Benefits of Restriction

by Tom Swift

I don’t have as much experience with fasting as some — I have never done a multiple-day fast, for example — but, as someone who has used intermittent fasting intermittently (how else?) over a period of years, I have fasted enough to discover that one of its benefits is that, in the absence of food, you rethink your habits and assumptions around what you eat. As you reintroduce your body to calories, you do so more mindful than before about which ones and how many to consume. If you have never fasted, you might think that your first post-fast meal would be a feast. Not so, in my experience. Eating too much too soon coming out of a fast is, to me, a recipe for a crash. More than that, you don’t necessarily crave calories the way you did before; fasting makes you less a slave to your hunger. You naturally become more intentional about your eating habits. Simply put, you emerge a different eater than you were before.

(Of course, I am lucky. This presumes the current ability to maintain basic necessities — including food. If you do not know where your next meal is coming from then, of course, I would never suggest there are advantages in having no food.)

The food fast analogy is an easy one to make right now. I believe those experts who say that post-pandemic life will not be a return to normal — and not just because we will have broken, for good, the habit of shaking hands (amen). For weeks now, and for weeks hence, we have been forced to break all kinds of habits — good ones (going to the gym), bad ones (going to the bar), and innocuous ones (going to the coffee shop). We are “fasting” in all kinds of fresh ways. Some of our habits may return while others will fall away. We will, simply put, emerge different than we were before. And that’s if the virus threat were zero (which it is unlikely to be anytime soon). Just think: if everyone changes even one regular behavior — if 328 million people each end or amend even a single habit — how different that will make our world.

There is real advantage here. I am not smart enough to know the contours of the larger landscape but, in my sliver of space, I am unwittingly discovering an opportunity to evaluate whether the things I used to do or buy or devote time to without conscious thought are things I want to choose to live without — or maybe, conversely, seek more of. Of course, some of these are natural: Filling up on gas, comes to mind. I do not miss going to the pump. I do not miss seeing money withdrawn from my bank account for gasoline. I am glad to know, too, I am burning less fuel. My behavior will change again in the new world. How much? We shall see.

Another area is my fitness. I might post more about this soon but, as I have been forced to stay away from the gym — a staple activity of my pre-pandemic days — I have been rethinking my physical health priorities and how best to address them. Fitness still matters, strength still counts, but there is more than one way, I have been forced to see. Current challenges (far less equipment) have created new opportunities (far greater frequency).

Life has forced enough change — I am not seeking additional radical changes. Yet, the larger point I like: the opportunity is there to be intentional. To consider and reconsider what maters, and how much — to see anew what fuels my purpose — and what has maybe hindered my progress towards same.

Most of this is happening without my having to initiate it. It’s a pleasant thing to observe.