44 minutes past noon and I’m still full. Not that I had lunch already, nor did I have a generous serving of eggs, bacon, and toast for breakfast, but a hot cup of strong Amadeo coffee did wonders to lose my appetite. (On a Sunday—the day my dad cooks up a storm.) My fasting app rang earlier, announcing that my 16-hour fast had just finished. It is now time for my 8-hour eating window. But my tummy—which I adoringly call my food baby—is still full. With coffee.

This is not the first time I tried intermittent fasting. Since the pandemic started, I must have restarted I.F. 3-4 times already. My previous attempts were pathetic failures. For the first few days, I’d have the willpower to say no to breakfast by distracting myself with a cup of coffee and a book. People at home would ask, “Anong almusal mo?” And I would reply: “Naka-fasting ako.” The next morning, they’d raise eyebrows as I give in to my own frailties, doing an entrance in the dining room with a plate of sunny side up, last night’s adobo, and a mountain of garlic rice. “Grabe, ang lakas mo kumain,” my brother would say. And then I would reply: “Eh wala naman tayong gagawin ngayong quarantine kundi kumain!”

The first weeks of lockdown felt like the Food Olympics. My dad, who had to pause his construction business per quarantine guidelines, whipped different culinary experiments at home. YouTube cooking vlogs (“Simpol!”) and The Food Network presented him with a wide variety of dishes to copy. Every day felt like an episode of Master Chef: paprika chicken on turmeric rice, Japanese katsu curry from scratch, shawarma on biryani rice, and modified sinigang (or sinigang-flavored rice without the soup; the meat and crispy kangkong to be eaten dry), among many others. Our charcuterie board was overused, thanks to his plating efforts, as his culinary expertise had to be on full display on Instagram. My dad’s enthusiasm gave me a full appetite that I alarmingly gained 10 pounds or more in just a matter of weeks… which means, with the gyms closed (and Miss Rona still lurking), I have no choice but to lose weight by jumping rope and by fasting at home.

Pre-pandemic, I never really believed in fasting. I was scared to death to faint in public, to cause a scene, and to lose my poise. “Huwag mong gawin ‘yang I.F., ser,” my fitness coach once advised. He then proceeded with a scoop about an actor he used to train. The actor starred in a primetime series in Kamuning. He needed to look fit, so in the middle of a workout AND a fast, he became dizzy and fainted. I was traumatized by the thought of unconsciously being surrounded by strangers in Nikes amid the thick air of heat and sweat—my sugar down, my system desperate of tapsilog and Coke—and them passing their own judgment. So, my trick then was not to fast, but to count macros and to regularly hit the gym.

But alas, I’ve now lost control. I eat what I see. I eat when I’m bored. I eat when I’m working from home. The contrasts of my lifestyle then and now are glaring. The universe’s wicked sense of humor has never been more clear, specifically at how it compared my last “old normal” photo to my first “new normal” photo. My last pre-pandemic photo was a power cage: taken at our neighborhood gym, in the middle of my usual Monday workout, while taking a break from a squat. It was March 16. (Later that night, Mr. Duterte put Luzon on lockdown.) The following day I unknowingly took my first “new normal” photo: a mami that papa cooked. I marvel now at how these two photos connect and contrast—like a Before-and-After piece: the first’s goal was to burn; the second, to gain—and how it personally became symbolic: in this moment, there is nothing else to burn, and, in many ways, there is everything else to gain. Present Day is hellish that sometimes the only thing that can console is to taste; to guiltlessly partake in gluttony and excess. 

But really, what is there to do in quarantine than eat? On nights the anxieties would attack, our pantry would be scoured for bags of chips. On that grim July night our network was denied a franchise, throwing our job security in limbo amid the pandemic, friends and family sent a bucket of Chickenjoy, packs of coffee, and homemade cookies for consolation. For most people who stayed at home, clueless when all this Calvary will end, food—making them or eating them—is a way to cope. For some, it meant survival; for others, a test if they have the virus (“May panlasa ka ba?”) but personally, eating has become a coping mechanism.

Now, I’m back to square one, deeply eager to lose this lockdown weight. My I.F. schedule is basic: 16:8. I try to finish dinner at around 9pm and eat my first meal after 16 hours, or at 1pm the next day. For a beginner, it’s the most feasible fast. Whenever I finish a streak, after seven 16:8 days, I feel disciplined and in control to take the wheel. Then most of the time I try to influence a buddy to fast with me. Comedian Jack Whitehall called fasters the “weirdest ones” among dieters. “It’s like a cult. Fast the 5:2 diet. For five days, I eat what I like. For two days, I fast. And for seven days, I tell everyone about it.”

I’m now telling everyone about it: an hour past noon, no breakfast nor lunch yet, I’m still full.


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