“You’re looking big!”, I was assured by a friendly young man with a nod of masculine approval, which, in the setting of an E-Sporta (née LA Fitness) gym, is to be received as a compliment than which none greater can be offered.
I should say, I wouldn’t dare fling this observation, true though it may be, at a woman of some impressive bulk–be she curvy and Rubenesque, or in the more imposing, athletic figure of a Ronda Rousey–passing by me in the street. No–I urge my enthusiastic fellow, for his own sake, and for that of all masculine decorum, to withhold from her that with which he so unhesitatingly showers me.
In truth, every meathead, every bodybuilder, every aspiring, pre-workout quaffing, selfie-snapping, Instagram-posting, mirror-gazing “bro” hopes to be greeted with this, the most acclamatory of lines by which one’s “gains” can be rightfully acknowledged, and his self-confidence, if not his testosterone, immeasurably boosted.
And so, as a compliment I took his good-natured remark, after which he and I split and proceeded along our respective ways–I, to lift ever heavier weights in pursuit of further “bigness” (if only to justify his remark), and he, to flatter those by whom such slabs of iron are lifted.
But, as I came to realize, “bigness” ill-beseems me; I’m a man short of stature, small of mind, slow of gait, disproportionately built, and uncommonly vain. While muscular, I was beginning to feel (without the assistance of my fellow gym-goer’s remark), a bit too large for my liking. My diminutive (5’8”) frame, I fear, can accommodate no more than about 160 pounds before it begins to feel unnaturally heavy and mounts a revolution against its well-fed master.
So, with that, I decided to disencumber myself of a few pounds, and quell what might’ve been a violent uprising in response to my recent, unchecked growth. This was but one of three reasons I decided to embark on a five-day water fast. The second was that, as I well know, any period of time in the absence of food is, in general, conducive to one’s long and short-term health. The metabolic and cellular benefits of fasting are manifold and would demand, for their full enumeration, a much longer entry than that which I am, at present, ready to offer.
To name but a few, the body, in a fasted state, undergoes an extraordinary process known to biochemists as autophagy. A combination of Greek words meaning, “to eat or devour oneself”, autophagy is the process by which defunct, useless, or simply old cellular “debris” is, well, swallowed up. This material, by the mandate of some ingenious design, is degraded, transformed, and recycled for the purposes of greater cellular health.
The body will also experience a phenomenon known as apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Cells, like the handsome, wondrous humans of whom they’re the infinitesimal building blocks, are mortal. The dust from which they’re arisen is that to which they’ll return, as they share with us a common fate. And so, cells must die, but unregulated cellular death is not, for obvious reasons, to be desired. For this reason, the body employs a mechanism of regulated cellular death by which the targeted cells are “killed”, while all surrounding healthy materials are preserved.
It’s akin to a controlled fire set in an overgrown forest. Without this intervention, the accumulated tinder on the floor could, and inevitably will explode.
My third reason to engage in this five-day fast was to test myself, to grapple with the type of mental and physical challenge to which we, in our world of overabundance and immediate gratification, very seldom willingly submit ourselves. Think about this for a moment: at no other time in human history have people enjoyed such easy and limitless access to food. We buy it cheaply at all hours of the day, and from a variety of places. We have it delivered directly to our doorsteps with a mere tap on our phones. We have it cooked for us on demand at a thousand restaurants. If, perchance, we decide to expend some effort in cooking it for ourselves, we have a hundred counter-top gadgets with which to expedite and mechanize the process, from air-fryers, to microwaves, to insta-pots, to crock-pots, to George Foreman Grills, to that archaic device known as an oven.
In this age, the second decade of the twenty-first century, it is the indigent, the wretched, and the poor living in an advanced economy who are, by orders of magnitude, the fattest. Those with the thinnest wallets seemingly have the roundest waists. Those who’ve sunk to the depths of destitution would, if capsized on a lake, be the first to float. Those with the smallest net worth have the biggest bellies and the widest girth (I should stop!) One more–the child of fourteen years who, in the eighteenth century, suffered from malnutrition and rachitic knees, would, upon looking at his modern-day counterpart, envy his chubby brethren’s pre-adolescent hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis.
This is worth pondering.
That said, I am, I’ll admit, no stranger to fasting: five of seven days during an ordinary week, I’ll fast anywhere between 20-24 hours. When I do indulge in more than one meal on any given day, it’s after a 16-hour fast, at the very least.
