During my youth, I watched my Christian friends give up goodies for Lent. They usually went through the same no-chocolate routine every year. I never saw my friends give up food entirely or decide to chug beer for meals, but this Lent, Chris Schryer is doing both.
On Ash Wednesday, Chris, a devout Anglican from Toronto, stopped eating all solid food and started a new diet, which he expects to abide by until Palm Sunday. For all of Lent, Chris will subsist on an all-beer diet. His meal plan includes a bottle of beer for breakfast, one for lunch, one as an afternoon snack and an extra large bottle for dinner. Alongside his pal Iain McOustra, a brewmaster at Amsterdam Brewing Company, Chris created an oat-rich doppelbock called Brewmaster’s Trithe, which has enough nutritional value to keep Chris from dying on his journey towards a repentant, spiritual buzz. Lent is halfway over, so this week I gave Chris a call to see how his beer-fuelled crusade has affected his family and shitting habits.
VICE: You’ve been drinking beer for 20 days straight. How has this affected your digestive system? If you’re not consuming solid food, are you shitting at all?
Chris Schryer: It’s funny, because my doctor – and actually a variety of other people – were like, “You’re totally going to get constipated because you’re not getting any fibre!” Constipation isn’t the exact opposite of what has been happening, but it’s certainly not the case. There’s a surprising amount of solid in beer, and apparently juice, to the extent that I do take a shit a couple of times a day. I don’t eat meat, so I’m pretty regular as it is. Particularly midday and later, shall we say, it's not as solid as it would be because I’m consuming a ton of liquid.
Is it diarrhea by the middle of the day?
It nearly is. The difference is that I always think of diarrhea [as going to the bathroom] every five minutes. This isn’t like that; it’s just when it comes out, it’s that consistency.
OK. Thanks for the info. What other changes have you noticed in your body?
I’m losing weight. I intentionally didn’t weigh myself and make weight an issue about this, because the focus for me is much more about the fast, but I definitely need a belt now, so I probably dropped three or four centimetres off my waist in 20 days.
What kind of changes have you noticed in your energy? You play hockey and managed to finish your season while doing this fast.
I think you take for granted the value of complex carbohydrates until you don’t have any. The first Friday that I played hockey during the fast, I was excited. Like, I’m always jazzed to play hockey, and on top of that I was like, 'Man, I can play! I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to play or not, but I can play!' I went out, did the warm up and I was rippin’ around the ice on my first two shifts. My third shift, I got out, and my legs were just like lead. I didn’t have any stamina. I was pulling 25 or 30 second shifts at some points. That was the first two weeks. The third week I went in with my head up. I played some of the best hockey I played all season.
What emotional changes have you noticed in yourself since you started the fast?
A big part of this for me is the actual spiritual discipline I get from this sort of pursuit. It requires a lot of self-control. The Christian angle is that a lot of that [requires] depending on your community, your family and the people around you. But it’s also about taking ownership for your own behaviour. That’s been working, and I’ve been feeling good about it. I’ve been made aware of other parts of my life where I just don’t have the right level of self-control, and I've been trying to expand it to that.
What do you hope your kids think when they grow up one day and learn about the time that their dad gave up food and chugged beers for meals during Lent?
My daughter’s only two so she probably won’t have any memory of this, but she’s super cute and helps in ways that are adorable and ridiculous. My boy, Ben, is five. He’s very aware of the fast and talks about it. He told me on the first day he was going to fast from unhealthy food for Lent. That lasted until dessert, but he was aware of the concept and why I was doing it, and he talks to me about it a lot. What I want my kids to understand is that this thing – this faith that we have – isn’t something you do and then put away. It permeates your whole existence.
Right. So what did your wife say when you told her about your diet?
You have to understand the dynamic of our relationship. She just kind of laughed and rolled her eyes. She’s been completely supportive of it.
So I bet you feel pretty drunk right now?
I have a pretty high tolerance, to the point where I have to be careful because I still have to do things like drive and pick up my son from school. I could be completely comfortable behind the wheel and still possibly blow over the legal limit. From a breakfast beer or a lunch beer, I’ve never even felt buzzed.
How has this contributed to your spiritual growth?
There have been times that I’ve been very, very aware that this beer, which I assisted in making, is made entirely out of stuff that was given to us, and that it is a blessing. This is a blessed substance that has been given to me to be able to undertake this. When I feel hungry, I stop and I pray, or I stop and I try to bless someone. When my priest came and she blessed the beer, she read from the Psalms. It talks about how the Lord provides grain and fills the hills with golden grain, and it’s totally true.