Across the blogosphere and airways of podcasts, people in the nutrition and wellness industries have been talking up the advantages and disadvantages of a seemingly new fad; fasting. Fasting is the choice to abstain or reduce food, drink or both for a period of time.
Athletes and medical practitioners have been toying with the practice of forgoing food intake and have discovered varying degrees of benefit depending on the population and their goals. Dr. Jason Fung recently published a book called The Complete Guide to Fasting. Dr. Fung discusses the therapeutic benefits of fasting from food for periods of time and how it boosts the effects of a healthy diet and exercise.
A lot of Dr. Fung’s work has been with the population of folks who suffer from type 2 diabetes. He has found that people in this population typically need to lose weight and in order to do so must reduce insulin levels. Intermittent fasting and low carbohydrate, high fat diets accomplish this goal and are great strategies for reducing insulin levels which is the best method for treating obesity.
While fasting is not ideal for bulking up (duh), it has been used in recent years by many athletes as a strategy for detoxing and has been attributed to faster fat burning, improved mental clarity and concentration, and the potential activation of cellular cleansing.
Findings from research and the practical experience of those who have their diet dialed in, like Robb Wolf, certainly lean in the direction, from the science point of view, that intermittent fasting is another tool to improve wellness over time.
“When you fast” (Matthew 6:16)
For Christians, the word fasting should arouse in us a different aroma than the mere mechanical health hack that our non-Christian brothers have recently discovered. Fasting, for Christians, is an ancient practice with deep meaning that Jesus himself gave advice about over 2000 years ago. In Matthew 6:16, Jesus tells us “when you fast”. Notice it doesn’t say “if” you fast, so we can infer that the practice of fasting ought to be interwoven into the very fabric of our Christian lives.
Like most health nuts that are calling fasting a “new” phenomenon, most Christians have forgotten our story and how fasting fits into the way we respond to an encounter with Christ. For many Christians we have reduced the words fasting and asceticism to connote the masochistic practice of some ancient medieval monks who dwelt in Italy somewhere and instituted practices like this to somehow earn their way to heaven. We have been convinced that there is no value in fasting in this day and age for our spiritual journey. After all, it doesn’t feel good.
However, Jesus, the eternal King wasn’t only speaking to the first Christians when he told us that we should fast and how to do it. He was speaking to us…now. In fact, every time we open Scripture He is communicating with us in the here and now.
The surprising and good news for Christians today is that the advice given 2000 years ago will give new and profound meaning to our lives, but we must respond to the call. Author Romano Guardini synthesizes the beauty of asceticism in a Christian’s life in his book “Learning the Virtues that Lead you to God”.
“Every day makes new demands and obliges us to keep ourselves in order. And this is asceticism. The word, derived from the Greek ákesis, means practice and exercise, exercise in the proper directing of one’s life”.
The Christian life involves training; initiating discipline to form one’s will to the Truth. Fasting is an element or tool that God has shown us to be effective in helping us with this training process. It is no surprise that God’s battle plan for us, which includes fasting, is also being uncovered by the science community and shows that it is beneficial.
However, if we stop there and only view the goodness that comes from intermittent fasting from the physical perspective than we risk losing out on the rich depth and meaning that can be discovered when ordering our lives for Christ. When we become intentional about training as disciples and soldiers of Christ we can more quickly and definitively respond to Gold’s call in our life.
“Put on the Armor of God” (Eph 6:11)