This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Isaiah 58:6, (MSG)
Instead, comb your hair and wash your face. 18 Then others won’t know that you are going without eating. But your Father sees what is done in private, and he will reward you.
Matthew 6:17-18 (MSG)
The hot topic on the diet front these days is “Intermittent fasting.” In case you are unfamiliar with intermittent fasting, it is exactly what it sounds like; intermittently going without food. There are a number of ways to go about intermittent fasting or, as it is sometimes referred to, simply “IF”. One of the more popular ways is to choose a period in which to fast every day, or nearly every day. This method leaves you an “eating window” in which you consume all of your (hopefully healthy) food for the day. The eating window might be anywhere from 12 to 20 hours, depending on your inclination and situation. One of the most popular is a 16:8 regimen in which you fast for 16 hours, usually beginning shortly before bedtime and extending to a late breakfast or healthy brunch. I have tried this method myself and it works, if you stick with it and don’t overindulge during you eating window!
Another popular option is the 5:2 diet. This is a weekly routine in which you eat normally (again, hopefully healthy) five days a week, then on two nonconsecutive days you limit your calories to 500-600 per day, distributed however you wish throughout the day. I have also tried this, and it, too, works with the usual caveat of adherence to the routine.
Some people even choose to fast from all caloric intake for a full 24 hours for some (safe) length of time either as their preferred method, or in conjunction with one of the methods described above. I have found that one period of 24 hours, even occasionally, is pretty much the limit of my tolerance.
All these methods of intermittent fasting must, of course, take into consideration any underlying medical or psychological conditions that might make them dangerous for certain people.
While all the talk about intermittent fasting is being touted as “The latest and greatest” in health and wellness, the truth is that fasting has been a part of most of the world’s religions for centuries, as can be seen in the Bible passages at the beginning of this post. I think one of the best suggestions I have heard concerning fasting is that one considers fasting not just for physical or spiritual reasons, but a combination of the two. I have read about one study, though, that found those who fasted for spiritual reasons reaped the physical benefits as well, but not vice-versa.
I think fasting, at least intermittently, is something we may have lost an appreciation for in our modern ministry. Especially combined with prayer, meditation, study, and other spiritual disciplines, fasting can have a wonderfully positive on our, and our congregations’, spiritual growth and faith formation. A simple piece of advice I picked up from Brett McKay at artofmanliness .com is:
As you open a fast, take a couple minutes to reflect on the purpose you’ll be dedicating it to. If you pray, tell God of your intentions and ask for guidance, discernment, insight, strength, etc. during your fast. At the end of the fast, bring it to a close with another time of reflection or prayer, contemplating how you felt during the fast and if your learned anything from it.
Intermittent fasting is a practice worth considering more often than just during Lent, especially if we are looking for improvement in both our spiritual and physical health.
Your partner in ministry and mission,
Pr. Jim Person