Almost Lent... fasting/abstinence & eating disorders? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 18 Old 02-12-2012, 05:13 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I am interested in hearing whether any other Catholics struggle with eating disorders & Lent. I am basically "recovered" -- I was anorexic as a teen and borderline through college but have done pretty well the last few years. I still often feel a need to restrict and tend to skip meals and stuff when I'm distracted or stressed (and overeat at other times to compensate) but I consider myself pretty 'normal' for the most part, as long as no one knows what's going on in my head!!

Lent has always been a tough time as far as my ED/depression goes, I think partly because of the spiritual season but also just because it's the edge of winter, I'm really missing sunlight & warmth & being out and about...

Anyway, the past few years I have chosen not to fast during Lent because I feel like it would lead me to relapse. I think I will make the same choice this year, and instead focus on other ways of growing closer to God and non-food sacrifices... What I'm on the fence about is abstinence from meat. This was never an issue for me before because I have been a vegetarian since age 12. Just last month though, I gave up being vegan for health reasons. I'm not eating a ton of meat now, only a few times a week, so it wouldn't be a big deal to avoid it on Fridays. But feeling compelled to restrict my intake in any form seems to be a big trigger for me. But I don't want to purposely eat meat just to defy the regulations or anything. I'm just confused about how to handle it... and wondering if anyone else can relate at all...

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#2 of 18 Old 02-14-2012, 12:25 PM
 
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IMO, if restricting your intake will compromise your health and well-being, I would advise against it.  You mention focusing on other ways to become closer to God, which can be a very positive and affirming way to observe Lent.  I am Episcopalian, and we tend to "take something on" during this season, such as daily devotional meditations, adult formation classes, personal improvement goals, community service, etc. 


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#3 of 18 Old 02-15-2012, 05:04 PM
 
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So long as you are not eating too little I do not see why giving something up would launch you back into an eating disorder.  

 

I am Orthodox so we fast a group, all from the same things.  (essentially vegan + no olive oil + no wine).  no one will starve if you eat properly.  Another upside to the way we do it anything that we would come up against from a mental/emotional perspective - such as an eating disorder or fear of relapse or depression - could be dealt with by keeping close contact with our spiritual father and frequent confession.  And the fast could be adjusted to our needs in a way that would be most beneficial to us spiritually.  Do you have a spiritual mentor you could work with?  Someone who could walk through this with you and help you to use the fast for healing and wholeness rather than something that would cause you to stumble?  


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#4 of 18 Old 02-15-2012, 05:30 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I don't have a spiritual mentor or anything and I'm not quite sure how I would go about acquiring one. Unfortunately, aside from my husband, I don't even have any friends that share my religion, so it's very much something I have to just do on my own.

I like the idea of 'taking something on.'

The reason giving something up would be problematic is that me being veg*n was very tied up in my eating disorder. It was never about simply starving myself, but also all these rules about what I could & could not eat. IDK. I'm pretty nervous because I'm going through a stressful time in other areas of my life, and this time of year is already hard for me, and I already feel like I'm fighting every day to keep myself on the healthy side of things. I feel like I'm kind of teetering on the edge, and with a toddler I just can't afford to step even a little bit over the line, know what I mean?

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#5 of 18 Old 02-15-2012, 08:44 PM
 
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I'm pretty sure that the Catholic church allows exceptions for health reasons. It would seem to me that not following the fasting traditions of Lent is critical to your health. (And if you're still nursing that toddler, nursing moms are exempted anyway!)

 

Do you still go to church? If you do, you might see if your congregation has Stephen Ministers -- they're people who will meet with you one-on-one for spiritual care. If you're struggling with stress right now, it might be a way for you to a friendly ear to listen to you and to support you.


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#6 of 18 Old 02-15-2012, 11:06 PM
 
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Support, Crunchy_Mama.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by lilyka View Post

So long as you are not eating too little I do not see why giving something up would launch you back into an eating disorder.  

 

I am Orthodox so we fast a group, all from the same things.  (essentially vegan + no olive oil + no wine).  no one will starve if you eat properly.  Another upside to the way we do it anything that we would come up against from a mental/emotional perspective - such as an eating disorder or fear of relapse or depression - could be dealt with by keeping close contact with our spiritual father and frequent confession.  And the fast could be adjusted to our needs in a way that would be most beneficial to us spiritually.  Do you have a spiritual mentor you could work with?  Someone who could walk through this with you and help you to use the fast for healing and wholeness rather than something that would cause you to stumble?  


Respectfully lilyka, I think your post demonstrates some misunderstandings about eating disorders. I'm sure it was unintentional, but your phrasing came off (to me, not trying to speak for the OP) as a bit dismissive and insensitive.

 

An eating disorder is a form of OCD. It's obsessive.

 

It is very common for restrictive diets of all kinds to trigger relapses, because they're perfect for forcing ED sufferers to pay lots of attention to what is/isn't going into their bodies, rekindling harmful food obsessions.


Telling an ED survivor that they "won't starve" if they fast for one day is a lot like telling a sober alcoholic that they won't get drunk on one shot of tequila. Almost invariably, what will the alcoholic want after that one drink?

