Jana Riess on Why It May Be Time for Us to Fast

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including “The Prayer Wheel” (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and “The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church” (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.


I started out this year on a Caribbean cruise, as my husband and I celebrated our 50th birthdays together. We zoomed around Bonaire on a motor scooter, snorkeled in Aruba, and lounged on deck chairs reading massive books. (I finally finished “Middlemarch,” which has been on my TBR list since college.)

And we ate. Oh my heavens, did we eat.

Being on a cruise is an exercise in overindulgence. Everything is delicious, and almost everything is already included in the price, so it’s hard to exercise much self-restraint. After the first day on board, I abandoned my usual habit of writing down my food and exercise in a smartphone app and just gave myself over to the delights of the perpetual smorgasbord.

I’m paying for it now, as you can imagine, but it actually feels good to return to normalcy. After December’s gluttonous winter holidays, followed immediately by our face-stuffing vacation, my body seems ready for a healthy dose of asceticism.

In this I’m adhering to the body’s natural rhythms, according to author Jay Richards. In his new book “Eat, Fast, Feast,” Richards says that human beings have evolved to thrive in many different conditions, including when food is present (hello, cruise buffet!) and when it’s not available. In fact, the body runs most optimally when we help it do what it was designed to do, which is to alternate regularly between both states.

That means intermittent fasting. The book advocates the regular practice of abstaining from food from time to time for physical and spiritual health. Richards, an adult convert to Catholicism, spends the early part of the book sketching out the importance of fasting in early Christianity and then trying to explain why the expectations about fasting softened or even disappeared in most churches. (Short answer: Human beings are lame. We do not like fasting, and we’ll make all kinds of excuses so we don’t have to do it.)

There are deeper and more thorough books about the role of fasting in Christianity, including excellent spirituality books by Scot McKnightLynne Baab, and Richard Foster. But what “Eat, Fast, Feast” offers that those do not is a strong focus on dietary recommendations and a detailed six-week plan that’s custom-made for Lent, which is right around the corner.

Richards seems to be as much a convert to ketosis (when we draw on fat reserves rather than on immediate sugars) as he is to Catholicism. He describes his dietary epiphanies in highly religious language: he once was lost in traditional health recommendations that told him to limit saturated fats, count his calories, and beware the bogeyman of cholesterol. Despite adhering to those recommendations and exercising regularly, he experienced several chronic health problems.

He “now is found,” having stumbled upon a ketogenic diet that transformed his life. Years ago, when trying to determine why he kept having a recurring health problem, a doctor recommended that he eliminate half a dozen foods (eggs, dairy, wheat, soy, nuts and seafood) for a period of time. They were hoping to get an answer to the health mystery after three months, but he started feeling better after just three days.

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Source: Religion News Service