This is the first time in my life I can honestly say I chose to fast. I mean, I’ve fasted many times in the past. Growing up in an Islamic household, I fasted for Ramadan, sometimes. I’ve fasted for blood work and medical procedures. I think I even fasted from something for Lent one time in the past, but I think I may have done it because I felt like I was supposed to do it, not because I felt led or, even, internally inclined.
This experience is different. Really different.
Hunger is a something I’ve always felt like I needed to do something about. See, I’m in a very complicated relationship with food. I would venture to say a lot of us are in this very same position, for different reasons.
As a child, food was used to punish, abuse and manipulate me. As a young adult and new mother, I became so impoverished that I could not afford food on a regular basis. We had access to so little food and money that I always made sure my baby had enough, leaving little or nothing for me.
I was underweight and malnourished for quite some time. As I was able to get on my feet, I would hoard food. Not rotten or expired food, but I always stocked my cabinets and refrigerator with more than enough…just in case.
Still, the overeating didn’t begin until several years later. Food slowly became a crutch as I dealt with balancing motherhood, working in a very stressful environment, coping with an abusive husband and the rigors of college (among the many other minor stressors of life).
The next thing I knew, I was 60lbs. overweight. I remember weighing myself and crying. It’s been a yo-yo ever since. I find a diet that works, and I drop the weight. Stress in my life kicks up a notch… aannnnd it’s back.
I have done martial arts, CrossFit training, yoga, Weight Watchers, low-carb diets, low-calorie diets, low-fat diets, paleo, keto, running, biking, weightlifting, personal training, group classes, cardio training, boot camps, counseling, meditation, hormone testing and medication. You name it. I did it (except diet pills, but I was darn close at one point. Thank God a good friend talked me out of it).
I didn’t just try it either. I worked my butt off. I earned a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, my highest one time max rep deadlift was 265lbs, and I have created some recipes that’ll make you wonder why you even need carbs.
I’ve spent hours watching lectures and reading books on the human body, insulin resistance, exercise and food. I poured my heart, my money and my time into changing this dysfunction in my life.
Yet here I am. Still obese. Man, that’s hard to even type, let alone say.
Every, single venture changed my life in some wonderful and meaningful way. I wouldn’t change a thing. I have many weapons in my arsenal in my fight against obesity, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I am bitter and angry that I have yet to see victory.
Sometimes, I feel like Daniel-san in Karate Kid. I’ve been painting, waxing, buffing, and scraping, but I still get my butt kicked when I’m in the ring!
That is arguably the best scene in that movie. OK, anyway back to this fasting thing.
I have always been sort of resistant to fasting. The idea of intentionally denying my body food for an extended amount of time, just because, just did not sit well with me. The feeling of hunger brings about a deep sense of stress and distress.
Recently, I was researching strategies to correct insulin resistance (which is a major barrier for me), and I came across a physician named Dr. Jason Fung. He caught my attention when I was watching his lecture to physicians. He said:
“What I think is really sad is, we [doctors, healthcare practitioners] give people this really horrific advice to eat less and move more and then, when they fail, we blame them for it. Right? And basically, you’re blaming the victim… You give them really bad advice which you know is going to fail, (because we’ve all done it, and it fails every single time) and then, when the weight comes back, you say: ‘Yeah… You should have listened to me better. You should have had more will power.’”
He goes on to explain that cutting calories and exercise alone, in the long term, actually slows metabolism and that this has been a well-known fact since 1915, yet still it is the recommendation of most physicians.
By this time, I’m sitting straight up totally engrossed in this lecture. Then, Dr. Fung talks about the physical benefits of intermittent fasting. Correcting insulin resistance, hormone balancing, reversing type II Diabetes, improving metabolism, weight loss…
I binged on research articles and lectures on fasting for 2 weeks. Then…I did it. On my own, not out of obligation or peer pressure, I intentionally denied myself food for a period of time.
And it is awesome.
Here’s what I want to say to you: The health benefits will take some time to see. But, what I neglected to consider was the spiritual and emotional benefit. I had to push through tough moments…without food. It made me more conscious and aware of when I was hungry versus stressed or tired. Best of all, I am learning to be okay with being hungry.
All this time, I thought fasting would feel like a famine. I thought I would plunge back into my childhood days of being denied food or the dark years I spent in poverty, never really being sure of where my next meal would come from.
Never did I even dream, let alone hope, that it could propel me forward breaking deep strongholds and healing festering wounds.
It is wildly freeing to know that I have plenty of food and money for food, yet I choose to refrain. It lessens my stress both on a spiritual and practical level. Without food (healthy or not) to be there and lull me back to emotional slumber, I am forced to deal with my feelings in a more functional way. I am able to push through things better without food.
Who would have thought?
My eating habits on non-fasting days are changing, too. I am more willing to be hungry, for a few minutes more, until dinner is ready, instead of snacking while I cook, and I don’t seem as tempted to eat in between meals. It’s like my body was made to do this.
Yes, I get hungry, but it’s okay. I’m okay.
Plus, I figure if Jesus was hungry in the wilderness for forty days, I can be hungry in my car for a few hours.
Now, I need to be clear, fasting is not for everyone. I see blogs and videos all over the internet advocating extreme fasting for everyone. Matthew 10:16 says:
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (NRSV)
I came up with a plan and consulted my physician before fasting. We discussed how long, how often, side effects and how to know something is going wrong. So, if you feel led to travel this road, please consult your physician first.
I don’t know where this journey will lead. Maybe fasting for me will be like the crane technique was for Daniel-san. I know one day soon, when I’m in the ring fighting for my life, my opponent will strike my broken places. No doubt, it will knock me to the ground and leave me writhing in pain. My enemy will assume he has been victorious once again.
But I will stand before he can claim his prize. I will position myself like a warrior ready for battle, and using an ancient technique, strike my enemy down with one final blow.
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Questions to ponder in your quiet time with God:
- I am resistant to fasting. Why is that?
- What is that I do not want to fast from? Why?
- How long should I fast?
- What should I fast from?
- How will fasting help me in my everyday life?