Can Fasting be Done in a Healthy Way?

Coping Skills #10. Personal Prayer

Lighting candles for Tazie prayer

Today starts the beginning of Lent for me and my family. During this time, we always worked hard to make sacrifices, donate to charities, and fast from something we enjoyed. Like many little children, I stopped eating sweets. If I could go the whole week (even Sunday) without desserts, then I felt so accomplished. God must be so happy with my self-control!

This sacrifice continued despite my compulsive over-eating. However, the draw of ice cream in the freezer downstairs sometimes pulled me away from my Lenten resolution. Consuming large amounts of desserts secretly helped me feel satisfied, peaceful, and joyful for a short period of time. Quickly, the shame and loneliness returned.

Restricting my freshman year of college switched my eating habits drastically. Pretty soon, my regular day was fasting. Thus, when a professor gave our class the assignment of praying by fasting, his suggestion to go a day or two without eating sounded amazing. That night after school, I announced my decision to go all four days without consuming or drinking anything but water. My family expressed worry, but I was convinced that this would be the holiest thing to do. Deep down, however, my choice centered more on harming myself and trying to be a “good” person rather than a deep religious conviction.

Rather ironically, this fasting assignment for class took place during Lent. A few weeks later was Holy Week or the week before Easter. My hope was to restrict heavily during that time. After years of trying and failing to fast, I finally was doing it the right way. Everyone must be so proud of me!

Fortunately, my parents caught on to my disordered behavior which ended my dreams of not eating anymore. Since then, I have struggled with fasting. How much can someone do with an eating disorder? Is it really a good idea to stop eating even for a religious reason? How can I respond to future Lents?

I do not have the answers to all of those questions. What I do is that fasting does not work for everyone. There will probably not be a time in my life where I can fast from food safely. It is tied to heavily to my eating disorder, self-hate, and self-harm.

But does that mean no one can fast? Not necessarily. I think that restricting from food completely for long periods of time can easily cause problems. However, there are certain religions that do this regularly. If you do, I encourage you to do so in a safe way. I have come to see this issue as something that works well for some while is very dangerous for others.

Another thing to think about is how you fast. Giving up meals or food does not need to be the only way you approach this method of prayer, meditation, or contemplation. Instead, one can give up a certain type of food that they love (chocolate, chips, orange juice), snacking late at night, or eating out at restaurants. Even better for someone with an eating disorder, you can take a break from non-food items like Facebook, texting, watching TV, putting on makeup, reading romance novels, etc. The possibilities are endless. Fasting can be so much more than just refusing to eat for a long period of time.

Facing this Lent is difficult. My daily dessert (prescribed by my meal plan) fills me with guilt. However, I have to remember that starving myself does not make me holier nor do I deserve that treatment. Fasting can be done in a healthy way, but it takes careful thought and wisdom.

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10 thoughts on “Can Fasting be Done in a Healthy Way?

  1. In my family, we had to choose something to give up. For me, one year it was chocolates, one year it was desserts, but recently because of my complicated relationship with food, it’s been things like social media or reading fiction books. Maybe that might work for you?

    • That is a great idea! That is kind of what I have done the past few years. This year, I will be giving up body checking in the mirror. Already, it is driving me crazy. However, that activity takes up far too much time that could be spent helping others, praying, or working.

      • That’s great! You’re not only not-fasting, and looking out for your health, but you’re also doing something that is actively good for your heath by giving up body-checking. I don’t know if I could give up calorie-counting (my personal time-waster), but maybe I should try.

  2. jefairgrieve says:

    I always wondered, Anna Rose, what effect Lent and fasting had upon a person with an eating disorder. Now I have some insight, thanks to you. Having an eating disorder makes living like walking through a minefield, it seems. So many perils that others don’t worry about. Thank you for helping me understand this.

    • Thank you so much for being open to understanding! That means so much. You are an incredible person to care so much about others. That is an excellent analogy for living with an eating disorder. Unfortunately, family and friends can feel similarly because of worrying about what they say and do.

  3. gapark says:

    This is a subject that interests me as well. In my faith, we fast as a congregation once a month, for spiritual strength and to give to the poor. I didn’t really understand the connection before until I had an “aha!” moment while reading Isaiah 58:5-9 (6. Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, …7. Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry,)
    Fasting helps us to appreciate what we have and to be generous with what we have in giving to those who have not. (It is suggested we give a generous donation of what the two skipped meals would have cost us.)
    The recommendations are that we fast for two meals, (and I drink water, some don’t), which means I don’t eat after dinner, skip breakfast and lunch the next day, then break my fast with dinner that night.
    An interesting thing occurs over and over. If I am prayerful and seek God’s help with my fast, I can go without food easily and don’t feel hungry at all. If I am only “starving myself” or forget to make it a prayerful fast, I am hungry within 3 hours after I’ve stopped eating!

  4. celinemurray says:

    What a great topic to write on! Like jefairgrieve, I’ve also wondered about what fasting may sound like to someone with an eating disorder. I love that you pointed out the various types of fasts and that they don’t always have to deal with food. Very well done my dear! 🙂

    • Thanks! Remembering all of the different ways to fast is helpful even if you don’t struggle with an eating disorder. Sometimes, it is more helpful to give up another thing like social media or gossip. Having options is good.

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