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Fasting: Merely a Romanticized Eating Disorder?


It was lunch break during my Yoga Teacher Training class, and we were scattered around the studio, sitting on yoga blankets and bolsters, munching away on the lunches we'd packed. We were chatting about what time of day each of us eats our main meal of the day. And somehow the conversation found its way to a different topic: fasting.

One girl used to date a Muslim man, so she'd fast with him for Ramadan. She told us they would break their fast with a date, and then slowly they would eat more and more, staying up nearly all night eating and celebrating. As soon as the sun rose though, the food was put away, and no one was to eat until the sun set again that night.

Another girl said she used to fast one day every week because she found it gave her mental clarity and peace of mind. She claimed that because eating fires up the digestion and "brings fire to the belly," it wasn't good for you to be in that heightened state of digestion all week long. So she picked a day to fast and stopped eating one full day each week.

The Intrigue of Fasting

They seemed surprised that I've never fasted before. "Don't you want to try it? Aren't you curious?" they asked. They insisted, "It's so good for your body. It does great things for your clarity. It's not bad at all for your metabolism." By the time they were done describing their fasting experiences, I was sold. They had me convinced that fasting one day a week would make me a more centered person with a greater sense of clarity.

When I returned home I was still excited about the idea, and I pitched it to my boyfriend. "Want to do a fast with me for a day next week?" I asked. He looked skeptical.

"I don't know how I feel about fasting," he said. "My body needs food; I like food; I don't know why I would stop eating." He had a point. Our bodies need calories to run—and not just six days out of the week. Our bodies need those calories, that energy, every single day. It's how our brains function properly, how our muscles grow, and how our organs get energy to operate. His practicality quickly shattered the romanticized perception of fasting I'd developed that afternoon.

Fad Fasting

Now I want to be clear: I am not talking about fasting as a religious observance. Those fasts are a different matter altogether. They are performed for very different reasons. I am talking about fad fasting—fasting done because you heard that it has a "positive effect" on your body and your mind, it "cleanses your body," or it "releases toxins."

I believe something can be gained by eating with awareness and by choosing foods that help your body operate well. I believe those things can help you achieve the mental clarity that people claim fasting provides. But I don't believe withholding food from your body for a set period of time is necessarily a healthy practice.

A Word of Caution

Before you get swept up by the fad of periodical fasting, talk to your doctor, ask a nutritionist, and do the research to make sure you aren't injuring your body in an attempt to find mental clarity or body purity.