Chances are that you have heard the term intermittent fasting amidst the newest trends of nutrition. Intermittent fasting has been promised to help with weight loss, lowering blood sugar, and many other health benefits. Many are wondering—is this just a new fad, or can practicing intermittent fasting actually help me to be healthier?
Generally speaking, when your body is fasting from food, it is searching for energy sources that it can use to function. At first, it will rely on glycogen for energy, but once this is used up, your body begins to burn fat, leading to weight loss. There are different methods of intermittent fasting, but they all work by following this principle to use stored fat for energy.
Intermittent fasting has been the subject of numerous studies and it does show positive physical results for many people. (We should note however, that many studies indicate that intermittent fasting is not necessarily more effective than simply reducing calories, a major element of the FDA’s Dietary Guidelines.) Other recent studies show the necessity of having a healthy interior disposition for success in fasting. Perhaps not surprisingly, one study found that those whose eating habits were influenced by emotions, stress, and cravings had, “disinhibiting traits that seem to increase intention-behavior gaps.” This study indicated that without control over one’s passions and emotions, successful fasting would not occur.
While intermittent fasting appears to have the possibility of physical benefits, our inspection of it should not end there—we also have to consider its spiritual implications. For Catholics, fasting will always remind us of Lent, but it is an important spiritual practice for the entire year. Fasting in imitation of Christ’s fast in the desert helps us to have an interior disposition of denying something good and gaining control of our appetites so that we can make a better gift of ourselves. As St. Augustine wrote so eloquently, “Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself.”
With our faith’s understanding of fasting in mind, we have to ask ourselves – can practicing intermittent fasting help us to find both physical and spiritual healing?
The studies referenced above showed that intermittent fasting can be helpful in improving physical health, but that it is necessary to fast with the appropriate disposition to be successful. These studies actually show that adopting the Church’s viewpoint, that fasting is to be done as a way to have control over one’s desires, and to make a gift of oneself, appears necessary for it to work. In this way, someone who is looking to experience physical health benefits through intermittent fasting can actually be more successful by aligning themselves with an interior disposition that our faith calls for, leading to a healthier spirit as well. In this way, a practice like intermittent fasting, done for the right reason and in the right way, can help us to “Enter again into [ourselves]” both spiritually and physically.
Note: This article is not endorsing intermittent fasting above other nutrition plans. You should consult your physician prior to implementing any nutritional change, including intermittent fasting.