That, to me, is more than tolerable; it’s quite comfortable. And so, in order to exit this comfort zone, as, on occasion, we all should and must, I committed myself to 120 hours without nourishment of any (caloric) kind. As someone inured, for the most part, to hunger pangs over the course of 24 hours, I expected to have an easier “go” at this five-day fast than the typical man of, say, “three squares” per day. I think, upon reflection, this is true.
Nevertheless, it has been, even for someone as accustomed to fasting as I, a most profitable exercise. At no cost, without the recruitment of an overpriced health coach, without the purchase of a faddish meal plan, it tested my temperance, endurance, restraint, control, poise, health, gratitude, and, above all, my mindfulness. Your body will be, without a doubt, besieged by pangs of hunger. This is as true for me, as it will be for you. The question, then, is this: in what way will your mind respond? Who, ultimately, is in control–your appetite, or your reason? Your mind, or your body? Your belly, or your brain?
As a human being–half divine and half bestial; lifted toward the heavens, yet anchored to the earth–a choice must be made between the two. Maintain a fast, and be exalted. You’ll undoubtedly be raised, after having first been humbled. Remember, to have want of nothing is divine. To have want of as little as possible, including food, comes closest to that empyrean state. Socrates said that and he, I’m led to believe, was a wise and reputable man. Fast, and your cells will experience their apoptosis, while you might just enjoy your apotheosis.
And so, with that, I invite you to read my little “journal”--my reflections on a five-day water fast. I confess, a few digressions breached my walls and intruded on these entries. For that, I apologize, but it couldn’t be helped. If you have any fondness of English literature, delight yourself with my criticisms of some outstanding works–delicious readings with which I replaced my hours of eating.
Finally, know this: you too can fast. Nay, you too should fast.
I was confident in my ability to endure this first “fasted” day without any real discomfort. In the course of a normal week, for five days out of seven, I fast for about 20-24 hours. Abstaining from all food, and most drink, during the day, I confine myself to a short window late in the evening during which I “feed”.
This “hour of repletion”, as I like to call it, typically falls between eight and nine o’clock, and is the source of no small gustatory pleasure. I admit, it’s an unusual approach to eating–one over which a variety of charges (ranging from masochism to monkishness to madness) have been hurled at me, but I’m as insensitive to them as a diabetic’s cells are to insulin. It’s a practice to which I’ve become happily accustomed and, should you try it, you might too.
All this to say, I’m rather well-inured to going without food for a single day.
I proceeded, then, on this first day of fasting with little deviation from my normal routine. I awoke to the call of my spin bike, to whose early morning clamors I try, and always fail to be deaf. I succumbed to its siren song, and rode for about 40 minutes in zone 2-3, sprinkling in two “Tabata” intervals. I then went to work, for which the mildest expenditure of effort was needed. I worked for about 10 hours, at which time I buoyantly clocked out and went to the gym. I performed a general “push-pull”, “chest-back” session for volume. At the heaviest, I performed an incline dumbbell press at 70 lbs.
After about 50 minutes, I went home, now accompanied by a mighty hunger pang (this, being the customary hour at which my starved system expects to be fed). This hunger was blunted by the consumption of a mundane but satiating elixir: salt and water. To be more specific, I combined Redmond Real Salt (mined not far from the aptly-named “Salinas”, Utah) with hot water. I drank this from a thermos while reading a collection of early nineteenth-century English poetry. The sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the quatrains of Edward Fitzgerald, were as satisfying a meal for the intellect, as a medium rare picanha filet (Mmmmm!) is for the stomach.
I proceeded to work on the computer for a little while without any interruption of hunger. I went to bed unperturbed by any pangs.
The confidence with which I entered Day #1 persisted into the second day. I awoke well-rested, contented, unbloated, and unbothered by the unwelcome pangs of hunger to which a full night’s rest so often gives birth. I forwent my Siren spin bike and opted, instead, to go through a thirty-minute flexibility, mobility, yoga practice on the floor. It felt very good to do so unburdened by the weight of a prior night’s repast, and unhurried by the early exigency to refuel.
