A Holistic Approach to Fasting and Spiritual Disciplines

As a 21st century, American culture, we have become obsessed with food and image. It takes nothing more than a scroll through social media or a walk down the magazine aisle to see that something is askew. Eating disorders and disordered eating run rampant. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder, and eating disorders are rapidly rising not only in our nation, but in our Lynchburg community. The prevalence is so high, it is likely that you, or someone you know, has experienced an eating disorder. Additionally, many people who may never have an eating disorder, struggle with weight, food, and body image to the detriment to their physical, mental, and spiritual health.

In light of this reality, how do we, as Christ-followers, remain faithful to the historic, spiritual practice of fasting?

As our church spends these 21 days in prayer and fasting, there are a few considerations we need to evaluate in order to practice fasting in a way that is honoring to God. In a culture that magnifies dieting and weight loss, we need to examine our motives and methods of fasting to align them with the values of Christ, not with the values of the culture around us. One purpose of fasting involves ordering our loves, placing our love for God above all else as we learn to live as followers of Christ with new desires, habits, and motivations (see Matt. 6:16-18). For some believers, such as those with medical concerns or a history of dieting and/or disordered eating, it is likely that fasting from food may not be a Christ-honoring decision.

The role of fasting in the life of a Christian is to deny the flesh while practicing a reliance on God for strength and sustenance.

For an individual struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating, the desire of the flesh is often to avoid eating appropriately. In these cases, denying the self in order to rely on God would not entail fasting from food, but would rather entail eating adequately and appropriately. We are called to steward our bodies well; using fasting to promote changing the size of one’s body is not appropriate stewardship. Consider if there are other things in your life that may be distracting you from placing Christ above all or relying fully on Him, and if it may be more appropriate to fast from these things.

When evaluating if fasting from food is an appropriate and Christ-centered choice for you, it may be helpful to consider the following:
– Is this reinforcing a negative pattern or stronghold in my life?
– Are my motives for fasting pure or detrimental?
– Is this about me or is it about the Lord?
– Am I using fasting for any purpose other than putting Christ above everything else?

In addition to evaluating our own decisions about fasting, we must practice sensitivity in our interactions with others regarding this topic. The fast that God calls you into is your fast, and it may look different for others. Asking for loving accountability from friends and family is often a healthy choice, but approaching others with a spirit of judgement is not. As we strive to love God and grow in community, let us foster healthy community and demonstrate respect for one another as we seek to honor God in all things.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1-2

Finding Balance (Christ-centered) – www.findingbalance.com
National Eating Disorder Association – https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
Stay Strong Virginia (Resources for family, friends, and professionals) – http://www.staystrongvirginia.org/ 

To connect with a pastor or counselor, you can fill out this Care Request Form, or you can contact Sandra Noble, MA, Resident in Counseling, CCTP at sandra@empowercounseling.info.

Read more about our “Who’s Your One? 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting” series here.

About the Author
Sandra Noble has attended and served with Gospel Community Church since 2011. She is a current PhD student in Liberty University’s Counselor Education and Supervision Program and a Resident in Counseling at Empower Counseling in Lynchburg. In both her academic work and clinical practice Sandra specializes in eating disorder and body image issues. She loves spending time with her dog Bailey and adventuring in Central Virginia in her spare time.

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