Fasting has long been considered a religious practice that focuses on abstaining from food and drink for periods. The purpose is to free oneself from materialism through cultivating a closer connection to the divine.
However, as religious life fades and food becomes increasingly abundant and accessible in Western culture, fasting as a religious practice is on the decline in our more secular society. At the same time, there has been a dramatic increase in the so-called “lifestyle” diseases – diabetes, some cancers and heart disease – which studies indicate have their origin largely in the quantity and type of food we eat.
Despite numerous theories, weight loss programs, surgical procedures and even drugs, Canadians are heavier than ever. 68% of us are overweight and facing a host of these so-called lifestyle diseases.
Now, the latest trend gaining momentum is fasting as a means to drop weight and get healthier.
For example, in his 2012 documentary movie, Eat, Fast and Live Longer, British journalist Michael Mosely set out to investigate the health benefit claims of fasting. Mosely’s personal experience together with current clinical studies indicate that fasting can be a viable approach to managing and, in some cases, preventing disease. A study published last year for instance, claims that fasting triggers repairs of stem cell damage and can reboot immune systems.
But fasting purely for health benefits still keeps us fixated on the food – when to eat and how much to take in. It does not go to the root of the problem – our love/hate relationship with food and the inability to control intake. Despite all the education and urgings from experts, it would appear that, for many of us, mere human will is proving inadequate to master food cravings and bingeing.
This is leading many of us to look for spiritual answers to the unhealthy attitudes and relationships we have with food. Numerous books on spirituality and weight loss now line the shelves of bookstores. Wellness and weight-loss clinics that encourage a more spiritual approach are popping up in cities like Vancouver. A wide variety of faith groups now have diet and wellness programs. Clearly, we are increasingly aware that a divine influence can change our relationship with food.
This is just what one friend of mine learned.
Evelyn (not her real name) had tried numerous diets and fasts. She knew the calories and content of every food item she ate. Yet, no matter how hard she tried, she regularly felt out of control with her eating habits. One day, right in the middle of another eating binge, she came to the realization that preoccupation with food had become her master. She was always thinking about it one way or the other.
At this time she also became more aware of the messages that commercials send out about food. She could see that every one of them was selling either satisfaction or health. She began to ask herself: What would happen if for some reason she could no longer access the foods that promised these things? Would that mean she could no longer be happy, satisfied or healthy? Additionally, seeing herself as helpless in front of a donut or chocolate bar was not the woman she wanted to be. What she needed was a change of focus.
That is when she began to understand that the spiritual teaching behind fasting was not about the food. It was about gaining such a relationship to the divine that she could experience a spiritual authority over materialism in whatever form it takes. Could it be that developing a relationship with God would give her both the control and the satisfaction she was seeking? This question was a major shift for her – one she felt definitely worth investigating.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to this problem of focusing on food that was present even then. He said, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink. … but rather seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
I think of the kingdom of God as that divine influence ever-present within each of us. Here Jesus is directing us to focus on understanding and nurturing that above all else.
Evelyn did not find her freedom from the oppressive demands of food overnight. But, eventually her growing relationship to the Divine gave her the spiritual authority and confidence she needed to put an end to the food cravings and find a healthy weight. That was many years ago.
Rather than following the latest trend or discovery about food, dieting or fasting, turning to the timeless spiritual revelation of man’s relationship with God gives us a different recipe for life. And, this can lead to a complete change in how we think about food and how we experience real health.
This article was published in the Vancouver Sun on April 27 2015 HERE