I carried on to my place of work, during whose mildly strenuous eleven hours, I felt no significant hunger. There were no pangs of which to speak, a silence of the stomach by which I was, frankly, surprised. I expected to meet our old familiar friend, hunger, at around 4-5 o’clock–the hour at which the grumbling, peremptory fellow tends to visit. However, like an Egyptian doorway upon whose lintel the blood of a goat’s been splashed, I was passed over. What luck! I felt no hunger during the course of the day.
After work, I went to the gym and put in 45 total minutes of cardio: 30 minutes on the concept II rowing ergometer, and 15 minutes on the stair stepper. The rower was tolerable. The stair stepper, up which I climbed at a sprightly pace, was no great challenge. While on the stair stepper, I focused on strictly nasal breathing–closing my mouth to respiration as I had to sustenance. This slight deprivation of oxygen gave me a noticeable “buzz” (by which my head was pleasingly lightened). The combination of a low glycemic level, and a restricted flow of oxygen, seems, at first thought, to be a recipe unconducive to life. Perhaps it’s not advisable, but I found it stimulating and will apply it again.
I returned to the well of salinated nourishment: Hot water and Redmond Real Salt. A delightful libation! I look forward to the day when it’s featured on restaurant menus and recommended by snobbish sommeliers. Before imbibing, I felt no hunger, though, at this time, my muscles ought to have been clamoring for something more substantial. They were not. Or they might’ve been reticent to make known that for which they yearned. For dessert, I took a Magnesium pill for the provision of a vital electrolyte.
I finished reading Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, with which I enjoyed a lively few hours. It’s an excellent work (chock full of humor, impiety, and poetry) from which Goethe’s more famous Faust differs in many important ways. Between the two works, I’m undecided which I prefer. As an Anglophone, I incline toward that of Marlowe, whose use of blank verse is, until the rise and conquest of Shakespeare, unmatched. Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is a brighter flame–more brilliant, of greater heat, though somewhat shorter-lived. Goethe’s Faust is a fire of fainter, though more sustained luminosity, whose reach is higher. Of course, his Part II must be judged on a different plane.
After that, I recorded a few poems of my own conception, and then went to bed hungerless.
I awoke this morning, the third of my fast, unmolested by any serious pangs of hunger. I’m surprised, frankly, by my resistance to such potent feelings, to which I expected, by now, completely to have succumbed. Again, I emphasize the lightness of my body upon waking, and how conducive this is to the vigorous and buoyant start to one’s day. I don’t often experience this sprightly phenomenon, being that I eat at a generally late hour (a tendency I’m encouraged and plan to change) and consume a large quantity of food when I do.
This morning, I stretched, hopped on my spin bike, and rode at a good clip for about 35 minutes. In imitation of yesterday’s technique, I again employed a method of strict “nasal” breathing. This slight, deliberate restriction of oxygen (on which, more than any other molecule, the brain must feed), and the unusually scant amount of glucose in my blood, liver, muscles, etc by which it prefers to be nourished, led me into, how shall I say, a morally acceptable, religiously tolerable, legally licit state of inebriety before 07:00 AM. I recommend to anyone this delightful, matutinal tipsiness. It’s the teetotaler’s path to a happy buzz, in which the sober man can guiltlessly indulge
I proceeded on to my place of work (again, where very little in the way of intellectual effort is required of me; I’m uncertain how I’d perform in a role more demanding of sustained cognitive power, more lasting assiduity of attention, or greater heights of creative conception). The day passed unremarkably, without any of the loud, peremptory shouts of hunger by which our needy bellies so often make themselves known. My stomach has been, like a meditative monk, tranquil, uncomplaining, stoic. This, on a day during whose opening hours, a free breakfast was being served in the cafeteria! (by which my stomach was, to my great astonishment, un-enticed).
After a ten-hour day, I went to the gym, with a focus on my back and core. I trained for volume with relatively light weights. Between traditional back movements, I sprinkled in those for the core. It was an hour-long session through which I moved with no noticeable fatigue. I resigned myself, of course, to the fact that I’d not be moving massive amounts of weight. I felt very light and strong performing pull-ups and other suspended abdominal exercises.
Having finished at the gym, I went home and treated myself to that trusty libation for which every sommelier ought to develop a palate: Hot water and Redmond Real Salt. It’s stronger than an Old-Fashioned, sweeter than a Sangria, and more refreshing than a minty Mojito on a hot summer’s day. I noticed, before drinking, dryness of the mouth. I’m unsure why this is.
