Fasting Part 10

As we draw near to the end of Lent and this series of blog posts on fasting, I thought it’d be nice for us to hear from someone other than myself. Someone smart. A serious Christian. A person of good will. Therefore, I asked my friend, Dr. Chris Beiting, to pen some thoughts about his experience of fasting.

(Quick side note: I wasn’t expecting Chris to reference my fasting practices, but I didn’t tell him what to write or not to write. So I just want to remind our readers that over the years I have gradually worked up to my level of fasting. Remember, it’s not a competition.)

By way of introduction, I am providing this brief video of Chris talking about his work when he was teaching at Holy Cross College. This can give you a little flavor of who he is.  (As you will see, he’s an academic doctor, not a medical doctor.) Or you can go directly to his words which begin beneath this video.

I can scarcely refuse Bob anything, so when he asked for a guest blog entry, I had to comply. I’m writing this to provide some independent confirmation of the stuff he’s been saying in recent posts about the benefits of fasting.  Actually, I suspect I was one of his guinea pigs for spreading the word about fasting, as much of what he’s written to date has been advice he’s given in the past. But having followed that advice, I can very much confirm the truth of what he’s been saying, and then some.

I remember when Bob first broached this topic to me in conversation, touting the benefits of fasting and all it entails.  “You know, Chris,” he casually mentioned once, “after I’ve been fasting for a novena . . .” “Stop right there,” I replied.  “A novena?  A whole novena???  Nine straight days?  You can’t go that long without food!”

Oh, how little I knew!

Now, I had tried bouts of fasting in my younger days, and never with any great success or enjoyment.  But things have changed since then.  My metabolism is a lot slower now than it was back in those days, and I’ve had plenty more spare meals to store around my midsection than I did back then, so I suppose that all makes fasting easier on a physical level.  But I’ve also got more insights now, one of which I want to share with everyone who may be interested in the practice, namely: religious fasting is a work of the Holy Spirit.  It has to be done in the right way, and in the right spirit.  If you aren’t doing it right, it’ll fail—either you’ll have a miserable experience, or something will happen that will cause you to have to quit the fast early.

So: Step Number 1 is have the right motivations.

Actually, Step Number 1 is check with your doctor to make sure you don’t have medical conditions that prohibit you from fasting, so do that first.  If you have diabetes or hypoglycemia, this sort of thing is very risky, so don’t try it.  There, are, however, various kinds of fasts—Jentezen Franklin, who wrote the book on fasting that first caught Bob’s eye, has identified several based on examples from the Bible, and you can look them up on his web page here and see if any of them is right for you.

Myself, I decided to jump in off the deep end.  Could I match Bob stroke for stroke?  Could I fast for a full nine days, eating absolutely nothing, and consuming only water?

The answer turned out to be “no”.

I did, however, manage to make it through a full seven days, which surprised me a lot.  And taught me a lot as well.  After that first fast, I decided to lighten up future fasts a bit.  In lieu of having no food and just water only, I tried adding a glass of fruit juice or broth in the place of a regular daily meal (plus water any time I wanted it, of course).  That seemed to be the ticket for me—fasting that way made it possible to go a full nine days without food.  And with practice, I found it really isn’t all that difficult, either.  In this, as in so many things, Bob was right.

By now you may be asking yourself, “Okay, but WHY would anybody want to do something like this?”  That’s certainly a fair question.  To it, I can just echo some of the stuff Bob has said in this blog already—there are a number of benefits that accrue from a good fast.  I’ll identify four: physical, spiritual, charitable, and personal.

Physical Benefits

One of the most basic benefits of a fast is physical.  Most of us can stand to lose a few pounds, especially those of us who have passed A Certain Age, and a long fast will make that happen (though note that fasting isn’t dieting—those pounds you lose will come back later).  Moreover, a fast tends to flush the body of toxins.  Those headaches you get when you’ve gone without food for a while?  Those are the toxins leaving your body, and if you fast often enough, you’ll find you stop getting them.  Some folks have asked me if I get listless and lethargic going without food for so long, and I have to say that sometimes I do.  If your job involves a lot of heavy labor or heavy thinking, a fast will affect it, so it’s best to fast during a vacation time when it won’t affect your work.  But you’ll find there are some interesting physical things that happen.  After a couple of days without food, your senses will sharpen to a degree that will surprise you.  Your digestive system goes into a standby mode, so you don’t really feel hungry.  Your sense of time slows down a great deal as well.  And, depending on the fast, you may find that your powers of concentration sharpen to an amazing degree.  That mental clarity does not always last, but it feels very good while it does. (Dr. Beiting’s thoughts will be continued tomorrow…)

(Back to Fasting Part 9: Fr. John Riccardo)

(Forward to Fasting Part 11: More Dr. Christopher Beiting)