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Holy hunger: Lenten (intermittent) fasting

By RICARDO PAMINTUAN Published Mar 19, 2024 5:00 am

Ah, Lent—that magical time of year when Catholics worldwide embark on a journey of self-denial and spiritual renewal. For some, it’s giving up chocolate, sex, cigarettes, and liquor, or swearing off social media. Others shun meat on Fridays and during Holy Week. It’s like the summer version of a New Year’s resolution.

But for me, a man in his mid-50s who stumbled upon intermittent fasting (IF) like a lost pilgrim finding the Holy Grail, Lent is the perfect excuse to double down on my dietary discipline.

Now, before you start envisioning me as some ascetic monk chanting hymns while fasting in a remote monastery, let me assure you that I’m just a regular guy trying to reduce; thus, avoiding a scolding from my doctors. It hasn’t exactly been a roller-coaster ride, like most diet trends, but more like a lazy moment on the carousel or Ferris wheel.

Timing health, one meal at a time.

Intermittent or not, it really is about sacrifice, like saying no to that extra slice of pizza or that second helping of dessert.

I’ve never been the skinny, Korean idol type. Since my college days, my weight has hovered between 68-70 kilograms. Slowly but surely, I gained weight after I married and had kids. I’m not making any excuses for lack of exercise. However—and a few dads will probably agree with me—once you become a family man, no food is ever allowed to go to waste. Hey, I paid for it, I sure as hell will finish that burger or that pasta and pizza, and even that upsize soda and fries, if my kids decide to stop after a bite or two.

At my heaviest, I was over 110 kg, with triple X pants and shirts. Not the kind of triple X that excited me. My blood pressure and sugar levels were only regulated by meds.

Step by step towards better health.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. With nothing much to do while cooped up in our small village, walking became a healthy pastime. I walked my dog, I walked with my wife or kids, I walked until my sneakers gave up on me. It wasn’t much, but it was a regular activity that has lasted to this day. Sadly, I didn’t get any lighter, and my joints begged for relief.

In October 2023, I suddenly just tried IF, long after friends had been telling me that it works. I love eating, and forgoing food, especially the sweet and the salty while watching nighttime shows, was unthinkable. My brother probably convinced me the most to go ahead and do it. He, too, did fasting and went down two sizes. Best of all, his doctor discontinued some of his maintenance meds. For as long as I can remember, my sister also eats once a day, and she’s half my size. So yes, if my siblings can do it, so can I.

Nourishing body and soul, one healthy choice at a time.

There I was, your typical middle-aged man with a dad bod that couldn’t fit into anything from Uniqlo. I just stopped eating anything after lunch, and resumed with breakfast the following day. I still eat heartily and haven’t given up on any of my favorite food. It’s just that on average, I avoid food and sweet drinks for around 17-19 hours.

Boom! I lost weight faster than you can say “Hallelujah!” Oh, the glorious results! Since October, I’ve shed a whopping 17 kilos, transforming from a pudgy caterpillar into a lean, mean fasting machine. Despite the downside of looser skin that finally revealed my true age, I feel lighter so my joints hardly ache even after a six-kilometer walk, I don’t gasp for breath after walking up the stairs at work (our defective elevator playing the role of personal trainer), my sugar level has gone down, and best of all, I fit into my old clothes, which had been gathering dust in the closet.

Sure, there are and have been moments of temptation, like when I’m invited to after-work get-togethers or buffet dinners, or when the aroma of freshly baked cookies at home wafts through the air like a siren’s call. But with the strength of a thousand saints, I’ve managed to stay true to my regimen.

For sure, IF is not for everyone. This I keep telling anyone who cares to know about my story. Fasting can cause dizziness and make others cantankerous. Hangry, anyone? And if you’re taking maintenance medication, fasting can actually be bad for your health.

Finding solace in silence.

Flash forward to Lent, and this 18:6 or 19:5 method has been a revelation for me. Even as a passive Catholic, I have not lost sight of the spiritual side of fasting, especially during Lent. As I abstain from food during my fasting window, I find myself reflecting on the deeper meaning of self-discipline and sacrifice. It’s like a daily spiritual retreat while I’m walking around our village, minus the silent meditation, uncomfortable yoga poses, and priests with hypnotic voices.

In this season of grueling summer heat, I wonder if my fasting qualifies as a Christian sacrifice. It’s like my eating seafood on Fridays when I actually find it more enjoyable than pork, beef or chicken. Does having an empty stomach every day make my soul cleaner? I certainly don’t feel any holier than anyone who eats whatever he wants on holy days of obligation.

Feasting on discipline, fasting for health.

I guess there’s a deeper sense of purpose that comes with IF during Lent. It’s not just about fitting into regular-size clothing or feeling good about being able to cut your own toenails with facility. Intermittent or not, it really is about sacrifice, like saying no to that extra slice of pizza or that second helping of dessert. Giving up on what you enjoy, such as good food which is everywhere these days, is truly not easy.

So as Lent unfolds like a blank canvas waiting to be painted with acts of self-denial and spiritual growth, I invite you to try a few sacrifices of your own. Who knows? You might just discover a newfound sense of discipline—or maybe a few inches off your waistline—along the way.

Amen. Please pass the water.