Hey all,

I loved your responses to the difficulties of living cruelty free. I was especially impressed with Sayward’s response:

The issue is not ‘the impossibility of being vegan’ – the issue is a clear misunderstanding of what veganism actually is. The first article (well, graphic) especially, seems to think that veganism is the exclusion of all animal products – period – and that if you fail at this even unknowingly, then you are not vegan. But of course, that’s an ignorant notion.

The word vegan was coined by the founder of the vegan society, so I look to them for the definition:

“. . . “veganism” denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose . . .”

Possible and practical is the key component there. It is absolutely possible and practical to make daily decisions to eschew animal products in all manner of food and materials, and someone who chooses not to do so would not be vegan. However, it is not *practical* to never ever ride in a car, so the fact that tires have byproducts is just a necessary evil (for now) and does NOT mean people who use cars are not vegan. The same goes for life saving medication. Though they may have been tested on animals, if it is not *possible* for one to survive without them, taking them does not magically un-veganify someone.

I think it’s important to emphasize this, because angry omnis often try to play ‘caught cha’ with vegans in order to justify their own ethical discomfort. But veganism is the only diet that *doesn’t* require cognitive dissonance or suffer from moral schizophrenia, and we need to make that very clear.

*get’s off soap box*

You go ahead and stay on that soapbox, Sayward. I loved this comment, and agree entirely. I don’t appreciate a slippery slope attitude when it comes to things than can practically and reliably be avoided—such as animal foods. But of course there have to be real, working definitions of what is and is not feasible, and the Vegan Society’s definition is as good as any I’ve read.

I, too, have heard the “why bother” argument, and think it’s nonsense; to me, it’s intellectually akin to a disaffected teenager who declares that the world is so screwed up that there’s no point in going into politics or health or the arts and making it better. Yes, things are terrible and messed up, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sit around and play X-Box all day. And yes, the use and abuse of animals is crushing to consider, but that won’t stop me from doing anything that’s squarely within my power to stop it.

Let’s switch topics for a moment, and talk about fasting. You’ve probably noticed that I never talk about juice fasting on this blog, and there’s a good reason for that: I’m not a fan, either personally or from the perspective of a health counselor. Yes, there is some amount of literature to prove that juice fasting can work miraculous effects on illness or disease, and yes, fasting and abstinence are time honored practices in many cultures. But I’ve ultimately seen no substantive amount of medical literature to persuade me that fasting is healthy; in fact, there’s good evidence to suggest that it can be hazardous. At the least, it’s tremendously disruptive to digestion, and it slows metabolism down, which means a high risk of weight gain or metabolic disruption when you break fast.

More fundamentally, I take issue with fasting because it’s at odds with nearly all of my goals as a counselor. I teach people to make small, manageable changes over realistic periods of time, and to transition slowly into better lifestyle habits that will last. I never offer my clients or readers a panacea, and I never encourage them to make changes overnight: if anything, I urge them to take their time when it comes to dietary improvement, because any radical shifts are likely to provoke equally radical backlash. I’d rather see a client eat a somewhat healthier diet every single day, than have him or her eat immaculately for a month, and then return to old habits.

Having seen many men and women go through fasts short and long, I can tell you that nearly all of them were hoping for quick results, or for the sort of magic that I recently talked about in my post on the raw foods panacea. Ask someone why they do a “cleanse” and he or she will always say the same thing: brighter skin, more energy, feelings of lightness. What he or she will seldom tell you about is the real motive, which is nearly always weight loss, or some sort of desperate desire for a “fresh start.” And seldom do the many people who do BluePrint or other cleanses consider the simple fact that it’s not very hard to simply avoid food for a few days. What’s hard is learning how to eat well consistently—every single day and for life. And the binging that so often follows a cleanse is anything but evidence of learned habits that will be consistent and beneficial.

Am I speaking in generalizations? Yes. I have plenty of friends who had great fasting experiences, and that’s fine. But I’ve observed enough fasting to have seen that there are certain behaviors that form a majority, and the fasting/overeating pattern is in there, along with the tendency to assume that food mistakes can be remedied with a fast.

