There seems to be no end of extremes when it comes to fasting and people’s opinion. There are those who claim fasting can be almost a ‘cure all’ in terms of inflammation, gut health, cell damage, and even cancer prevention. On the other end are people who claim fasting is incredibly detrimental to health, possibly causing muscle loss, metabolism issues, and further damage.
The extremes will always be vocal, but the truth is fasting has been around for centuries as a way of discipline and growth. Almost every major religion either incorporates fasting as part of their worship, or simply as a possible option for spiritual growth. However, even if you’re not a spiritual person, the rewards of fasting will be similar mentally, physically, and emotionally.
NOTE: Fasting is not recommended for everyone, especially those with a history of eating disorders, diabetics, or individuals who are malnourished. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, resources can be found here- https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline
Fasting as a Mental Discipline
The choice to step away from food, be it for a day or a full week, starts in the mind, and the choice has to be made in full or you have already failed. If there is any shred of doubt in your mind when you begin, then when you are tested physically and emotionally, you will allow yourself to fail. The way you feel physically and emotionally is likely to change drastically during your fast but your mentality will need to stay strong. Make the choice, believe in yourself, and experience how committing to this challenge will strengthen your mental fortitude in all aspects of your life.
Fasting as a Physical Discipline
One of the most interesting aspects of fasting is the physical sensations that come along with not eating food for a certain amount of time. When we hear someone say, “I’m hungry!”, it often means that their stomachs are empty or that it’s simply a time when they usually eat. The best tip I’ve ever heard to distinguish the difference between ‘empty stomach’ feeling and true ‘hunger’ is that the food that is desirable during an empty stomach will be food you enjoy, crave or want to try. However, with the feeling of hunger, all food is desirable. I found this to be true, but others may not. Regardless, there is a richness to be found in experiencing true hunger, as well as finding the discipline with food always around you but making the choice not to eat it. This will make you stronger next time there’s a bowl of candy at the office and a craving hits.
Fasting as an Emotional Discipline
There’s no pretty way to say it - we are emotional eaters. There was a time when we ate to survive, but with food being such a big part of celebrations, holidays, family time, dates, gatherings and so on - our relationship to food is much more emotional oriented. We eat when we feel good, we eat when we feel bad, we eat because we can. Stepping back from food will better reveal your relationship with it, and be ready for an emotional journey during your fast. Cravings and the uncomfortability of early hunger can make you irritable, moody, even sad or angry. However, when the craving passes, and they will pass, people often experience feelings of elation, happiness, clear headedness, and a deep peace. An extended fast will give you the opportunity to disconnect your emotions from eating, and this can leave you feeling confident, proud, and more knowledgeable about yourself when the fast is complete.
There is promising scientific evidence that fasting has a myriad of benefits, but what we’ve just gone over in this article are personal benefits. Growth that happens from challenging yourself, testing your willpower, and knowing that you have control over your choices. Will it be uncomfortable? Yes. Naturally, growth and change is uncomfortable at times, but often so rewarding in the end. Seneca said it best -
“Set aside now and then a number of days which you will be content with the plainest of food, and very little of it, and with rough, coarse clothing and ask yourself, ‘Is this what one used to dread?’” -Seneca, Letters from a Stoic