It’s Not a Diet

Many of us have been in the unenviable position of needing to lose at least a few pounds. The proponents who advise us to change our eating habits encourage us not to call this a “diet” but consider it a lifestyle change. They say this because a diet begins and ends, and if it ends, we can assume that in the not-too-distant future we will need to diet again.  A lifestyle change on the other hand is just that: changing how we live and not simply on a temporary basis. With that being said, these “non-diets” usually begin with a more intensive period of changing our eating to kick off this new lifestyle.

And, not coincidentally, this is also the exact idea behind our fasting seasons. Beginning today and leading up to the Liturgy on Christmas morning, the Church has declared a Fast. The aspect that gets the most attention is the dietary one. And while we are encouraged to increase our prayers–both liturgically and personally–as well as to increase the care and attention we give to those in need, in a fast we still often place our focus on, well, the fasting. And this is where the fitness experts and the spiritual experts agree: It’s not a diet; it’s a change of lifestyle.

It’s not just a diet in the sense that the focus is on what we eat or don’t eat. Our fasting is intended to restore our self control over that very domineering organ: the stomach. Our restricted eating gives us opportunities to reflect on our dependence upon God and the associated focus reminds us more often of His presence.

But this fasting season is not just a diet in the other sense as well: if all we do is change our habits in order to go back to resuming bad habits when the Fast ends, this is anything but a lifestyle change. Starting today, we are invited to a lifestyle change with the best reason of all: restoring ourselves to a closer relationship with God. It’s going to require techniques like fasting to remind us how often we provide for ourselves. If you’re a “snacker” like me, that’s much more often than it should be! When we curb our food intake, we experience a little more closely our real dependence on God and recover a little more of the self-control we need to curb other appetites we have—like anger, self-centeredness, and greed.  With this increased freedom from our desires, appetites, and addictions (collectively called the “Passions”), we choose to point our attention to the true Source of Life. This transfer of focus from self to God will result in our being more loving caring people, like we heard in The Parable of the Good Samaritan this past Sunday.

Now, we probably wouldn’t carry on the level of intensity that the Fast calls for, so the Church provides this fasting season, followed by a feasting season, but then we go on “maintenance” for a while, with a modified regimen of prayer and fasting—a “normal” level if you will.

And this is why this Nativity Fast is not a diet. Instead of a temporary diet to go on and then leave behind, the Church invites us to follow a lifestyle, based on following the Author of Life, who calls Himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. He comes to us at Christmas humble, “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger”.  In this lifestyle let us fast, worship, pray, confess, love, and humble ourselves that we may welcome Jesus not as a temporary mood or fad, but as our Life.