The critical difference between fasting and dieting is intention.
Both involve a limited intake of food, but they are utilized and implemented differently. Dieting is purely for the sake of physical health or even personal vanity, while fasting is a spiritual exercise.
What does this spiritual exercise do?
A few of the main benefits of fasting: it tames our bodily appetites, which can be sources of temptation for us; detaches us from physical comforts, which can weaken us and impede growth in virtue; and aids us in personal self-mastery, so that we can resist sin and choose the good even when it’s difficult to do so.
Fasting also purifies and liberates our prayer. The detachment it produces sharpens our focus on God and helps us to enter into prayer more freely. It quiets the demands of the body so that we can focus on God without hindrance.
In fact, fasting isn’t just helpful to prayer: it must be joined to prayer. It’s ineffective on its own.
As St. Peter Julian Eymard said:
“The two actions must be joined and never separated, filling our soul with love by prayer, and purifying ourselves exteriorly by mortification. It is easy to say, ‘I love God,’ but if this word is not followed by mortification, it is vain and unfounded. Self-love has quickly taken the place of the love of God.”
Fasting has physical benefits, as well, as the secular world has recently discovered. It goes to show that God takes care of all our needs, physical and spiritual—body and soul!
This ancient spiritual practice isn’t optional. Fasting combined with prayer is a crucial part of our progress towards God. The Church actually prescribes two obligatory fast days a year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In addition to these days, we should consider adding in a bit of extra fasting to our spiritual routines, according to our ability, health, and duties in life.
What better time to start a new routine than Lent, coming up in just a couple short weeks? Our new series at Good Catholic—A Holy Lent—will be your step-by-step guide through this holy season. Providing a combination of videos, written content, examens, and prompts—including a practical schedule of prayer and fasting—this daily series will help you pray the days of Lent like never before. And right now, you can sign up for 20% off—but the sale ends today, so don’t delay! Sign up now!