The first time I consciously fasted was when we lost a family member to esophageal cancer. I really didn’t know much about fasting then, but what I knew is that a family member became very ill and lost a lot of weight because she could barely eat anymore. Something in me wanted to honour this; I felt like it was somehow giving a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves; a way to empathize with those who are suffering. That was ten years ago.
Over the last three years I have educated myself about the benefits of fasting and about some of the “whys” that we do it. While I understand most of the basic science about it, what intrigues me most is the mental/emotional work we go through as we do it.
In 2015, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I was told by the specialist that I would be on medication for the rest of my life and that there was really nothing else I could do about it–that diet didn’t have anything to do with it. However, being that my colon is part of my digestive tract, something about this really didn’t sit right with me. I went to see a trusted herbalist and under her care I tackled this thing from a holistic perspective. Part of the way we were dealing with this was for me to give up two very basic ingredients for a brief period of time. (I am not going to list those two things, because not everyone is the same and I don’t believe that we can all heal with the same one-size fits-all solution.) The specialist agreed to let me try things the natural way and a follow-up was scheduled for 4 months down the road.
While I was not fasting entirely, what I was doing was giving up some things that, until then, had been an everyday part of my life. And I was doing this totally in faith that it would have some kind of positive effect on the state of my health. Because I knew that, if left untreated, the colitis could eventually result in me having part of my colon removed, (or worse), the thought of giving up a few types of foods was not even a question. I didn’t want to end up in a position where I was out of commission and my young family couldn’t rely on me. Giving up certain foods was an easy decision.
However, there were days when thoughts would come, “what if this doesn’t work?” “What if all this is for nothing?” I am happy to say that everything turned out really well. And there began my journey of really exploring my relationship with food.
I just came off an extended fast; I lasted 65 hours. My intention was to go for five days, but ultimately I gave in to some organic corn chips and homemade salsa. Now, I’m making light of this a little bit, but I am really careful not to be too hard on myself, not to be unforgiving because I think that would defeat the purpose. When I’m fasting, I become really aware and intentional. Mindfulness is really important. How easy is it to just pop something into your mouth without thinking while making lunch for the kids or preparing a meal for others? And then, preparing a meal for others really becomes an act of service, a demonstration of love and devotion to those who are dependent on you. Fasting causes me to ask myself WHY I want to eat something instead of just mindlessly snacking here and there as I go about my day. Fasting makes me more aware of my habits and reasons for eating. And more grateful for what I have.
My relationship with food has changed somewhat this year. I came down with a serious case of West Nile virus this past summer, which, among other things, seems to have changed the way some of my favourite foods taste to me. Sometimes, I still eat those things, like chocolate, and when I don’t enjoy it as much, I ask myself, “why did I just eat that? I knew it wasn’t going to taste as amazing as it once did to me, so why am I still eating it?” I don’t necessarily have the answers to these types of questions, but I think asking them is important.
I REALLY enjoy food, I mean, A LOT! But what I enjoy even more, is learning about myself and what I am capable of. For me, fasting is never about weight-loss (though I am not knocking it as part of an informed solution if you choose to go that route; intermittent fasting can be very effective, if done consciously). For me, it’s about exploring my strengths and weaknesses, and continuing to develop discipline, patience, and gratitude. And ultimately, it’s about getting to know myself.