 

Anyways, Crunchy Mama, I agree with Lisa on this, 100%. When I went to Catholic high school, our teachers would highlight historical traditions, but made a point of not pressuring us to fast or restrict our diets. EDs are so common for girls in high school already. They explicitly stated this, every Lent. They even wrote a letter to parents, saying that they would not encroach on family practices/traditions, but that their policy was not to encroach on the developing bodies of young people.  They encouraged us to channel our energies into engaging with our communities in new ways, or otherwise working on self-development projects towards compassion. I have never been Catholic, but I now can really appreciate the school's enlightened take on Lent.

 

Making healthy decisions that allow you to care for yourself and others is always the way of a truly compassionate God, no?

 

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#7 of 18 Old 02-16-2012, 12:29 AM
 
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Could you do some sort of non-food related "fast"? My particular brand of Christianity doesn't place a big emphasis on fasting for Lent so I have never done food fasts but, for a few years I did a book buying fast. When I was young and single I used to buy a lot of books so, for Lent, I wouldn't buy any books at all and at the end I would donate the amount I would have spent to a charity.


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#8 of 18 Old 02-16-2012, 07:03 AM
 
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Basically any non-food fast would be limiting or completely taking away something that you use a lot.

 

The Lenten Facebook fast is quite popular.

I have seen people do TV fasts, as well.  Limit TV watching to movies only, with the intent of only watching one and then the TV goes off.

 

Personally- I am taking on a daily Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet during Lent. Oh, and daily exercise- a combo of spiritual and physical strengthening :-)


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#9 of 18 Old 02-16-2012, 07:15 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm not sure what non-food things to fast from. I don't watch much TV or anything, I do spend a lot of time on the computer but it's usually for work (boy it would be fun to 'fast' from work lol wink1.gif). I don't buy things. Really I don't do much except work and take care of DS, I guess I have a very simple & unexciting life. I think I do need to pray more, a daily Rosary is a good idea.

Habitat, your school sounds like it was very progressive & had a great attitude toward this when teens are so vulnerable already! That's really interesting.

I do go to church weekly. I have never heard of Stephen Ministers. I go to a very small church and it's mostly elderly people in attendance. I really do like the idea of a spiritual mentor if I can figure out how to get one! smile.gif

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#10 of 18 Old 02-16-2012, 10:36 AM
 
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I would not recommend taking it on without the guidance of a spiritual mentor.  One of the reasons having a spiritual mentor and a group is so important is that for a lot of people it is easy to get caught up in the rules and this is not good for anyone for so many reasons.   I struggle at times with an eating disorder but it stems from another place so fasting is not an issue.  But I understand now how fasting and rules of fasting could easily feed yours.  But even if fasting did cause me to lose my balance with food I would have my spiritual father telling me when it was time to back off or change course or refocus and what to refocus on.  

 

Perhaps there is something else you can do to observe lent, some other project you could take on (with all the focus on abstaining from food during lent I think think it is always a good balance to go on a mission to feed people.)  it is not all about giving up.  Perhaps you could invest extra time in working to collect food, serve meals, gather clothes etc.  This is part of our lenten fast as well as the food rules.  We are to eat less, pray more, go to church more and dedicate ourselves to serving our church and the poor (since our simpler eating frees up time and money...in theory.)  So then, since abstaining can easily become a  problem for you and you already live a pretty simple life...what can you do MORE of? 


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#11 of 18 Old 02-18-2012, 07:31 PM
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There are 3 components to Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  If fasting could compromise your well-being, then don't do it.  Replace it with prayer directed toward a specific cause (how about praying for individuals affected by ED before every meal?) or almsgiving toward a specific cause, such as an emergency food bank or soup kitchen.  Another way to pray is to start off every day by saying, "Everything I do and feel today is a prayer for ______. "  Sometimes doing something for others can really highlight the true meaning of Lent.


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#12 of 18 Old 02-19-2012, 03:44 PM
 
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If fasting could compromise your health in any way, you are exempt from the obligation.

 

Our diocese has Spiritual Directors who offer guidance and counsel for a nominal fee (on a sliding scale .... I believe that they will not turn anyone away for inability to pay).  B has utilized the Spiritual Direction program for two years - he sees a wonderful Sister of St. Joseph once/month.  We both love her to pieces.

 

Perhaps you might begin with a call to your diocesan offices, to inquire what kinds of services they offer?


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#13 of 18 Old 02-19-2012, 04:35 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I did contact our diocese at one point, though more for therapist recommendations than spiritual advisers. I don't even know when I'd be able to meet with anyone anyway so I guess it's a moot point. DS is always with me & DH works weird hours so I guess I wouldn't have time for meeting with someone.

I guess I got a bit of confirmation that I should not fast this Lent, I am struggling as it is, I didn't realize how much giving up veganism would trigger my eating disorder, I'm holding steady but struggling so I guess now is not the time to try any kind of fasting/abstinence. Really frustrated with myself because I thought I'd moved past all this...

