Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the start of the 40 days of Lent. Discussions of fasting and “giving things up” can make Lent a triggering time for those who have struggled with, or are supporting a loved with, an eating disorder/disordered eating. Fasting or restricting a person’s intake can lead to a lot of physical and mental health concerns, and therefore, should never be seen as a necessary practice.
How one observes Lent is a very personal decision but ultimately, the point is to focus more closely on God. And we cannot focus on God without loving our neighbor. Fasting is not required to love your neighbor, and in fact, it quite often detracts from it.
Think about it. You are in the cafeteria. Your friend is eating meat on a Friday. You say, “yo, its Friday!” and they put down their hamburger. What have you accomplished? The world isn’t any better than it was two minutes ago.
Now, let’s say you are in the cafeteria fasting from diet culture. You refuse to laugh at jokes about other people’s bodies. You make an effort to really listen to the person talking instead of worrying about your next appointment. Sure, you did not solve world peace, but you are slowly dismantling an oppressive system that labels only certain types of bodies are holy, moral, and worthy.
So, this year, I’m fasting from diet culture (at least I am trying to, that’s the other thing- God’s love is so vast that we can mess up, dust ourselves off, and try again).
- I will fast from media that tries to sell me diets, even if they are packaged in the name of “wellness.”
- I will fast from making judgments about myself or others based on their body size, including about their morality, their athletic ability, their struggles, their health, etc.
- I will fast from referring to certain foods as “good” or “bad,” realizing that doing so can also have racist and classist implications.
- If I do not find a purpose for doing a certain exercise beyond calorie burn or weight loss, I will refrain from that exercise.
- I will not laugh at jokes that poke fun at certain body types.
- I will honor my hunger, or if I am recovering from an eating disorder and cannot yet trust my body to give me hunger signals, I will put my trust in someone who can help me.
- I will fast from telling myself I do not deserve help, while at the same time, working to assist others obtain help if they are having difficulty.
- I will pay closer attention to the needs of those around me. Rather than restricting my own intake, I will think of ways I can give my own time, money, resources, ideas, etc.
- I will do more talking in spaces where voices like mine have been marginalized, and more listening in spaces where voices like mine have been dominant.
- I will try to gentle with myself and others, while recognizing that being gentle does not preclude setting boundaries with people who say or do things that hurt me.
- I will try to be patient with others, remembering they may be struggling with something I cannot see.
- I will fast from listening to people who tell me that I am doing Lent the wrong way. This is between God and myself. It is not a contest.
- I will add my own voice and perspective to these since the person that wrote them does not know everything about everything, and is a work in progress too.
Great thing here is that once Lent is done, its great to continue these things. Lent need not be about giving something up and then rushing to do it again at Easter. It can be moving toward a long-term change that will ultimately benefit your relationship with yourself, your loved ones, and God.
I wish everyone a blessed Lent!