Swapping food for beer: A Toronto man's take on Lent
Kendra Mangione, CTV Toronto
Published Wednesday, March 26, 2014 1:58PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, March 27, 2014 2:40PM EDT
A Toronto man has decided to swear off solid foods for 40 days and 40 nights, relying on beer as his main source of sustenance until Palm Sunday.
Beer blogger and web designer Chris Schryer, 33, has given up food for Lent, a religious tradition observed by many Christian denominations that commemorates the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Since Ash Wednesday (March 5), Schryer has not consumed any solid foods or "unclear" liquids, such as dairy, protein shakes and smoothies.
At mealtimes, Schryer sits down with a bottle of beer, while his wife and two young children eat regular food.
"I'm feeling fine," Schryer told CTV Toronto in a phone interview. "I'm quite impressed with the impact that the beer has had, and how filling and nutritionally sound it seems to be."
He usually drinks a doppelbock beer he named Brewmaster's Tithe, which he describes as sweet and malty, with caramel, biscuit and oats. The strong lager has a history of being brewed and consumed by Bavarian monks as a source of nutrition during periods of religious fasting, including Lent, as early as the 1600s.
Schryer worked with the staff at the Toronto-based Amsterdam Brewery to create the German-style beer in December, adding flaked oats to a traditional recipe. The oats add body and complexity of flavour, he said.
When the brew was finished, the reverend of his church came to the brewery to offer a prayer of thanksgiving and bless the batch of beer.
Initially he wasn't very vocal about his fast, but the reverend asked him to speak at his Anglican church, Church of St. Aidan's in the Beach on Queen Street East.
"Everyone was really supportive," he said, though initially some members of the parish joked he'd be "half in the bag" during church services.
He says he's also been accused of alcoholism since going public about his Lent challenge, especially since he frequently writes about drinking on his beer review blog. But Schryer brushes off those criticisms.
"I come from a family of alcoholics," he told CTV Toronto, noting he has an uncle who is recovering from the addiction. "I'm very aware of what alcoholism is and how it looks."
Schryer's family doctor recommended he drink fruit juice about half an hour after each beer to wean himself off the sugar high he gets from the brews. Between meals, he also drinks water and herbal tea with sugar. He's calculated that he drinks between 8.5 and 9 litres of liquids a day.
But Schryer admits he is missing food, and that he suffers from bouts of depression, often triggered by an empty stomach.
On the first day of Lent, he blogged that he was finding his lack of food to be an "enormous mental drain." By 11 a.m., he'd only missed one meal, but was already obsessing about food.
Since that day, he’s been trying to "train" himself to focus the energy he'd normally spend thinking about food to reflective prayer. It doesn’t make him less hungry, but he said it helps distract him.
The process has also made him realize the strength of the support system he has to fall back on.
"I've always been withdrawn. I keep my feelings to myself, but it's amazing to see that sense that the community, people there to hold me up."
He said he's learned about self-control – a lesson he said could be applied to other areas of his life, like his approach to spending money.
After completing his beer-based challenge, Schryer said he intends to do more food-based fasting, for shorter periods of time, as a method of spirituality. "It's like putting a magnifying glass on myself."
He has 18 days left of his fast, which ends on April 13. He said he expects he'll have to ease in to eating again, starting with raw fruits and vegetables, but hopes to work his way up to lobster, which he will serve at a family dinner the next day.
A day on the beer diet
Schryer wakes up at 7 a.m., and has his first beer by 7:15. He drinks a 341-millilitre bottle with a pint-sized glass of water.
He takes a travel mug full of tea with lots of sugar, and drives his 5-year-old son to school.
He works from home, and alternates between water and watered-down juice through the morning. "I dehydrate really easily now that I'm not eating," he said.
At lunch, he has another 341-millilitre bottle of beer and a glass of water.
Most afternoons, he works on beer reviews, so he has another glass or bottle of beer.
He has a cup of coffee and a nap before dinner, then drinks what he calls his dinner and dessert, a 650-millilitre bottle.
He and his wife relax over a cup of herbal tea, and then he goes to bed.