Senior Dan Case went one year without eating dessert, and that portion of his story has been viewed more than two million times on BuzzFeed, thanks to a “listicle” posted Jan. 10.
But a dessert-less year is neither the beginning nor the end of his story.
Case, a psychology major, spoke in chapel last semester about his battle with depression, which nearly led to suicide. He credits his childhood friend Olivia Harvey ’14 with both convincing him to continue living and to begin losing weight.
“It was not as much encouragement that pushed me to do (a dessert fast) as much as annoyance, because I had originally set my goal with my friend Olivia, ‘OK, we’re going to do this for 30 days,’” Case said. “I had done this a million times before, and I had always failed. And she knew that, and I knew that.”
A year without dessert
Harvey said she joined Case in the challenge but didn’t think this time would be any different than all of the previous times he had tried to meet a goal.
“I voiced these concerns to his sister, who told him that I didn’t believe he could do it. I think this really annoyed him,” Harvey, currently serving at a hospital in the Republic of Congo, said in an email. “If he failed, then I would have been right about his lack of follow-through.”
Case has known Harvey since age three. Before Case began his dessert fast in October 2014, Harvey said his character – loyal, motivated, humorous, competitive and caring – was masked by layers of insecurity.
“He made big decisions very quickly, but then after some time had passed (he) tended to lack commitment and follow-through on his decisions,” Harvey said. “I would tell him that he actually was a really likable and friendly guy, but he lacked the confidence to believe that what I said was true.”
Case said he ate large amounts of sugar and junk food every day, hence inspiring his fast of choice. Though the challenge grew from 30 days to one year without dessert, Case said it wasn’t an easy year.
He said it was important to find the right group of people to support him – not the friends that tempted him with Oreos. He said he had to reroute his routine in the dining hall, so as not to pass by the dessert area, and learn to avoid the gas station across the road where he often bought ice cream. He also had to find substitutes, such as low-fat yogurt, for the sweet items he craved.
But there were also small victories, like losing weight and developing healthier, feel good habits. From August 2014 to October 2015, Case lost 60 pounds and exchanged his binge eating for running, working up to run a 5K.
Case’s “year without dessert” came to a close last October, but he’s set another goal – actually 21 more – including gaining control of eating dessert.
Harvey said Case’s honesty about his struggle with self-image and commitment to making it a year has given him more confidence.
“Because of the victory in this area of his life, he has been able to stick to other goals he has set as well,” Harvey said. “He says that I played a huge part in it, but in reality it was really all God who helped him stick to it. It’s been so fun to watch him grow and mature this past year. All I tried to do was be honest with him, encourage him and most importantly: pray for him.”
Case said he’s set 21 goals to achieve before he turns 22, something he plans to do for each year he’s able to achieve as many goals as he is old.
“I (had) rarely set goals, because I always failed them,” Case said. “The dessert thing was the first goal that I believe I accomplished. So once I completed that, I was like, ‘Why am I going to stop? I’m not stopping. I’m going to set more goals.’”
Those that he has already accomplished this year are: not shaving for two weeks, traveling to visit a friend and using an iPhone only as a phone for a week.
He’s also currently doing a “stringent diet” – vegan to be exact – for 30 days and training to run a marathon in April.
“(Going vegan) isn’t to lose weight, it’s just to check out a really radical departure from my typical lifestyle,” Case said. “That is a very challenging goal, because so many foods have animal by-products in them, so really there’s not a lot of food to eat.”
Case jokingly said he’ll be eating rice and beans for a month, as there’s not a lot to choose from in the campus dining hall.
“I’m so hungry, and I’ve been hungry for two days,” said Case, two days into his 30-day challenge at the time. “I think it’s just going to be focusing my mindset not on food.”
Gaining a new perspective
Rae McKee, a junior marketing major who is training to run the marathon with Case, said Case is the most driven person she has met. One year ago, he wouldn’t even run a mile, McKee said. Now he’s preparing to run 26.2 miles.
“He decides he wants to figure out something unique and different that’s challenging that most people don’t try,” McKee said. “It opens up his perspective of different people and different ways of living life and healthy ways, too.”
McKee said Case’s testimony of becoming a goal-oriented person has given him more empathy for people struggling with similar things he has.
Because Case blogs about his journey to accomplish all 21 goals, he has received emails and comments from people across the world – from Oregon to Asia.
“He’s using these random experiences to create information for other people,” McKee said. “He’s open to experiencing something with you. … When he gets comments or emails about, ‘Hey, I struggle with this,’ he has that side of, ‘This is where I was, but I know that you can get to the other side.’”
McKee said the two act as a support system for each other, both in finding goals to set and working to achieve those goals.
“(He has) that encouraging spirit of that he never makes you feel little or incompetent,” she said. “He wants to make sure that you know that there’s another side to the story and an end result that you might not see.”
Among the goals Case has encouraged McKee to work toward are: running a marathon in every state, journaling, reading 54 books in her 20th year, and doing something different with her summer. She’ll be going to Peru for five weeks.
“While Dan may have not been the source of that, he was definitely a huge influence on, ‘What do you want? And how can you make that happen?’” McKee said.
Case said the past year has taught him about discipline, something he said is vital in a Christian’s life.
“There are some days that you don’t want to have your devotions. There are days that I don’t want to run. But I do it because I’m training for this great big race. In the same way, it’s like I’m training for a race as a Christian – I’m running a race – and so I don’t want to forfeit a day, because I know that’s going to put me behind,” he said. “In that same way, I want to be disciplined in my spiritual life, in my prayer, in my journaling, in my personal devotion time. I know that I can now.”
Case said learning discipline is learning priorities.
“If I can give up dessert for a year, I can schedule a time to really get into the Word of God and get into that and make that a priority,” he said.
Setting goals has also taught him to work through his depression rather than giving in to it, he said.
“Now I see depression, and it’s like, ‘No, I’m going to work through that,’ because I can work through that. I don’t have to just sit down and say, ‘I’m a failure, I can’t get through something,’” Case said. “No, God has given us the ability to work hard for things, and to overcome. So much of that is founded in an attitude of not backing down.”
Case said the changes he’s adopted in the last year and a half have had a ripple effect on the rest of his life.
“I mark all of this time as a turning point for me,” Case said, “helping me with devotions and pushing me forward in all areas of my life, not just the dessert, (not) the running. Once you start setting goals and making habits, it affects all areas of your life.”
To become goal-oriented, Case suggests starting with small goals:
- Set small, reasonable goals, because there’s a return on it quickly. Small goals are different than a bucket list.
- Journal every day. Set a minimum word count, such as writing at least 500 words each day.
- Get into a positive mindset.
- Find a good support system.
- Remember your success.
Read about Dan’s journey on his blog, “The Most Boring Person at the Table,” at www.mostboringpersonatthetable.wordpress.com.
Anna Dembowski is a senior journalism major and editor-in-chief for Cedars. She is learning to love coffee, spontaneity and Twitter. Follow her at @annabbowskers.