And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes. [Daniel 9:3]
Healthy Body, Sick Heart
The cosmetic and the health industries are now intertwined. Health and beauty have become synonymous. The aisles of pharmacies and supermarkets are cluttered with products to make our body more physically attractive and sensually alluring to the world.
One could argue that many consumers prefer beauty to health. We embrace medical procedures to enhance sensual appearance with little regard to side effects, much less the ultimate result of their total immersion in a transitory reality.
More often than not, dieting has cosmetic enhancements as a goal: to look better in a swim suit, fit the clothes of your youth, or just be faddishly in style. The focus is secular, with little regard for the spiritual.
When we diet to look better, we are not fasting for God. We are dieting for a greater or improved ability to indulge in worldly activities. Since our nutritional regimen is worldly, our spirit remains grounded in ephemeral attachments, submerged in frivolous pursuits. Our desire for God or awareness of the spiritual has not changed. Directly or indirectly, the result of cosmetic dieting is frequently increased self-indulgence.
Some, indeed, can scarcely procure its necessities either by work or by begging; yet they love it so much that, if they could live here always, they would care nothing for the kingdom of God. How foolish and faithless of heart are those who are so engrossed in earthly things as to relish nothing but what is carnal! Miserable men indeed, for in the end they will see to their sorrow how cheap and worthless was the thing they loved. [Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ]
Fasting or Dieting
It is easy to confuse fasting with dieting. Some might think that fasting is just another tool to help them reach their media-generated image. It becomes part of their self-delusion and the fantasy world fashioned by Hollywood and Madison Avenue.
Fasting is, indeed, a tool, a vehicle, but it is meant to increase God-consciousness. Awareness of the Divine is the goal. God alone is worthy of our such exertion and perseverance. When you fast, you are seeking to please God and to approach nearer to Him.
Feeding the Spirit
It is common for persons who experience positive results from fasting to do so more frequently and for longer periods. Also, they resolve to diminish or abstain from negative activities and detrimental habits. Their awareness of themselves and others changes, as does their view of the world around them, both seen and unseen.
As the fasting effort feeds your spirit, you sublimate your thoughts and your intentions. You manifested an increasing disregard of the mundane. Often, you grow indifferent toward transient enticements and develop a detached disregard for social affairs. Instead of increasing your desires for more of this world, you gravitate toward reclusiveness and seclusion.
At the least, a fast produces greater awareness of nutritional considerations, so your diet changes. At best, your heart is touched and fundamental changes begin. You now contemplate your life from a different perspective, enjoying thoughts and meditations not previously conceived.
Fasting is an exceptional virtue; it represses bodily impulses and gives strength to the soul to fight against the poisoning of the heart through the senses, and provides it with a remedy against any past poisoning. Fasting causes the mind to be cleansed constantly. It whithers up every evil thought and brings healthy, godly thoughts — holy thoughts that enlighten the mind and kindle it with more zeal and spiritual fervor [Elder Ephraim of Philotheou Mount Athos, “Counsels from the Holy Mountain“].