With the time unspent on preparing dinner, eating, and cleaning dishes,I was able to immerse myself in reading for an hour and a half. I’m continuing through Christopher Marlowe’s oeuvre, by whose every page I’ve been delighted. I cannot but think, had he survived his untimely, gruesome, and somewhat suspicious death at the age of thirty (the very age at which I write this post), he might’ve surpassed his brilliant countryman, William Shakespeare. I’m such a lover of the Bard, that I can’t long entertain the hypothetical (heretical?) thought of Marlowe’s unrecognized supremacy without feeling…some kind of way. It’s as though it were an act of literary infidelity.
To Shakespeare, I promise forever to be faithful, but Marlowe’s command and effortless use of blank verse is extraordinary–and quite enough to tempt a fickle heart away from him (in this case, Shakespeare) to whom I’m espoused. His verse has a certain musical quality that is just a delight to read (a delight that’s augmented, I should say, if you feel comfortable enough to honor his eloquence by reading it aloud. You should.)
If Marlowe’s musicality surpasses, now and again, the honey-dewed lips of Shakespeare, the latter’s plots are, without exception, far and away superior. About this, there’s simply no question. The Jew of Malta, with which I spent my foodless evening, is a troubling drama. That it’s troublesome, though, is due not to its malicious and unmitigated Anti-Semitism (against which, as an estranged son of Abraham, I can’t but reflexively bristle), but to its utter lack of nobility.
No one in the play–a putative tragedy–bears the stamp of a noble mien. This cannot be. As no less an authority than Aristotle reminds us, for a play truly to be tragic, such a character must appear, must grace the stage, must arouse our affection, move our empathy, earn our respect, discover his flaw, encounter a reversal, lose his esteem, and suffer, ultimately, the inescapable torment of fate. And this, he must do in one place and within the short span of twenty-four hours!
The Maltese Jew, Barabas, more sinning than sinned against (to borrow and reverse a line from King Lear), is a thoroughly odious creature. He’s an irredeemable beast, a savage usurer, a bloodthirsy murderer, an uncaring father, a man totally devoid of all humaneness, principles, love, and scruples. For a moment, early in the play, one’s sympathies incline toward him; he’s unlawfully and, without due compensation, stripped of his wealth.
Thenceforth, he engages in such ghastly behavior, such inexcusable and foul misconduct in pursuit of vengeance, that he becomes hardly more than a cheap caricature, an offensive depiction of the author’s unsubtle hatred of Jews. This unconcealed animosity toward the “chosen people” (from whose seed I sprout) is a blot on the work.
No on else, not Ithamore, Barabas’ Turkish slave, nor any of the Maltese government officials, nor any of the Turkish emissaries, is “noble”, in the classical sense. Abigail, Barabas’ apostate daughter, is the most appealing character.
I finished the play, and went to sleep–my stomach empty, but my mind full.
Day four of my five-day fast began with a sixty-minute spin bike ride, during which, without noticeable strain, I carried on a lively conversation with my sister (our Tuesday routine to which I always look forward). Again, I was careful to keep myself in “zone 2” so as not to burn an excessive amount of energy, of whose dwindling stores, I felt myself now running low. I realized that, at this point, I probably should’ve been supplementing with an electrolyte mixture (of the non-caloric variety, of course). As much as I’ve enjoyed my “hot water and salt” elixir, and the desert by which it’s followed, which comes in the shape of a magnesium pill, I realized that, with the copious amount of sweat pouring from me, I likely hadn’t enough sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc. with which to replete my system. This is something I’ll apply to future prolonged fasts (those exceeding two or three days).
I admit, after this, I felt a little bit faint, but not in the least hungry. The dryness of my mouth did become more noticeable and, frankly, annoying. I sought, as a remedy to this, more water (why not?!), but became suddenly uneasy about what I planned to do. I was conscious, if somewhat belatedly, of the risk of consuming too much of the stuff, and knew that, if I wanted to complete this fast alive, I’d better sip cautiously.
I knew that, in excess, an unbalanced system would become far too diluted if water, unchecked in its quantity, were to be gulped and gulped and gulped. Any effort to moderate my intake of water would be pointless if I, for want of a less dry mouth, began drinking water heedlessly.
