“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”

Of everything that I gained from studying at Oxford, my friendship with Alex, Akshat and Xiao is one I truly treasure. When we were all in one place it was incredible, and now that we’ve scattered ourselves across 3 or 4 time zones I still look forward to our monthly video chats with excitement. One recent weekend, we all met to talk about a single novel. What was going on?

Of course, if I explained that the novel was Siddhartha then it might make more sense. Siddhartha is the eponymous story of an Indian philosopher of life, written by a German in the early 20th century.

Siddhartha

On Xiao’s suggestion, we had all agreed to read it before our next meeting and then discuss. What became instantly clear in our discussion was that all four of us had read very different things from the story of a man who… well, exactly what depends on whose interpretation you agree with most (because they’re all true). Did Siddhartha find himself, lose himself, transcend himself or forget himself? Is the book even about Siddhartha, or is it about his friend Govinda, his some-time lover Kamala, the businessman Kawaswami, the ferry-man by the river or even Buddha himself?

At this point our conversation turned to a cryptic statement Siddhartha makes when he is asked if he has learned to do anything useful during his time as an ascetic sansana. To this he replies:

“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”

Which surely begs the question: are any of those useful? And, as our discussions so often do, we wandered on to new ground. What is the science behind willpower? What is the health impact of fasting? How does one become more patient? What does it mean to know oneself?

And now I come to the elusive point of this post: fasting. Xiao is already fasting 1 day a week, and a growing body of evidence shows it is good for you. While the medical jury advises the status quo without certainty (source-1, source-2) the anecdotal reports for various regimes are much positive (source-3, source-4) and Scientific American gives it a cautious thumbs up.

And then as additional motivation there is me. At age 19 I was mostly scrawny but a little bit fit. Since then my weight has crept from 77kg to 83kg and I’m tending towards pudgy (BMI 26-27). My blood pressure and other health indicators are all still great, but the writing is clearly on the wall.

APLDS2001 - I'm fatter and grayer, but this is still within reach

APLDS2001 – I’m fatter and grayer, but this is still within reach

So I’m going to take up the 5:2 fasting diet by the end of the month. While on this diet I can eat what I like 5 days a week, but on 2 days each week I must limit myself to 600 calories or less. Key to success in habituating any new behaviour is making it as easy as possible, so in the next 2 or 3 weeks I am going to learn and prepare.

Now the reported benefits do include weight loss, and that wouldn’t go astray. But actually, it’s not what I am most excited about.

Because there is mounting evidence that fasting diets improve your mental abilities, slow your body’s ageing and decrease your chances of cancer, diabetes and other modern (supermarket, fast food era) diseases. Even better, it turns out that self-control and will power can be practiced. What could be stronger motivation than to need less motivational incentive in the future?

So this is my public declaration that I’m going to do this. I have the support and camraderie of my friends and the shame of failure if I back down. Here’s to eating less 2 days a week, and eating whatever I like the rest of the time 🙂

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