Intermittent Fasting vs. Liturgical Fasting

Today is a Friday, and a Friday after a Feast Day (The Feast of the Visitation) at that.  Quite a contrast from one day to the next, and I’ve been reflecting on another contrast today – that between intermittent fasting and liturgical fasting.

Fasting is having a moment in the diet/wellness world.  There are Dr-gurus spouting health benefits, there are remarkable weight-loss before and after photos shared – like many a diet fad before it, suddenly everywhere I turn on my general wellness media, IF (Intermittent Fasting) is the buzz.  I am not a dietitian or doctor, so I can’t talk to specifics (other than to share that I do IF on Fierce Days, and in general, am pleased with how it makes me feel).

At it’s core, Fasting means not-eating for a specific time frame.  This is the same whether you’re fasting for a weight loss or wellness goal, or for a prayerful one.

Another surprising similarity?  Whether you should fast or not is pretty similar whether its for IF or for Eating Liturgically – this graphic from popsugar/Marci Nevin explains it all pretty well:

All the reasons not to intermittent fast are the same why I would advise not to do a full fast on Fridays and other Fast Days, but instead to find one thing to give up (like chocolate, or meat).  Full-on not-eating is powerful.  It can be used for good, but if you are not physically or mentally in the best place, it can be too much.

But.

The kind of Fasting done as part of the rhythm of our liturgical calendar is qualitatively miles away from the kind of fasting done with intermittent fasting.  One does IF to gain something – to lose weight, to feel sharper and more productive, to feel control over your eating.  You trade not-eating for something gained.

On Fridays, in Lent, when praying – one fasts to lose something.  To lose the chatter in your mind, to lose the pull of the flesh, to empty your spirit.  In Ramadan, the sunrise to sundown fast is meant to mimic ones life cycle – you are strong in the morning, weak/dying in the evening, and then the feast after sundown is a taste of paradise/afterlife.  You fast to become weak.

A side benefit of this sudden secular interest in fasting is, when I am fasting on a Friday, no one says boo to my not-eating – I feel like most people know someone who’s fasting at one point or another.  After many years of dealing with “do you have an eating disorder” side-eye on Fridays, it’s kind of pleasant not to have to explain myself all the time.

A potential problem with all this non-prayerful fasting however is, to my mind, that what was once made special and holy is being made pedestrian and materialistic.  It takes extra focus and intention to remember what we are doing, especially if you’re eating IF on Fierce Days for health.

I have a Friday mantra: Fast, Empty, Space, Pray.  I try to get my focus in the right place when I begin.

I also found a collection of prayers on livethefast.org that I have found helpful.  Note, one of them is the Magnificat, which we just rejoiced in at the Feast of the Visitation.  Making your body empty for the Holy Spirit is an interesting reflection in the context of Mary’s acceptance of her pregnancy.

May you all have a meaningful, deliberate, Fast Day today.

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