A Time to Fast

This morning I woke up an hour earlier than usual to make sure I had time to pray, meditate, eat, and hydrate before the sun came up. The moment the alarm sounded I swiveled out of bed and padded across the room. In the perfect blackness I grabbed a liter of water off my dresser and downed it in one continuous gulp.

There.

One-third hydrated.

I then shuffled off to the bathroom, but was careful to keep my eye on the illuminated dial of the clock. Sometimes I can get immersed in my smartphone while sitting on the pot first thing in the morning and before I know it twenty or thirty minutes have gone by. With sunrise ticking like a time bomb I knew I couldn’t spare those minutes.

Not on a Fast morning.

My alarm had fluttered me awake at 5:00 AM.

The sun would rise at 6:41 AM.

That might sound like a lot of time, but experience has proven it to be barely enough.

By 5:10 I was in the guest bedroom with the door closed. I was making good time. My soul did a little happy dance. I could treat myself to my very favorite Fast Prayer. I hadn’t gotten to say it in almost exactly a year.

I felt the gravity of the privilege.

I flipped through the pages and familiarized myself again with the length and structure of the prayer. It was five minutes before I was ready to utter the first syllable.

I slowed down and sat above my shoulders, reminding myself to savor every word.

I did.

Tingles galloped up my spine.

It took twelve minutes.

I then got out my meditation bench and special timer that chimes the sound of Tibetan signing bowls and meditated for 30 minutes.

The meditation part I do every morning.

In fact, lately I’m on a roll. I haven’t missed a session in 2015.

But once the meditation was over, I found that I had barely enough time to prepare and eat breakfast.

Reason being, I was going to eat a Very Big Breakfast.

Just over double what I eat on a normal day.

Weighed and measured, of course. And fully pre-planned.

Just big.

And dense.

Enough to get me to the late afternoon without a hunger growl.

That’s all I need.

The last few hours I can coast on fumes.

Plus, I needed time to drink another liter of water, and a massive mug of hot tea.

That would sustain me until sundown, when I would break Fast with a smaller than normal dinner.

No food or drink (including water) from sunrise to sunset feels like a long stretch in this day and age, but the truth is that it’s a sliver of what we evolved to endure.

Nevertheless, that’s what the Fast calls for. No more, no less. Just like Ramadan.

March 2nd through March 20th is the time of the Baha’i Fast. It ends on the day of the equinox, which, in the Northern Hemisphere, is the first day of spring. It’s also New Year’s Day in the Baha’i Faith, a symbolism I find delightful.

If for everything there is a season—a time to be born, a time to die, a time to sow, and a time to reap—then I believe this is the time to fast.

Baha’is aren’t the only ones called to fast now. The estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world are observing lent. And in the Jewish faith, the Fast of Ester occurs during this same time period.

So we’re in good company.

I fast for 19 days before the first day of spring now, but I haven’t always.

In fact, I never fasted once before I became a Baha’i on March 22nd, 1998.

Whether the timing was auspicious or inauspicious I can’t say, but either way, enrolling at that particular time of year gave little old 24-year-old me 345 days to mentally gear up for her first Fast.

But it was worth the wait.

That first Fast bore gifts.

Big-time gifts.

It gave me my husband.

He was there, patiently waiting for me, from the day we first met at Joe and Melissa Fargnoli’s wedding on December 5th, 1998. But it took the Fast in March to burn away the veils that kept me blind to his full gorgeousness. When the Fast ended there he was, and I finally saw him.

Really saw him.

We were married three months later.

Then, the Fast in 2010 gave us our littlest daughter, Maya.

That’s a more intricate story laced with gory details of my reproductive system, but suffice it to say that the way I changed my food plan during the Fast allowed me to establish a regular cycle, something I hadn’t had in over a decade.

Maya came shortly thereafter.

I hope I’m not offending anyone by dressing the Fast up in a Santa Claus outfit, but, for what it’s worth, I actually feel that the analogy is rather apt.

Fasting bears fruits. Some spiritual, some physical.

In spiritual terms, fasting detaches us from the appetites of the flesh, reminds us of the suffering of the destitute, reinvigorates the spirit, and brings us closer to God.

