At the outset of the spiritual disciplines class I just completed, our instructor asked us to commit to a bodily discipline for the entirety of the eight-week class. We could choose to practice some form of regular exercise, give up a certain food item, or even practice certain habits of rest — something that would engage our bodies in some specific way for eight weeks.
For my bodily discipline, I chose to conduct an eight-week Pepsi fast. Since Pepsi is the only soda I drink, this basically means that I gave up soda for eight weeks straight.
I chose this fast because it had become increasingly clear in the weeks before starting this class that I had an unhealthy dependence on Pepsi. Every time I went to the grocery store, I would pick up two or three 2-liter bottles of Pepsi, and they would all be gone within 5 days. I would drink Pepsi with meals, and I would drink it with snacks. I would drink it while sitting at my desk working on the computer, which is literally how I spend most of my days. I had become addicted to the taste, as well as to the comfort and familiarity of routine it provided me. So I decided to abstain for eight weeks and see what happened.
This was a hard decision for the first three weeks of the experiment. The first week of the fast, when Kirk and I were traveling out of town, it was especially difficult. It was difficult to imagine ordering a meal without enjoying Pepsi to drink with it. My taste buds were used to the complement of certain foods with Pepsi, even. I was very conscious during the first week of having to practice the presence of God in place of Pepsi every time I ordered a meal. As silly as it sounds, I felt a certain solidarity with Christ every time I chose water over soda with my meals, as though I was mortifying my flesh with every decision against Pepsi that first week. I tried to be thankful for the water I was drinking instead.
Over that first week, it was interesting to notice other unintentional effects of the Pepsi fast. Because I was drinking water with meals instead of Pepsi, I noticed that I also began to crave healthier foods. For instance, instead of ordering the fatty fettuccini alfredo, I ordered talapia and angel hair with vegetables. And I found that I stopped eating when I felt content instead of when the food was finished. These decisions felt good, like I was in tune with what my body wanted and was honoring it with my partnership. (I also began to see the principle of indirection at work in me, which I previously shared about here.)
Even though I was very conscious about the Pepsi fast during the first week, something happened in the second week that made clear just how ingrained a habit Pepsi really was in my life. Kirk and I had returned from a trip out of town and had decided to order takeout lunch from our favorite Thai restaurant. Every time we order takeout from this restaurant, I always drink Pepsi with my meal, even to the point of stopping by the store to pick up the Pepsi on the way to get the food if we are out of it at home.
On this particular afternoon in the second week of my fast, my immediate response to Kirk when we decided to order the takeout for lunch was, “We don’t have any Pepsi in the house. We’ll need to stop by the store to pick some up.”
Kirk looked at me, waiting for what I had said to register, but even then it took a few moments for what I had said to sink in. It was very revealing to me that no matter how intentionally I had practiced the Pepsi fast during the first week, the habit was still ingrained into my thoughts and behavior in the second week.
For the first three weeks of this fast, I found myself really missing Pepsi. However, I seemed to turn a corner in the fourth week. I thought of Pepsi less and less. Ordering water with meals was easy. I didn’t think twice about Pepsi at the grocery store anymore, as the habit of picking it up was no longer in me. And eventually, by the sixth week or so, I didn’t even desire it anymore. Pepsi was no longer a part of my life. I didn’t need it and didn’t crave it. I didn’t know that I would ever need to drink it again, even.
But I did begin to wonder, particularly in the seventh and eighth week, if I would want to choose to drink it again. I would soon have the freedom to drink it, but what would I do with that freedom? I still haven’t decided. Yesterday I went to the store and asked myself for the first time in two months if I wanted to purchase a bottle of Pepsi, since the fast is breaking this weekend. I decided against it for now, figuring that my decision about my relationship with the soda (as silly as that sounds!) should be made intentionally, not while on my way to the store or while walking its aisles.
One thing I did learn about myself through the Pepsi fast, though, is how easy it still is for me to transfer my addictions elsewhere. For the first couple weeks of the Pepsi fast, I drank only water witih meals. This was easy because we were traveling for the first part of that time and then didn’t have anything else to drink in our house when we got home. However, I eventually allowed myself to drink lemonade with meals at home. I found myself running to Starbucks for a latte more readily than I normally would. I consumed more English Breakfast tea each day than I normally do.
I think all of this has to do with letting myself believe I deserved a treat because I was abstaining from something hard. I think it also has to do with still having addictive habits in my nature.
And while I am okay with these behaviors emerging through this particular fast for now because I consider myself very much a beginner when it comes to fasting, I think they are worth looking into a bit more. For instance, it might be a good idea for me to try a Starbucks fast for a period of weeks in order to reduce my dependence on lattes in the same way I’ve reduced my dependence—and even desire—for Pepsi these past eight weeks. Perhaps at some point it would be instructive to practice a water-only beverage diet to see what emerges from an even stricter practice.