In medical terms, a person is considered fasting when one has not ingested anything three to five hours after a meal (the period when a meal is absorbed by the body), and 8 to 12 hours after that. One may perfrom an absolute fast (no food intake 24 hours or more), an intermittent fast (a period of alternate fasting and non-fasting, or other forms of diet restriction. A person is also required to fast before surgery and certain medical tests, or as part of detoxification.
Roman Catholics are encouraged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. They may instead reduce food intake to one full meal (which may not contain meat during Fridays in Lent) and two small meals in the morning and evening (known liturgically as collations). Eating solid food between meals is not permitted. The Catholic Church also encourages performing a partial fast during the Lenten season, to commemorate the 40-day fast observed by Jesus during his temptation in the desert.
Fasting is also practiced by other religions, such as Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and other Christian and Protestant denominations. Some prescribe more days of fasting, and implement stricter rules.
Researchers say fasting has major health benefits, such as reduced risks of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and more generally, the slowing of the aging process. Excessive fasting is however dangerous; if not controlled, fasting can lead to starvation, which causes complications in bodily functions.
Fasting also has a religious meaning, especially this Lenten season. Symbolically, fasting means to abstain from fulfilling the needs or wants of the flesh.It means denying oneself of physical needs as a form of sacrifice or self-affliction. It is also a way to re-establish our link with God, and spend time in prayer and meditation.
Today is Good Friday, and for 24 hours from three in the morning, I resolved to avoid eating pork and dining heavily at that. I actually did the same yesterday (Maundy Thursday), but today is a different matter, because for the rest of the period I would like to spend the rest of the time in reflection.
I’ve always thought that dining is both a physical and spiritual activity. You partake of someone’s life, whether animal or vegetable, and you show appreciation to them for committing the ultimate sacrifice. You also show appreciation to the cooks, the waiters, the farmers, the butchers, and the other people that made your meal possible. This is the reason you say grace before meals.
Take note of the traditional Catholic grace recited before and after eating (emphasis mine:)
- (before eating) Let us pray. Bless us, O Lord, and these, thy/your gifts, which we are about to receive from thy/your bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen. (Preceded and followed by the Sign of the Cross.)
- (after eating) We give thee thanks, Almighty God, for all thy benefits, and for the poor souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, may they rest in peace. Amen. (Preceded and followed by the Sign of the Cross.)
(Also take note that nowadays, we say a shorter version of the grace after meals, it’s probably squeamish to think of dead animals while eating.)
The opposite is quite true: not eating anything is just as beneficial to the body and soul. Aside from the medical benefits mentioned earlier, you are able to cleanse your body of physical impurities (cholesterol and toxins from the food you eat) and spiritual ones (you let go of earthly worries, vices, and other matters that ruin your relationship with God and other people).
I’ve fasted physically, having foregone eating as much food as I can, and I still have 12 hours to do so. I found it easy to stop my cravings and discipline myself from seeking comfort in food.
But spiritually, well… I realized there are a lot of things I have to settle somehow and move off my chest. There are a lot of people I have to forgive and seek forgiveness. I have so much to change within me. Most of all, I have yet to forgive myself and let go. After this, on my way out, I’m gonna have a really long talk with God.
There are better people to tell you about fasting, but let me say this: Whether you’re fasting or not, let’s make the most of the rest of the Lenten season until Easter Sunday. Let us reflect on the death of Jesus Christ, and how he sacrificed His life for the forgiveness of our sins. At the same time, let us reflect on the sacrifices we ourselves have to do, be it for our own or for others’ sake.
As we dine and refrain from dining, may we be reminded of our mortality and our spirituality. And may the blessings of God be with us always.