“Why” is the answer. Not the question. But the answer.
To which question?
“Is it wrong to fast then,” a Christian lady asked me after I’d given a talk about intuitive eating at a church women’s brunch. I’d just spent a half-hour talking to these lovely ladies about intuitive eating, about how eating well doesn’t have to mean ghastly food rules and being a ‘certain’ man-sanctioned size.
Intuitive eating at it’s core, is about honouring our hunger and fullness, and eating for physical reasons rather than emotional reasons.
If we’re ignoring our hunger then we’re clearly not honouring our hunger. And once we start ignoring our hunger and restricting certain foods, unspeakable brown stuff is likely to hit the fan big time (quick! duck!). You restrict it, you’ll crave it. You ignore your hunger, you’ll find yourself over-hungry and over-eating. It’s like the most weird, ironic thing, like Alanis Morrisette’s song:
“A traffic jam when you’re already late
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife…”
When all you want to do is NOT eat so much chocolate, why on earth is it that you find yourself eating MORE chocolate?
It’s ironic. But it’s human. That’s how our brains work. You restrict food, your brain will crave that food. So the answer is not to restrict. Not to ignore hunger. But instead to listen to those important signals our body gives us. But what does this mean when it comes to our faith and fasting?
If your faith is important to you, and fasting is an important part of your faith – then how do those two fit together?
We know that Jesus fasted in the Bible. For 40 days and nights in the Judaean Desert. Which is definitely no walk in the park. But then nothing about Jesus’s life on earth was a walk in the park.
I’m not here to give a theological explanation for fasting. But I don’t think it takes a theologian to know this – it’s the WHY that matters.
As in, WHY do you want to fast?
Are you planning to fast from food so you can truly focus on drawing closer to God through prayer or spending more time studying the bible? Well great.
Are you really giving up certain foods for Lent so that you can gain some iota or inkling of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us? Well great again.
Or are you hoping that in fasting or observing Lent you’ve found a permissible way to restrict your food and contort your body into a shape and size that society deems more acceptable? (This one – not so great).
Is it God you’re focused on? Or the world you’re hoping to please by dropping a pound or two?
Deep down inside, you know what your true motivations are. Are you hoping you’ll lose weight? Are you hoping you’ll drop inches? Are you hoping you’ll get a happy surprise when you jump on the bathroom scale after Lent or your fast?
Cos if that’s the case, if it’s not really about drawing closer to our creator, maybe you need to fast from something else – our thin-obsessed, diet culture. Maybe make that your goal for Lent – to fast from all body-fixated influencers, to fast from magazines that harp on about losing weight, to fast from discussing body size/shapes/weight with your friends; instead of a ‘fake-Lent’ or ‘fake-fast’ that is really just a cover-up for wanting to fit into worldly ideals. God doesn’t need you to be a size zero or weigh X kilograms or pounds. He loves you just the way you are.
God ultimately wants you to take care of your self, He loves you. Not taking part in a food-fast in no way lessens His love for you, or your ability to honour and draw close to Him. There are so MANY other things you could fast from – time on your smartphone, watching TV, reading gossip magazines… the list goes on.
P.S. If you’ve had an eating disorder, either past or present, then fasting or giving up foods for Lent is much more likely to be damaging to your relationship with yourself and food. It’s not a risk I would recommend a client taking and I’d highly recommend you discuss it with your eating disorder therapist before undertaking either.