Throughout the Church’s history, fasting has been recognized as having great spiritual importance. Many of the saints describe great spiritual feats accomplished through fasting, and the Church itself invites us to fast during Lent to recall the forty days Christ spent in the desert fasting before starting his public ministry. Fasting can be a helpful tool to remind us that we are made for more and to direct our hearts to the Lord.
Liturgical fasting provides an opportunity to experience the truth of our personhood in a new way. When we fast for an intentional purpose, we become aware of our personhood and the interconnectedness of our body and soul. With that said, it is important to make sure that if we are doing a long fast, we provide our bodies the essential nutrients to help aid us during this time. This does not mean to indulge, avoiding the point of the fast, but to provide nutrients to healthily maintain a more serious, intentional fast. We should never cause ourselves to feel sick or lightheaded for the sake of holiness. It is important that we fuel our bodies to be able to fully give of ourselves to our spiritual intention.
Fasting on bread and water has long been a norm but our modern bread does not consist of the nutrients it once did. St. Hildegard von Bingen wrote of using spelt flour for bread saying, “spelt is the very best grain. It provided for good flesh and good blood as well as a cheerful disposition.” Spelt is an older form of flour dating back to 10 BC and is naturally lower in gluten (most gluten intolerant people can tolerate spelt) and high in protein, micro-nutrients, and vitamins. Making our bread with spelt can help us in our fasting, but if you cannot find it, try other heartier alternatives to wheat such as quinoa, teff, or farro.
Another important aspect of fasting is water consumption. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that women and men should consume about 11.5 and 15.5 cups of water daily, respectively. When fasting, drinking water to stay hydrated is important so that bodily functions such as digestion, brain function and circulation continue normally.
Intention is key. Even if you are only fasting for one day, or solely giving up meat on Friday, a poor intention will not bring about spiritual benefits and can negatively affect your mood. Fasting, especially during Lent, can be easily seen as a “yearly diet” or reason to lose weight. While it is up to each individual whether a diet may in fact be a beneficial habit to develop, this mindset misses the point of liturgical fasting. Through fasting, we submit what is good for what is better. We learn we are not simply bodies but whole persons. So, be mindful of your whole person, and supply yourselves with nutrients to give the most of yourself in your fasting.