The question arises most poignantly during this Lenten season: does fasting fit in with a healthy lifestyle? Doesn’t fasting put your body into a, well, fasting state? And doesn’t this mean that when you do eat, you are more likely to not burn those calories as efficiently, but also you will be more likely to store those calories as fat as a result? Wouldn’t it be better to not fast at all in order to maintain my metabolism?
The answer to that is, in this order; Yes, yes, maybe, no!
Fasting absolutely fits in with a healthy a holy lifestyle. The Bible speaks volumes about the effects of prayer and fasting. They go hand in hand. Often times, periods of fasting preempts big changes or decisions, allowing a clarity of spirit and of body. Fasting has always been held to be an extremely fruitful discipline in the Christian walk.
But what about the fasting state? True, eating smaller meals more often keeps the metabolism even and that limiting meals (aka fasting) will likely slow your metabolism down. The question then arise: how can this help me if the goal is to lose weight and be healthy?
That question is partly answered by virtue. Fasting requires discipline and self control, things that are often not stressed in the bulk of our contemporary culture today. To exercise such will power, coupled with prayer, can yield beautiful spiritual fruit. It can help purify the body. And to boot, once the period of fasting is over, you may well have a new appreciation for even the simplest foods.
What is a typical fast like? The most common form of fasting is to eat two very small meals and one normal sized meal, often avoiding meat during that day. Water, coffee, and tea are permitted anytime between meals as needed. The order in which the meals are taken is on the one hand irrelevant, depending on if you are working out that day.
For example, if you exercise on a day that you are fasting first thing in the morning, from the perspective of muscle recovery, you may want to consider eating your full meal after exercising. Then space out your two remaining small meals later in the day. You could of course do your to small meals following by your big meal or even sandwich (poor choice of words!?!) the normal meals between the two small meals.
For the small meals you could choose to eat a bagel or a slice or two of fasting bread, with or without a hardboiled egg. Or one half of a tuna sandwich. Everyone is different and everyone’s limits are different. (Regarding fasting bread, there are some great recipes out there. However, I am currently looking to find/try/create a new one that includes whey protein in it. It anyone knows of one, please forward it to me.)
You could go more limited in your consumption than the normal fast. Such a decision depends on where you are at physically. Experimenting with the austerity of fasting will let you know your limits. As a whole, most folks are capable of much greater discipline and self-denial than they think. Be encouraged to give it a go and unite your efforts with prayer.
A note to reflect on: don’t broadcast that you are fasting. Do yourself up a little better that day. Look a little sharper and stand a little straighter. This is a discipline primarily between you and the Lord, for your benefit. Spiritually you diminish the fruits of this exercise, the fruits of true virtue, by drawing attention to the fact that you are fasting. Can you share it with your spouse, spiritual director or good friend? Sure. They are sources of encouragement and support. They walk with you. They may even be fasting at the same time. However, don’t share it with your average co-worker or other folks that you meet. When tempted to do so, even offer that desire up too!
When your fast is over, just plug back into your normal dietary routine of healthy planning and eating. Don’t stress about how for a day your metabolism might have slowed down a bit. Big deal. The ultimate goal is Heaven. The immediate goal is to be able to fulfill your vocation and Christian lifestyle to a maximum effectiveness and to not be held back by poor health, wherever possible.
I encourage you during this time before Easter: Taste the fruits of fasting and “cast out into the deep” so that you may grow ever stronger, and yet more humbly, in holiness.