A Spiritual Practice: One Day of Fasting
by Verena Mezger, IIT graduate
I once read that everything we believe about life, others and ourselves plays out in the relationship we have with food. In my own life I have found this to be true. For many years I tried every diet to lose weight and keep it off. It never worked. I obsessed about my weight, I struggled with it, I tried to ignore it, I even tried to accept it. But only when I started looking at what is going on behind the food did I finally find a solution that has helped me to live in a right-sized body long term.
In this article I want to discuss what I have learned about food through fasting as a spiritual practice and the things it has taught me. I want to propose that you try one day of fasting, just drinking water and herbal tea and having a vegetable broth without the vegetables for your meals. This will help bring you in touch with the variety of thought forms and beliefs around food that are so deeply entrenched in many of our cultures and/or our families.
Often we will be confronted with urges and cravings when fasting and all sorts of thoughts will run through our heads. When we fast for one day we obviously are not going to die of starvation even if a part of us wants us to think we are. So we need to create some space between us and these feelings of starvation and deprivation that are haunting us and tell ourselves: “This is ridiculous! I am not going to starve or let alone die if I don’t eat for one full day. So what is coming up for me?”
Then we can start asking ourselves what exactly are our thoughts and beliefs around food. What is it about food that is causing us so much distress? And when we start thinking about this we realize food often goes back to our childhood.
As we go through our day of fasting we need to ask ourselves some questions about how food and eating was handled when we grew up and what was happening in our childhood around food:
- were we receiving enough food when we were children or did we go hungry?
- were we forced to eat food we didn’t want and were we punished, and for instance not allowed to leave the table if we didn’t?
- did different people in the household get different kinds of food?
- was food used to express or withhold love? Food for most of us equals love.
- was the food prepared with love or was it done with anger and resentment or were we made to feel guilty about all the effort that was needed to prepare it?
- were our meals always rushed?
- was there harmony and a nice family atmosphere at home or did family members just grab the food off the counter and go off somewhere?
- did we children eat separately from our parents so we never felt the parents were actually there sitting down at mealtime with us?
We really need to look closely at what is coming up as we are going through our day of fasting. We also need to be mindful of how we sabotage our attempts at fasting. Do we decide to have coffee or tea which are both caffeinated drinks that stimulate more uncontrollable emotions. Or do we have a bite of this or that as we are preparing our fasting meals. We need to ask ourselves why did we choose to have coffee and tea or why did we pop this or that food into our mouth when we are fasting.
Most probably you will be doing the fasting by yourself. It’s always interesting to observe the internal dialogue that takes place when we don’t eat but see others eating. Are there issues coming up around that? And how do you feel about you not eating when others are. Perhaps you feel envy that the others can eat and you can’t. Or perhaps you are feeling sorry about yourself because you don’t get to eat. Or perhaps you feel superior because you are able to go without food and others can’t.
Be mindful of the feelings that come up as you go through your day. Don’t judge or try to suppress them. Just observe them and try to tune into them. See where they are located in your body and how they show up. Name them. They tell you so much about your family story and the beliefs you formed. Becoming aware of our relationship with food can support us on our journey of personal growth, evolution and transformation.
You might want to observe yourself as you are going through the day of fasting. Keeping the questions for contemplation from above in mind you could journal on how this day unfolds for you and anything you feel noteworthy.
This might give you some deep insights and help you establish a mindfulness practice around your food and the way you eat. The beauty of using eating as a doorway to greater awareness is that you get to do it a number of times each day, every single day of the year.
Verena Mezger is a graduate of the IIT and has been working with Tanis Helliwell since 2004.