It creates space in the soul, and in that space, we can make the necessary rearrangements that will enable our continued growth.

The fruits of the physical fast can be similarly profound.

Extended water-only fasting has been shown to improve or eliminate all manner of ailments, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, epilepsy, pancreatitis, arthritis, asthma, depression, schizophrenia, irritable bowel syndrome, parasites, uterine fibroids, eczema, psoriasis, and about half a dozen other conditions.

I have never been plagued by any pain or disease seriously enough to consider giving up food for days or weeks on end to seek relief, but I have no doubt that if I were to develop such an affliction today, I would flee to TrueNorth to fast it away.

The TrueNorth Health Center is North America’s only destination for medically supervised water fasting. Last summer I had the privilege of being invited to TrueNorth to consult with Dr. Alan Goldhamer, a word’s expert in water fasting. In that one short visit, I became a believer.

I suspect that if I had known about TrueNorth at the height of my food addiction, I would have signed on for an extended water fast in hopes of effecting a cure.

It’s quite ironic then, that after I started my Bright Line Eating™ journey in 2003, I shied away from fasting for many years, lest I disrupt the precious equilibrium I had finally found with food.

Fasting is a common practice in all the world’s major religions. Equally common is an exemption that allows for people who are ill, weak, pregnant, traveling, and the like, to refrain from fasting.

For seven long years I knew, deep down, that the “illness” exemption applied to me.

I was not robust enough to fast.

I truly feared that removing lunch from my daily plan might destabilize me and throw me back into the horrors of binging.

But I was sad not to fast.

Really sad.

I consoled myself by pointing out that, in a way, I fasted already, every day. I didn’t eat one single morsel of food between meals. Not a bite. Ever.

And I observed the Fast by saying the special prayers. I also made an effort to eat my breakfast before sunrise and my dinner after sunset…and my lunch midday but quickly.

Then, a few years ago, as March came around I felt called to fast again.

I no longer felt exempt.

I didn’t feel weak; I felt robust.

I knew I could handle it. It was my time.

That was the fast that gave me Maya.

Now each year I look forward to fasting. Quite intensely, in fact.

I mark the year by it.

My soul yearns for it.

The Fast is a precious time.

In the Baha’i writings it says that every hour of these days is endowed with a special virtue, inscrutable to all save God.

I feel that special virtue. It’s palpable.

The days feel different. It’s as though I’ve been living in plain text all year and now suddenly I’m living in a world of highlighted text.

The breaths have more space.

Sunrise and sunset become sacred times, marked by import and weight.

I feel the cleansing.

Yesterday I had the privilege of helping someone who has been doing Bright Line Eating™ for six months to figure out how to rearrange her food plan so that she can fast for Lent.

I explained how she could do a sunrise to sunset fast by front-loading her fuel prior to the fast, and eating sparsely at the end of the fast, when her metabolism will be slow and bedtime will be coming quickly anyway.

She is a devout Christian, a retired minister, and by the end of our conversation her voice sounded so light and happy that I thought she would dance a jig.

And I was excited for her.

She is getting to reintroduce fasting into her journey a full six-and-a-half years before I did.

So many gifts.

Such a bounty.

Abstinence from food is just a symbol really, but like so many other physical disciplines, until you try it, you will never know what benefits it confers.

The tree that is most pruned yields the most abundant fruits.

With love,

Susan

 

 

Comments

  1. Wanda Rains

    Susan, I have fasted at True North 4 times in the last 24 years. 3 at the old facility, and once just recently in December at the new one. I am quite the faster too, 19 days, 14 days, 12 days and 16 days. I never had a problem fasting as I knew the benefits and was determined, for health’s sake. Then, I’d come home, high from the experience that is True North, committed to eat healthy for the rest of my life. Each time I slowly sank back into my old ways. The eating disorder was never conquered. About two years ago with my blood test results scaring the heck out of me, I recommitted myself to my health, re-read ETL, and got serious. Then after returning home from my December fast, I still have an occasional small binge. I think the BLE is the answer for me to finally get this monkey off my back. I’m so close, I truly want “free” to be a daily part of my life. Thank you for everything you are doing here. I appreciate it so much. The FB connection is quite helpful.

