Fasting — why do you do it?

February 15, 2010

Note: I apologize in advance if this post offends those who believe in religious fasting. You may find yourself outraged, but please know, I am not attacking your belief system, simply stating my own.

There are several reasons why people fast: spiritual, political, therapeutic. In the three decades I’ve been on this planet, I’ve mostly observed orthodox Indian women engaging in said activity — for their children’s health, their husbands’ long life, or to appease one of their 330 million deities.

In India (and for Indians living abroad), karvachauth is a big thing — a festival now of sorts where an entire community of married women come together to support each other through the day. It creates a sense of sisterhood. They take pride in it. It’s something so pure. So selfless.

I am not a believer in fasting for something so logically disconnected. I mean, how in the world can my not ingesting any food or water for an entire day contribute to the length of my husband’s life? If anything, it’ll affect mine! My husband is the keeper of his own health. His exercise regime, his diet plan — he controls them. He’s an adult who can take care of himself for crying out loud. And if he wants to fast for a good, long life, more power to him! My fasting ain’t doing him no good.

To add to my angst, I see all these socially accepted “modifications” to this particular religious fast where now women have “agreed” to have tea, or a light fruit snack where 20 years ago you wouldn’t even *think* of taking a sip of water. They crib within. They post Facebook status messages about when is the moon going to finally come out!!??!! They wonder why their husbands won’t fast for them. But they do it anyways.  And, they get gifts in return for their “sacrifice.” So much for selfless.

There’s nothing selfless about religious fasting. It’s all for something. Heard of the famous Monday fast that helps you find the perfect partner? Apparently, there’s someone up there who listens to your prayers when you say no to meals any given day of the week. But make sure you fast on the right day in honor of the right deity for the right thing!

Pardon my sarcasm, but it really irks me how in this day and age we continue to fool ourselves into doing things that were established eons ago when people didn’t know any better.  A little Wikipedia search showed me that it’s not just Indian culture that sanctions this practice, it’s part and parcel of many faiths world-over. Did anyone think though that it might have been instituted as a means to cleanse your digestive system? And the only way it could be made popular was by associating it with religion? Mass hysteria. Mass acceptance. And then it takes the form of belief. If you believe it truly works, there’s no arguing against it.

Scientifically — logically — it makes sense to abstain from meat, cooked food, alcohol, and what have you once a week to give your inner machinery some rest. Also, it works if you want to test your will power.

But if you tell me that my fasting for a day will make my family life happier or get me that promotion at work, let me tell you I am “working” toward making those things happen.

16081BD1A60533E0F1173D28DE4F0D3F Fasting — why do you do it?

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22 Responses to Fasting — why do you do it?

  1. PayalNo Gravatar on February 15, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    So True Mansi..You wrote my mind…All your posts are just awesome

  2. Chip EtierNo Gravatar on February 15, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    I like the Lent thing. Give up one item for forty days. The day before is “Fat Tuesday”, Mardis Gras. Tomorrow. Whatever it is you’re giving up, you enjoy a LOT of it on Mardis Gras Day!
    Laissez les bons temps rouler!

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on February 15, 2010 at 9:55 pm

      You know, Chip — my grandma did this giving up thing, except she did it for life. And in her case it had to be a food item she loved (I would totally give up broccoli, but only because I hate it so much!) — so she gave up pumpkin … why? Because one of her children was sick and giving up something she loved to eat was the only way she knew how to get her child well again.

  3. Steve BranzNo Gravatar on February 15, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    I fast each year for (Jewish) Yom Kippur. In all the years I’ve done so (now at least 45 of them), I’ve never fasted to improve the well-being of myself or any one else. Nor has this sort of reason ever been given by any Jew I know (including rabbis). For me, it really is not very difficult physically and it does remove my mind from daily concerns about satisfying my hunger. For a brief version of the traditional reason for fasting, see : “Yom Kippur is the only fast day decreed in the Bible. Abstaining from the pleasure of food is meant to improve one’s ability to focus on repentance. The Yom Kippur fast is a 25-hour fast that begins before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ends after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur.”

  4. PatNo Gravatar on February 15, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    I agree with Steve. It’s about refocusing your energy, away from your needs, toward the needs of others. And about reflection. Brings peace and quiet into your life so you can think, repent, in big and small ways, whatever is the truth of your situation, the truth being hard to figure out sometimes, thus the need for the fast. Clears your mind. Funny that some folks think fasts can bring material stuff, like health. That’s sorta like praying to win the lottery. OK to do, but maybe not the best use of prayer. I do kinda like the bonding with other women part. I think that’s important.

