Caitlin Robbins wrote:
Trace Oswald wrote:Let me start by saying I don't want to downplay the experience of anyone that has struggled with eating disorders or any other health issues. Our health is truly the most important thing we have and I can't think of anything more stressful and terrifying than dealing with a serious health problem, either in oneself or a loved one. That said, I think it's very important to keep in mind that fasting has been done for literally the entire evolution of the human and animal world. Our predecessors, as well as millions of people currently living, were forced by circumstance to fast. Nearly every religion teaches it adherents about fasting for both spiritual and physical reasons. Healthy people have no problem at all with short term fasting, and there are untold instances of unhealthy people getting healthy by fasting. Anything taken to an extreme can be damaging, but I think it's very easy to show that the average American diet is far, far more dangerous than fasting. I would hate to see someone that could benefit greatly from fasting turned off to the idea by thinking the dangers are greater than they are.
I wanted to jump in and point out the religious aspect of fasting is often misunderstood. From the perspective of an Eastern Orthodox Christian, we 'fast' about half the year: Wednesdays and Fridays, Lent, Advent, The Apostles Fast, and the Dormition Fast. But 'fasting' from this perspective is refraining from eating meat, dairy products, eggs, and olive oil. There is encouragement to eat less food and more simple food. Shellfish is allowed, and fish only on certain days. Oil and wine are also allowed on certain days, specifically weekends in Lent. Adherence to the fast is variable depending on situations: kids don't fast, nor do pregnant women. Each person works with their priest to make sure they are doing what is healthy for them - those with health conditions are certainly given leniency.
There are only a few times that a 'total fast' - that is, not eating at all - is prescribed. You are not supposed to eat or drink for the 12 hours before taking the Eucharist (and again, there are relaxations to this depending on health, age, and ability). There are also a few days in the year where it is recommended to total fast.
This, of course, applies to laypeople, that is to people who are not clerics or monastics. There are stricter rules for them, particularly around Lent. To quote the Orthodox Church in America:
On weekdays (Monday to Friday inclusive) during the seven weeks of Lent, there are restrictions both on the number of meals taken daily and on the types of food permitted; but when a meal is allowed, there is no fixed limitation on the quantity of food to be eaten.
On weekdays in the first week, fasting is particularly severe. According to strict observance, in the course of the five initial days of Lent, only two meals are eaten, one on Wednesday and the other on Friday, in both cases after the Liturgy of the Presanctified. On the other three days, those who have the strength are encouraged to keep an absolute fast; those for whom this proves impracticable may eat on Tuesday and Thursday (but not, if possible, on Monday), in the evening after Vespers, when they may take bread and water, or perhaps tea or fruit-juice, but not a cooked meal. It should be added at once that in practice today these rules are commonly relaxed. At the meals on Wednesday and Friday xerophagy is prescribed. Literally this means ‘dry eating’. Strictly interpreted, it signifies that we may eat only vegetables cooked with water and salt, and also such things as fruit, nuts, bread and honey. In practice, octopus and shell-fish are also allowed on days of xerophagy; likewise vegetable margarine and corn or other vegetable oil, not made from olives. But the following categories of food are definitely excluded:
animal products (cheese, milk, butter, eggs, lard, drippings);
fish (i.e., fish with backbones);
oil (i.e., olive oil) and wine (i.e., all alcoholic drinks).
On weekdays (Monday to Friday inclusive) in the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth weeks, one meal a day is permitted, to be taken in the afternoon following Vespers, and at this one meal xerophagy is to be observed.
Holy Week. On the first three days there is one meal each day, with xerophagy; but some try to keep a complete fast on these days, or else they eat only uncooked food, as on the opening days of the first week. On Holy Thursday one meal is eaten, with wine and oil (i.e., olive oil). On Great Friday those who have the strength follow the practice of the early Church and keep a total fast. Those unable to do this may eat bread, with a little water, tea or fruit-juice, but not until sunset, or at any rate not until after the veneration of the [Plashchanitsa] at Vespers. On Holy Saturday there is in principle no meal, since according to the ancient practice after the end of the Liturgy of St. Basil the faithful remained in church for the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, and for their sustenance were given a little bread and dried fruit, with a cup of wine. If, as usually happens now, they return home for a meal, they may use wine but not oil; for on this one Saturday, alone among Saturdays of the year, olive oil is not permitted.
The rule of xerophagy is relaxed on the following days:
On Saturdays and Sundays in Lent, with the exception of Holy Saturday, two main meals may be taken in the usual way, around mid-day and in the evening, with wine and olive oil; but meat, animal products and fish are not allowed.
On the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and Palm Sunday fish is permitted as well as wine and oil, but meat and animal products are not allowed….
Wine and oil are permitted on the following days, if they fall on a weekday in the second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth week: [First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist (Feb. 24), Repose of St. Raphael (Feb. 27), Holy Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (Mar. 9), Forefeast of the Annunciation (Mar. 24), Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel (Mar. 26), Repose of St. Innocent (Mar. 31), Repose of St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow (Apr. 7), Holy Greatmartyr and Victorybearer George (Apr. 23), Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark (Apr. 25), as well as the Patronal Feast of the church or monastery].
Wine and oil are also allowed on Wednesday and Thursday of the fifth week, because of the vigil for the Great Canon. Wine is allowed-and, according to some authorities, oil as well-on Friday in the same week, because of the vigil for the Akathist Hymn.
I think it's important to note that records that we have of religious fasting are almost always the most strict, meant for very few and under strict guidance. Laypeople almost never follow the exact guidelines of the fast. Even in monasteries, a monk would not be allowed to choose how strictly to fast - he would follow the instruction of his abbot. Just as for laypeople, you follow the guidance of your priest (who, of course, you inform about any health restrictions). This, in fact, is a great guard against disordered eating as you are not in control. In today's secular world, I would say this guidance comes from your doctor or clinical nutritionist.
This is a lot of information to basically say: I would not recommend fasting or following a diet on your own initiative. My family has had its experience with eating disorders, and as others have mentioned the point of eating disorders is control. By fasting only at the advice and under the guidance of an educated and concerned guide, you lessen the risk of falling into disordered eating. Of course, you could always run into bad doctors/nutritionists, but if you do your due diligence in research it again lessens risks there as well.