I MAKE NO friends when I say this, but I spent the first 40 years of my life never thinking much about my weight. Skinny genes made for skinny jeans. I tell you this so that you can get your loathing out of the way, and I can continue with my tale.
When I hit 40, it was as though my metabolism hit a switch. On a doctor’s recommendation, I’ve been trying intermittent fasting, which is … exactly what it sounds like it is. I withhold calories for certain hours and eat sensibly for others.
Adherents to this diet swear it improves metabolism and lowers your risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. It also, however, increases your risk of becoming one of those people who talk incessantly about their diets. When a friend of mine recently made the unfortunate mistake of asking, “What’s new?” and then pausing for my answer, I regaled her with the boring tale of my time-restricted diet.
She nodded, as one does in this situation, and then said, “It’s like Yom Kippur. Every day.”
I laughed and told her that she’s right. I even started calling my diet my “daily Yom Kippur” for a while. But when I thought about it more, I realized the analogy doesn’t quite work.
The Yom Kippur fast is meant to do more for us than flatten our bellies. By removing ourselves from the mundane, we are supposed to focus our attention to our relationship with G-d. It’s fasting with intention. Praying with the entirety of our beings.
I think I pull this off by the end of Yom Kippur during the intense and beautiful Neilah service packed with worshippers praying and swaying. In our synagogue, the ark is open and the congregation forms a line to stand in front of the Torah to make a personal prayer before the Day of Atonement ends. Next comes the final Tekiah Gedolah, the great blast of the shofar, and somehow a Bit-O-Honey candy is pressed into my hands.
The experience of the Yom Kippur fast is deeply moving for me. The experience of intermittent fasting so that I can button my favorite pants, less so.
Years ago, I researched an article about the intersection between health and religion. Some religious practices (avoiding alcohol in Islam and the Church of Latter-day Saints, etc.) happen to also have health benefits. What I learned was that intention matters. People stick to dietary restrictions or to the performance of daily exercises when those actions are an expression of faith.
Why do I tell you this? I’m killing time. My intermittent fasting period ends in 45 minutes, and I’m trying to take my mind off the fact that I sit downwind of the office kitchen where everyone else is enjoying Waffle Wednesday and … wait, don’t go away!
I do have a point. By noticing how difficult it is to fast “just for myself,” this ridiculous diet has validated my religious convictions. It’s a strange and unexpected side effect for a diet, but there it is. The difficulty I experience, the deprivation and doubt, none of those are present for me on Yom Kippur. It’s just me and my community, my G-d and my intentions. Waffle Wednesday be damned.
I didn’t start this diet to test my faith, but by enduring a “daily Yom Kippur,” I discovered the power of the real Yom Kippur. The only one we get each year.
This year, may you have an easy fast. I have a feeling I will.
Mayrav Saar is a writer based in Los Angeles.