I let my gaze sink into a watercolor print on the wall. I was 27 and lying on a couch while attempting to explore my psyche. The voice of my psychoanalyst, from behind, had just asserted that I’d already experienced more than my fair share of suffering.
Refugees suffer. Torture victims suffer. Cancer patients suffer. I denied mine. My brother had not yet drowned. I hadn’t started a PhD, much less struggled to finish it, land the tenure-track job and the Grand Tenure. I had not seen it undone. Plenty more suffering lay ahead.
I have spent much of my life searching for ways to alleviate suffering. Prozac and Effexor didn’t work, so I try to develop feel-good habits, like running. Sometimes I am misguided, like when I rush though my day or try to do five things at once.
On the first day of this month, I might have wallowed in a toxic pit of shame and inadequacy: for the first time in 13 years, Western Illinois University did not deposit my monthly salary in my checking account.
Instead of succumbing to despair, I fasted and met my writing goal for the day. I was learning “Intermittent Fasting” (I.F.), and much to my surprise, I.F. has softened the pain around my layoff and its unresolved arbitration.
I.F. cleans out brain and body. The Nobel Prize has recognized this science of cellular self-cleaning. One review of the scientific literature concludes that folks who practice I.F. report improved mood and feelings of tranquility.
With I.F., I’m gently sweeping the paths of layoff feelings: anger at the unfairness, traumatic shocks from being lied to and about, wariness that follows betrayal, the raw vulnerability of having been stripped of the career I’d invested three decades in, anxiety about my future, and deep fears that I’m unworthy.
Repeated attacks over 22 months had kept me in an exhausting state of elevated cortisone. My status as the only tenured professor in WIU’s recorded history to be laid off has reinforced feelings of shame and self-inadequacy that I’ve carried inside since childhood.
I have hoarded layers of pain that have crowded out good feelings. I did not expect I.F. to help me sort through the rubble and make way for feelings of peace, safety, and health.
I.F. has opened me up for “flow” in life and work. For example, 16 hours into a 20-hour fast, I played from memory the entire Chopin Waltz in C# minor. My piano teacher clasped her hands together and exclaimed, “Dr. Stovall, you are playing with much more focus and concentration now! I like you better this way.”
I hadn’t told her I had been fasting: people respond both curiously and skeptically, and I don’t always want to interrupt the task at hand to explain. Some people react defensively, and I understand that response—I hate feeling hungry and deprived. I, too, had feared I.F. would induce unnecessary suffering. Instead, I.F. makes me feel good– like a child on the last day of school before summer.
A Low Carb/High Fat (LC/HF) diet facilitates fasting. Even more remarkable, a growing body of independent research suggests that a lifestyle of LC/HF plus fasting is the most elegant method of preventing western diseases like dementia, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and anxiety/depression.
I.F. with LC/HC, together, offer one solution to many problems.
For more information on I.F. and LC/HF lifestyles, read Dr. Jason Fung’s The Complete Guide to Fasting and The Obesity Code or check out Dietdoctor.com.