Am I also speaking with a heavy personal bias? Sure am. Fasting has never interested me, or appealed to me. I love green juice, but lord knows it’s no substitute for food in my world. The idea of drinking meals depresses me—it’s one of the reasons I’m not a green smoothie person. I’m also on the slender side, and tend to lose weight without too much difficulty if I don’t eat plentifully enough. I don’t think my system would stand up well to nearly nonexistent levels of fat and protein for days at a time. And, given my psychological history, skipping meals is a minefield I’d rather not tread upon anyway. A raw foodist friend once tried to explain how fasting helps you move “beyond food,” and to detach yourself from eating. As an ED-veteran, the last thing I need is to prove that I don’t need food, emotionally or psychologically. I do need food, but not in a way that’s bad. This realization is one of the major accomplishments of my adult years.

I bring this up because of today’s Times article on the BluePrint Cleanse. Did you all see it? Judith Newman tried the popular program and offers up her mostly critical, yet still captivated, thoughts. I appreciated Newman’s humor and candor, although I think she has a lot to learn about the deliciousness of green juice! What made me a bit exasperated was the fact that she—by her own admission—bought into so many of the same dreams of magic and overnight change that most women do when they purchase these (overpriced) juice deliveries.

I also found her inconsistent: on the one hand, she says that fasting is a test of the will to live, and notes that it isn’t considered healthy by most doctors (the doctor she quoted is my dermatologist, by the way, and although he and I have never talked about food while he’s checking my moles, I couldn’t agree more with his sentiments about ketosis). On the other, she’s obviously still lured in by the idea of a quick fix. This vexes me, and I see lots of it: people want to believe in the magic of juice fasting (or raw foods, in other scenarios) so long as it ultimately works out for them; if it doesn’t, or if they fail to stick with it, they justify what happened with medical authority.

At the end of the article, Newman notes that she did enjoy the feeling of detachment from physicality, sensuality, which is truly the emotional promise of a fast. This hit home with me, because I believe it’s what so many anorexics seek out, and find, with starvation. Let’s file this under “reasons I don’t think former anorexics ought ever to get too involved with fasting.” But let me also say that, as alluring as that feeling of ethereality might be, I’d like to remind all of my readers that the feeling of solid, grounded, nourishment is sweeter in so many ways. Newman writes, “I wasn’t thinking about food. I wasn’t thinking about drink. I wasn’t even thinking about sex. The appetites that rule me every single day were my slaves, for once. By that third day I wasn’t craving anything. I was free.”

As a rejoinder to this, I’d say only that freedom that comes from a denial of physical need is a deeply compromised kind of freedom. In fact, I might respond by quoting one of my own posts, if you guys will allow me to be that obnoxious. In my “Embracing Our Appetites” post—which to this day may be my fave CR post ever—I wrote,

“…eating disorders have a great deal to do with the willed suppression of desire. They involve the negation, the defiance of appetites: appetites for food, for sex, for physicality.  Women are particularly susceptible to this tendency, because we’ve been socialized to keep our desires within tight bounds.

I’m often asked if what I wanted from [my] disorder was to be thin. The answer, naturally, is yes: of course thinness is what I wanted. But it was, in retrospect, only a surprisingly small part of what I wanted. When I look back on those years, I see that a lot of what I wanted was to quash my own needs. Overcoming this–connecting with my hunger for food, for sex, for vitality, for physicality–took a long time. Being able to declare to myself and to others that I not only needed to eat, but wanted to eat–and all that eating implied–demanded that I overcome a great deal of unconscious shame…Of course, we should always guard ourselves against excess. Appetites have limits, and food is just food. But let’s also try to embrace the very real hunger that nature has given us, even if it’s sometimes a little unruly. Desire is a part of life–and a pretty great part of it, if you ask me.”

You won’t hear me deny that weightlessness, lightness, emptiness, and cleanliness are all appealing physical sensations. They are, and I wonder if I’ll ever have a day when I don’t sometimes cast an eye backward and yearn for those feelings again. But they’re risky yearnings, and they strike me as un-human in the deepest of ways.

For the sake of due diligence I’ll say that fasting is a personal endeavor, and that all bodies are different. I’m simply offering up these thoughts because I’m a figure within a community of people who fast frequently—perhaps even abusively. And I want my readers to know that I don’t fall into the line of thinking—so popular with raw eaters—that insists that abstinence is healthier than eating, or that abstinence and healthy eating are one in the same.

What are your thoughts on fasting, and who read the NYT article? I’m really curious to hear my readers’ reactions!