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#14 of 18 Old 02-21-2012, 03:56 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crunchy_mommy View Post

I did contact our diocese at one point, though more for therapist recommendations than spiritual advisers. I don't even know when I'd be able to meet with anyone anyway so I guess it's a moot point. DS is always with me & DH works weird hours so I guess I wouldn't have time for meeting with someone.
I guess I got a bit of confirmation that I should not fast this Lent, I am struggling as it is, I didn't realize how much giving up veganism would trigger my eating disorder, I'm holding steady but struggling so I guess now is not the time to try any kind of fasting/abstinence. Really frustrated with myself because I thought I'd moved past all this...


*hug* I don't struggle with an eating disorder, but I do struggle with SSA and sex addiction- so I understand what you mean about thinking you've gotten past something, and then finding that small (or even big) changes can trigger things.  And I get the frustration- totally understand it.

You are in my prayers. 

And it sounds trite, but do offer up your struggles.  I know it's hard to stop in the middle of it all and give it up, and I don't always do it.  But when you do remember to, try to.


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#15 of 18 Old 02-22-2012, 06:37 AM
 
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There are some excellent suggestions here of other spiritual practices to use during Lent. I know someone who decided to fast from resentment and envy during Lent. It was hard work!

 

I have been a spiritual director for many years and in our training one of the things we learn is how to discern when someone needs a spiritual director and when they need a psychotherapist. Many people see both. Sound spiritual direction means that the director or mentor knows when to refer someone to a therapist or physician. I could support someone in their recovery from an eating disorder alongside their therapy but I would be out of line and it would be unethical for me to presume to advise someone with an eating disorder on how to fast 'safely' through Lent. Unfortunately there are too many spiritual directors, mentors, priests, pastors, and so on who go beyond their scope of practice in how they guide people. Knowing the limits of your skills and training is essential (not to mention loving and humble) and the best and wisest know when to refer an individual to someone else or to defer to another professional's wisdom. That work can always be done in conjunction with spiritual direction or pastoral care but I believe it is too often dangerous when spiritual leaders do more than what they are trained for. Too often that has led to disastrous results.

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#16 of 18 Old 02-29-2012, 08:08 AM
 
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Just wanted to tell you, crunchy_mommy, that I am another one in your position. I have posted before about bulimia in the Mental Health forum. I've suffered with it (along with some bouts of anorexia-type behaviour) since I was 15 and I'm 44 now! My problem is that I've been about "95 percent cured" for at least 10 years. I too was very strictly vegetarian or vegan in my 20s and have wanted to get back to that place ever since. But every time I try, I am triggered. The only way I've ever come close to long periods of remission has been zero food restrictions and that has included meat, sugar, whatever. I love the idea of fasting/abstaining, for many reasons. I remember there was a fast for social justice a year or two ago (I forget exactly what it was called) and I really wanted to do it. But I didn't. It's amazing to me how I can feel so close to being cured of this and having not purged for months on end and I think it's safe to try dietary modifications or whatever. But the minute cravings/guilt etc enter the picture, I am overwhelmed with the desire to purge again. I hope it's not always like this. I've been thinking a lot about Lent, too. One year, our church did a carbon fast for Lent and that was great. We had already been working on that, but I ended up giving up my epic hot showers that year. Still, there is something about actual fasting that is very, very appealing to me and while the other suggestions are great, I would really like to participate in the literal food fasts, too. My only suggestion, if you decide to even attempt it, would be to start very slowly and stop the minute you sense any warning signs of being triggered; or as others have suggested, have a plan in place beforehand for how to handle it if you are triggered. If I was going to attempt to fast for Lent, it would have to be very, very modified and tiny little baby steps. But I haven't given up on the idea entirely, because I think it can be very powerful and beautiful...someday. I hope you find peace with this.

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#17 of 18 Old 02-29-2012, 12:26 PM
 
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One of the reasons many people fast is to be in solidarity with those who have no choice but to go hungry. Fasting can make us more aware of our need for God and our need for sustenance. The spiritual practice of fasting invites us into a deeper awareness of our dependence on God and into a deeper, more compassionate way of living. If restricting your own food intake is in any way triggering you to unhealthy behaviour or thoughts, how about making it your practice to donate enough food for one meal a day to a shelter or food bank? This would preserve your own physical and mental health but also put into action that call to compassion and care for others and draw you deeper into God's compassion and care for humanity. Fasting has no virtue in and of itself, it is the spiritual fruit of fasting that pleases God. If literal fasting is harmful to you and hinders your well being and spiritual life (which any kind of addictive behaviour is bound to) then it is good to find another path to the same outcome.

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#18 of 18 Old 02-29-2012, 02:06 PM
 
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Hi Crunchy.  I think you have gotten some good advice, particularly from Shantimama.  You sound like you have a good handle on what might be a behavior to skip--you know yourself, your challenges, and your triggers/temptations in a way no one else does.

 

Eating disorders can be every bit as addictive as any other "ism," and I think you are wise to reach out and find a path other than fasting.

 

If it were me, I would try to fast from negative comments.  I am prone to them and have really worked on that as a behavior to extinguish or at least be much, much more conscious about.  Just a thought, and please forgive me if that makes no sense in light of your religion.  I got the idea from a PP regarding something to "skip."

 

Good luck and happy holidays.


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