Healthy Eating

Allen Campbell, Gansevoort Chef Who Fasts to Eat

​Men will do a lot of things to add size to their bodies. Steroid injections, hours at the gym, and for some South Beach crazies, even ass implants. But Allen Campbell, sous chef at the Gansevoort's rooftop restaurant, Plunge, took a different approach. He started fasting.

"I've never been fat. Never," Campbell said. A slim, active 29-year-old who can't keep weight on for the life of him, he was not exactly the most typical candidate for an extreme deprivation diet. His reason for fasting was far from cliché. He did it because he wanted to like eating again.

As part of his job, he's surrounded by delicious food, all day. In his efforts to gain weight, he pretty much ate as much of it, and other stuff, as possible.

"I was force feeding myself," he said. "I was making milk shakes and putting protein powder in them. Not counting the milk and the ice cream, these shakes had 650 calories, 75 grams of protein and 85 grams of carbs each. And I was drinking them three to four times a day. And I was eating four to five meals on top of that. I don't know how anyone can do it," he said.

Food became an absolute chore and he found himself glumly forcing it down his gullet. After talking with some friends who were about to start fasting for very different reasons, he decided he would try a short period of mild deprivation to restore his appetite. And the idea of cleansing his digestive system was pretty appealing as well.

"I had terrible IBS as a kid. I had a hole in my intestines. I lost my Godfather to colon cancer. And then I heard John Wayne died of stomach cancer and he had 40 pounds of caca in his intestines." Although the rumor is of questionable authenticity, that "shit" scared Campbell into trying a cleanse. "Working out and trying to gain weight was flooding my organs. Fasting gives your body a break."

Campbell started with what's known in some religious communities as a "Daniel fast," a biblically-based partial fast. "I started with two days of raw fruits and vegetables only, and tons of water. The third day, lots of vegetables and some vermicelli noodles. Then seven days of lots of green vegetables, small amounts of yogurt and protein only," he says.

"It wasn't easy. I was literally like this," he gripped an imaginary piece of food and raised his hand to his mouth. "I was so used to doing this that I had to literally pull my hand from my mouth. As far as tasting, how can you cook and not taste things? Luckily I'm the sous chef, and I have cooks that I can rely on."

The fast worked. By the end of it, he was once again excited by the idea of flavorful gourmet foods. In the month that followed, he gained eight pounds on top of the seven he regained after shedding them during the fast. But a burning hunger isn't all he came away with.

"I learned discipline in my eating habits, and how much harder your digestive system works to break down meat and carbs, leaving you feeling sluggish and low energy," Campbell said, adding that it was helpful to know that two close friends were fasting along with him. "You are what you eat. You get what you give. I would definitely try it again. I plan on going a little more extreme for the next fast."

The effects of the fast, including an increased mindfulness about the food he eats, are still with him. "I slowly worked my way back into complex carbohydrates, and I still try to refrain from white flour, red meat and just recently milk," he said, adding that he thinks the decreased dairy consumption helped clear up his skin. He plans to go even more extreme for his next fast, which he's slated for this month.

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Camille Lamb Guzman is a journalist who writes on wellness, travel, and culture. She is also finishing a book of creative nonfiction.