Fasting isn’t always an easy feat, especially when groups are fasting, due to the health issues I face. Although I do not struggle with an eating disorder, I know many of the pressures and insecurities that can come with fasting. For this reason, I have decided to speak out about a difficult topic that isn’t usually handled in the Christian realm.
What should Christians with eating disorders be aware of when it comes to fasting? Christians with eating disorders need to recognize that fasting is not merely abstaining from food and drink. Fasting can include limiting the intake of anything, whether that be media, shopping, television, etc. The New Testament does not command fasting, it only gives examples of people who fasted. There are healthy alternatives to sustenance fasting that can bring about the same spiritual transformation that people desire.
I am providing a supportive environment for Christians who struggle in this area. There is no shame. Instead, there are practical ways to maneuver for edification and encouragement. Through research and personal experience with fasting, I will be explaining why Christians with eating disorders shouldn’t fast food and water and what healthy alternatives are. I will also be providing information to help other believers better love those around them with eating disorders.
Why Christians with Eating Disorders Shouldn’t Fast Food and Water
People with eating disorders should not fast food and water. I do not recommend fasting when someone is in the midst of a struggle with an eating disorder. The reason for this is because the fast will be influenced by the eating disorder. Initially, the motive for fasting may be pure. However, the enemy comes at an opportune time to bring temptation and bondage.
Jesus Himself experienced temptation. He was victorious over the temptation. However, the enemy planned to return again, but not when Jesus was most ready and strong. Satan comes when we are the weakest and most vulnerable. Luke 4:13 explains, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time.”
Sadly, a time of fasting from food and water can be the weakest moment for someone with an eating disorder. The enemy speaks lies. John 8:44b portrays, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” The enemy will likely speak lies concerning fasting, starvation, body image, or other underlying causes for eating disorders.
Because of the severity of an eating disorder, Christians with this struggle should refrain from this type of fast, knowing that there is grace and love from the Father pouring over them. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, Romans 8:1. Christians have been given freedom from shame, guilt, and bondage. Therefore, when a Christian decides to refrain from fasting, they do not have to feel pressured or like they are failing God.
Should Recovered Christians Fast Food and Water?
The question arises of whether or not Christians who have recovered from eating disorders should fast from food and drink. This is dependent on a variety of factors.
First, how long has it been since the individual has struggled with an eating disorder? If a believer has experienced years of freedom from an eating disorder, it may be okay for them to fast food and drink.
Second, how long did the struggle last? As in all areas, the longer the struggle, the longer the healing and recovery process. Of course, God can heal instantly, however, when this is not the case, people should expect a longer process of healing. If the struggle occurred for many years or most of an individual’s life, it may not be wise to try fasting.
Third, does the recovered believer have a strong support system? The Bible calls us to bear one another’s burdens. When the Body of Christ is unified and supporting one another, there is greater strength against the enemy’s schemes and there is more freedom.
This can be compared to a flock of sheep. When the sheep are together with the guidance of the Shephard and with the large numbers, they are safe. However, when one sheep wanders off, it becomes more vulnerable to a wolf.
Even if a Christian is fully recovered, I do not recommend that they fast food and water without the support, love, accountability, and help of a trustworthy community.
Why People with Eating Disorders May Want to Fast
Despite knowledge and understanding of the potential threats of fasting, Christians with eating disorders may still desire to fast. This is not bad because there is a genuine desire to connect with God. In scripture, fasting has been used to acknowledge dependence upon God, and to align oneself to the will of God (Luke 4:1,2).
Additionally, it was used alongside confession, repentance, and worship. Before important decisions, many of God’s people fasted (Acts 13:2; 14:23, Esther 4:3). They fasted for spiritual breakthroughs against dark forces (Matthew 17:21).
Many Christians desire to connect with God in all of these ways. Their struggle does not define their love or devotion to God. They want to please Him in all that they do. Many Christians who struggle with eating disorders do not want to miss out on all the spiritual reasons and effects of fasting.
However, a crucial revelation is that the effects of fasting seen in scripture can be experienced without the fasting of food and drink. God can work in miraculous and mighty ways without this type of fasting. There are numerous ways to fast and to please God through fasting.
