No Big Deal


I’ve been trying a new modality for eating lately. The 5:2 diet, which I posted about previously. Basically, you do a soft fast (take in about 1/4 of your normal caloric intake) on two non-consecutive days each week. That’s it. The rest of the time all bets are off.

I got attracted to trying this out because of my fascination with habits and conditioning. I know I have lot of them around food and eating. It’s been a life-long battle (well, since I was 21 when I decided to do something about my poor relationship with food), and I know I still have a lot of digging to do there. This protocol seemed like a great way to bring those habits and conditioning into the light of conscious awareness.

I am in the midst of my third week, and Sunday was a fast day. I happen to love sushi. There is a corner “health” food store that stocks little trays of sushi made daily. Yummy stuff. So, on Monday I walked down there and got me a tray. Since this is the day after a fast, there’s a background of hunger that pervades most of the day (for me anyways.) I also happen to love chocolate, and this particular store sells some good varieties. I thought about that on the way to get my sushi. And then, I did not buy any. It was a very nonchalant decision. You see Monday is also the day I got to one of my regular games, and one of the two hosts cooks a yummy dinner. I did not want to interfere with relishing that, plus she sometimes makes desserts.

The thing that struck me was that there was no struggle in that. I am used to their being one. As I looked at what was making the difference, I realized that the culprits were permission and lack of a big deal. On this protocol I am trying literally no foods are off the list. Of course I also want to be healthy, and I could use to drop some pounds, but that’s not the point. The way I learned this diet came strongly with the idea of removing taboo from foods.

I have total permission to nom chocolate if I want to. Both from the protocol I have chosen, and from myself. And, suddenly chocolate has lost a lot of it’s attraction.

I think there might be a deep secret here. A thing (activity, item, experience, situation) is not a big deal unless you make a big deal out of it. When you make a big deal out of something, it’s a big deal. This insight, like many, seems simple when said. But, also like many insights, you don’t get it until you, yourself get it.

I am not saying that some things are not important. That’s a different issue. Justice is important. Health is important. Liberty is important. Love is important.

It’s just that when they become a big deal they take on an artificial weight that deforms their impact. Suddenly the injustice might seem insurmountable, and we give up the idea of standing against it. Suddenly the taboo sexual adventure becomes a big deal and we can’t get it out of our heads. Suddenly chocolate cake becomes a big deal, and we end up binging in secret to try to assert our freedom in some bizarre way. We become driven by these things because they are such a big deal.

I say, screw that. It’s not such a big deal. Nothing is. Not in that twisted and soul crushing way. Life is for living. Someday we all die. Before that point comes along there are things that happen. Some need handling. Being free of the “big deal” means I am more free to skillfully, and I daresay playfully, apply my experience towards their successful resolution. That way things get done, I have less stress, and it’s more fun along the way. I call that a win-win.

There’s an old adage, “There are two rules to life; Don’t sweat the small shit, and it’s all small shit.” Well, it may not all be small shit, but it’s also not a big deal.

Getting In Touch With Hunger

Hungry girl

As readers of this blog will know, one of the challenges in life I grapple with is weight. At my high point I tipped in at 400 pounds. It’s been an up and down journey (mostly down) and I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished. However, I am getting older, and as I accumulate years I see my focus changing a bit.

Because I have been on the journey of being healthy for more than half of my life, my feelers are perpetually out. So, a couple of weeks back I came across the documentary that made a big splash earlier this year, Eat, Fast, Live Longer, by Michael Mosley. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it. I found it fascinating. I then purchased Michael’s follow up book, The FastDiet and gobbled it up.

I have long held the idea of fasting in its religious/spiritual context. My one long fast at the end of my 1,000 days of tai chi was about that. What blew me away about this documentary was all the science behind fasting. Specifically intermittent fasting. I realized that I had been holding a lot of ideas about fasting, and starvation, and had swallowed whole a bunch of misinformation around the subject. The idea of doing a day long fast captured my imagination, and the benefits for fending off cancer and Alzheimer’s clinched it. (I have had a lot of fear around both of those things for most of my life, and they have both occurred in my family.)

The protocol that Michael settled on is called the 5:2 diet. What you do is fast for 2 non-consecutive days every week. On a fast day you are not going zero food, but instead you restrict to 1/4 of a “normal” healthy amount. (Roughly 600 calories for men, and 500 for women.) One of the things I really enjoyed about the book is that Michael harps a lot on the idea of finding what works for you. You can take your reduced number of calories when you would like. The fast day does not strictly have to be a day, but could be any 24 hour period (say 2pm to 2pm). He drives home the point, again and again, that you have to tailor it to you and find what serves you best.

On the non-fast days you eat whatever you would like. No restrictions. What some of the doctors Michael interviewed for the film, and follow up book found is that people do not seem to overly binge on their non-fast days. If people were going to make up for the 75% deficit of normal calories for the fast day, math would say they would eat 175% on the follow up days. What the doctors found was that people typically eat about 110% of their normal intake on their off days. Slightly elevated, but still at a net loss. That seems to be one of the primary reasons for weight loss on the protocol.

