Ask Dr. Denton: It's Lent. Can You Explain the Effects of Fasting?
Fasting is Spring Cleaning for the whole person, body, soul and spirit
Prayer and fasting leads us to a deeper closeness to God and to peace and beauty within. Interestingly, fasting also gives our body a time to clean out the weight of a heavy year. Fasting on a purely physical level does have some significant and wonderful benefits. The benefits of fasting are not just about the physical world, they are also about the spiritual world. Fasting is about becoming identified in solidarity with the poor.
PORTSMOUTH, VA. (Catholic Online) - Dear Dr Denton: As the Lenten season unfolds, can you tell me the effects of fasting on my body?
Lent is my favorite spiritual time of the year. For me, it is a time of great joy. It cleanses my mind, body, and most importantly my soul. I have spent the past year building up toxins from the world I live in. Largely, it is the result of my own choices. I came off the holiday season and .presto, I was not quite as spry as I was in October when I was enjoying those little red rubies we call apples.
While Lent can be viewed as a season of sacrifice and doing without, I believe that it is the season of rebuilding and laying down a foundation that will help to direct our spiritual well being and perhaps our overall health.
What do I mean?
Prayer and fasting leads us to a deeper closeness to God and to peace and beauty within. Interestingly, fasting also gives our body a time to clean out the weight of a heavy year. Fasting on a purely physical level does have some significant and wonderful benefits.
Letīs just start with calorie reduction. In the US, the American food factory produces enough food to fill every citizen with 3800 calories per day. By the way, we only need approximately 2000 calories per day to sustain a normal sized person.
So, how does fasting play a role in our health and wellness?
The most profound way is in the calorie restriction. Studies performed on animals and humans where caloric intake had been restricted have shown that it leads to increased longevity (a longer life). Please understand that I am NOT speaking of extreme fasting. The radical extreme fasts that are proclaimed to be the "cure all" for the body are far from the truth.
The problem is that caloric restriction data is often used as a means of promoting extreme diets and starvation type "de-toxing." "You should be able to smell the toxins coming off your body," is the common type of language used to promote an extreme diet or what is called a detoxifying fast.
The truth is that in the extreme detoxification diets and low calorie fad diets the body does give off an odor that is often reported to be the "toxins" coming off. In reality, when you drive your body into a starvation mode the body goes into ketosis. That is what has the somewhat sickly sweet smell. Not toxins, just ketosis.
In fasting, the body has a decreased calorie intake. The body needs those 2000 or so calories to stay at an even weight and function. When the calories are less than our daily needs we start breaking down our energy reserves.. fat and muscle. In a short term fast such as a day of bread, honey, and water the body burns those fat stores.
In a diet where carbohydrates are limited for days to weeks, or absolute calorie reduction in the 1000 range, the body responds by burning both fat and muscles stores. In absolute starvation when the fat is gone, the body burns muscle.
That is why we see the horrible pictures of children with large bellies and thin limbs. The muscles of the abdominal wall - as well as the muscles on the limbs - have been used for calories. Muscle is made up of protein. When the muscle breaks down it forms ketones as a waste byproduct. In the ideal world, we fast enough to burn the excess fat stores. We also control our tendency to indulge our disordered appetites through focused prayer, meditation, exercise, and simple discipline.
How does fasting help the mind and body?
In the short term it is best understood through understanding the value of rest. The body needs rest to heal itself and to grow. During a day of fasting, the stomach and bowels are rested. The toxins that are produced by the body in the breakdown of food and the toxins in the food we eat are thereby limited. Remember those free radicals from my earlier articles? They are decreased because there are fewer being made as waste in your body. In addition, fewer are brought in with the foods we eat.
How does fasting help the brain?
Simply stated, the caloric rest has a mind clearing effect. As Americans, we often eat high carbohydrate, high calorie meals. Initially, with food intake, the brain gets a high calorie boost but as we begin to digest large amounts of food our blood flow is directed to the gut to help with nutrient breakdown and transport. Later, the insulin release is often higher than the caloric intake so the brain has a moment where the sugar in the blood is too low and we get tired and feel cloudy.
By fasting, the calories and carbohydrates we eat are limited. The body does not surge with too much insulin. Instead a small amount of calories are brought into the body so we can function and the remainder of our needs come from our own fat stores. The brain is rested because its needs are not in competition with the gut and the reduced insulin release allows the brain to get its supply of energy from balanced blood sugars.
A few simple recommendations:
Follow our Lenten calendar. Make Fridays, perhaps even Wednesday, your days to fast.
Start slowly - no meat. Then extend this to a low carbohydrate/ low fat day with water, a small piece of fish, honey on whole grain bread, a spinach salad with olive oil and a touch of vinegar.
Drink water over coffee, soda, or fruit drinks. If you need something else, or your caffeine headache is kicking in, the answer is tea. Try green tea as the primary choice followed by herbal teas or fruit teas such as lemon tea, hot apple spice or chamomile.
Remember prayer time in the morning to set the right priorities. Start the day right and you will finish right. A little walk in the evening or even midday will ward off those urges for sweets.
The truth is, fasting is extremely healthy for the body if the fast is not extreme. By that I mean not performed for days or weeks at a time.
But Dr D, there has to be more ......