And so, I didn’t. The phenomenon of “dry mouth” persisted, as I searched my elementary knowledge of biochemistry for a reason why.
Finding none, I proceeded to go outside where I walked, stood, and sat in the hot sun (about 80 degrees) and read for about five hours (without sunscreen, I’ll add, of whose carcinogens and harmful ingredients, I’ve recently, and only somewhat convincingly, been informed–a startling revelation into which I still need to do more research). I didn’t have work today. While outside, I sweat minimally, sought shade judiciously, and drank temperately, hoping to preserve what remained of my electrolyte balance.
I read another celebrated piece by Marlowe, Tamburlaine The Great, which chronicles, in two parts, the rise of the Scythian-born shepherd who would, with providential aid, be emperor of Asia. Tamburlaine, like Doctor Faustus, is an almost superhuman character upon whom Marlowe stamps his inimitable mark. Loosely based on the historic Timur, or Timur the Lame (hence, Tamburlaine), who was, in the second half of the fourteenth century, undefeated in battle, Marlowe’s fictional Tamburlaine is, in a military sense, equally impressive. Every king by whom he’s confronted is easily cut down–either by Tamberluaine’s military might, or his beguiling charm.
Once through with this, I read one half of Peter Schweizer’s unsettling book, Red Handed, about which I’ll talk later.
I then returned inside to write and research for approximately four hours, after which I went to the gym for a chest workout. I moved through this session much more slowly than I normally would, but without, I’m happy to report, a severe loss of strength. It wasn’t my intention to set any personal records with my lifts, which I can assure you, I did not. The slight faintness that I felt earlier in the day followed me to the gym, but it wasn’t a bad workout at all.
I went home and prepared “dinner”: boiled water, a pinch of Redmond real salt, and a magnesium capsule. Sumptuous fare, indeed! I suffered no hunger pang, tried and failed to get through episode three of Ozark’s final (rather tedious) season, journalled, read a few lines of the Bible, and went to bed. It was a tranquil night’s sleep, uninterrupted by hunger.
I awoke feeling well-rested, fresh, content, and light, although a bit weak. The weakness was no more profound than that experienced yesterday and so, you guessed it!...I hopped onto the spin bike. I did so for a 45 minute, zone-2-3 session, with which I had no difficulty. During the ride, I perspired moderately, but was careful to abstain from water. I continued, whilst riding, to read Peter Schweizer’s book, by whose contents I was, with every turn of the page, increasingly unsettled.
At last, my morning ride ended, as the work day beckoned. I leapt from the bike undrained of energy, and felt as though I could’ve gone longer.
Unassailed by hunger, I proceeded on to work, where I stayed until about three o’clock in the afternoon.
I’ll admit, during these work hours, I did feel myself “dragging” a bit, but it’s hard to say if my slowness wasn’t a consequence of boredom (an occupational risk by which everyone in my field is confronted) or metabolic exhaustion. I think it was a combination of the two. As a gesture of the hospital’s acknowledgement of and appreciation for its employees’ dedicated service, it offered free ice cream in the cafeteria, a rare, gratis treat by which I can proudly say I was untempted. My five days of abstinence weren’t to be thrown away, at the very last minute, on a gratuitous chipwich, on a flimsy ice cream sandwich on which I wasn’t even spending a dime.
Fearful that I’d sweat too much over the course of the past few days, without means by which to replete my lost electrolytes, I tried to bring a mix of cold, salted water in my bottle. This was a mistake. If you have a palate for brinish water, if you don’t mind swallowing the sea, then, by all means, try this unfriendly concoction. As for the rest of us, it’s a beverage against which I strongly advise. It was very unpleasant, and I couldn’t finish more than a few sips.
All this time, the dryness of my mouth was worsening, into whose cause I began to inquire. The answer returned to me was that this phenomenon is not unusually experienced by those who are in ketosis–as I undoubtedly was.
Ketosis, or, more properly, ketoacidosis, is the body’s utilization of fats, instead of carbohydrates, for energy. The fat, or “lipid”, is converted into a ketone body by which, in the absence of the more easily accessible glucose, the body is sustained and propelled.There are two paths by which one can arrive at this state: a severe diminution of carbohydrates in the diet (for which a concomitant rise in fats is called), or fasting.
I, of course, came to ketosis by way of fasting.
