First off, let me say that I don’t sanction The Beer Diet and wouldn’t encourage anyone to embark on a Beer Fast as I did during the Lent of 2011. I was successful and I learned a lot, but wouldn’t recommend the practice.
Two years’ worth of hindsight really confirms this view for me. And so with Ash Wednesday on the horizon (Feb. 13), I thought I’d follow up with my recent observations.
Last year, I caught wind of three separate beer fasts. There was writer Joe Konrath’s 30-Day Beer Diet, the fellows from Primo’s Craft Beer in El Paso, Texas, and a trio of “art monks” from the Art Monastery Project in Italy.
Their purposes were different. Konrath apparently set out to lose weight, be amusing and cash in on a book. The Primo’s Craft Beer guys found the monk story interesting and tested it to count down to the Superbowl. And the Art Monastery people found some inspiration in my story and set out to explore, as they do in their daily existence, the connection between art and a monastic existence. The role of beer in that mix seemed all the more intriguing, I’d say.
Konrath posted funny snippets of his experience on a blog. He passed a kidney stone on Day 16, wrote nearly daily until four-day lapses between Days 20 and 26, and Days 26 and 30. Then he went off the air with no follow up that I’m aware of.
Though his comrade was sidelined by the flu, Paul Fiero of Primo’s found success drinking three Weihenstephaner’s Korbinians per day for two weeks. “It ended up being one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my life but at the same time one of the most insightful,” said Paul. “I didn’t realize how much our society revolves around food until your deprived of it. The self-control to abstain from food also took plenty of determination and resolve.”
Since they contacted me for advice in the beginning, I’ve had the most interaction and insight into the project taken on by Charles, Molly and Betsy of the Art Monastery Project. My initial advice, as it was for Konrath, was to not do it. However, because people will make their own decisions, I gave them practical tips as well: drink lots of water, drink unfiltered beer, and toss in a few wheat beers for added protein.
Here’s what happened. Molly had to bail out after Day 1, noting that it quickly became apparent to her that mixing beer, a fast and the medications she was on weren’t a good idea. Charles lasted about a week. I think he’d have been more successful if he weren’t trying to quit smoking at the same time. The migraines and vomiting he encountered were too much to bear, and he made a wise decision in calling it quits. Where that vomiting came from, I don’t know, and I’ll admit to being surprised.
That left Betsy. She completed the planned two-week fast, but it didn’t seem nearly as pleasant as the 46 days I pushed through. Let’s let her talk:
“I tried to get doppelbocks but we live out in the Italian countryside, and I couldn’t find too many,” she said. “I was drinking four beers per day at the beginning, all unfiltered, including one hefeweizen per day. They were high quality beers that normally I love. I remember the first day I couldn’t finish my fourth beer. I was sitting in bed gazing at this half-full pint of Chimay. I wanted to cry over the horror of letting such a gorgeous beer go un-drunk.”
What? It’s hard to finish one’s fourth beer in a day? Yes. I can relate to that. On the first couple of days of my original fast, I can say that after a day of no food and a persistent headache, I wasn’t excited about those last few swallows either.
“Right around the same time that Charles started getting violently ill, I couldn’t quite get all my beers down,” said Betsy. “So slowly I was consuming less and less until one day I had only water. Then Charles got me some Guinness and that was my saving grace. The last few days of the fast I drank Guinness and water (2 or 3 bottles/day).”
She made it to the end successfully, meditating and producing a lot of art (pictured above and below) in the process. But there were consequences.
“Since the fast, which ended in May, the very smell of beer turns my stomach,” she said. “Same thing with wine. Whiskey smells good to me and tastes good, but I have stomach pains if I actually drink it. So I’ve been dry since May.”
Whoa! That’s a sobering statement. When I was fasting, I certainly became sick of drinking the same beer day after day without any brand of variety. But at no point did I ever feel repulsed by beer. Thank goodness—I’d have lost my identity and would have switched from beer blogging to knitting blogging. Betsy may not be a beer judge, beer blogger or semi-professional beer drinker like so many of us, but she would have shied away from the project if she’d known the beer-consequences (me too):
“I never would have done the fast had I known that it would take beer away from me,” she said. “That said, being sober has been a fascinating experience. I’ve watched all my social pulls and pushes and how that’s connected to alcohol and to beer specifically. I don’t know when (if?) I’ll be able to drink again, but these six months have been really useful.”
