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I believe that some day as I look back on the years of struggle to get myself balanced, 2013 will be the year I identify as the time when it all began to fall into place. I’ve been a seeker for a long time. It’s not like I ever thought my obesity was normal, or ok, or inevitable or changeable. Anyone who knows me, can see the many years of frustration, masking with humor, depression, crappy attitude toward others. But I always felt like “this isn’t how it is supposed to be.” And with so many obesity apologists and acceptors around me in society at large (pun definitely intended) I added the stress of constantly shouting at others (usually in my own head) WHY ARE YOU OK WITH SETTLING FOR THIS?

The change in my life that triggered this blog was but a preamble. I got moving, and we all cheered. Good stuff. But I didn’t wrap my head around the food. Then I started to do that, and it was a decent beginning, but short lived. I was still Sisyphus, pushing that boulder up the hill. I got stronger at pushing, but eventually that thing rolls back down.

In embracing the ancestral health movement, I am not pushing the boulder any more. I am not trying to trick myself with small doses of sugar, even in “healthy” forms, to then feel bad when I can’t control my intake of it. The more I look at the behavior of others who aren’t even self-identified Overeaters, I see this is a culture-wide insanity that is bigger than all of us. I hope to provide one small ray of hope in a very dark sky. But while one star may not light up our sky. a whole galaxy can. I am gaining hope and motivation as I find company more and more with people who have shaken off the chains of modern “food.” And we are not depriving ourselves, we are thriving on what God/nature/evolution/design (pick your belief system, they all support the same evidence) has given us.

With that in mind, I am happy to say that my quest to take this relationship deeper into my spiritual life is moving along. Tomorrow begins the Christian season of Lent. As a Lutheran, I have grown up with the idea of giving up something for Lent, but only casually so. And I have had my share of debates over the years with the point of this discipline. I have preached on the point many times. I don’t believe that it means much to believe in a savior and say “hey Jesus, thanks for you know, dying at the hands of humanity to show us the kingdom of God. That cross thing was awesome. So, I’m skipping cookies for a few weeks to do my part.”

Now of course, that is not the point of Lenten self-sacrifice. But it is a cartoonish version of how many of us have treated this discipline. And I never tire of ratting out my beloved bride, who as a young Catholic girl always gave up hot dogs for Lent. She hated hot dogs. Well played, kid. Well played.

So without having to go into a whole long inside-baseball conversation only relevant to Christians who observe Lent, I will say that my appreciation for spiritual disciplines is deepening. As a young seminarian, I remember reading a book called “Celebration of Discipline.” At the time, I would have preferred to be forced to read the autobiography of Snookie. (Of course we didn’t know who that was in 1996.) I may return to that book this Lent, if I can find it on my shelf. It wouldn’t surprise me if I found a way to lose it at some point in the past 15 years. And that would be odd, as I have considered my overflowing book shelves some sort of status symbol, even if I haven’t read most of them.

But nonetheless, I am ready to do some fasting for Lent. When I was sugar-dependent, and running on glucose, I would get the shakes from skipping a meal. I convinced myself that even short term fasting just wouldn’t work for a guy like me. I would pass out. I may have been right. But now, I am a ketogenic machine. This is not a pre-requisite for fasting, but it certainly helps. I have been researching interrmittent fasting as a practice. Like much of my eye-opening moments in the last few months, it is refreshing to find that the evidence shows that fasting does not make us go into starvation mode, that I will not ruin my metabolism, nor lose lean tissue.

We have been so conditioned by an all-food-options-all-the-time culture, that our definition of a long time without food has become skewed. Even the health conscious folks tend to subscribe to a conventional wisdom of several small meals a day, and everyone is convinced you have to slam down a big protein shake after every workout, or you lose out on some muscle building benefits.

I have concluded that intermittent fasting while eating low-carb/ketogenically is not only a compatible match, but may be the way I end up eating long term. And this gives me pause as a Lenten discipline. It is good advice to not look at Lent as a time to give up something that you should give up anyway. If you shouldn’t do it, then don’t do it. And I understand that. As I said, I am a work in progress on the depth of my spirituality. But as this time is directly coinciding with my own evolution and development with my relationship to food, it is as good a time as any to implement. And discipline is about forming a habit, whether you “feel it” or not. Addicts say fake it ’til you make it. Well, perhaps imposing a structure for a time will lead to making it a habit without much intention. That would be good.

Ultimately, the benefit of fasting is not only a systematic health benefit, which I hope to achieve. But it is also, and this is the point of doing it for Lent, about being intentional. Being deliberate. By planning when I shall eat and when I shall not eat, I am already making a step toward a holy relationship with food, as opposed to the chaos I have known all too well. Anything, anytime, in any quantity. I haven’t been there in a while, mind you. But as I’ve moved toward more intentional eating, this is the next step for me.

Lenten disciplines are to free us of an indulgence so that we may be more available to serve others. If, as words from Jesus that we will read on Ash Wednesday, we fast so people can see how wretched we look and they can congratulate us for our spiritual strength and will, then we miss the point. I’m going off mark by not exactly fasting in secret as Jesus advised, but in my position as a public spiritual leader, as well as now a blogger in the conversation, I offer this to those in the conversation. But I don’t plan to wear a sign about my fasting.

As for becoming more available, I spent many hours of the last several days at a hospital with a family. Yesterday was a seven-hour day of standing, watching, waiting, as our brother in Christ was dying. A faithful man who served his community in ways that could fill three obituaries, died surrounded by loved ones. I was able to be fully present, non-anxiously, as we had conversations, made decisions, shared grief. I have done similar ministry many times over the years. But I don’t know that I was ever as present as I felt this past week. And, my reaction to being involved in such difficulty always involved self-medicating by hitting the drive-thrus on the way to and from the hospital, every time. Now, with my planned meals, I can eat breakfast at home, and be comfortable for many many hours. I am able to focus.

My Lenten intermittent fasting will not look that extreme or interesting. The daily window of eating will quite likely look like what some of you do already. I am looking at 16 hours per day fasting. I am also planning to make Sundays the proper feast days in the midst of Lent that they are, which for me does not mean eating that which I have left behind, (like ym free for all Body-for-Life “free days” back in 2000) but simply extending the window of my paleo-inspirired, low-carb eating into the evenings. I may fast for 24-36 hours afterwards, skipping Monday entirely.

If you find this intriguing and are considering trying it, please know that intermittent fasting is not starving. Do some research. And do not jump into it if you’re still on the sugar train. You will likely crash, and give up. This is a step in my evolution I am only ready to take after being sugar/grain free for six weeks.

Whether a Christian observing Lent or not, all of us would benefit by simply becoming intentional about what we eat. Without even getting into the diet wars, studies across the board show that the number one tool for weight loss is a food journal. When you are intentional about eating, you don’t eat mindlessly. This is good for anyone.

Be intentional. Let eating be a sacred thing, or if you prefer, a mystical thing. Get off the soul-sucking novelty of thousands new “food products” on the shelves in the grocery stores each year. Stop calling a McRib a meal. Eat food. Bless it. Love it. It will love you back.

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2 thoughts on “Fasting for Health, Spirituality, and Being Present

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