The dryness of my mouth, of which ketosis is the cause, can be explained by a little biochemistry. When in ketosis, insulin levels are, perforce, very low. This, of course, is one of the many salutary reasons why people adopt a “ketogenic” diet in the first place. In the presence of glucose (after, say, you digest a banana), the pancreas is roused to release insulin, a very important hormone by which the amount of sugar in the blood is regulated. Without it (as the Type I diabetic knows), hyperglycemia is a mortal threat with which you’re faced each and every time you pick up a fork.
If you can imagine it, insulin acts as a sort of key by which cellular gates are opened, through which, assuming there’s no other abnormality, the sugar can more easily flow. Once in the cell, the glucose can be “burned” up--like coal in the furnace of a train. When your insulin level is high, your kidneys will retain water and sodium. When low, your kidneys will expel them, leaving you with, as I can attest, a parched mouth.
There’s also the fact that carbohydrates hold water. Again, think about that banana: for its every one gram of carbohydrate, it holds three grams of water. The elimination of these carbohydrates (of which you might eat upwards of 200g, if not on a strictly low-carb diet) deprives you of, to take a modest number, 600g of water. That would certainly be enough to keep one’s mouth lubricated.
I can say, upon reflection, it wasn’t the hunger, but the dry mouth by which I was most bedeviled.
I left work and went to the beach, at which I met a close friend, Ernesto. We sat on the sand in the late afternoon heat and spoke of many things. The act of conversation was hampered, somewhat, by the unremitting dryness of my mouth, but, as I think Ernesto will attest, I was no less fit an interlocutor for the occasion. My mental acuity remained as sharp as ever.
It should be noted that, cognitively, throughout this fast, I remained remarkably alert. This, I think, is attributable to the brain’s reliance on a new source of energy (ketones) and the “freeing up”, so to speak, of metabolic activity that would otherwise be devoted to the digestion of food. The digestion of a meal is, as you know, an energy intensive process. It’s no surprise, then, that the price paid for gluttony is lethargy–that that paid for indulgence is indolence. After the consumption of a large meal, you’ll inevitably feel quite sluggish–not only physically, but mentally. Of this post-meal languor, the fasted man is spared.
I then proceeded home at about 19:00. The hour had arrived to end this five-day fast, this sustained trial in privation and temperance, which I did somewhat injudiciously.
The first calories to greet my empty system were from a cup of homemade (beef) bone broth (something I drink daily). I then drank a protein shake (two scoops of Jocko Wilinck’s vanilla isolate protein, a creditable brand) with slightly expired whole milk. Not egregiously expired, mind you, but aged about 5 days beyond the conservative date stamped on its bottle. A panicked post facto search online assured me of the harmlessness of a glass of whole milk consumed 5-7 days after its declared expiration date.
I should have stopped there. And, at the conclusion of any future five-day fast (which I plan to implement biannually, in the spring and then again in the fall season), I will. I instead dared introduce solid food into my system. I prepared what I thought to be unprovocative foods: ground beef (dethawed), three eggs, half an avocado, and a few dates. Fearful of a sudden spike in insulin, I was careful not to introduce so many carbohydrates that would upset my system. That said, I was eager to exit ketosis and quench my dry mouth, so I risked more glucose than might’ve been advisable.
That evening, I felt some bloating, but was able peacefully to drift off to sleep.
Upon awakening the next day, I rode on the spin bike for about sixty minutes. During the ride, I spoke on the phone with my dear mother, by whom I was affectionately chided for embarking on this fast in the first place, for breaking it with spoilt milk in the last, and–what else? for failing to call her more regularly. Justly upbraided, though not undone, I set out in search of electrolytes of which, somewhat belatedly, I realized I was in urgent need.
I jogged (literally jogged) to CVS and purchased two packets of “Liquid IV”. I’m unsure if this is the best supplement for electrolyte replenishment, but it was most available, given the circumstances. I drank one packet in the morning and saved the other for the next day. My lunch was liquid (bone broth and a protein shake) and I planned to have a full, solid meal for dinner.
I spent the forenoon with an old friend, Christopher Marlowe, savoring each line of his lesser-known work, Edward II. It is, like Shakespeare’s King John, an overlooked history play out of which the general reader would no doubt derive some enjoyment, should he give it the chance.
