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May 30, 2020


One of my favorite pastimes is stripping things away and seeing what happens. Removing fundamental blocks from the Jenga of my automaticity. Allowing the structures I've built, often unwittingly, to fall. Experiencing whatever shift in the wind comes next. This brings me pleasure.

Conversely, my horror tends to be aroused by nonnutritive junk and comforts. I'm not necessarily anti-comfort. I just have no space for comforts that lack nutrition. They do sometimes sneak in, though. And the most effective way I've found to regularly rid myself of them, is to be vigilant in my pursuit, to just keep stripping things away, making whatever foundational repairs are needed, then working again to build something leaner and more efficient.

I've been doing daily intermittent fasting for a couple of years now. First 16 hours a day, now between 19 and 20 most days. But this week I did my first 36-hour fast. Around 18:00 on Sunday, I finished a dinner of raw almonds, 100% peanut butter and freshly squeezed carrot juice (which I'm not necessarily recommending; I just didn't plan ahead). After that, I consumed nothing but water and my usual two cups of black coffee in the morning, until around 9:00 on Tuesday. (I'd technically reached my goal at 6:00, but I like to drink my coffee before I eat, and I also prefer to do yoga fasted.)

So my total fast time was 39 hours. The worst of it was a pretty horrible night's sleep on Monday. The rest was mostly positive and as follows: I felt incrementally clearer-headed and cleaner-running as the clock ticked. I felt lighter while my experiences and surroundings felt somehow thicker. Things in my visual field seemed a bit sharper, and my hearing seemed to change slightly. It was almost as though I was able to tune in to new frequencies, hear the subtle shifts in my surroundings and myself. I'm trying not to exaggerate the experience. None of this was writ large. It was all super subtle, ebbing and flowing, appearing and disappearing in sync with my awareness.

There are plenty of science-backed health benefits to fasting; all of which I'm exceptionally ill-equipped to write, speak, or think clearly about. But one of the potential benefits I'm infinitely fascinated by is fasting's apparent ability to induce autophagy, which, as I understand it, is the body's process of breaking down and repairing damaged cells. This, to me, is poetry in motion. I thought about it a lot during my fast on Monday. And it was my newfound ability to simply return at intervals to this idea—that something subtle but great was happening, or at least might be happening, on a Monday, when it often feels like nothing great can happen, and like nothing ever really happens or changes at all—that made me decide to do this every week.

Brian Leli, May 2020


Autophagy (pronounced “aw-TAW-fuh-jee”), or “self-eating,” is a highly conserved adaptive response to stress. This ancient defense mechanism sequesters protein aggregates, pathogens, and damaged or dysfunctional organelles into vesicles—bubble-like structures inside the cell called autophagosomes—and then delivers them for destruction to release macromolecules such as proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids for energy and re-use. The primary goal of autophagy is to allow the cell to adapt to changing conditions and external stressors.
Autophagy differs from apoptosis, a type of cellular self-destruct mechanism that rids the body of damaged or aged cells. However, the two processes are governed by common signals and share common regulatory components, blurring the lines between their activities. In a simple analogy where autophagy is the first responder and apoptosis is the executioner, autophagy attempts to mitigate cellular damage, but if it is unsuccessful, apoptosis steps in to kill the cell.
The process of autophagy is activated by cellular stressors such as nutrient depletion, hypoxia, and the presence of toxins, and involves myriad genes, proteins, receptors, and signaling pathways. Although autophagy occurs at the cellular level, its activation at the whole-body level may improve metabolic fitness and extend lifespan.


Fast Your Way to Autophagy

Fasting—where you restrict taking in calories for an extended period of time—appears to bring with it some pretty remarkable health benefits. These include weight loss, changes to risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, and longer life.
Researchers have been trying to get to the bottom of why fasting is linked to longevity for years. Lab mice and monkeys that fast in lab studies have a tendency to live longer than their regularly fed peers.
Research finds that restricting calories turns on genes that tell cells to preserve resources. The cells go into a preservation or “famine mode,” where they are, remarkably, much more resistant to disease or cellular stress. They also enter a process known as autophagy, where the body begins to clean out the old, unwanted, and unneeded cellular material, as well as fixing and recycling damaged parts.
In one study, mice that fasted for 24 hours showed high numbers of autophagosomes, the signs that autophagy is working. Now, we have to be careful linking this directly to humans because mouse metabolism is much faster than ours. While autophagy is very difficult to measure outside of a lab environment, many experts agree that the autophagy process initiates in humans after 18-20 hours of fasting, with maximal benefits occurring once the 48–72 hour mark has been reached. If this sounds daunting, keep in mind that doing intermittent fasts will still give you benefits, but periodically (a few times a year depending on your personal risk factors) you might consider a longer fast to fully activate autophagy and do some spring cleaning for your cells. Of course, you should always consult with your doctor before embarking on any fasting regimen.
Stimulating autophagy does several things: it clears out old, unwanted cellular materials and proteins, and it also stimulates the production of growth hormone, which regenerates fresh cellular material and fuels up cell renewal. If your body has recently had an infection, autophagy may be able to destroy lingering bacteria or viruses.
Autophagy is not only linked to increasing longevity, it’s helping researchers to better understanding degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. When autophagy does not take place frequently, the body collects a variety of cellular material, including proteins that show up in large quantities in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even cancer: amyloid beta or Tau protein. Researchers believe that prolonged bouts of autophagy might be able to clear the brain of those excess proteins, thus potentially preventing the development of those diseases.

Zero Fasting, March 2019

This Allegiance to a Single Personae

I think that for some of us it is almost impossible to have a cohesive identity or, rather, there are some whose inconsistent and conflicted sense of self is their identity. There are those who have an identity that is contrary and evolving and forever at war with itself. It is perpetually in the process of challenging its own best ideas. Once an idea of self—a stance, a point of view, an identity—is settled upon, this inner subversive begins the business of dismantling it. Yet, this resistance to a fixed identity could be our greatest strength.
Perhaps I inherited this tendency from my father, who had, to say the least, a perverse and contrary view of the world, or maybe it is because I was born between star signs, or it could just be the old boomer in me that continues to have a nostalgic fondness for disruption and chaos, but I have forever felt a horror of being boxed in by an identity and an inflexible opinion, for this allegiance to a single personae can be the very death of creativity.

Nick Cave, The Red Hand Files Issue #99, May 2020