The Psychology of Fasting

I've been fasting a lot over this last year. Yes, I know, I just broke Jesus's command in Matthew 6.16-18. I'm aware I'm a self-righteous hypocrite.

Still, I wanted to share a psychological observation with you based on my own experience.

If I miss a meal when I'm not fasting my psychological and physiological experience is this: I feel weak and shaky. Feeling this, I think, "I have to eat something to get my blood sugar up."

But when I am fasting, when I'm intentionally skipping a meal, I tend not to feel as shaky or weak or needing to up my blood sugar. I'm not saying that these feelings go completely away, but that it's much, much reduced.

Basically, the mental frame--intentionally versus unintentionally missing a meal--dramatically affects both the psychological and physiological reaction to hunger.

And let me add this. I think there's a mild anxiety reaction when we find that a meal has been missed. If something happens and we don't get time, say, to eat lunch we notice our rumbling tummy or lowered blood sugar and then sort of freak out. "Oh no! I didn't eat lunch! How will I be able to get through the rest of the day!?" Which makes it all worse, both physically and mentally. I think there's an underlying hypervigilance about our bodies in relation to "hunger pains," blood sugar, and caloric intake.

But when you fast you don't have these little panic attacks when your tummy rumbles. The body-monitoring hypervigilance dissipates. Because missing the meal was the plan from the start. And so you just go about your day, not thinking about missing meals or your "energy level." You just calmly carry on.

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8 thoughts on “The Psychology of Fasting”

  1. I fasted and prayed on Thanksgiving day one year for a sick friend. I ended up getting mad as a hornet because I missed the Thanksgiving meals and ended up taking it out on my wife. Super Stupid, but I learned some things about myself and I suppose fasting as well.

  2. Whether I'm fasting or not, when I feel hungry I tell myself, "Hunger is normal, not a catastrophe. You're fine." It is a little weird that I can get anxious about being hungry. A lack of food has never been a problem in my life.

  3. Yes, that's what I'm trying to get at, the sort of panic first-world people experience when a meal is skipped.

    Before I was fasting regularly when it was lunchtime, no matter what was going on, "getting lunch" was the number one priority. I HAD to have lunch, right? Otherwise the world would end. But since I've been fasting my "need" for lunch has gone away and with it the mild hunger panics that drove me to drop everything to make sure I had lunch. Basically, food has stopped regulating my life and schedule.

  4. Yes. When I'm fasting I don't have to plan meals, pack lunch, clean the kitchen, or arrange my schedule to allow for a meal out. I don't know that I've ever really made a good connection between fasting and increased time in prayer, but I definitely make the connection between fasting and being able to be more present for other people and tasks during my day. It's a way to spend less time thinking about me.

  5. My experience is just the opposite. When I fast, I get so focused on the fact that I am going without food. I become extremely aware of how weak I feel and how hungry I am. On the other hand, when I realize I have missed a meal, I can easily ignore my symptoms by telling myself that missing a meal never hurt anyone--that it is a relatively normal experience. By fasting, we sacralize (not sure if that's a word) the act of not eating. In doing so, we set it apart from other, normal, instances of missing food, thereby highlighting its effects. Locating missing food as part of normal experience, however, contextualizes (and therefore minimizes) it, at least for me.

  6. I'm wondering whether, on a morning when you know you're going to miss lunch, you eat a slightly heartier breakfast, or at least ensure that it isn't particularly small...

  7. It's much like missing out on sleep.

    If you find yourself unable to sleep all manner of worries are conjured up as you toss around in bed, wondering how you'll get through the next day's busy schedule feeling so tired.

    When sleep is denied due to mishap or emergency, you just get on with it..

    As always, it's "thinking makes it so.."

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