It tells of the decline and fall of a neglected (and neglectful) British monarch, Edward II, son of the more famous Edward Longshanks (to whom, I’m assured, on my father’s side, I share an ancestral link. This, at least, is the conclusion drawn by my dear Aunt Sarah, by whom my “Finneran” lineage has been painstakingly traced. I dare not question the sincerity of her research, but I can’t but find its regal result somewhat doubtful; the shortness of my own “shanks”, and the 28” inseam of the pants in which they’re clad, tend to refute this claim. That said, I am the image of my mother, from whom I’ve inherited all my most prominent, and diminutive, traits. My Edwardian genes, assuming I have any, surely rest deep beneath my Hebraic ones, and may forever be unexpressed).
The work begins with and hinges on the amorous, illicit relationship between Edward II and Gaveston, the polarizing son of a courtier. Gaveston is as handsome as a Gaelic Alcibiades–and no less ambitious than the Athenian upstart. Between him and King Edward, there appears to be something quite beyond the chaste, wholesome affinity to which Plato lent his name. No, from every indication, Marlowe (whose own sexual orientation is unclear; many historians believe he was gay) intended Edward and Gaveston’s relationship to be far from Platonic.
Edward’s involvement with this low-born, pretty-boy French flatterer drives the nobility up a wall. The nobles–constituting, at this point in England’s history, a sort of proto-parliament–react by exiling the young man. Edward, in a state of duress, agrees to the nobles’ decision, only to change his mind shortly thereafter. Gaveston then bounces back and forth between England and Ireland, before being disposed of at the hands of an assassin.
Edward, inconsolable by the loss, goes to war with the nobles, by whom he’s eventually imprisoned and sodomized to death.
It’s no exaggeration to say that, after supper that evening, I felt much the same as the tortured king. I ate a slightly larger meal, this time with more carbohydrates. This, I did deliberately; so eager was I to get out of ketosis and to be free of a dry mouth, that I was willing, perhaps too prematurely, to have carbohydrates. I ate, along with my proteins (beef and eggs), an apple, some dates, and half a sweet potato.
Later that night, when fast asleep, I was suddenly assailed by an internal revolt. While I played the role of Edward, my organs played that of Mortimer. Before I knew it, I was in the throes of a visceral upheaval, an inward uprising against which I was defenseless. My abdomen was distended, my stomach was stretched, my bowels were bloated, and I was a complete mess. I could hear, loudly, my intestines gurgling as they tried, and largely failed, to assimilate this foreign thing called, “starch”. What else, I ask, could the culprit have been? It must’ve been these fibrous carbohydrates that did so much damage.
From midnight until about 03:00 AM, I was thrust from my bed, from my uneasy slumber, and hastened off to the restroom. Again and again and again. There, while all the world around me slept, I was purged of all excrementitious humors–a “cleansing” that came at too high a cost. Scatalogical euphemisms aside, it was unpleasant to be brought to the toilet so frequently and intensely. Twelve hours after this unremitting cleanse began, I felt much better.
POST FAST - LESSONS
With that, my reflections on a five-day fast, mingled with an occasional literary review, have come to their inglorious end. I plan to perform this type of fast twice each year, but, next time, with these amendments and modifications:
I will, during the course of the next fast, supplement daily with a powdered, non-caloric electrolyte mix by which, with any luck, the purity of my fast won’t be imperiled. If this counts as an “exo-biotic”, and provokes a metabolic response, I’ll develop a different, more innocuous mixture. Either way, the maintenance of a proper electrolyte balance is, as I now realize, integral.
For the first forty-eight hours after the fast, any calorie consumed will be imbibed. I will nourish and replete myself with liquid calories only, starting with bone broth, moving to protein shakes, and finishing with soups. From there, the quantity of solid food must be reduced. The stomach requires ample time to stretch back to its pre-fasted size. I will plan my diet accordingly. An equivalent amount of care needs to be taken when moving out of a fast, as is observed when in it.
So as to avoid excessive and unhealthy levels of cortisol in the blood and strain on the system, I might abstain from all vigorous exercise during the course of the fast. I think walking, stretching, breath work, and simple body weight movements are acceptable, but, anything more, such as lifting heavy weights, enduring long sessions in the sauna, and riding a spin bike every morning is inadvisable.
With these important lessons in mind, my next fast is sure to be an even greater success! In the meantime, test yourself. Gauge your own endurance. Can you exist for five days without food?