As a Christian in the health/nutrition field, I frequently come across messages that hail scripture as motivation for dieting, disordered eating, and other unhealthy behavior. I’ve written about this topic before, but today I want to focus on fasting in particular.
Fasting is a sort of a sticky area because it’s a practice with a deep spiritual history. Christian scholars have written about it for thousands of years, and I want to make clear that I am in no way a theologian. So, my perspective is likely to seem over-simplified. But as far as I see it, the purpose of fasting in the Christian context is to facilitate a more intimate relationship with God by transforming the longing for food into a longing for Christ. Fasting, like prayer, is deeply rooted in the supernatural, so the means through which fasting accomplishes what it does are part of a divine mystery. It is an expression of longing toward Christ with the end goal of selflessness.
Fasting for other reasons, whether we realize it or not, means that our efforts are no longer biblical, and no longer accomplish a divine purpose. I’m not saying that there’s anything immoral about fasting for other reasons, but if they aren’t in the name of Christ, they shouldn’t be marketed as such. In fact, “Christian fasting” shouldn’t be marketed at all.
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.Matthew 6:16
A few weeks ago, I referenced the idea of Christian fasting in a post on Instagram. My main inspiration was seeing another account endorsing a devotional book titled The 40-Day Sugar Fast. The caption read, “do you feel out of control around sugar?” The poster then explained her journey with sugar fasts, explaining how God’s mercies enabled her to make it through the 40 days, when all she could think about was donuts, creamer, and ketchup. She compared herself to a drug addict. She then explained that our real issue isn’t sugar, but rather a heart issue, as Jesus wants our undivided, unadulterated affection.
Eating sugar isn’t a heart issue. It is not a sin. Eating sugar is just eating sugar. That’s it. Boom! Done. Period. Eating and enjoying sugar does not adulterate our relationship with Jesus. Dessert does not create distance between us and God. This message is so false, so wrong, and so, completely harmful!
I don’t want to call anyone out or create a conflict akin to “he said, she said” and I don’t blame the Instagrammer for her perspective on the subject. Rather, I blame diet culture for hijacking a spiritual practice for its own purposes. Aside from selling books, these sorts of messages create diet obsessions, food preoccupations, exercise addictions, and eating disorders, all alongside a hefty side dish of Christian guilt.
The ultimate message of books like these is “You are sinning if you break a sugar fast,” and even worse, “Eating sugar is a sin.”
There is no bible verse that condemns the consumption of sugar. Our current medical understanding doesn’t even acknowledge the pseudo-science equating sugar cravings with addiction.
Sugar fasts seem spiritual because bloggers write about them that way. But our societal criticism from sugar stems from our obsession with weight loss, dieting, and food. Sugar fasting as a spiritual discipline didn’t emerge until after sugar started getting media attention for the health effects of consuming too much of it. The message was manipulated into the idea that if “too much” sugar is bad, then surely any of it is just as bad — and if it’s bad, that means we are bad, too.
Sugar fasting won’t necessarily bring you closer to God, and it definitely won’t heal you of your obsession with food.
Fasting from sugar (and otherwise avoiding it) has only one effect: it makes you obsessed with it. The more we think about avoiding something, the more irresistible that thing becomes.
If you are struggling with binge eating sugary foods, creating more rules about those foods isn’t going to solve the problem — it’s only going to make it worse. Sugar isn’t a problem in our lives because it’s “sinfully delicious” and addicting, it’s a problem because we’ve allowed its role in our lives to become distorted. (I completely acknowledge that sugar can be used in a sinful way. Gluttony is a real thing, but eating sugar does not necessarily constitute gluttony.) Rather, the solution to binge eating is to heal your relationship with those triggering foods, such as sugary ones, by eating them more often. I’ve seen this to be true in my own life as well as countless clients and patients I’ve worked with over the years, and this is precisely the reason I feel so strongly about the subject.
I personally have been harmed very deeply by the false messaging in the diet industry, and I’ve see that same hurt in so many other lives, too. It’s heart breaking, and makes me angry, because I missed out on nearly seven years of my life due to a disordered relationship with food. I think that breaks God’s heart, too. Fasting from sugar didn’t make me more holy, it made me more self-absorbed, more obsessed, and fed my idolatry with food and my body.
One of the most healing things I ever did — mentally, physically, and spiritually — was making the decision to eat more sugar, not less.