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  2. lee silverstein

    susan,such valuable information! and the gift is the heartfelt beautiful writing….lee

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  3. Beverly Alexander

    Susan, thanks for sharing your experience with fasting. Many people are afraid of fasting, and before I went to True North, I would have never expected that I would do a long fast.

    About 7 years ago, I became vegan and dropped from 180 to 140, still a lot for someone who is 5’1″ Then, I started to slowly gain weight, when I wanted to lose more. Nothing seemed to help. Then I heard about True North, and its medically supervised programs and decided to try it. Thought I would water fast for 10 days, but after the really crummy third day, I felt great, and decided to let my body say when I was done fasting. I ended up fasting for 25 days…and probably could have gone longer, but was getting antsy by then and wanting to go home. What was amazing was that I felt absolutely terrific – not just physically, but mentally as well. Also my blood pressure decreased.

    Unfortunately, over the past year, I saw myself again unable to lose weight, and gaining instead. That’s when I heard about Bright Line Eating from Katie Mae of True North. What you said in your videos, Susan, made perfect sense, so here I am!

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  4. Linda

    Alláh-u-Abhá! So beautiful to read your blog. I just began following you and what a surprise to find out you are part of the Faith. You reminded me of the beauty and bounty of this time. I am on a very specific eating protocol at the moment that does not allow me to fast and I too am SAD! Like you in the past, a part of me fears veering off course lest I loose my footing and gain back the weight I have lost. Thank you for the gift you are to the world!

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  5. Anna Huthmaker

    Don’t you find it interesting that three of the great ‘births’ of your life happened during a period of fasting? The birth of your marriage, the conception of your daughter, and the birth of your BLE creation? (Yes, I know that you began bringing BLE to the public last summer/fall, but only a fool would miss the huge wave of energy that has overtaken you and your dream! )

    And isn’t it interesting that these great things came about in the realm of ‘food’, when food has been the arena for so many of your struggles? Just a thought….. 🙂

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  6. Lynda Hahn

    Sometimes you read something that really resonates with you. This really did with me. I wish I had the energy to pursue, I’m just unsure of my future and what lies ahead. Oh how I wish I was so at peace. Thank you Susan for sharing that.

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  7. Cecelia

    It seems to me that by embracing abstinence between meals and following BLE we are fasting. By this act of honoring ourselves and our bodies we are taking ourselves into a sacred space.

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  8. Shannon Winter

    Right on Susan!!! I have fasted for years! It is a deeply spiritual connection you make with yourself and life around you. Our souls are having a human experience and sometimes the body becomes sooooo heavy form just every day life! Fasting raises your vibration, makes you in tune with things on different levels. We live in the 3rd dimension on Earth, but there are so many other dimensions in exsitence! Just like keys on the piano, we are in one, but when you fast and meditate you will soon see, feel sense the others! It makes life that much sweeter to deal with. We have a tendency to get away from the mind, body, connection. Fasting is a wonderful gift we can give ourselves. Thanks so, so much for sharing. Many Blessing to you and everyone one here. 🙂

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  9. Debbie

    Susan, you have outdone yourself with this one. Such a wonderful tribute to the fast. I will honor this gift of the Fast the best I can now, and look forward to the day when I know in my heart that my recovery is strong enough to participate in this special month of fasting as given to us by Baha’u’llah.

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  10. Lessie

    Good morning Susan, I love how you write it feels like I’m reading thoughts from a friend. I’ve fasted in the past for various reasons including weight loss and to help prevent illness. I love not worrying about food for a day. Thanks for being amazing.

    Enjoy Your new car!

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  11. julie frank

    Our big fast was yesterday as well- The Fast of Queen Esther- which is an all day fast and ushers in the holiday of Purim which came in last night and we celebrate today !

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  12. Michelle Berkovitz

    Brilliant and beautiful statement. Thank you for talking about the JOY of fasting.

