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The Spirituality of Fasting, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III
21- The Benefits of Fasting to the Body
Fasting benefits the body in several ways, some of which are outlined below:
1. Fasting is a period of rest for some of the organs of our body. It is a period of rest for all the digesting and associated systems, such as the stomach, the intestines, the liver, and the gall bladder, overworked by high consumption and composite food. The digestion system become upset when more food is introduced as it attempts to digest the existing contents.
Conversely, when one fasts, the digestion system rests during the period of abstinence, and the light food, which is later eaten, does not trouble it. Moreover, we find relief from the food we eat between meals. How wonderful it would be to carry this discipline over to non-fasting days.
2 Another benefit of vegetarian foods is that it reduces cholesterol, since it is well documented that fats and grease found in meat leads to an increase in the blood cholesterol level. The danger is of course in the formation of blood clots. As a result, doctors ask their patients to keep away from food such as meat, eggs, fatty oils and the like in order to keep the body healthy, especially for those advanced in years. They recommend vegetable foods in an attempt to revert man to his original vegetarian nature, to the food of the Garden of Eden.
Another benefit of fasting for the body is that:
3. One who fasts gets rid of his obesity and flabbiness: When a person is overweight, the heart is overworked as it attempts to send blood to the extra quantity of tissue in the form of excess fat. This extra quantity of tissue is beyond that which God has required him to support. In addition, obesity causes many ailments to the body.
Doctors insist that body weight be reduced to keep it healthy. They impose certain regimes upon an obese person (which is considered a sickness), to control what he eats instead of eating uncontrollably.
One who fasts and controls himself is not in need of a special diets.
Fasting, in the spiritual sense, is far superior to physical treatment, for it treats the spirit, the body, and the soul all together.
If a person fasts out of his love for God for a spiritual gain, his body automatically benefits, which is better than fasting on doctor's order to reduce body weight, and we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other pages. It is indeed a tragedy to see people spend a large part of his life putting on weight, then spend another part of their life trying to get rid of excess body fats.
If he or she had been moderate, and had known from the start the value and benefit of fasting, he would not have had the need to exert all that effort in gaining weight and later trying to loose it.
This reminds me of a woman who goes on eating until her body loses its beautiful symmetry. Then, when doctors advise her to fast, to reduce her consumption, and follow a strict diet, she does so, not for God but for the beauty of her body. Thus, she does not eat, but she does not receive the blessing of fasting, for what she does is not done out of love for God!
Would it not have been more beneficial for these people to have fasted both for their bodily health and at the same time for their spirit to soar high and approach God?
Fast then for God, before you are compelled to fast for medical reasons without any spiritual benefit to you.
One of the benefits of fasting and, in particular the period of abstinence and hunger, is that:
4. Fasting helps treat many illnesses:
One of the most important books I have read in this field is the one entitled "Treatment by Fasting" written by the Russian scientist Alexi Soforin and translated into Arabic in 1930.
This scientist remarks that fasting helps rid the body of its toxins. Although the body gets rid of many of them through its various methods of excretion, some remain and may be excreted through fasting...
The scientist also states that in fasting the body does not get enough food and begins to dissipate its fats, grease, diseased and festered tissues, which are excreted by the body.
This scientist also found out that a long term temperate fast that followed a certain regime could treat many diseases.
I hereby present his research for study as a scientist who tested the contents of his book.
Are there any other bodily benefits through fasting? Yes.
5. Fasting makes the body light and active:
Our fathers, who perfected fasting, had light bodies and elevated spirits. They were energetic, having strong hearts and were able to walk tens of kilometres a day without becoming tired. They moved in the wilderness like deer, and their minds were not sluggish but very bright. Thus through fasting they gained strength for their bodies, spirits, and minds. They found comfort and pleasure in fasting, so much so that their life became a life of fasting.
6. Let nobody therefore deceive you and say that fasting or vegetable food weakens one's health, for in fact it gives it strength.
Fasting is not a remedy for the spirit alone, but it is also for the body. There have never been any cases were vegetarian food has harmed or weakened anyone.
Daniel and the three young men did not eat meat at the King's table. It was sufficient to eat beans and their health was better than the others. (Dan 1: 15).
Our fathers, the ascetics and the great monks, were very strict in their fasts. Yet we have never heard that fasting weakened their health. On the contrary, they remained strong even in their old age.
No-where is it mentioned that our father Adam became sick or weak from eating vegetarian food. The same applies to Eve and to all the fathers preceding Noah's and the great flood. Therefore, rest assured about your bodily health.
What tires the body is not fasting but eating.
Overeating, indigestion, eating between meals, etc… all leads to bodily exhaustion. Moreover, the body is also fatigued from the extra heat energy generated by foods consumed beyond man's need, and we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other pages. How great are the sicknesses brought about by overeating.
Therefore, you have to liberate yourselves from the idea that fasting hurts your health.
Nursing mothers incorrectly assume out of their love and concern for the health of their children, that they must be chubby and full. They assume that this is a sign of good health although an overweight person is weaker in health than a slim one.
Wrong motherly affection is used to prevent children from fasting or discouraged. We say that this affection is erroneous because it did not concern itself with the son's soul as it did with his body, as if they are only responsible for their sons' bodies only. In their concern for their children’s bodily health, they neglect the nourishment of their souls.
Despite this, saintly children used to fast.
Likewise was Saint Shenouda, the father of hermits, who at the age of nine, used to give his food away to shepherds and pray standing up while fasting, till sunset.
To the young and old, fasting bestows health and strength. It freed their bodies from their extra fat and water.
Many saintly bodies have kept from decay, all because of God's blessing that preserved them as a reward for their faithfulness. On the other hand, because their bodies had little in the way of fat and dampness, the causes of decay.
Meat can be preserved without decay for a long time if it is exposed to heat which rids it of its water content and dissolves its fat which dries it up and preserve it. To the some extent were the bodies of saints who, through fasting were without fat and excess water. Thus, decay could not touch them.
However, why should we concentrate on the body? Is fasting a virtue for the body alone?
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