Yes, there is more. The benefits of fasting are not just about the physical world, they are also about the spiritual world. Fasting is about becoming identified in solidarity with the poorest of the world in order to feel their hunger, their ache, their longing for sustenance. That is what compassion means. To enter into the suffering of another. It is for love - and for the beauty and dignity of the human person. In our small sacrifice we become one with each other and then we truly are one with Christ, one with God.
May we all fast together and then share our gifts as one.
Dr Denton D. Weiss, M.D. is board certified in both Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Dr. Weiss' approach to his medical practice flows from his convictions about the meaning of life which are deeply rooted in his Catholic Faith. He and his wife, Michelle strive for an integrated approach to life which recognizes the unity of the body, mind and soul. They call this approach "Bella Vitae" or "Beautiful Living". He, and Michelle, are contributing writers to Catholic Online.
Đ 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for November 2014
Lonely people: That all who suffer loneliness may experience the closeness of God and the support of others.
Mentors of seminarians and religious: That young seminarians and religious may have wise and well-formed mentors.
Rate This Article
Leave a Comment
More Lent / Easter News
- 4th Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross
- 3rd Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns
- Good Friday Reflection on the Nature of Sin
- Lent is almost over, but have YOU kept this Commandment?
- 5th Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion
- Holy Thursday: Take Up the Basin and Towel. Love is a Verb.
- Holy Thursday: He Loves to the End
- 2nd Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar
- The Precious and Life-Giving Cross of Christ
- Fr. Paul Schenck: Finding Living Faith on Catechetical Sunday
- The Movie Yellow: Incest as 'Normal' and Cassavates's Slides Into the World of Woes
- The Chicago School Teachers Strike Reveals the Need For School Choice
- The Sexual Barbarians and the Dissolution of Culture
- The Happy Priest Challenges Us to Ask: Who is Jesus to Me?
- Michael Coren on Canadian Public Schools: Teachers, leave those kids alone
- We Cannot Ignore Our Consciences: Cardinal Dolan On Religious Liberty
- In the Face of Danger, Successor of Peter Travels to Lebanon as a Messenger of Peace
- Reflections on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: Who or What?
More Easter / Lent
'So it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead' - Luke 24:46
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption. continue reading
Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in all four canonical Gospels. (Mark 11:1.11, Matthew 21:1.11, Luke 19:28.44, and John 12:12.19) ... continue reading
On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the first joy of the season, as we celebrate Our Lord's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem where he was welcomed by crowds worshiping him and laying down palm leaves before him. It also marks the beginning of Holy Week... continue reading
HOLY THURSDAY is the most complex and profound of all religious observances. It celebrates his last supper with the disciples, a celebration of Passover ... continue reading
On Good Friday, each member of the Church tries to understand at what cost Christ has won our redemption. In the solemn ceremonies of Holy Week we unite ourselves to our Savior, and we contemplate our own death to sin in the Death of our Lord ... continue reading
Easter is the principal feast of the ecclesiastical year. Leo I (Sermo xlvii in Exodum) calls it the greatest feast (festum festorum), and says that Christmas is celebrated only in preparation for Easter. It is the centre of the greater part of the ecclesiastical year ... continue reading
For most people the easiest practice to consistently fulfill will be the traditional one, to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year. During Lent abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory in the United States as elsewhere. Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed (Lk. 5:35). continue reading
Everything answered from when does lent end, ashes, giving something up, stations of the cross and blessed palms. The key to understanding the meaning of Lent is simple: Baptism... continue reading
Stations of the Cross refers to the depiction of the final hours (or Passion) of Jesus, and the devotion commemorating the Passion. First Station: Jesus is condemned to death... pray the stations now
What did you give up for Lent?
From the humorous to the bizarre, people have had interesting Lenten experiences. Tell us about what you are going to give up for this Lenten Year.
What others gave up »
Jennifer Hartline - Catholic Online, 4/18/2014
This Sorrowful pilgrimage now brings me here to this lonely hill. All the agony, the beatings and the bleeding have led me somewhere I do not want to go; somewhere I resist going with all my ...Continue Reading
Jennifer Hartline - Catholic Online, 4/18/2014
I wonder if perhaps it was tempting for Jesus to just lie down on the dirt road and die right there. Completely sapped of strength and in agonizing pain, I wonder if He was tempted by the ...Continue Reading
Jennifer Hartline - Catholic Online, 4/18/2014
Humiliation, in one form or another, is part of the package. It is only avoidable if we decide to deny Christ. WASHINGTON, D.C. (Catholic Online) - 3rd Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning ...Continue Reading
Michael Terheyden - Catholic Online, 4/18/2014
The Passion of Christ represents the most atrocious miscarriage of justice in all of human history. So when we come face to face with the crucified Christ on Good Friday, it is only natural for us to ...Continue Reading
On Good Friday, the entire Church fixes her gaze on the Cross at Calvary. Each member of the Church tries to understand at what cost Christ has won our redemption.
In the symbol of the Cross we can see the magnitude of the human tragedy, the ravages of original sin, and the infinite love of God. Learn More
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.
The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. Learn More
Stations of the Cross refers to the depiction of the final hours (or Passion) of Jesus, and the devotion commemorating the Passion.
ACT OF CONTRITION. O my God, my Redeemer, behold me here at Thy feet. From the bottom of my heart... Pray the Stations
'Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed' Lk. 5:35
Abstinence. The law of abstinence requires a Catholic 14 years of age until death to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted.
Fasting. The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday (Canon 97) to the 59th Birthday (i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday) to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal.
Learn More »