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Lent is the span of time in the church calendar before Easter during which the faithful abstain and fast in remembrance of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made on Calvary. It is a 40-day time of preparation before Easter, the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Lent, then, is generally observed as a time for Christians to reflect, repent, and pray as a way of preparing their hearts for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. One of the ways Catholics use to focus on growing closer to God during the Lenten season is through fasting.

Most of the people think of fasting as a spiritual duty to God, depriving oneself of food and drink for a period of time in order to prove his love for Him. But fasting should not be considered as our way of “suffering for Christ”. Instead, we should view fasting as:

a voluntary abstinence from food for a specified duration in order to express remorse and repentance from sin, earnestness in seeking God’s will, or to be more intimate with God as we spend more time in reading His Word and in prayer. (CCF Intercede)

Fasting is less about what we’re giving up and much more about what we’re making room for. When we fast, we exchange what we need to survive for what we need to live—more of God. This small suffering should not be met with misery but with great joy as we better understand the incredible sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for humanity. We can actually fast anytime other than the season of Lent to practice regular quality communion with God in prayer.

Aside from knowing that people fast during this season of Lent for spiritual purposes, many people also do it for mental and physical reasons. Fasting has become increasingly popular over the years, especially among the health community. Athletes—for instance, practice fasting as a means to improve their health both mentally and physically since it can improve brain function and mental clarity. Some of the benefits you can get by fasting include the following:

1. Helps Weight Loss

Fasting can be a safe way to lose weight as many studies have shown that “intermittent fasting” – fasting that is controlled within a set number of hours (up to 16 hours – usually while you’re sleeping and through breakfast) – allows the body to burn through fat cells more effectively than just regular dieting.

Intermittent fasting allows the body to use fat as its primary source of energy instead of sugar. Many athletes now use fasting as means to hitting low body fat percentages for competitions.

2. Enhances Body’s Resistance to Stress

Oxidative stress enhances aging and many chronic disease. Multiple studies show that fasting may enhance the body’s resistance to oxidative stress.   It helps to fight free radicals by improving the body’s protective chemicals.

3. May Help Prevent Cancer

There is some evidence on cancer patients, showing that fasting reduces various side effects of chemotherapy. The best study so far behind this claim reports that people who received 4 cycles of chemo used 48-hour fasting protocols to minimize side effects. Shockingly enough, the only negative side effects reported were lightheadedness and hunger (study).

Despite the fact there are human studies needed to be done, promising evidence from animal studies shows that fasting may help prevent cancer.

  • Better survival rates (study).
  • Blunting tumor growth (study).
4. Improves Brain Function
Fasting has shown to improve brain function, because it boosts the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF.) BDNF activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, and triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health. This protein also protects your brain cells from changes associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
5. Improves the Immune System

Intermittent fasting improves the immune system because it reduces free radical damage, regulates inflammatory conditions in the body and starves off cancer cell formation.

In nature, when animals get sick they stop eating and instead focus on resting. This is a primal instinct to reduce stress on their internal system so their body can fight off infection. We humans are the only species who look for food when we are ill, even when we do not need it.

6. Encourages Better Insulin Sensitivity

Fasting causes the body to secrete less insulin because you’re not giving yourself steady doses of sugar. Lower levels of this hormone lead to increased sensitivity in those with insulin resistance. Excessive fat stores seem to contribute to this resistance. Some research points to excessive fat in the body, blood, and diet as a contributor to insulin resistance by preventing it from doing its job, i.e., opening the pores on your cell membranes to allow sugar to pass into them.

7. Speeds up Metabolism

Intermittent fasting gives your digestive system a rest, and this can energize your metabolism to burn through calories more efficiently. If your digestion is poor, this can effect your ability to metabolize food and burn fat. Intermittent fasts can regulate your digestion and promote healthy bowel function, thus improving your metabolic function.

8. Improves Your Eating Patterns

Fasting can be a helpful practice for those who suffer with binge eating disorders, and for those who find it difficult to establish a correct eating pattern due to work and other priorities.

With intermittent fasting going all afternoon without a meal is okay and it can allow you to eat at a set time that fits your lifestyle. Also, for anyone who wants to prevent binge eating, you can establish a set time in where you allow yourself to eat your daily amount of calories in one sitting, and then not eat till the following day.

Think of fasting as a reset button: the longer you fast, the more your body can regulate itself to release the correct hormones, so that you can experience what real hunger is. Not to mention, when your hormones are working correctly, you get full quicker.

9. Increases Lifespan

Believe it or not, the less you eat the longer you will live. Studies have shown how the lifespan of people in certain cultures increased due to their diets. However, we don’t need to live amongst a foreign community to reap the benefits of fasting. One of the primary effects of ageing is a slower metabolism, the younger your body is, the faster and more efficient your metabolism. The less you eat, the less toll it takes on your digestive system.

10. Contributes to Self-Enlightenment

Fasting has helped many people feel more connected to life during the practices reading, meditation, yoga and martial arts etc. With no food in the digestive system, this makes room for more energy in the body – the digestive is one of the most energy absorbing systems in the body.

Fasting for self-enlightenment, allows us to feel better both consciously and physically. With a lighter body and a clearer mind we become more aware and grateful for the things around us.

 

About The Author

Cathy spends part of her days wondering how to combine her 2 loves, writing and photography. The rest of her time she spends taking care of her two babies. Sheena, a Labrador retriever & Amanda, a Siberian husky. She’s been an OLEIA user since May.

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