Fasting For Religious Holidays Could Be Putting Your Recovery In Danger

It might seem pretty obvious that fasting isn’t a good idea when you’re recovering from an eating disorder. But what about religious fasting? That seems a bit trickier.

Many different religions involve some sort of fasting practice. For me fasting comes to the forefront during Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

I started fasting on Yom Kippur as soon as I was old enough. Originally, I wanted to feel like I was properly respecting my religion and maintaining a custom that is one of the oldest there is.

But during my eating disorder, this custom of fasting took on a different meaning.

Eating disorders are highly opportunistic. And religious fasting days are the perfect opportunity for your eating disorder to go wild.

But when your body is already in a precarious state from living in starvation mode for so long, fasting can be really dangerous.

What I was also forgetting was that you are not supposed to fast on Yom Kippur if you are ill. And though I may have looked okay, I was very, very ill.

But eating disorders tend to look past all of that and desperately want to take the chance to fast in a socially acceptable way.

No more

But this year, I’m not going to ignore my health. I’m going to be doing things differently and break a tradition that I have always felt the need to practice.

This year, and for all years to come, my recovery is taking priority.

I know that I can still respect this religious holiday without fasting. Choosing not to fast doesn’t make me a bad person or mean that I’m no longer practicing my religion. Instead, it shows I’m making a commitment to me and to my life, which is just (if not more) important.

Because if you aren’t alive you can’t celebrate anyway.

So remember, Warrior, you can still practice your religion and respect your traditions without fasting. In recovery, fasting just isn’t safe.

So no, this year I will not be fasting.

I will be living instead.

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  1. says: MM

    I’d love to hear what your suggestions are for still honoring the spirit of a religious fast even if you cannot abstain from food. That’s been a huge struggle for me

  2. says: Mathilda Heller

    Hi! Yeah it definitely is a struggle because you want to honour both your religion (by fasting) and yourself (by not fasting) at the same time. I have a few ideas about how to do this.
    If you want to honour the fast mentally without adjusting your food habits then these shifts in thinking really helped me to approach religious fasting from a different angle:
    1) In the majority of religions, people who are unwell, old or disabled are exempt from the fasting traditions. These all concern physical aspects that are beyond these people’s control, and what you have to understand is that eating disorders are also not choices. They are still illnesses, and so whilst recovering from an eating disorder you do fall under that category of being unwell, even if you don’t feel ill. And it’s true, fasting would be detrimental to the health of someone in recovery (just as it would be unhealthy for someone who is diabetic).
    I tried fasting last year on Yom Kippur, but was so busy shaking uncontrollably that I barely noticed anything about the service anyway, and so in many ways by not eating I was unable to honour the fast spiritually at all, because all that was being honoured was my ED.
    2) In most religions, people are allowed/supposed to continue taking their medicines during fasting periods, and technically, the medicine for people recovering from EDs is food. This shift really helped me as I felt that I could take my “medicine” and still honour my faith.

    However, I have been thinking about what you wrote and I think there might also be some ways to honour your fast in more practical ways. Let me know what you think!
    1) I have met many people who have abstained from food but not from fluids during fast periods, because they know they need the hydration and a little bit of sustenance. If it would make you more comfortable, you could always abstain from solids foods on your fasting day/s and purely consume your meals by drinking (i.e. energy packed smoothies, shakes, juices, drinkable yoghurts…) It may make you feel more comfortable with eating without actually eating meals.
    2) In some religions, people who don’t fast can instead give food to people who are less fortunate than them as a means of charity. This could be something to consider?
    Sorry that was a bit long-winded! I hope it helped…it can be so tricky to navigate all this stuff, and I hope you find a way that makes you happy ?

  3. says: Lindsay Klein

    I really appreciated this article. Over the years it has been something I struggled with greatly. Especially as I never had a diagnosed eating disorder. For the last few years I have come to the same conclusion about fasting and I was proud of myself for recognising that it is just not something that helps me mentally or physically. I know a fast is not supposed to “help” you but I am at the point where I have to put myself first. This is the first time I have come across an article that deals with this. Really like you suggestions about paying it forward. Thank you , again.

  4. says: Mathilda

    Hi Lindsay
    I am so so pleased you found my article helpful. It is such a struggle and I understand how you feel completely. The reason I wrote this is because I couldn’t find anything else along the same vein, and I thought the issue of fasting needed to be brought to light. It has always been a bit of a catch 22 for me. With or without a diagnosed ED I think it is important to have healthy religious celebrations, but it will be wierd to break with tradition. I guess there is a first for everything! I really hope things improve from here.
    Mathilda 🙂

  5. says: MM

    I really like those ideas. One thing that I tried in the past was fasting from something entirely non-food related, like social media, while challenging myself to meet my actual meal plan minimums on a fast day.

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