Marya Hayes outlines the spiritual benefits of fasting.
I am late to the game in paying attention to intermittent fasting. For a time I would fast on raisin bread and water for a period of time in order to get spiritually healthy. I think I did it on Fridays in the '90s. I never felt like I was doing it quite right. I was in my 20s and just trying to do the right thing. It was my impression at the time that fasting enhanced our prayers in some way, and that the sacrifice of the fast could be used to help the world including myself. I was easily able to manage not eating meat on Fridays in Lent, and so this did not see like a sacrifice for me. In my own way I dismissed fasting after feeling like I was failing, and it was failing me.
Over the last couple years I have noticed different fitness instructors on Facebook mentioning intermittent fasting. I never paid attention to this because I get headaches if I don’t eat after a period of time. Also, until recently I wasn’t a big fan of drinking water all day. A friend of mine mentioned that she was fasting. Sometimes she would fast for 24 hours, sometimes 36, and sometimes 48 hours! This sounded a little crazy to me since I eat throughout the day and have at least two solid meals plus snacks. My friend said she felt great with fasting, and that she would add her spiritual intentions. She is Catholic, has a lot of children and grandchildren to pray for, and is a very healthy individual so I decided that fasting was at least worth looking into. First I wanted to look into the health benefits, if any, of fasting.
Since in the past I had always associated fasting with causing some sort of physical damage to my body (as part of the sacrifice) it was less appealing to me. I value my health and my concern was that fasting would hurt me. I also didn’t want to trigger some type of unhealthy eating disorder. There have been many studies, however, to indicate the opposite is true from intermittent fasting. These claimed benefits range from maintaining healthy insulin levels, weight loss, increase in lean muscle, and increase in cell repair. I won’t go into the details of the benefits, the science, or the validity of any study here as this is easy to find on a search and not the focus of this article.
My point of view has now changed. Our faith, Our God, and Our Lady, have not been asking us to do something harmful to our bodies by fasting. What we are called to do is for our benefit. The benefit is physical and spiritual. It isn’t always immediately apparent because it is not easy to fast. It requires discipline. In the Old Testament, fasting occurred on only a few occasions. The Day of Atonement was observed by fasting all day and intense prayer. Fasting also occurred when a group of people were trying to avoid a tragedy. The Ninevites, Ahab, Esther, and Joel all knew the power of the fast. The power was to be set free. The power is victory over the enemy.
In the New Testament, fasting was taught by Jesus and His apostles as a way to begin ministry and to fight off evil.
Blow the horn in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly. (Joel 2:15)
Listen to God’s calling, and see if you are to fast. As a Church we fast an hour before Mass, and during Lent. If you are called to fast weekly or daily, maybe God has a special intention for you to focus on during your fast. You may choose how to fast, and for how long. Maybe you only fast on water, maybe you fast on bread and water. You can also fast by eating a lighter meal that you have previously.
Because prayer with fasting is powerful, the enemy will not make this easy for you. Let God work through your humility and vulnerability. Set your intentions before you begin your fast. It may be as general as praying for all the souls in Purgatory, and for all sinners beginning with myself. It may be specific, for a person, or an issue in your own circumstance or that of someone you know. This is a call to proceed with fasting in confidence, that through this process you will be made whole, free, and victorious.
Editor’s note: This article is based on our author’s personal experience with intermittent fasting. Before you begin a fasting program, check with your doctor. CatholicMom.com does not provide medical advice.
Copyright 2021 Marya Hayes
Images (from top): Canva Pro; all others copyright 2021 Marya Hayes, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Marya Hayes is mother to 3 active teens and is a military spouse. Her days consist of running the household and her mini business, and driving her teens daily all over the planet. Her favorite saints include St Francis de Sales, Saint Benedict, Padre Pio, and JPII. Marya enjoys cooking, hiking, and spending time with the family outdoors. Pray, hope, and don’t worry!