Knicks player and ardent wife defender Carmelo Anthony recently made headlines when he told a group of sports reporters that he had lately completed a fifteen-day spiritual cleanse called “The Daniel Fast” and that it might have been affecting his play.
“I haven’t had a good meal in about 2 1/2 weeks. No meats, no carbs, anything like that,” Anthony told reporters in an effort to explain why he only had been averaging 32 points a game in January (this seems pretty good to me, but what do I know?) and his shooting percentage was slightly down. Then a bunch of sports journalists freaked out about it.
“I’m all for a good cleanse, but not in the middle of an NBA season, “ The New York Daily News opined. “Seriously, with the slow starts they’ve been having, I think it’s a legitimate question as to whether Melo’s fasting hurt the team,” The Wall Street Journal’s Chris Herring tweeted. Knicks coach Mike Woodson eventually addressed the diet, and ended up sounding like a Hollywood starlet’s publicist, waving off anorexia concerns with diplomatic utterances about “the right foods” and having “faith” in Melo.
As an avid stunt diet reporter, where there is a diet making news, that is where I will be. I, too, would try “The Daniel Fast,” preferred crash diet of NBA superstars. It was actually really easy — these sports guys are total babies. (My attempt to play basketball for the first time in my life, however, suggests their other skills are more impressive.)
“The Daniel Fast” is a diet based on passages in the biblical book of Daniel in which the eponymous prophet goes on several fasts. In one he only eats vegetables; in another he gives up “precious breads.” The modern “Daniel Fast” allows whole grains but prohibits meat, dairy, coffee, alcohol, and sugar, i.e., all of the most delicious things in the world. Daniel Fasters describe their technique as “a vegan diet with even more restrictions.” I decide to follow the fast’s meal plan and recipes and play basketball for the next 36 hours to get a sense of what starving starlet Carmelo Anthony is going through.
I start the day with a brisk shopping trip to buy ingredients for the recipes outlined on Daniel-Fast.com. The Daniel Fast advocates three square meals and two snacks a day (already this diet sounds pretty easy) but also maintains that, “while we can eat as much food as we want and any time we want… we want to keep in mind that we are fasting.” (Even easier.) I keep this in mind as I pay for my food.
When I get home I make the stir-fry, which is basically kale, onions, carrots, and soy sauce over rice. It’s a little boring and does not have much protein, but tastes decent. The portion is actually too big for me to eat all at once, so I eat half and save the rest.
Fortified by this important meal, I decide to go play basketball which I have literally never done before in my life. (I used to sit in the girls’ bathroom during gym class. It was fun there!) I look up courts in New York City and realize that I have been living around the corner from a basketball court for years and never noticed. I buy a basketball at Modell’s and head to the courts. Carmelo says he only needs 45 minutes in the gym each day to play as well as he does, so I plan to do the same. How hard can it be to shoot baskets for 45 minutes a day? Very hard, it turns out, when you are really super bad at it. The ball keeps landing in a puddle of water vaguely near the court because that is the closest I can get it to the hoop. Repeatedly hurling and fetching a ball into the air is so demoralizing (and wearying for my arms) that I download my first audiobook ever, Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks, to distract myself. After finishing his diet, Carmelo Anthony scored 26 points and led the Knicks to victory against the Detroit Pistons, so maybe I’ll improve with a little more kale.
For dinner I have the rest of the stir-fry and some homemade flat bread called a chapatti that I make from flour and water. I am actually stuffed, despite eating about half the quantity of food I was supposed to eat. This diet is great!
The most difficult part of the Daniel Fast is the lack of coffee. For breakfast I have oatmeal and an atrocious headache. I distract myself by thinking about Safe Haven. Why did Katie dye her hair brown even though she’s a natural blonde? What is the dark secret haunting her? I need to know.
For lunch I make a curry by combining one can of kidney beans, one can of garbanzo beans, one can of lentils, and several raisins. It’s way too much food, but I realize later that I made eight portions of this curry and I am only one woman. I eat about a one-sixteenth of what I made and am stuffed. I’m going to be eating these leftovers forever.
At 3:30 my caffeine withdrawal headache is so bad that I break down and buy a tall black coffee at Starbucks. It is delicious and my headache immediately goes away, but I do experience guilt. However, it is imperative to not have a headache when playing a super-competitive game of basketball. This time, I invite two friends to the basketball court and we play Horse for 45 minutes. I am the worst at it by far, but I have a lot of energy from all those beans.
I break my fast with a steak dinner, just as Carmelo Anthony did when he told a crowd of reporters, “I surrender.” The steak is great, and I greatly enjoy the accompanying bread. I also surrender.
At the end of the Daniel Fast, I feel the usual relief one feels at the end of a diet. It is hard not to have a cookie when you want it. But does this diet deserve the consternation that many sports analysts gave it? Of this I am unsure.
Is the Daniel Fast boring? Yes. Does it get tiring to eat oodles of beans without much seasoning? Absolutely. Would this diet be even harder if you are a pro athlete of Carmelo Anthony’s stature and skill level? With my new appreciation for the difficulty of throwing a large orange ball through a circular net atop a pole, I suspect so. But is this worse than what Jackie and Marilyn had to put up with their whole lives? Does it hold a candle to the travails of dietetic folk hero Gwyneth Paltrow? Absolutely not! In conclusion, men are babies and when it comes to diets NBA superstars are less hardcore than the average American teen girl in the week before prom. And I say this while eating a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios for emphasis.