By Kennedy Hall
Fasting gives birth to prophets and strengthens the powerful; fasting makes lawgivers wise. Fasting is a good safeguard for the soul, a steadfast companion for the body, a weapon for the valiant, and a gymnasium for athletes. Fasting repels temptations, anoints unto piety; it is the comrade of watchfulness and the artificer of chastity. In war it fights bravely, in peace it teaches stillness. – St. Basil the Great
Fasting is a perennial method of mortification and chastisement for the body. Jesus tells us that some demons can only come out through prayer and fasting. (Mark 9:29) It is a powerful spiritual tool, as well as a strong physical tool. In order to fast properly there are a few things to keep in mind:
- You will be hungry
- It will be hard
- You are not trying to starve yourself, so do not go crazy
- It can not take away from your ability to perform basic duties in your vocation
- It will get easier and even enjoyable
Our culture is obsessed with comfort, so people view feeling hunger as some sort of disease. Food is one of the easiest ways that devils play on our lack of virtue. If we cannot control our appetite for food, then our other pleasure seeking appetites will soon be out of control as well.
There are three main ways to fast.
Intermittent fasting. This is all the rage amongst dieticians and health professionals right now, but it is an ancient practice. In fact, it is an ancient Catholic practice. The word “breakfast” is the words “break” and “fast” put together. It literally means “to break the fast.” Historically, monks and most lay people would not eat until later in the day, at which point they would break their fast. Certain penitential seasons, like Lent would have stricter rules, but long periods without food were common. Truthfully, eating breakfast the way we understand it in North America is completely modern thing. In order to do intermittent fasting, you basically just skip breakfast and do not eat until lunch. You also do not eat after a certain time at night, the aim is to give yourself about 16+ hours between meals. This means that if you finish supper by 8:00 PM, you do not eat again until noon. You can still drink coffee, but you do not eat any food or drink any caloric drinks. When you do eat, you eat normally, unless your normal means constant fast-food and ice cream. I personally do not pay much attention to what I eat or concern myself with calories. But, since I have adopted intermittent fasting, I have lost weight and kept it off. The long distance between meals trains your body to burn fat deposits when hungry, rather than burn recently ingested food. Your appetite will actually shrink a bit as your body learns to do more with less. You will also enjoy your meals more as you are much hungrier. In the beginning stages, drink chicken broth or soda water to help curb your appetite between meals.
Not eating between meals. This is much like intermittent fasting, except breakfast is allowed. I did this method when I did the Exodus 90 program, and it worked great. Most of us snack all the time and drink caloric drinks at various times throughout the day, so this is challenging. Like intermittent fasting, you do not eat after supper until your first meal the next day. That alone means will you at least have 12 hours or so between dinner and breakfast, which is much better than most diets. In order for this method to be more effective, you do need to watch what you are eating more strictly in order to get the weight loss benefits of intermittent fasting. You are still eating three full meals, so there are more calories, thus, cut out sweets and sugar as much as you can. If you are eating in a disordered way, this will be a good way to work up to intermittent fasting. If anything, you gain control of your appetites and learn to say “no” to the usual cravings. Saying “no” to your body is a great tool to teach you to deny temptation and the Devil as well.
Fast from a group of foods. This is what the Church calls “abstinence”, i.e. abstaining from something. Technically speaking, all Catholics in Canada and the U.S are still required to abstain from meat on Fridays. Most have the idea that this changed, but that is not the case. The bishops conferences of both countries made exceptions for substituting a similar act of penance instead of abstaining from meat. The intent behind this change was to help Catholics navigate the uncatholic landscape of the secular culture. For example, my wife and I are the only practicing Catholics in our families, so we can not expect our families to serve fish if we go for dinner on Friday. Therefore, I will do an extra act of penance on those days to make up for the fact that I will have to eat meat. This is why intermittent fasting is so useful, because you guarantee that you are upping your fasting game all the time, which makes extra fasting easier. If for some health reason you can not try the two aforementioned fasting practices, try this one. Give up entire groupings of foods that you really enjoy for a period of time. Perhaps abstain from meat for all of Lent, which used to be the norm. Or, cut out all pop and sweets. If you get a tonne of drive-thru food, cut that out. Whatever you remove from your diet, it should be hard and cause discomfort.
The benefits from fasting are immense once you get into the swing of things. You gain self control, and you gain mental clarity as your body is not constantly working to digest food. You lose weight and you feel better. Overall, every man should adopt some fasting practice to up their spiritual game.