Why fasting is good for body, spirit

Every so often, a new diet trend emerges in the market that promises to help people lose weight, stick to their fitness goals, or just be healthier. But never (or rarely) has it been promoted or hyped because of its spiritual benefits.

Fasting is defined as “willing abstinence or reduction from some or all drinks, foods, or both for a period of time.” Fasting per se is an age-old practice, usually done for religious reasons.

Some of the most common types of fasting are calorie restriction, partial fasting, water fasting, intermittent fasting and juice fasting.

One health and fitness trend that became the word of the mouth last year (and is still popular nowadays) is intermittent fasting. Healthline describes intermittent fasting as an “eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating.”

It is more accurately termed as “eating pattern” because it specifies when you should eat and not what you should eat.

Common intermittent methods involve the 16/8 — eating in an eight-hour window and fasting for 16 hours; eat-stop-eat — fasting for 24 hours and eating only one meal; and the 5:2 diet where you consume only 500 to 600 calories on two non-consecutive days, but eat normally the other five days.

Fasting and prayer

According to Rodrigo Eguia, parish priest of the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Montalban, Rizal, there are only two obligatory fasting and day of prayer being observed in the Catholic Church — Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Ash Wednesday is a Christian holy day of prayer, fasting and repentance, while Good Friday is the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and death at Calvary. Fasting is required during the start of Lenten season, which is Ash Wednesday. It ends every Good Friday.

That, according to Eguia, is the whole period of purification season.

“It’s the season of cleansing your body and spirit. That’s why, fasting is really part of it. Although the obligatory is the beginning and the ending, you can fast every Friday.

Some people are doing that, but this is only recommended for people with ages 18 and 59. But it doesn’t mean that it’s the only day of fasting. You can make your own days of fasting for a purpose. Some fast for a particular benefit,” said Eguia.

Some of the known benefits of fasting include improving blood sugar control, fighting inflammation, enhancing heart health, boosting brain function and preventing neurodegenerative disorders, aiding in weight loss and boosting metabolism, increasing growth hormone section, delaying of aging and extending longevity, and aiding cancer prevention and increasing effectiveness of chemotherapy.

While many people swore to fasting’s effectiveness in weight reduction and improvement of health condition, not many people know it has spiritual benefits, especially when combined with prayer.

People actually fast for health benefits, but for fasting to become religious, Eguia said one had to combine prayer with it, because fasting strengthened one’s willpower to say “No.”

“Fasting with prayer is more effective because God can see that you’re serious. He can see your passion and the intensity of your prayer. When you fast, your prayer becomes intense. Prayer without fasting is not enough. You have to combine fasting and prayer,” Eguia explained.

How fasting works

Eguia explained that fasting was the exercise of denying yourself from food and when one was hungry, the body would crave food.

“That is now the time to say ‘No’ to the cravings, in effect, you are strengthening your willpower to say no to the cravings of your body — that, in turn, becomes a spiritual exercise,” he explained.

People fast and pray for a number of reasons, but they do it usually hoping for a miracle or a breakthrough.

“It’s a wrong motivation. We do not bribe the Lord. That’s a wrong mentality. Prayer should always be an act of surrender. You pray and leave everything to God. You don’t force God to answer your prayers. If you’re fasting because you are asking God for something, it’s a wrong motivation,” said Eguia.

“When we are asking God for something or after expressing all our longings to God, we have to surrender ourselves to Him. Leave it to Him. That’s how it works. Our prayers should always end with surrender,” he added.

Eguia further explained that for a prayer to become effective, it should be focused on God and be intense, and not because one denied himself from food.

“I believe every prayer is answered. But not necessarily in a way we’re asking for it. God can say yes, wait, or something else. But it’s always answered. You just have to be open — His will, and not our will. Trust that God knows what is best, and God always answers our prayers,” added Eguia.

Why should we fast?

Eguia explained that fasting was required because it not only cleanses the body, but also cleanses the spirit.

When he was in the seminary, Eguia shared that he was advised to fast regularly as part of his purification. So for his part, he decided to skip lunch once a month for six months.

“It was a self-imposed fasting. Fasting should not be imposed on anybody. It should be your own imposition upon yourself. I denied myself for one meal, which was lunch. Instead of eating regular meals, I sacrificed my lunch,” he shared.

Apart from the cleansing effect in the body, Eguia felt that he became more aware of God, stronger, and more conscious of his sins.

“When I was advised to fast, it was always with a prayer. I offered it to God. I said, ‘Lord, I offer you this fasting as my sacrifice and for my sinfulness.’ My prayer to God was to give me strength to say ‘no’ to temptations,” recounted Eguia.

Who should (and shouldn’t) fast?

While there are many health and spiritual benefits of fasting, it is not advisable for everyone.

WebMD listed people who should not fast, which include pregnant women, people with wasting diseases or malnutrition, people with hepatic or renal insufficiency, or those with a history of cardiac arrhythmias.

Close medical supervision is also needed for people who fast for extended periods.

Eguia shared that as parish priest, he usually recommended fasting to those having sexual addictions, people who could not control their temper, people who rage and curse, and those who wanted to change, but were having difficulty.

“Fasting is a very effective spiritual discipline because it is the only exercise where you will learn to say ‘no’ to the cravings of your body. But you have to decide for how long. It depends on you,” Eguia said.

If some people could not fast from food, Eguia said one could refrain from talking for one whole day.

“If your weakness is you cannot control your mouth, and when you’re angry you curse or say violent words. Fasting from talking is very effective. How it’s done? You try not to talk for one whole day. Silence is also a very effective spiritual discipline,” Eguia said.

One sad reality, though, is that while Catholics all over the world are encouraged to observe fasting and penitential abstinence during the Lenten season, Filipinos, by nature, love food and food is a huge part of Filipino culture.

“Our Filipino culture is we love to eat. We love to feast even if it’s Good Friday. That’s the sad reality, because that’s [fasting and prayer] strengthens the willpower to say ‘No’,” he said.

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