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  13. Cheryl J-R

    Susan — Loved your blog… I am a relatively new BLE-er (125 days, have lost 37.5 pounds, weight loss plan), but long time Baha’i and have observed the 19 day Fast faithfully for over 35 years except when pregnant/nursing (exemptions.) As the Fast was approaching this year, I was very nervous about balancing it with my new BLE eating — but felt strongly about keeping the Fast. I decided to try figuring out a BLE food plan — especially breakfast — to get me through the day, and not worry too much about the weight loss part — 1.5 grain, fruit, double protein — e.g. eggs, greek yogurt, with something like cheese or almonds for more “staying power.” Lots of water. Keeping my dinner similar to the regular BLE weight loss plan, with some fruit to start. I’m on day 4 of the Fast, and doing great! (And surprisingly have lost a pound as well.) Now, I’m feeling the spiritual JOY of the Fast, and the physical joy of BLE!!

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  14. Linden Morris Delrio

    Beautiful!

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  15. Natalie

    You are so inspiring. Just reading about your commitment to do the fasting has made me question why “am I so lax ” with myself. You are so spot on. If you want something you have to set your mind to do it. And, just do it.

    Thanks again for your e-mail.

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  16. Fran

    I too am Bahai. Was wondering how to do the fast. Want to do it but the pain of the effort right now is too much. Feel sad because I know great spiritual blessings come with the fast & the wonderful prayers we are given. I’m retiring in May Am hoping that the healing that will come with doing this program will give me more energy. Thank you for how you are making a difference for so many others.

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  17. Ceylinnaz

    I alwaus lkooed for a easy way to lose wait and diss jst pops up out of nowere .omg im so? happy I start nex week after skool let out ..hopefully I gt to do 16 days this will b my 1st time so ima do atleast 20 days

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  18. MC

    Preparing for this year’s Fast, I’ve been dealing with bad eating habits and realised if I typed “breakfast vs no breakfast baha’i fast”, that in this day and age, there HAD to be some articles by now.

    Your post is one of the ones that I will revisit. You definitely helped me look forward once again to the Fast.

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  19. Dave Karpinski

    I’ve tried fasting for weight loss twice in my life. Neither time was medically supervised but seemed to make sense, fasting having so many positive results for so many people. My first time was a complete water fast for 2 and a half days per week. The theory was that with no calories for 36 hours or so, your body would begin to burn fat for energy, your sugar stores having been exhausted by then. After about three weeks on the regimen I developed gout in my big toe. It came as a total surprise at the time but was easily diagnosed by the emergency room doctor. Apparently I was burning muscle at the same time as fat and overloading my blood with uric acid. After lots of tests for defective kidney functioning, the doctor had to agree that it was the starvation died I was on which caused the gout. That was years ago when I was in my mid-30’s.

    My second experience came about two years ago when I was looking for a method of weight loss, having grown to 220 lbs on my 5’11” frame. I was 71. I began a process of alternate day fasting. I would take no calories (with a tiny exception) for an entire day and night, not eating after evening one day until breakfast two days later. I did not restrict my eating at all on the non-fasting days. I ate cookies, bread, candy — as much as I wanted on my eating days along with normal food. Over six months my weight went down to 180 lbs. I had intended to stay on the regimen until my weight reached 165, a healthy weight I figured for my height and frame. But I have not been successful losing those last 15 lbs. When I researched my method of dieting on the internet, I found most people who did “alternate day fasting” actually ate one small meal at dinner time on the fasting day. So I began allowing myself to do that and quickly found my new average up at 190 lbs. I took your test of food addiction and found I scored 2 or 3 out of 10, so maybe it is no surprise that I was able to do this alternate day fasting. I found none of my friends at all interested in trying it. After reading about “bright line eating”, I saw the similarity to my successful weight loss on alternate day fasting. It was so easy for me to police my eating on fasting day. No food was far easier than limited food. But it hasn’t been getting me to my goal weight.

    I have, in the last six months, begun to eat mostly vegan meals and have found it relatively easy and interesting. So far, I haven’t been willing to give up the occasional meal of barbequed ribs or seafood but once a month seems to satisfy that craving. Now, not having attended your bootcamp, I have decided to see how sticking to two of your four bright lines will work for me. I’ve just finished by first week of no sugar and eating three meals per day with no snacking and no junk food. I haven’t eliminated bread or decided to measure the size of my meals, but already I see the weight starting down.

    Thanks for your very well written blog. I’ve found it via the Food Revolution Summit and your interview as part of that.

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