I’ve been fasting for 59 hours.
I know that may sound crazy. I know it sounds like an eating disorder. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t have some sort of eating disorder—I do! I’m a woman in the world, and most of us are crazed when it comes to food, always trapped between needing to, you know, LIVE, and being warned against becoming, you know, FAT! God forbid a woman should take up a bit of extra space.
I’ve gotten into fasting. Intermittent (16 - 24-ish hours) and extended (24 hours or more). If you’re interested, check out any YouTube video or book by Dr. Jason Fung. I can’t be fucked explaining it, aside from saying that it’s one of the coolest finds of my entire life. I haven’t eaten in days and my body is burning through stored energy (also called FAT—shhh…don’t tell any men!). I feel clear-headed, energized, open-hearted. Almost like I’m on drugs, but without feeling manic or seeing fun sparkles.
This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Not because it’s physically grueling (although I do have occasional hunger pangs), but more because I’m so used to eating, a very entrenched habit regardless of whether I’m actually hungry. During a fast, I sometimes crave food emotionally, as though I miss an old friend. I think of spaghetti with tomato sauce, which I eat maybe three times a year, and I’m like, “Oh man, I haven’t see that bitch for ages! I miss Spaghetti, that hot stringy piece of ass!” But I’m not even hungry. I’m not even fucking hungry! The thing I feel most is a longing, a homesickness for food, a yearning for a feeling that I get when I eat something that lights up my brain, makes it all feel okay. This started when I was seven years old, right after my mom died, every nice feeling lost to me aside from that momentary burst of flavor, followed by feeling full, feeling covered up, my “yucky” feelings hidden away by the sensation of fullness, my substitute love. Food makes me feel good, makes me feel something other than what I’m feeling in the moment. It’s reliable, it’s always there, I can have it anytime, anywhere, and in any quantity I choose. I am a foodie. And I am a food addict.
What I’ve gotten from these fasts, aside from some clarity around food, is that this is hard, but that that’s okay. As the author Glennon Doyle says, “We can do hard things.” I didn’t know that. I didn’t know until recently that I could do hard things. In fact, I thought that I shouldn’t do hard things, that hardness was evidence of wrongness, that if it was hard, that meant it wasn’t the right thing for me. I thought that “flow” and “ease” were evidence of something being good and right, and that difficulty meant that I was getting something wrong, going against my true instincts, my intuition. I’ve never really known the difference between intuition and fear.
During this pandemic, I’ve had to do things I really didn’t want to do, things that could never be considered “flow.” I flew back to the US from Australia within five days of realizing that staying in Australia could mean never seeing my 85-year-old father again. I was supposed to be starting my comedy festival show; instead, I packed everything I could fit from my five years in Australia into a few bags and left the rest with friends or on the curb or in the garbage. My new (now ex-) boyfriend drove me to the airport, both of us crying as we said goodbye (mine was more of an uncontrolled sob). I flew back to my crumbling country, closing its borders like it was going out of business.
None of this was my plan, of course. I was planning to move back to New York in style later in the year, finally capitalizing on every connection I’d ever made in comedy in order to make my entrance into the biggest comedy scene in the world. I felt grandiose and arrogant, and I was excited for the life ahead of me. For the first time since I’d started doing standup, I had the feeling that it was all going to work out for me. Watching New York’s comedy clubs shut down and struggle for their survival during the spread of the coronavirus, some of them going out of business, I felt stupid for ever having dared to have hope, for ever thinking that things could go my way. When I looked at the night sky, I felt bitter toward some higher entity, looking down on us all—on me!— knowing all along that it was always going to be this way.
After I finished quarantine in New York, after the shock wore off, I came to hate every single part of my life, and I wanted a quick escape. I wanted to fly to India and backpack like I did in 2014, oblivious to the world around me. I wanted to go hang out on a Thai beach and wait it out, wait for the world to get its shit together. I considered returning to South Korea, my former home, so I could live in a country that had things mostly under control. But even that didn’t seem far enough away—I wanted to get out of this world altogether, bury myself deep in some hole in space or some back corner of my consciousness. I wanted the pain to go away, and to come back when it all felt okay again.
Instead, against my desires and every habit I’d ever formed, I stayed in New York. For the first time in my adult life, I did not flee, I did not take the easy way. I woke up each day and did my best, which never felt good enough. I went to bed each night feeling disappointed in myself for things that were beyond my control. I tried to be kind to myself, though I rarely succeeded. I made my way through life’s hard times, and it was…hard.
And yet, it was good for me. I hated it, but still, it was good. I hated being dependent on family and on people who weren’t always kind to me. I hated taking care of others in my life when I wanted to be taken care of. I hated watching friends on social media do standup while I had to stay home. Most of all, I hated sitting still when I wanted to run away. But I’m stronger for it, and I can see that now. Staying in one place brought stability, brought closer relationships, brought the awareness of strength and resilience I didn’t know I had. Staying put let me see what I could do with the actual life before me, not the one I was always planning out in my head. It turns out that my life can be good, even when the world has fallen apart.
The hard thing is not the wrong thing, it’s just the hard thing. The hardest things in my life, often experienced without grace or even awareness, have also been the most rewarding. I’ve stumbled through so much difficult shit—loss of friends and family; depression; sexual assault—but every time, I’ve emerged stronger, braver, clearer on who I am and what I can do. Hard shit teaches me who I am.
As I fast, sometimes I miss my friend, my fun little food companion. I miss cheese, and pasta, and bacon. I miss grease. I miss fish. I miss vegetables and seeds. I miss it all. I’m hungry, but it’s not the body hunger that gets to me—it’s the emotional hunger. Food has been my most reliable companion all my life, even and especially when I’ve gone through loss and grief. I couldn’t see the person I loved anymore, but I could eat something delicious that would make me feel good, even if it only felt that way for a moment. I couldn’t have my mom back, but I could have extra melted cheese on some sort of carby thing while watching something shitty on TV. She’d want this for me, right? Wouldn’t she? Would she? Where the fuck is she.
We can do hard things. I can do hard things. I woke up this morning two pounds lighter. I woke up feeling pretty clear, feeling pretty light. I woke up having achieved my longest fast yet. And then I extended it by another day. We. Can. Do. Hard. Things. My whole life, thinking fear was intuition, I’ve reacted to feelings of fear, of hunger, of discomfort, of grief, by running in the opposite direction. “Oh no! I feel uncomfortable! I must be doing something wrong.” And so I’d change course, usually navigating away from my goals. I thought I was fucking up, when actually, I was right on track. Only now do I realize, hard things are good things. Hard things signal “the way.” When I have a moment of missing food, of missing my friend, I tell myself, “Yes, this is hard. And that’s a good thing.”