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Food: Diet Culture

Faith and fasting have long been linked together throughout history and across cultures. For Catholics during Lent, the practice of fasting is of particular importance and full of fortifying potential. 

If, for example, you ever want to witness a woman relying completely on the grace of God for strength, catch me in the middle of a chocolate craving on a Lenten Friday. 

Kidding aside, I often wonder how we, as Americans living in a culture obsessed with dieting and weight loss, can begin to disentangle diet culture and fasting fads from entering the pursuit of our faith, especially during this holy season of Lent.

It is quite difficult not to internalize the messages of diet culture in one form or another, especially for women. Although a lot of us might never fall under the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder, it is not easy to avoid the impact of a culture that continually charges after us encouraging us to change how we look and how we eat.

For those that have struggled, or are currently struggling, with the difficulty of breaking free from the cultural obsession with food, maintaining healthy mental habits in relationship to food during Lent may present particular difficulties.

Perhaps, though, if we look a bit closer at the facade of diet culture we can begin to dismantle its lies.

If, too, we focus with intention on fasting’s power to impact not only our bodies, but our minds and our souls as well, we can begin to untangle the two, and enter into Lenten fasts with a bit more freedom. 

Diet culture is based on many lies about the nature of our bodies.

It tells us that our worth is based on results. It feeds off of our desire for a healthy lifestyle, and capitalizes on our concupiscence. It convinces us that our success ought to be continually measured, weighed, and calculated. Fasting, within diet culture, is a punitive practice for taking up too much space. Furthermore, it is sold to us under the ruse of health. It traps us in a never ending cycle of restriction, with no hope of redemption. Our bodies are good so long as they look good, and as the aesthetic standards change, so too, does our worth. 

Our faith, however, teaches us something much different about the good of our bodies.

We are good, we are wonderfully made, beautifully designed, thought of and desired exactly as we are, beyond standards or measurements, scales or calculations. We are loved, always, and no matter what.  

Perhaps one of the saddest parts of diet culture’s influence on us, is the way in which it has appropriated and reduced the practice and power that fasting provides. Lent can certainly offer us an opportunity to commit to healthier eating or to better ourselves so as to more fully engage in our particular vocations. If, and, when, however, we are able to move our focus beyond food’s effects on our waist line, we might begin to notice that the call to fast during Lent is much more about fostering a friendship with Christ.

Through uniting our sacrifices with his, we are accompanying Him, and inviting Him to accompany us. By learning to deny our appetites, we gain power over them, and free ourselves of their demands. Most importantly though, it is through fasting that we learn to feast. And year in and year out, after 40 days without it, a chocolate bunny on Easter morning never tasted so good. 

Each time we succumb to the pressures of diet culture, I hope we can also remember, that even in a season of fasting, we are invited to feast on the Eucharist. And at His table, there are no before and afters, no Keto, intermittent, Atkins, Paleo, low carb, low fat, or no sugar. There are no scales. He does not measure us. He invites us exactly as we are, feeds us exactly what we need, and under no circumstances are we to ever leave His table still hungry. 

My prayers to you this Lent! May Christ fill you and feed you all the way to the brim! 

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Regina Donahue

Regina is a wife and mother to five children who continually show her just how much God loves us. She is a former teacher and earned a masters in Clinical Psychology. She enjoys writing, running, and a great deal on shoes.

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