A Holistic Approach to Fasting and Spiritual Disciplines

As a 21st century American culture, we are obsessed with food and body 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 run rampant. Anorexia nervosa has one of the highest mortality rates of any mental health disorder, and eating disorders are rapidly rising not only across 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, even those who don’t develop eating disorders struggle with weight, food, and body image to the detriment of 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 in a way that honors God?

As our church journeys through the Lent season, 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, disordered eating, or a history of these, 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 involve fasting from food, but would rather entail eating regularly, 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. If you’re unsure, it may be helpful to talk with someone you trust.

When evaluating if fasting from food is an appropriate and Christ-centered choice for you, 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 as you fast is often a healthy choice, but approaching others as they fast with a spirit of judgment is not. As we strive to love God and grow in community, let us foster a 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, LPC, NCC, CCTP at sandra@empowercounseling.info.

To join us in our journey through Lent, access our daily guide here.

About the Author

Sandra Noble has attended and served with Gospel Community Church since 2011. She is currently a doctoral candidate in Liberty University’s Counselor Education and Supervision Program and a Licensed Professional Counselor at Empower Counseling in Forest, VA. In both her academic work and clinical practice Sandra specializes in eating disorders 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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