I think I’m about ready to make a practice of fasting again. I did it regularly while I was in high school and college, but now it’s been about six years since I’ve done anything so spiritual or disciplined. First of all, I lost the better part of my faith, so the motivation for it largely evaporated. Then, even when I thought to try my hand at it again to see if it would help me rediscover what I’d experienced before, for two and a half years I was living and sharing all of my meals with another person, which makes it awfully difficult to eschew food without risking offense. Other times, I’ve been so short of money that refusing to eat when I could seemed like it would be an undue risk, especially when I needed my strength in order to perform physical labor. The issue of daily energy remained even when I had enough money to feed myself without fail. And throughout all of that, there’s simply been the struggle to return by sheer force of will to practices the benefit of which I can no longer clearly see.
I don’t know about you, but when I break down my own failings and the extent of wasted time like that, it really makes me want to kill myself. On the other hand, if I overcome it all and start fasting again, that might help me cope with the stress. I have all these excuses for why I haven’t done something that made a younger self feel exceptionally centered and in touch with the world, but that just indicates that I’ve been looking for a breaking point. Back when I fasted, denying myself food wasn’t particularly difficult, but explaining what I was doing was. I found that a lot of people became genuinely concerned and chastised me when I said I wasn’t eating. “It’s not healthy!” they’d cry.
Well, if that has remained as a barrier to my resuming the practice, it is being lifted. I have had the good fortune to stumble across some recent articles that prove what I suspected every time somebody begged that I stop fasting because of their intuition that it was bad for me: they were full of shit. In fact, scientists widely recognize that drastic dietary reductions actually extend the lifespans of animals. New research also indicates that short term caloric restriction, and protein deprivation more specifically, can improve organ function, perhaps by triggering cellular responses that improve the body’s ability to handle various stresses.
Perhaps even more impressive, a crash diet of 600 calories per day for two months has proved itself able to actually cure type-2 diabetes by prompting the body to remove fat from the pancreas, allowing insulin production to restart. After I first read about that research, I had occasion to speak to a representative of a diabetes treatment organization at a health fair. I asked him about this information and found that he hadn’t heard of it, couldn’t understand what I was saying about it, and seemed ready to disregard it out of hand. Considering that he was supposed to be an expert on the disease, I think his ignorance of the new data speaks to just how deep runs the presumption of the harmful effects of deprivation.
But based on what I’ve been reading, the positive effects of fasting are not even remotely limited to the spiritual or emotional. Health considerations actually should add incentive for self-denial, no matter how counter-intuitive that may seem to some. I hope it’s to my good fortune, then, that I can no longer hide behind the conflict between the interests of body and spirit when I continue to put of returning to spiritual practice. The only barrier that I can legitimately say remains is the damaged state of my personal faith.