The Humorous Side of Diets, Fasts, and Hunger Strikes

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The persons who want to lose weight;  who have a religious obligation – seen as a burden – to fast;  or who find it advisable to go on a hunger strike, may find nothing funny about the situation they are in.

The outsider of these procedures, however, may wonder about the unperceived or unintended oddities associated with a reduction of the usual amount of food.

We begin with the phenomenon of dieting.

Now, most of us are ready for a weekly “party … fiesta”, as a song goes; a considerable amount of people enjoy their siesta, but what is missing in the good sense of the word is a dieta.  Spanish gives four meanings, all coming down to the concept of pay, unfortunately designated to limited groups, such as judges, doctors, people on commissions, and parliamentarians or other representatives of the voters.  This is the kind of diet we could all go for. Now “dieta” also has our English meaning, but that originated with a Greek word, while the financially-connected term, according to the Royal Spanish Academy, comes from Latin and then German, with the meaning of “day”.  Yes, that’s the daily bread for the ones who earn it, and if it’s enough, then it’s fattening!

The types of diets which have existed, and which will continue to be, can only be considered as weird and wacky to those who break bread, or breakfast.

We have, for example, the eat all you want, but only of one certain class of food diets.  We have the eat all you want, except for this, that, and the other thing diets. In this, we emphasize the consumption of solids, and to compare this with a bookkeeping procedure for inventory, where one determines the value on hand by considering stock in this way: first in first out, abbreviated FIFO (valid in digestion, too!).   We will call such diets SOSO, which will be better understood after reading about liquid diets, but we are referring to the concept of digestion, solid in, solid out. We refer to the usual effects.

When someone is asked how well the diet worked, more probably than not, “so-so”.  And here’s a quick Spanish lesson, soso in that language may mean, insipid in taste – how many diets qualify under that rubric?  It can also have the meaning of lacking grace, but if we deliberately choose to misinterpret the Spanish gracia with an alternate meaning, we get “not funny”! Yes, the saltless SOSO diet is no laughing matter to those who are on it.  The marvel of it is that if it is the saltless food version, there is an initial weight loss due to reduced water retention caused by less salinity, but then the hard part sets in, and getting rid of more poundage can become a weighty concern!

Since the initial loss of weight comes therefore through as a species of dehydration, one might wonder about the so-called liquid diets.  Sure, they may have their logic – fill the gut with liquid so that it is tricked into believing in a fullness which needs no further input of calorie-laden food, and some fat will be shed, as it is converted into carbon dioxide and water (a simplification, but true, as far as pure carbohydrates are involved in their combustion – that is, their being burned by the body for fuel).

On the negative side, this has got to be, following our FIFO and SOSO concept, the LILO diet.  In inventory, it would really mean the same as FIFO, because if the first in is the first out, then the Last In is the Final one Out, which would give us LIFO, and if you study bookkeeping and didn’t realize that LIFO, refers to “first out” in our second pair of initials.  (Sometimes, of course, that second pair just means “out”, like “scram”, “get lost”, “get out of here”!)

So, our LILO diet, which I do believe once included a lilac-coloured beverage, is liquid in, liquid out.  There’s a famous singer who goes for such a colour in her food, but lucky for her, it’s solid.  Now, since her mother immediately thanked the Virgin for a lottery win, we can imagine that as a Catholic, subconsciously she may remember that the colour purple has something to do with penence or sacrifice (7th paragraph of link). We will see further below that not all sacrifices are demanding, in this case, the culinary shortcomings represented anything but poverty.

And it is somewhat amazing to consider that those who count calories are like the accountants taking inventory. However, to do so correctly, only the FIFO method works. Anything else implies an intestinal obstruction, which could be dangerous.

Having concluded our look at diets, we now consider fasts.  As noted in our introduction, these tend to be religious in nature.  Such is not really the definition that we have in our dictionary, which suggests that it is the limitation of what we consume.  Dieting is the same, but must be according to prescribed rules.  That definition is not quite right, because for anyone belonging to a religion demanding a prolonged period without nourishment, prescribed rules do apply.  They may, however, be humorous to those to whom the rules are inapplicable.

The following, we emphasize, is not to mock any religious sensibilites, because where there is fasting considered normal in one religion, the type of the other religion may always seem strange.  The positive purpose is always the same.  May I say, it is neither to harm the faster, nor the slower?

