You Are What You Don’t Eat

Fasting for Contemporary People

At Thurman’s , in Columbus (Ohio), the meat in the burger is so succulent it almost melts in your mouth. It’s the best (and the biggest) burger I’ve ever eaten.

It’s been four years since I tasted it, and yet my mouth still waters when I think about it.

Ever noticed that when you give up something you like (even for a little while), you appreciate it even more than you used to? That if you’ve skipped a meal, the food at the next meal tastes really good, even it’s a simple meal?

Maybe it’s time to take another look at the practice of fasting.

Fasting and your health

The Catholic Minimum on Fasting

Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting is encouraged but not required for all weekdays of Lent. Fasting is defined as only taking one full meal in a day, not excluding taking a little food in the morning and at another time as custom and the Bishops’ Conference allow (in the U.S., for example, this should not add up to another full meal).

Though diet books ask us not to skip a meal and tell us how much damage it can do in the overall context of a diet plan, sometimes skipping a meal can help.

Health experts will tell you that occasional fasting actually has positive effects. It cleans the body of toxins. We sometimes gorge ourselves on so much food that our digestive system gets overworked—fasting gives it time off. Fasting (literally) gets the digestive juices flowing again.

So, if you’re a healthy person, skipping a meal now and then not only won’t kill you, it’ll probably will make you healthier.

The political fast

Fasting has also been used by politicians and activists to highlight various causes. Gandhi, who fasted for days together and drove the British crazy, was a consummate master of the practice. He had the mental strength to withstand the pleas (and pressure) of people asking him to break his fasts.

Even today, in India, you’ll hear of people going on a hunger strike or a “fast unto death” if their demands are not met. Fasting is a non-violent way of making a strong point. If more people chose this strategy, our world would certainly be more peaceful.

Keeping the faith without food
Fasting, of course, has its roots in religion. Hindus fast on a few special days every year; Muslims fast the entire month of Ramadan (neither water or food during the day); and Christians fast during Lent.

Between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Christians are asked to practice acts of penance and asceticism, and fasting is one of the most traditional. When a person fasts and feel the pangs of hunger, at some level he goes through what Jesus went through when He fasted through 40 days (and then was tempted by the devil) as a preparation for his ministry of healing and preaching.

Is there a right way?

You can fast by skipping breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or even your mid-morning snack. You could abstain from eating your favorite food during Lent. Some people give up eating meat and sea-food during Lent. Some people collect the money they save from fasting and donate it to charity.

Whatever method you use to fast during Lent, it’s important to understand the spirit behind fasting. Skipping a meal and making up for it in the next meal by stuffing yourself is technically fasting, but it’s missing the point. If you fast and are irritable or sulking, or if you thump your chest and announce your fast, it’s still sort of missing the point.

The point of a fast is:

  • to feel compassion for those who go hungry and
  • to appreciate the food we eat daily (that daily bread, if you will), something we all take for granted from time to time.

When we feel compassion for people and appreciation for the things we have, we come closer to God.

And that’s the whole point of Lent, isn’t it? In the end, that’s the whole point of everything.