Radio 4’s Today programme, Jan 16th 2013
Vicky is a regular contributor to the Today programme’s Thought For The Day slot.
This time she spoke about new year’s resolutions. Her focus was on the trend of intermittent fasting fads like the famed ‘5:2 diet’ and what the Christian tradition believes fasting can accomplish.
You can listen here.
You can also read the script, below.
Three weeks in to January is a tricky time for New Year’s resolutions. The enthusiastic goals set as Big Ben chimed have faced half a month of gritty reality. If we’ve made resolutions, we’re likely to be hunting for every bit of help to keep them up. Changing the way we eat usually features in the UK’s aspirations for a new year, so the past few weeks have seen a surge of interest in diet plans – especially those based on ‘intermittent fasting’.
The media have presented us with a myriad of opinions on how best to practice this. The basic idea of intermittent fasting is to choose a number of days per week when you eat few or no calories, then on the rest you eat normally. One suggestion is five days of regular eating, then fasting for two. Another is fasting every other day, or for five consecutive days a month. Whether this actually helps lose weight long-term has yet to be proven, but one thing is for sure – fasting has become fashionable.
In the Christian tradition, like many other faiths, fasting has been part of the furniture for centuries. It represents denying ourselves the things our bodies crave in order to give focus to the inner world of the soul or spirit. It’s a wake-up call to remind us we are more than flesh and blood.
Food is healthy in balance, but some of the things we consume to excess, like sugar or caffeine, can become fixes that self-medicate and mask our need to attend to the other dimensions of who we are. I certainly find this to be true. I try and fast regularly and it makes me feel very vulnerable. It’s like an excavation; the surface layers of my comforts are stripped away and I’m left with little to prop me up.
On those days, I replace meal-times with meditation, which forces me to look inwards. Getting in touch with my inner world isn’t always pleasant, but I think it’s helpful. It’s like wiping away the dust and grime on the surface of a compass, to get a clearer look at whether I’m headed in a healthy direction.
Catholic priest, Father Thomas Ryan describes it well: he says “fasting is an invitation to awareness”. As well as increased inward focus, Father Ryan also says it can make us more outwardly compassionate. By connecting with our own frailty, we’re more likely to have empathy toward those around us.
So, if intermittent fasting is going to be part of your 2014, it may have more to offer than simply the hope of shedding a few pounds. It can also be this “invitation to awareness”; to replace a meal with meditation, to strip away distractions and connect with the inner life. For many of us, the thought of getting alone, getting quiet, removing our addictions and facing what’s going on inside, is terrifying. But it might just be the thing that makes 2014 transformative.