Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Own Private Ramadan

This fall, as happens every 32 years when our two different lunar calendars intersect, the Jewish High Holy Days coincided with the Islamic month of Ramadan.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is an absolute 24-hour fast. Before sundown the night before Yom Kippur, one eats the Meal of Cessation, called Seudat Mafkeset. From then on, it's NPO, nothing by mouth. You don't even brush your teeth, lest a drop of water be swallowed.

Finally, after sundown the next day, the fast is broken with a traditional meal that varies by culture. The Sephardic custom is egg-lemon soup, avgolemono. We Ashkenazim go for a dairy meal--bagels, cream cheese, smoked fish, cheese blintzes. (A traditional Yom Kippur greeting is "May you have an easy fast!" My own family of origin took that to its limits, enjoying the fast-breaking feast without ever enduring the fast itself.)

Ramadan is very different, an entire month alternating diurnally between fasting and feasting. Fasting during the daylight hours is still a considerable feat and sacrifice, especially when Ramadan, which migrates through the solar year, falls in the longest days of summer. The faithful stoke up with Suhur, the morning meal, before dawn, and cannot refuel again until Iftar, the festive evening meal. (Harira, above left, is an Iftar tradition in Morocco, lamb stew with lentils and chickpeas.)

What does all this have to do with me? I have never kept the Yom Kippur fast, and wouldn't even notice when Ramadan came around if we weren't at war in two Muslim countries. By next week, maybe three.

But lately, on many days each week, I seem to be simply putting off eating until late in the day. In short, I am finally doing what my blog title says, Waiting For Hungry. No breakfast except coffee, no lunch, no snacks. Finally, in mid-afternoon, I allow myself a meal.

It's my own private Ramadan.

The Man in the Blue Tarp

I keep seeing this story. It's always a different person, but the story is the same. In this case from Lansing, Michigan, a 900-pound man, who had not been able to leave his home for four years, was brought to the hospital by extraordinary means. Firefighters and paramedics cut a hole in a wall to remove him from the second floor of his duplex, using a telescoping forklift. To shield him from the gawking crowds, they covered him completely in a blue tarp. The press, in its unfailingly humanitarian fashion, has made photos available.

For those not willing to avert their gaze, the Web also offers tarp-free images of the similarly immobilized Manuel Uribe Garcia of Monterrey, Mexico. He is now down to 800 pounds, but at 1200 pounds he was acclaimed the heaviest man in the world. Modestly he plays down his achievement. Just a regular Jose, he told ABC News. "I used to eat normal, just like all Mexicans do. Beans, rice, flour tortilla, corn tortilla, French fries, hamburgers, subs and pizzas, whatever regular people eat. I worked as a technician, repairing typewriters, electronic calculators and computers. So I worked on a chair. It was a sedentary life."

Manuel's picture isn't easy to look at, but one must look. What are we to make of this freakshow display? Perhaps it is a cautionary tale. You cannot ever turn into a two-headed calf or a snake-faced woman, but if you don't watch out, if you get always get fries with that, if you are a desk worker instead of a bicycle courier, if you let yourself go, this could be you: a man in a blue plastic suit whose other car is a forklift. You have been warned. Tarpe diem.

Star Light

In September, I joined Weight Watchers, not for the first time, but this time it's working. Why?

The last time, I used their Core Foods plan. That turned out to be too loosely structured for my already too-loose, screw-loose psyche. The Points plan, along with online tracking of everything I eat, suits much better.

Nutritionists and other Helpful People have always told me to get a notebook and log my food, but I simply couldn't. Clicking online is much easier, and much more satisfying. Because the E-Tools immediately calculate not only how many points you've already eaten, but how many are still ahead in the day, it seems to have a soothing effect on the anxiety of hunger. (A point is roughly 50 calories, with some reduction in calorie value given for high fiber content.) My initial plan allowed 42 points, or 2100 calories. As I've lost weight, the points allowance is adjusted downward, now standing at 39.

We meet in a church basement. I don't talk much, but when I announced I had dropped 25 lb, the leader shrieked and ran out the back door, apparently to her car for a prop. When she came back in, she was carrying a medium-sized black suitcase, and gave it to me to hold. "This suitcase weighs 25 pounds!" she said. I held it up over my head like it was the Stanley Cup. Then she gave me a star-shaped refrigerator magnet.

Weight Watchers. Whodathunk it? Keep Watching.