working for me?”
Be aware that most things in the fitness world are “old truths made new”. Treat magical cures with caution. Trust me; I thought Dean Ornish was going to absolve me of all worldly evils in 1992.
You are only accountable to YOU. YOUR body. Don’t be a mental case — an over-intellectualized, eyebrows-up-living, Cartesian thinky brain floating head. Your body keeps the score. Like an elephant, it never forgets. There is deep wisdom in our bodies, and we must sense into and trust their signals. That may sound like woo-woo, but I assure you it is good neuroscience.
(On that note: Thank you, body. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for your intelligence and taking control when I could not care properly for myself.)
You are your body. Read the signals. These include:
- your mojo and energy levels
- your sleep quality and duration
- your moods and emotional wellbeing
- your sense of freedom and self-determination
- your athletic performance
- your recovery and immunity
- your hormonal profile and other bloodwork
- your menstrual cycles, fertility, and libido
- your ability to calm the fuck down and relax
Get real honest about what these things are telling you. If your not-eating feels great and all signs look good, keep on keepin’ on. If any of these (or any other signals) cause you concern, pay attention.
If you find yourself plunged into a deep desire to “fix” everything wrong with yourself, your body, your life through eating and not-eating, consider that a red flag. Ask yourself what else is going on in your life. In my case, I was attempting to cope with uncertainty, a major life transition, perceived lack of control, anxiety, insecurity about being a bookworm in a jock’s world, competing in a weight-classed sport, and fear of dying prematurely from my family’s genetic FAILs. All at once.
Your body is not an opponent to be submitted. It is the only loving companion and true friend that you will have for your entire life. It will never lie to you. Trust it. Listen to it. Learn its signals and its voices.
Experiment with your body, sure. Science is fun! Crazy shit is fun! Quasi-irresponsible self-experiments are the bedrock of scientific discovery.
But be careful, compassionate, and honest as well. If the data are pointing at Knock it off, dumbass and you’re yelling No problem — it’s fine! Hey y’all, watch this…
Well, y’know. It’s not going to end pretty.
Care for this container of yours. You only get one, after all.
Talk about fast club. Share your stories. There is room for all of them.
Cited: Richard Linn Maisel, David Epston, Ali Borden. Biting the Hand That Starves You: Inspiring Resistance to Anorexia/Bulimia. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004.