You Do Not Need to Fast this Lent or Ever: Perspective from a PA Registered Dietitian and New Jersey Therapist
DISCLAIMER: You can follow Jesus and not participate in Lent. You can live a fruitful and faithful life abiding in Christ and never fast from food. Fasting food doesn’t change your standing with God nor is it necessary. Ephesians 2: 8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Message to Pastors: Please keep calories, diet culture, and body talk out of the pulpit not just during Lent but in general. It encourages disordered eating and can trigger those with a disorder. Also, it furthers people from God and oftentimes scares believers and nonbelievers away.
What is Lent?
We are about a week into the time in the Liturgical Calendar known as Lent. Lent is a 40-day period of personal preparation that ends with Easter Sunday. Lent is a time to reflect and remember Jesus’s journey to the cross. I think it’s important to note that Lent is not talked about in the Bible. Lent was created by man. Personally, we think the observance of Lent is beautiful. Lent reminds us to create space for God in our lives and in our hearts. To remember the weight of sin. To acknowledge that God is infinite and I am not. It gives us an opportunity to restore our relationship with God or continue building upon it! Jesus wants our hearts, nothing else. And, perhaps most importantly, it reorients our eyes to the cross - where Jesus died to pay for our sins, rose again, and defeated death. Pretty cool, huh? Nowhere in this whole breakdown of this special season does Jesus mention us needing to fast. Yes, he may have done it but that does not mean we have to, especially if you are in recovery, but really at all.
“The purpose of Lent is not to force on us a few formal obligations, but to ‘soften’ our hearts so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit, to experience the hidden ‘thirst and hunger’ for communion with God.” -Reverend Alexander Schmemann
Unfortunately, as a result of living in a broken world, Lent has often been transformed into a diet for some instead of a season of remembrance. No matter what you have been taught whether in church or from society, engaging in disordered eating behaviors and dieting often keep us from experiencing the abundant life we are offered in Jesus. God designed our bodies (Genesis 1:27), called them good (Genesis 1:31), and designed them so we can worship Him (1 Corinthians 6:19). Pause, we were made to worship Him…not to diet for him or to only worship when we look a certain way. To worship Him…there is no expectation - God loves us deeply exactly where we are. Our body size has nothing to do with it. We are so incredibly sorry if someone has ever taken “honor God with your body” out of context in the name of dieting or manipulating your body into a size it was never meant to be at. Your body is a temple, meaning it’s sacred to God and God desires you care for your body in ways that are not harmful to you. I think our eating, resting, working, and the movements we make within our bodies abilities can all be ways in which we worship God when we are not conforming to the patterns of this world (Romans 12:2). Diets and Diet culture is not of God. Fasting from food is not what God needs from you during this season or ever.
As we already stated, God doesn't ask you to be a certain body size. Scripture says, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God cares more about your heart because He ultimately wants YOU. The God of the universe who created the heavens and earth (Genesis 1; John 1) created YOU (Psalm 139) and seeks a relationship with YOU. Since the fall in the garden of Eden, God has been restoring His creation back to Himself through his son, Jesus.
Also, fasting does not have to mean fasting from food, in fact it shouldn't. Anytime we tell our brains we can't have something; they just want it more. Therefore, making it a slippery slope for disorder patterns around food to develop. This is not what God wants for you, we promise. Fasting could be defined as “giving up something you love for something you love more.” It has nothing to do with changing our bodies or controlling our caloric intake. Just like prayer or reading scripture or giving, the concept of fasting is an opportunity to get more of God himself. It’s about getting to know God better and making space to hear from him. The practice of fasting during Lent can get so easily entangled with the societal pressure to engage in dieting behaviors in order to fit a standard ideal of beauty. But scripture tells us to, “set your mind on the things above, not earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). We cannot read scripture through the lens of our cultural moment’s ideas about health and size. Again, fasting from food is not what God wants from you, as we said before He just wants your heart and to be in close relationship with YOU! He loves YOU! The creator of the world loves YOU! Please let that sink in.
We celebrate Easter because Christ died and rose again to set us free. Galatians 5:1 says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” It is for freedom that Christ set us free. We get to walk in freedom because of the love poured out by Jesus on the cross at Calvary. That is why we create space during Lent, because God can do immeasurably more than we can ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20) and He is worthy of our worship.
Practicing Lent without Diet Culture
If you aren’t following Leslie Schilling, RDN on Instagram, you should be! She recently created a helpful post in navigating Lent this season without diet culture and included some suggested practices that I’ve tacked on to:
Start a daily prayer/gratitude journal or devotional - for Lent, I’ve been loving 40 days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole and Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine McKelvey
Limit or delete social media or limit/stop watching TV - embrace more times of solitude and silence
Make meals for friends and neighbors - and fellowship together! Open up your home or dorm or apartment and celebrate this season together with food
Schedule daily quiet time to talk and listen to God - God just wants to be with you. Talk to him, listen for his voice, and eat your meals with him
Rachel shares, “Personally, there was a season of Lent where I felt called to give up structured movement (going to the gym, letting times of movement dictate my schedule, etc.) because it had become an idol in my heart. This year, I’m *trying* to fast busyness and take a sabbath day of rest. I need to remind myself that God cares way less about what I’m doing and is more invested in who I am becoming.”
“We can’t open our hearts and schedules to God or others by restricting our bodies in the service of diet culture. God cares far more about the posture of our hearts than our food selection or jeans size.” - Leslie Schilling, RDN
John Eldgredge in his book “Walking with God” says, “(Lent is) a time when many people choose to go without something, such as coffee or CNN, just as Christ fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. When this is approached in the spirit of making extra room for God in your life - as opposed to just cutting out caffeine or TV - it can be very meaningful.” As we journey on during this Lenten season, ask Jesus what he’d have you give up or take up for Lent. Pray God would give you eyes to see yourself the way he sees you - chosen, loved, and made new (1 Peter 2:9, 1 John 4:16, and 2 Corinthians 5:17).
References and Helpful Resources!
This podcast interview with a trauma-informed LPC (interview starts at 44:30 minutes and ends at 1:22:50 minutes): https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/tsf-q-a-faith-fasting/id944925529?i=1000542439241
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