Fast for a Purpose, Not as Punishment

Article by Rekka Jay | 17 Jan, 2021

Article originally published on on 3/17/17. It has been lightly edited for re-publication.

I often say, "Wherever you go, you take your issues with you." This holds true for dieting.

Chances are that, if you're reading this, at some point in your life you had (or still have) an unhealthy relationship with food. Like unhealthy relationships between people, there is a whole gradient of severity. You might simply have a hard time letting go of the nutritional dogma you were taught your whole life. You might have an emotional dependency on a certain treat that makes it hard to power through cravings when you have a bad day. Or perhaps it goes as far as an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia.

Regardless of the severity, deciding to eat better will not automatically repair these bad relationships you have with food. The struggle is physiological for the first stretch of your new ketogenic lifestyle. Your body will rebel with a slew of symptoms designed to convince you to add the addictive glucose back into your diet. Thankfully with time and consistent effort, this goes away. But through that, and beyond, lies the broader battlefield which needs more than just time: the psychological struggle to accept yourself.

Perhaps you've heard about the incredible healing power of extended and intermittent fasting. The benefits are too many to list and fall outside the scope of this post, but there are two sides to the fasting coin, and that's what I'd like to address today.

Though fasting is often defined in terms of eating or not eating (leading to ratios of hours fasted to fed, such as 18:6 or 20:4), for more than a small percentage of us, deciding when to eat goes much deeper than a binary state.

I'll start off by saying that I do fast. I easily fall into an 18:6 rhythm daily. I also have done extended fasts of about 48 hours each. I know I could go longer and plan to when it feels like a good time, but I don't push myself in order to prove anything. I don't need to go for any sort of record.

On one occasion, I recognized the fast I had resolved to do was motivated by negative feelings I had for myself. I realized that the purpose of the fast was to redeem myself for some perceived misstep in the preceding days. I canceled that fast right then and there. I prefer to use a fast to regain mindfulness, not shut myself into a dark box of self-criticism.

It's good for a person to go back and examine their motivation for deciding to do something like an egg fast, or an intermittent fast, or an extended fast. Fasting might feel like a great idea when they decide to get on the elliptical, or cut dairy, after making and eating a full batch of keto desserts all by themselves. It may not be pleasant to realize that they are punishing themselves with this new tactic. They feel like they overdid it on Fathead Pizza Friday night, and the scale is up because of water weight, so they decide they 'need' to do an extended fast Monday through Wednesday to 'make up' for it.

This may seem innocuous, but it's punishment. It's self-flagellation. They think they need corrective action because they’ve done something wrong. Yes, maybe it’s time for corrective action in a navigational sense, but not in a judicial or punative sense because they failed somehow. Maybe all they need to do is eat more mindfully, not less frequently.

A person may begin a new way of eating because they want to improve some aspect of their lives, be it health related or simply to improve their appearance. These can be good reasons if they feel they deserve better. But if it goes the other way—if they feel they are a failure who needs to be whipped into shape, punished, and otherwise tortured because that's something they deserve—then there is more than just cellular healing that needs to happen.

I don't believe I have a solution for cases where a person has a proclivity to punish her or himself. I'm afraid it's a lot more work than just following the tenets of a new lifestyle. But I would ask you, for your own sake, to evaluate your motivation when you find yourself leaning into an abstaining protocol of any sort. Are you doing it because you feel worthy of something better? Are you interested in fasting to reconnect with mindfulness, akin to a monk seeking enlightenment? Or are you taking extreme and decisive measures to correct some fault you see in yourself?

Only you, when you're honest, can say for sure. I hope whatever you do decide, you will do it out of love for yourself and because you know you deserve happiness and health (you really do). Keep being awesome, keto folk.

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