Would Paul do it again? “At the end of the journey I learned a lot about myself, society, and how the way we go about living our lives is dependent upon a number of things we take for granted. I learned to appreciate the fact that I can go to McDonald’s if I’m hungry and get a burger for $1 when I’m hungry,” he said. “Even though I feel like I got plenty out of the experience, I don’t think I would do it again, at least in the near future.”
People have said, “Oh, you should write a book called The Beer Diet and make a million dollars!” But I wouldn’t cash in on something like that. One, there are better ways to lose weight; two, I probably wouldn’t make a million dollars even on a lame gimmick; and three, there’s too much risk involved. I believe that more now than the day I finished my fast.
The examples I’ve given today have been proof of that.
But fasting is an amazing practice and I think folks should do research on, consult their doctors about and try.
Some do it for spiritual reasons, it can be used as a weight loss tool, it’s a great method for detoxing the body and it can serve as a nutritional kickstart.
When I did my beer fast, I packed on 20 extra pounds because of my slight frame. I lost 25 pounds and ended up with only a five-pound deficit. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t add any weight. Why? My wife lost only five pounds on a 15-day juice fast. An acquaintance lost only 20 pounds on a 92-day juice fast. I think your body’s intuitive and will settle where it needs to be if you feed it right. The juice fast is an amazing way to give your body a break from the hard work of digesting food, while packing nutrients straight into the body.
During the first two or three days of my beer fast, I suffered a headache and hunger pangs. Why? Because I was detoxing from all the bacon, ice cream and doughnuts I’d been consuming to gain weight. How do I know this? Because a few months back, my wife and I embarked on a seven-day juice fast.
For this trip, I did nothing to gain weight. I simply walked into it in good health (My normal diet includes lots of vegetables and very little processed food. We cook almost everything we consume. Further, I do zero fast food, no soda and I don’t drink much in the way of caffeinated coffee (I’m not noble on that one; it just doesn’t agree with Michelle’s system, and we don’t always keep two kinds of coffee on hand). Since I wasn’t detoxing from anything bad, I didn’t feel bad. At no point during that seven-day juice fast did I feel tired, hungry or head-achy. I felt like a champion, start to finish.
When I did the Diary of a Part-Time Monk project back in 2011, I figured my success could be attributed to my natural metabolism, lack of impulsivity and stubborn nature. However, I can guarantee that if I’d done the fast during Lent of 2012, I would not have been successful. In my neck of the woods, the winter of 2011-12 had been very dry. I dry out easily and go through lots of lip balm and dandruff shampoo in the winter months. Add to that the fact that the lousy heating system in my office required me to sit with a space heater (giant toaster) under my desk and caused me to consume about 10 cups of coffee on an empty stomach every day, and you had a fellow pouring Visine into his eyes, guzzling water and bathing in lotion. My ulcer kicked up and I found myself in the doctor’s office in need of stomach repair and an IV near the end of February.
Yes, things would have turned out much differently had the stars been aligned differently.
It can be done. But there must be some reason why monks don’t continue the practice to this day. Given the quality of their water at the time and the amount that I pounded during my time, the monks of yore must have faired much more poorly in even the best of circumstances when they fasted in the 17th Century and earlier. I’m convinced that their 40-day fasts would have been much more difficult than mine was.
Managing the alcohol is pointless on multiple fronts, and as Konrath demonstrated, physical unknowns may exist (at some point he admitted to having had kidney stone problems in the past—so maybe you have a problem that is know but that you choose to ignore). Risking one’s health just doesn’t make sense, in my view (for my part, I was monitored by a doctor before, during and after my research project).
Another beer fast? No, thanks.
But I find fasting on juice to be fascinating. Want to challenge yourself and tune up physically, mentally and spiritually? Do juice, not beer.
This year’s incarnation of Illuminator Doppelbock goes on tap at Rock Bottom-West Des Moines on Feb. 12. Get some.
To purchase my book, Diary of a Part-Time Monk and learn more about fasting, doppelbock and the relationship between beer and the church, click here.