on fasting

He, therefore, who eats and cannot fast, let him display richer almsgiving, let him pray more, let him have a more intense desire to hear divine words.

St. John Chrysostom, “On Fasting”

Fasting seasons like Lent can be really difficult for Christians in recovery from eating disorders, or with body-image issues in general. I really liked Anna Rose Meeds’ generous sharing of her own difficulties during this season in 2015, in which her deciding impulse was the right one: “fasting from food was not a prayer for me.” She gets right at what St. John Chrysostom does above: this season is meant to be a prayer without ceasing, it is meant to increase your hunger for God.

After recognizing this, Meeds did an incredibly courageous thing: she decided that her Lenten fast would involve food in another way, by eating her full meal plan and fasting from complaining about her body, weight, and appearance. I have heard similar suggestions from others in recovery, such as fasting from eating out, and therefore requiring yourself to consciously plan and cook meals.

There is also the Orthodox tradition of fasting which is primarily of kind rather than quantity, i.e. going temporarily vegan with the guideline of simplifying food. I find the Orthodox practice of fasting to be so prudent and correct; it encourages us to let this particular sensory luxury occupy less space in our days, freeing up that space for God. I think Lent is particularly hard on Catholics in recovery because Lent has been sort of privatized into individual sacrifices of various levels of creativity (and therefore scrupulosity). For Orthodox, fasting is more of a communal practice where food is simplified in uniform, traditional ways and the time normally dedicated to that preparation is redirected to liturgy.

Catholics in recovery (or not, for that matter) can learn from and be inspired by this attitude toward Lent. Simplify food—i.e. turn it into a routine, do not let it take up such energy in your life. Redirect that energy to consuming the divine—go to Mass or Adoration during the week if possible, or pair your meals with a devotion like the Rosary or the daily readings. Focus on almsgiving—instead of working out the cosmic math to “give away the food you’re fasting from,” try “matching” what you’re giving yourself. For instance, try to pick up a habit of buying gift cards when you go to the grocery store, or participate in soup kitchens or other food-oriented service. This is the most basic love-your-neighbor-as-yourself practice ever, because seeing food be a gift to other people will help you start to notice how food is such a gift of God to you. And finally…do not do this alone. Fasting and feasting are designed to be communal. You are not the only Christian in recovery you know, I promise. Support each other. Talk about this. I promise it isn’t vanity to share recipes, and you are not a Pharisee for inviting a friend over for dinner.

Let us pray for one another!

Published by Catherine Addington

I am a translator from Spanish to English and a writer on saints, myths, and icons in both religious and secular contexts.

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