Faith Fasting and Disordered Eating

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Post interview smiles with Amy Cyr

Last week I had the pleasure of doing an on-camera interview for undergraduate PLNU communications student, Amy Cyr.

Inspired after reading this article, Amy focused her story on faith fasting and explored how fasting in your faith community may be a trigger to develop disordered eating patterns or engage deeper in an already existing eating disorder.

After interviewing leaders from various faiths who practice fasting as a spiritual discipline, Amy shared concern about the lack of awareness around eating disorders and how community or individual faith fasting may be an unintentional trigger to engage in unhealthy/unsafe practices around food and body issues.

I was touched by Amy’s savvy insights and desire to discuss an issue that is complex and important. Since eating disorders are so misunderstood and also the most deadly of all mental illnesses, it has become a passion to educate leaders of faith communities about eating disorders and how faith fasting may become an unintentional pitfall for the communities they are serving, leading and supporting.

In honor of this season of Lent and fasting for other faith communities, I have posted the information from Potentia’s Fasting and Eating Disorder flier below.

Spiritual fasting is an important discipline that can have many benefits. Please keep the following in mind when considering a spiritual fast:
• When fasting from food, daily hydration is essential for sustaining LIFE.
• Fasting can trigger eating disorder symptoms in persons, especially those who have recovered or are in recovery for these issues.
• If at any time the goal of a fast shifts to primarily losing weight, it is no longer a fast but a crash diet. Fasting should not be used as a tool to promote weight loss. It’s ineffective, and it also lowers metabolism.
• Many who struggle with food and body issues will engage in a fast as a mask for their disordered eating. Given the prevalence of eating disorders, disordered eating, dieting, and body shame in our culture, regularly focusing your community on the priorities of the fast is crucial.
• Food restriction tends to intensify food related obsessions and talk, and this can persist for some time even after the fast.  This kind of talk can also be very triggering for someone struggling with food and body issues.  Encouraging a “no negative food or body talk “ pledge during a fast is wonderful to include at the start of a fast.
• Validating and encouraging other non-food options for fasting can help people struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating have the freedom to participate in a fast with their community.
• Many report feeling like a bad or not good enough person of faith if they choose to not participate in a fast “perfectly” ie: fasting from food. Helping individuals in your community to make the best decision for their mind, body, and soul is respectful and empowering.
• Fasting is not recommended for active persons that wish to continue with exercise during the fast.  Our bodies need the fuel (and electrolytes) before and after exercise, and throughout the day!
• Certain groups should never participate in fasting, and these include: children, elderly, pregnant women, persons with a history of disordered eating (or currently struggling) or are undernourished, persons who have problems with blood pressure (or are on medication for blood pressure), kidney disease, diabetes or are prone to hypoglycemia, persons with unique nutritional needs or nutrient deficiencies (just to name a few).
 

What are your thoughts about the intersection of fasting with food and disordered eating?

What do you think about faith communities encouraging fasts from non-food items so everyone can participate in a community fast, regardless of their health?

Have you ever seen someone take a fast too far and turn it into a weight loss strategy?

I look forward to hearing from you on this complex and important topic.

Cheering you on  –

Rebecca

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