The fastest way (no pun intended) to cause your coworkers, friends, and even family to think you’re a weirdo is to tell them that you are fasting. They all might assume that you’re ultra religious, you’re on the latest fad cleanse or that you’re heading into surgery tomorrow. But what if you followed a fasting diet and none of that were true? Remember, in chapter one of my blog I told you we will share healthy lifestyle tips and ideas to follow that will balance out our crazy Greek lifestyles. This week I will talk about fasting. But it will be fasting with a purpose. It doesn’t have to be religious, but if you choose to make it religious, that’s up to you. The fact is, even small amounts of fasting provide health benefits. Trust me, you are not going to starve. I have a cousin who is a Greek Orthodox Monk, and he follows a strict Orthodox fast for six months out of the year. I won’t suggest you do that either. Some fasts last 40 days, some two weeks, and others are variable in length depending on the calendar. The standard Orthodox fast is a Wednesday and Friday fast. And some people choose just to fast on Fridays. So do what is attainable for you. Choose one day or two days out of the week. And here’s the best part: choose any day or two days that you wish. It doesn’t have to be a Wednesday or Friday. Whatever you choose, you stick to it. Wednesday and Friday, fine. Tuesday or Thursday, also fine. Get it? This isn’t fasting as a religious choice, this is fasting as a healthy lifestyle choice. It will be tricky, but soon you’re going to finally be able to drive past McDonald’s with ease. Here is how to begin.
You’ve invited your friends over for a big fat Greek meal: meaty steaks (brizolia) grilled to perfection, orzo loaded with butter and homemade mizithra cheese, a large Greek village salad (horiataki salata) all washed down with barrels of wine (krasi). As the night grows long, you play backgammon (tavli) rolling the dice with one hand, and sopping up the salad juices with a piece of bread (psomi) with the other. Every dessert known to man also calls your name.
After your guests leave, you suddenly realize you have enough leftovers to have the same party the next day. But wait, tomorrow is the day you’ve chosen as your fast day, and if you follow the Orthodox fast you basically can’t touch any of it. Now what do you do? Now is not the time to succumb and make an unhealthy choice by running to the nearest fast food joint for a breakfast of hash browns, fries, and sugar mocha. That’s the last thing my big fat fanny needs.
If you’re following the Orthodox fast, you already know what to avoid. But if that is too strict, just make one or two healthy choices. Like cutting out sugar. Or breads and pasta. Or desserts. Or alcohol. And do that All. Day. Long.
Here are three suggestions you can swap from your regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner to meals that follow the fast but don’t seem like fasting.
- Breakfast: Go for a protein shake (hold the bacon). Fill up a cup of almond milk (it has no dairy) with 6 ice cubes into your blender. Add a scoop of protein powder and your favorite fresh fruit–or even oats if you like that texture. Bonus: add a handful of baby spinach, blend to the texture you like and you’ll get your days worth of vitamins and fiber without even taking a single pill.
- Lunch: Choose a salad, but be careful of your dressing. And all of you doing an Orthodox fast—no oil. Saving you at least 200 calories just by doing that. Try a fresh grilled veggie sandwich, not deep-fried. Or even easy to prepare vegetable lettuce wraps. Using romaine lettuce, fill each leaf (which serves as a cup) with your favorite sliced vegetables inside. I always add avocado. The stuffing can be prepared a day or two in advanced and marinated in a soy sauce and spices, or other rich flavors. Have fun with these and be creative. Store them in your fridge, put them in a Tupperware, and take them to work. They are so good you will want them for any day of the week. Bonus: add tofu or tempeh for protein.
- Dinner: If you’re not allergic to shellfish–go with shellfish. Which go especially well with pasta. In one pot, boil your pasta. In another pot, cook your lobster, shrimp, scallops, and mussels, etc. Drain your pasta and combine your shellfish. But—everyone knows it’s the sauce that makes a pasta dish. I often put 2 avocados, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and various seasonings (fresh basil or thyme and even the more pungent oregano) into a blender or food processor. Pour it over the pasta and you have a meal that’s strong on flavor, packed with healthy benefits, and you certainly won’t go hungry. Bonus: remember those veggie wraps you had for lunch? Now they become your side dish.
Those are just three ideas. Be creative swapping out your typical meat and cheese meals (or whatever else you’ve chosen). Remember, any kind of change you make to your typical diet can be tough and sometimes overwhelming. Focus on the health benefits. If you can’t cut out all meats, all cheeses, etc. choose one thing you can do, because we are using fasting as a symbol to change one or two things in your diet, and to stick to it. Never forget, Greeks are regarded as some of the healthiest people in the world. Think of your Greek roots. Eat like a true Greek.
Now dinner is over, night is falling, and you only have to remember two things. The leftovers from the day before are going to taste even better tomorrow, and it is time for your evening walk (volta).