Those who do not fast food and drink are not breaking a commandment of God. Additionally, fasting does not earn anything from God. The lack of fasting does not negate the redemption, salvation, or love of God.
How to Support Christians with Eating Disorders
Christians with eating disorders should not feel accused of wanting to fast for the wrong reasons. Instead, they should be supported and given healthy alternatives. If you know a Christian who struggles with an eating disorder, be aware of how you speak concerning fasting. Do not unnecessarily bring up a conversation about fasting or refraining from food and drink. Do your best not to make that believer feel condemned.
If you are fasting or are leading others in fasting, be aware that some of the people in your group may struggle or have struggled in the past with this issue. Present very clear alternatives that are practical and obtainable. Don’t commend fasting of food and drink over other types of fasts.
Be a support to individuals who wrestle in this area. Support them as a person in a holistic manner. Do not only support their struggle. Support them as a whole person. They are equal members of the Kingdom of God and the Family of Christ. Just because someone struggles differently than others, doesn’t mean they should be treated less than or differently.
Types of Fasting
There are dozens of types of fasting that can be used as a healthy, beneficial, and fruitful alternative. I do not have an eating disorder but I do have other health conditions that hinder me from fasting from food and drink. If I do fast I must be very limited and aware. From my time spent fasting food and drink and fasting other things, I can attend that both forms are incredibly beneficial for spiritual development.
I have experienced God just as strongly using these alternatives as I did when I have fasted from food and drink. There is nothing in scripture that states that fasting can only be of food and drink. In fact, the apostle Paul speaks about fasting from sex in a covenant relationship. This is only one alternative example in scripture, yet, we can glean from it and recognize that fasting is not limited.
List of Alternatives
- Social Media Fast – Fasting social media has always been a way to clear my mind and devote it solely to God. It has given me more time to pray, study scripture, and worship. Furthermore, it eliminates worldly values of comparison and insecurity.
- Fasting from Sex in a Marriage Covenant –Within marriage, couples can agree with one another to fast from sex for a period of time. The apostle Paul gives a warning not to extend the fast too long because temptation may come.
- Only Fasting Certain Foods – If I decide to fast food I will choose a certain food of type of food to fast. For example, I may fast eating dessert or sugary foods for a period of time. Or, I will fast soda, coffee, or other beverages. This may be an obtainable alternative for those who want to fast food but cannot fast all food. (This should be done only with high support of a community and a mentor for someone who has struggled with an eating disorder).
- Fasting from Television and Movies – Fasting from television and movies opens up more time to spend with God and can help Christians focus on Godly things instead of things of the world.
- Obstaining from Cell Phone Use – Cellphones are addicting in our culture. By fasting cellphones, we are breaking that addiction and showing that we do not rely on anything but God.
- Fasting the Use of Makeup – Women may choose to fast makeup to recognize that true beauty comes from within and from the natural creation of God.
- Refraining from Shopping for Unnecessary Things – For those who have a habit of shopping, especially retail therapy, fasting from shopping can be beneficial. Rather than shopping as a coping mechanism, Christians can go to the Lord to supply their every need.
- Fasting from Extracurricular Activites – Christians with a busy schedule may fast extracurricular activities during the week or even during a season of life to free up time to spend with God and Christian community.
- Fasting from Personal Strongholds – Any object, habit, or thing that is exalted above God in a Christian’s life can be fasted.
How to Glorify God with Your Body
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 states, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” Christians are called to honor God with their bodies.
For some believers, they honor God by taking care of their bodies. That means, if they struggle with an eating disorder, they honor God by taking steps to overcome it. In order to overcome it, they may not be able to fast food and drink.
Furthermore, the grace of God is sufficient in all weaknesses. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Believers who struggle with eating disorders glorify God in their body by relying on His strength and not their own. They rest in His grace when they cannot fast food and drink. They trust Him to remain faithful even when they are limited. Believers who choose an alternative fast glorify God by choosing what is healthy for their body and healing. All the while, they glorify God by taking steps towards spiritual and physical surrender of other things.