This writer knows both of a Christian, and a member of the Baha’i faith, who fasted all day.  The latter could eat at night.  What happened to the former is not remembered, perhaps he too could eat, but had not yet had the chance.  The point is, apparently there were no special restrictions (other than the usual ones that the religion might impose) on quantity and type of food consumed).

According to a a text in this writer’s library, during Ramadan, Muslims may not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset.  Visitors to Muslim countries are advised not to do so in the presence of those in the host country, as a courtesy in times of such hardship.

What is not immediately clear is how much may be consumed later, and if there would be any weight loss resulting from such fasting, but as for those who know that Easter follows a time called Lent, that regular food follows the Passover, so do the Muslims have a joyous celebration after their fast.

Anyone practising a religion which required sunrise to sunset fasting, and who just can’t take it, may be advised to go to a polar winter, perhaps on an Antarctic cruise, where, around the dates of the required fasting, the hours of sunlight have been reduced as much as possible. This would be ideal in the year 2016, for example, when Ramadan falls between June 6 and July 5.

Unfortunately, such a technique for limiting the hours of the fast must be limited to those who have money, and perhaps, no other obligations.

Our breakfast is a very short parallel of the same.  We, in effect, fast from the time of our last meal, to the time time of the morning, when we break that fast (in the non-religious sense of the word, though before the 1960s, Roman Catholics had to fast three hours before their religious Communion, so if they went to church in the early morning, they might have been quite hungry by the time they got home).

As explained elsewhere on these pages, this author lives in a Latin American country, which gives him access to more books on Catholicism than any other religion.  These books, coupled with what one has read in the news, show a lot which might bring a chuckle, if not another reaction, from outsiders.  Whatever one may think of these practices though, they are consistent, it would seem, with peoples who have their carnivals.

We have read that the Catholic monk, Thomas Aquinas was rotund because he fasted in the style we have described above.  The Irish writer James Joyce irreverently referred to him as “tunbelly”.

There were (or still are) German monks, who during their 40 days of fast, only consumed beer, or so it is said.

Their is a discussion among Catholic moralists about the meaning of the necessary “substantial observance” of fasts (and abstinence – Theologia moral para seglares, Antonio Royo Marín, ] Madrid: B.A.C., 1979], 425 f.).  It sounds like a group of lawyers or academics talking about what is really meant by a term.

Unlike that which occurs among followers of the Hindu faith, in matters of abstinence, prohibition of meat does not apply to eggs, dairy products, and seasonings derived from animal fats. [ibid., 426 III. 1, other moralists allow broth.]  Only one meal a day may be taken, but there may be two others, of smaller amounts than usually taken (426, 2a, b, c, e), in the United States, that has been defined as those two, in their entirety, being less than the amount of the main meal. The author mentions non-nourishing drinks as permitted, which would mean no beer during the off-hours, but there are other authors, who do not proscribe alcoholic beverages at all.  Here we offer a translation from a book on moral theology by Arregui Zalba, S.J. “In no case is the fast broken by one who takes some beverage, such as wine, beer, … .” [1] That would kind of take the edge of the hunger!

Those that are obliged to fast, but who may not be able to take alcoholic beverages to assuage the pains of an otherwise empty stomach, might try the solution we now show to have been used by hunger strikers.

There is really nothing funny about a hunger strike.  We believe this to be a form of self-destructive behaviour, not allowed by standard moral codes, as it is a deliberate attack on the condition of the body, in the same way as any form of disfigurement.  More horrendous though, are certain methods used by some authorities to obstruct the efficacy of the strike.  These will not be described here, though one of the methods may amuse those who like crude humour.

We therefore rest our case on how to hunger strike without causing bodily harm, and by extension, how to fast by using what just might be a loop-hole, by telling the reader what once happened.

The hunger strikers took a break to eat!  Now, that’s breaking fast!  They were not at all rooted fast to the principle of impoverishing their bodies for the statement they wanted to make!

This link provides a variation on the theme, as we have no idea when the event we are think about happened.

There’s a fast-food restaurant which had a catchy lyric about breaks, but they copyrighted it.  Anyway, now readers know what to do when the urge strikes to break fast! Much friendly than fast strike-breaking!

Do I hear groans?

© May 6, 2016, Paul Karl Moeller

[1] Compendio de teologia moral, Arregui,Antonio M., Zalba, Marcelino, ed. [Bilbao, Mensajero del Corazón de Jesús: 1947], p. 361.



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