The Problem with Fasting

This will be a difficult post for me to write.

It’s not like this one will contain a lot of vulnerability or anything… it’s just that it’s about something that I feel like not a lot of Christians talk about.

And because I’m not sure how to go about writing this since it’s not something I’ve personally struggled with, but something that I think needs to be addressed in the church today. And since I haven’t struggled with it, it’s not super comfortable for me to write about and I wonder if it is my place to speak up (or write lol) about it.

But the more I see people struggle and have walked alongside them in these struggles, the more I feel like I need to speak up. So here it is.

It has come to my attention how insensitive the church has become about “fasting”. Okay, maybe “insensitive” isn’t the right word… Maybe it’s just ignorant.

Either way, it bothers me.

It bothers me because I have had so many women that I love in my life struggle with an Eating Disorder (ED), and I just cringe when I hear pastors or church members encouraging each other to fast as a spiritual practice. I know Lent is almost over now, so people are just finishing up their fasts, but I know some will also continue to fast and pray over the coronavirus.

And don’t get me wrong, I understand the reasons behind why we Christians fast, and the importance of giving something up, and ultimately suffering for Christ’s glory. It’s totally a beautiful thing. But only is it truly beautiful when it is done in the right context and the right mind frame of mind.

You see, to many of my wonderful friends who struggle with an ED, encouraging them to fast means giving them the go ahead to leap back into their addiction of not eating – something that they may have been fighting for a very long time already.

And I don’t think the majority of the church really understands that an ED is an addiction. It is something that the brain thinks about all the time. Someone who suffers from an ED is plagued by constant thoughts of calories and weight. Many become addicted to seeing the numbers drop on their scale and the high they achieve when working out.

And because it is an addiction, many victims of it are ashamed to talk about it. It becomes an inner turmoil that literally eats them alive.

And because they feel that they can’t talk about, it doesn’t get addressed, and the starvation continues. I have literally had someone very close to me almost die from it in the teenage years.

This is serious. But I don’t think many people of the church treat it that way.

Just like a recovering alcoholic, there are certain triggers that affect a recovering ED patient too. Things like talking about food, calories, weight, clothes sizes or even just casually mentioning that you might need to get a belt soon.

I know that for people like me who love food and fashion, this can be tricky not to talk about. After all, in the past, a lot of social church events have revolved around food. But just be aware of your language and how it may affect other people, especially if you think someone might be suffering from, or recovering from an ED. (Obviously we don’t want to be overly-sensitive and feeling like we’re walking on egg shells all the time either, but just be aware. )

Here’s the thing that really gets to me. Some Christians somehow think they’re more “spiritual” or they can get something more spiritual out of fasting. For those of us who don’t struggle with an ED, fasting definitely does make you depend on God more when you are utterly aware of your body’s physical needs. But this does not make a person more spiritual or holy than someone who does not fast.

You see, it has come to my attention that some Christians think they can get closer to God through fasting, and have told other Christians who struggle with an ED the same thing.

But this is so wrong!!

No spiritual practice is to be put in place to expect some sort of a reward or to expect anything in return. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast”. This doesn’t mean we don’t do what God has called us to do, or that God won’t bless us for following Him, but it does mean that fasting does not save people, and we should not be boasting in our fasts.

In her book called “The Next Right Thing”, author and writer Emily P. Freeman shares her experience in spiritual disciplines, stating

“Practicing a spiritual discipline is not about trying to earn something, prove something, or win. Practicing a spiritual discipline is more about receiving power to live in the kingdom. It’s about being aware of the presence of God and putting myself there on purpose so that my character might be transformed. It’s about training my mind and my will to practice what my heart deeply believes. It’s about knowing that each moment is packed with grace, but sometimes I need practice to see it. It’s about becoming the person I already am in Christ” (208).

So yes, maybe you do feel closer to God when you fast because your character is changing and growing. But that doesn’t mean that everyone should be practicing that spiritual discipline, or that everyone will feel closer to God because of it, or that we should all do it to get closer to God.

Freeman quotes writer and philosopher Dallas Willard saying, “‘If a discipline is not producing freedom in me, it’s probably the wrong thing for me to be doing’” (208).  For those who suffer from an ED, fasting from food in particular is not freeing. It’s actually doing the opposite and putting them back in the chains they were trapped in.

But there’s hope. Freeman continues, “Anything can be a spiritual discipline when we recognize the presence of God with us in it. It could be something we do, but I’m also learning a discipline can also be something we undo” (208).

There are plenty of other spiritual practices and disciplines we can do, and so many other things we can fast from, too! (For example: fasting from social media, gaming, movies, media-consumption, shopping sprees, etc.) If you have an ED or are recovering from one and you’re reading this, know that I love you, and God loves you and He wants to walk through this with you. Don’t be afraid to reach out <3

We don’t encourage a recovering alcoholic to take a sip from the communion wine, do we?

So why do we encourage someone recovering from an ED (or has an ED) to fast with us?

I recognize that it is usually no one’s intention to encourage others to continue an addiction of any sort. I realize that many Christians might encourage food fasting not even knowing that the people they encourage might have an ED. And let’s hope we all have grace and forgiveness for each other because we are all learning and becoming aware together.

So please, let’s all be aware.

(Photo Creds: Kayla Noakes)

Freeman, Emily P.. The Next Right Thing (p. 208). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.  

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