3 Ways Fasting Improved My Life
Usually, when we hear about fasting, we think of the promises we make to ourselves during 40 days of Lent. Friends come together to give up chocolate or social media for a few days as a way to detox — many times, admittedly, as a diet instead of a spiritual practice. I never understood why Lent was necessary, which made sticking to these practices more difficult. If I was giving up sweets, I needed to get used to not eating sugar for the first few days. Then, by the end of it, it required discipline and willpower (not simply the high of starting a new habit) to see it through. Once Easter came, fasting was put back into the box and kept away until next February.
I was comfortable for a while just leaving fasting to 40 days throughout the year. This all changed when the pandemic hit. During the summer of 2020, I was unexpectedly living with my parents when I was supposed to be on campus for grad school. My family discussed the idea of fasting for victims of COVID, and we decided to give up snacking two times a week. Though not easy, I discovered many important benefits of fasting:
I learned how to be okay with a little discomfort.
The world is addicted to comfort. We are surrounded by solutions of instant gratification for the smallest of problems. This encourages us to run away from the smallest discomforts. Soon, we realize we can’t run from everything. When they occur, they ruin our day and make us frustrated when things don’t go our way. Through fasting, I became more accustomed to being uncomfortable — an important quality to have in this unpredictable world.
This is different from causing ourselves pain. The purpose of fasting isn’t to make our lives unbearable: it’s to better respond to situations that aren’t how we planned them. There is a big difference between discomfort and pain: in our lifetime, we will encounter both in ways that we won’t be readily able to fix. Being uncomfortable, even in small physical ways, helped me embrace discomfort in other situations. When I was training for running races, I realized I wasn’t as readily prone to walking when I was tired. I learned how to push through and, eventually, set a personal record for my race time.
I learned how to take the focus off of myself.
Giving up snacking is not easy. When I am not careful, my discomfort turns inward: I think of how hungry I am and how much I am lacking. Instead of my discomfort turning inward, fasting for specific intentions allows me to focus on others instead of my own shortcomings. When we fasted for victims of COVID, it put things into perspective for me. Even though I was hungry, and not where I was expecting to be during the pandemic, things could have been so much worse. It made me grateful for my health, my family’s health, and reminded me to think of others. Intercessory prayer is one of my favorite ways to pray, and praying for others through this simple action of fasting reminded me to be more selfless.
I learned how to build self-control.
We aren’t entitled to everything in our path. Anyone would agree that someone who does nothing but “take” has skewed priorities. On days where fasting was more difficult, I built more character by being able to refuse something instead of being trapped by the desire for it. Beyond that, fasting helped me work the muscle of self-control in bigger matters. Choosing what’s right and good for us takes practice, but fasting allowed that practice to come within settings that I had more control over.
Fasting from snacking two times a week brought me a new freedom that shocked me. Instead of being tied down to eating when I was bored or being angry when I was hungry, I was encouraged to cut old habits and live more selflessly. I could find new ways to serve others and, instead of eating when I was bored, I took on new interests that helped me grow as a person. Ultimately, saying no to something small allowed me to say yes to a lot more.