What interested me more than weight loss though was the drops in certain factors in the body that give rise to things like diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. People also report increases in mental clarity, and over all energy, as their body switches from perpetual racing and growing, to repair, recycling, and removal of pollutants.

Michael also deconstructs many of the myths around meal skipping sending people into starvation mode (it takes more than one day), and hunger ever increasing (it comes in waves.)

I decided to give it a go, and so far the results have astounded me. It’s only been two weeks, and I don’t expect miracles, but what I have seen so far has been fascinating. I don’t own a scale so I can’t tell you if I’ve lost any weight. I can tell you my pants are looser. More importantly some of my flexibility is returning. I also do seem to have more energy, and mental clarity. My meditation practice is particularly sharp on fast days.

What excites me more though is that on the days where I do eat I find myself naturally eating slower and enjoying the tastes more. There is wonderful “hollowness” that happens on fast days, and I feel lighter and more buoyant. I am re-learning what feeling hungry actually is, and it’s not bad at all. In fact I am realizing how much of my eating has been habitual. On days when I can eat I might skip a meal, not because I want to lose weight, but because I am not hungry yet. I don’t need the food. That is an amazing relief!

I have been diagnosed with hypoglycemia, and I am used to getting shaky and getting angered easily when I miss a meal. I’ve held that idea for all of my adult life. On my fast days I do not get the shakes, and I do not seem to be any easier to anger than on any other day. I am at a bit of a loss to explain why that shift has been so sudden, but I am very, very grateful for it. Could it be that I was misdiagnosed all those years ago? Or, could I have “grown out of it” and never noticed? Was my shakiness and irritability an insulin reaction? I don’t know. What I do know is that am very happy not to have that excuse in my back pocket to justify snacking when I was not really hungry.

I’m doing my own variation (of course) and currently it looks like this:

  • On Thursdays I have a small breakfast of coffee with whole milk and a vegetable frittata.  That leaves me a little bit of caloric room for a banana during the day if I get very hungry.
  • On Sundays I stop eating at 7pm, and do not east again until 7pm on Monday evening. I game with a group of friends I have had for 20+ years on those days and part of that weekly get together is shared food. (Dona cooks up a wonderful meal!) One of the things about most diets is they can ostracize you from event with friends. With this protocol I can plan for an event and work around it. I don’t have to sacrifice it.

 So, here I am on Thursday of the second “official” (I played around a bit with delayed eating and pseudo-fasting as soon as I saw the documentary three weeks back) week and really excited. Going out to a movie tonight with my brother and looking forward to enjoying my bottled water.


Tai Chi in the Park

Stone  Tai Chi

Twice a week, when I am in San Francisco, I go for walks with a friend and neighbor, Laura. We walk up around Dolores Park, and we chat about random things. I help her with thinking about her online presence, and she cooks food for me in trade on those days. That’s awesome because she is a major foodie, and an excellent cook! It’s an awesome barter set up.

We also do Tai Chi together on most of the walks. Laura used to be a student of mine when I was teaching Tai Chi regularly at a local yoga studio. I don’t teach regularly anymore, but Laura and I do a few sets on our walks.

It’s a great feeling to get some movement and mindfulness in on a sunny (and today windy) day in the park. We practice on a flat bit of concrete near the new kids playground, and the giggle and smiles from the kids are always a treat.

Today it brought up a lot of gratitude for me from my first 1,000 day vow. That vow was to do Tai Chi every day. I got a little crazy with my practice in those days. What started with 25 minutes a day ballooned up (while I ballooned down) to about 5 hours a day. I got pretty nuts about it.

I don’t see myself going back to 5 hours a day, but after that 1,000 days Tai Chi became part of who I am. It’s always there for me, at a moments notice. If I start to get uncomfortably stiff from being at the keyboard all morning, I can get up and go through a few movements and have my whole system pumped, and limbered. During my vow it got so deep into my system that many nights I would dream of practicing for hours, working on my form while I slept. Those dreams come by occasionally in little snippets, and I always wake up feeling refreshed after.

When I took my initial vow it was to make Tai Chi a habit. I came away with so much more than a habit. Tai Chi infused my whole system. Now doing Tai Chi is not doing Tai Chi, it’s just me being me. No matter what, I will always have Tai Chi with me to help keep my system healthy and strong.

It’s the same with my second vow of meditation. I have yet to take a day off from that practice, and I really don’t see that happening. Having been through the commitment of the vow, meditation is now something I always have at my disposal. I can take a pause, take a breath, and be back here and now. What used to sometimes take great effort, is now easy.

That’s the special characteristic of a vow of a number of days of practice. (You don’t have to go for 1,000, but I’m not going to stop you. 😉 ) Whatever you practice becomes something more than a practice. It becomes part of your life.

I thought I would share this bit of gratitude with you today. I hope you enjoyed it. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to do a set of Tai Chi in my studio.