Do Protestants Have the "Fullness of the Faith"?
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Do Protestants Have the "Fullness of the Faith"?

Should I Eat That? On Fasting and Eating Disorders

Posted May 17, 2024
My Body

My first fast was a disaster.

I didn’t grow up observing the church calendar, so my first introduction to fasting wasn’t until Lent in 2016 when I was a freshman in Bible college.

The idea of fasting intrigued me. Giving up my favorite foods for forty daysseemed like an eternity, but everyone else was doing it, and I couldn’t bear the thought of appearing less spiritual than my peers.

I decided to start with desserts. Foregoing sweets for a month and a half seemed easy enough. I needed to shake that freshman ten anyway, so this would probably be a win-win—or so I thought.

At meal times, I simply averted my gaze when I passed the dessert cooler, and I tried to satiate my sugar cravings by chewing on ice while my friends ate their cake.

But about a week into Lent, the cafeteria served frozen yogurt bars for dessert. I was stymied. Should I eat one? I wondered. Yogurt is healthy, right? It doesn’t really count as dessert, does it?

My religious convictions wrestled against my sugar cravings all through dinner. The cravings won, but guilt pierced my heart as soon as the sugar melted on my tongue. I slunk back to my dorm room and dissolved into a puddle of tears.

How could you? I rebuked myself. You’re such a failure!

After that, I decided to abandon my dessert fast and give up social media for the remainder of Lent instead. I felt defeated, but I vowed that one day I would learn how to fast properly.

What is Fasting?

Throughout Scripture, people abstained from food (and sometimes water) for set periods of time to sharpen their hunger for God or focus more intently on their relationship with him. While modern-day Christians sometimes fast from only one or two food items at a time, biblical fasting involved giving up food entirely.

This was the case for Esther when she prayed and fasted for three days before approaching King Xerxes unannounced—an audacity punishable by death in ancient Persian culture (Es. 4:11–16).

The same would have been true when Ezra proclaimed a public fast for the Jewish exiles returning to Jerusalem, urging them to petition God for protection during their journey (Ez. 8:21–23).

Today, believers use many approaches to fasting, but we still fast for the same reasons: to heighten our focus during times of prayer, to seek wisdom or clarity from God, or to petition him either for ourselves or on behalf of others.

How Eating Disorders Impact Fasting

Fasting teaches us discipline and self-control. It strengthens our spiritual lives by showing us our weaknesses and our need for God’s sustaining Spirit. As one author discusses in The Celebration of Discipline, “fasting reveals the things that control us.”

Unfortunately, fasting presents serious challenges for believers with eating disorders because the very thing that controls them most is food.

During my eating disorder, food dominated my every thought. I thought perpetually about what I had just eaten, what I was going to eat later, and what I could, should, or “shouldn’t” eat. It was also tempting to use fasting as an excuse to deprive myself of food for the sake of losing weight—which is not the purpose of a spiritual fast.

Outwardly, I was trying to appear spiritual, but inwardly, my motives were selfish and vain.

Instead of focusing on God, I fixated on the very thing I was supposed to abstain from.

Perfectionism wreaked havoc on my spiritual life. When I tried fasting, fears of failure overwhelmed me. I worried that if I slipped up or caved into temptation, God would scowl at me in disapproval or lash out at me in anger.

Fasting was supposed to lead me nearer to God, but my eating disorder interfered with my spiritual growth by driving me away from him.

Encouragement for Those Struggling with Eating Disorders

If you, like me, have struggled in your relationship with food and have tried but failed to fast, either for Lent or some other season, don’t lose heart.

Paul assured us that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1–2).

The purpose of fasting is not to demonstrate perfect self-control or prove our righteousness to the Lord, but rather to deepen our intimacy with God. If your relationship with food interferes with your ability to do that, allow God to heal that broken relationship first.

Fasting is not about losing weight, being “healthier,” or proving how spiritual we are. It’s about strengthening our prayer lives and seeking the heart of our heavenly Father. There is nothing you can do to earn God’s love. He already loves you unconditionally. It is Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, not our moral victories, that makes us holy in his eyes.

Let God’s love heal all that is broken within you, and in time fasting will become an act of worship rather than a seemingly impossible test. Remember: the spiritual disciplines are not about perfection, but about praise and adoration for the one who loves us unfailingly.


Footnotes

  • Richard J. Foster, The Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (Revised and Expanded) (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 54.

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Allana Walker

Allana Walker (MFA, Liberty University) serves as the Assistant Editor for Calla Press Publishing. You can follow her blog at https://allanawalker.substack.com/.