  5. lenaNo Gravatar on February 16, 2010 at 12:31 am

    Well as much as I get it (at least it is so in my religion) fasting is not about not eating certain food at given time, it is more something you give to your soul, like good deeds, praying, positive thoughts which alltogether are supposed to bring in positive energy and wibes (as much as I get how it should be). It is not cleaning up the body, it is cleaning up the soul.

  6. Sophia MarsdenNo Gravatar on February 16, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Something I read several days ago said that just as when Cain killed Abel, Abel’s blood cried out to God for vengeance, so when we mortify our bodies with fasting the very flesh on our bones cries out in unison with our prayers and so strengthens them.

    I am not sure how that’d apply in the Indian tradition though.

  7. Sugandha SinghNo Gravatar on February 16, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    What you have written Mansi is a fact. People who are putting up outside their native countries follow this thing without fail and the reason why is that if they do not do it then they shall be treated as outcasts. Where as if we look towards our own countries whichever it may be, these things are slowly and slowly easing out. People are a bit more relaxed about it but still a lot needs to be done to actually make people see sense into it.

  8. jdlaugheadNo Gravatar on February 16, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I Fast because it can and will destroy cancer cells, Bacteria, and Viruses. A Virus can’t live without protein after 3-7 days, Bacteria 3-5 days, Cancer Cells 7-10 days. Fasting deprives the body of protein, just simple fuzzy math. for more information

  9. ceveniNo Gravatar on February 19, 2010 at 10:08 am

    i only do fasting if my previous meal was too heavy.

  10. Vikas YadavNo Gravatar on February 27, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    You are trying to touch on a big issue of faith here. I am not going to do that for the lack of space here. With faith taken out the equation, I would like to make a comment about Karvachauth: it is a fox inside the skin of sheep. it is a very glamorous, thanks to movies and soaps, and apparently-selfless** act. That s the skin of a sheep. Inherent to Karvachauth is a fact that women is a subordinate to and follower of her man, who is her God. That is the real fox.

    **For some reason, I have lost the meaning of ‘selfless’ so here i am using it to be meant as used in “It’s something so pure. So selfless.” or in “So much for selfless”.

  11. GemmaNo Gravatar on August 13, 2010 at 6:47 am

    This is an interesting subject. I’ve had friends of both Muslim and Jewish faith who fast and I respect that decision even when I don’t agree with it.

    I see fasting as impractical in today’s world. People rush around all day and the thing that keeps us going is Food/Drink. I don’t see what good taking away food is doing to you’re body or soul for that matter. I get cranky when I’m hungry :P

    As I’ve never fasted I can only comment as an outsider here but surely if you haven’t eaten you’re brains probably not as focused as it would be had you eaten 3 meals?

    • MansiNo Gravatar on August 13, 2010 at 11:33 pm

      I agree, Gemma. I don’t know how people do it — more important, I don’t understand why they do it for religious reasons. I can see health reasons for it, but not ones dictated centuries ago by some self-elected priests centuries that people seem to follow blindly.

      Thanks for visiting.

  12. MansiNo Gravatar on August 18, 2010 at 3:08 am

    Heh. I like that attitude :-)

  13. MansiNo Gravatar on August 18, 2010 at 3:09 am

    Interesting. Thanks for that insight :-)

  14. MansiNo Gravatar on August 17, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    I think as long as something is an individual preference not dictated by social pressures, it’s ok…to each her own :-)

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  16. anon1No Gravatar on September 22, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Maybe the reason people fast, is the reason you do your “Diwali Puja”… maybe the familiarity of what their older generations also do/did, is comforting to them.

    For all your comments on this post about why you find ‘fasting’ completely irrational, you have a very convenient way to rationalize what you do on Diwali.. :)

    I know I know.. “to each their own”.. But you added that in your comments, it wasn’t in your original post.
    I’m just sayin’…

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on September 22, 2010 at 4:31 pm

      Convenient and, dare I say, hypocritical. I have struggled with doing the Diwali puja the last three years particularly. I love making the laddoos, the gulab jamuns, the special dinner, the rangoli…I love dressing up in traditional Indian garb that one day in the year. The puja isn’t an integral part of the festivity for me, but without it the celebration seems incomplete. I guess it’s because that’s what I grew up with. But I grew up with a lot of other things … Most of which i have questioned and shunned. This one remains unresolved, though … Perhaps it’s my way of holding on to our culture? I’m not sure. Thaks for calling me out on it, though. Keeps me honest :-)

      • anon1No Gravatar on September 22, 2010 at 4:57 pm

        I wouldn’t read what you write, if I couldn’t credit you with ‘honesty’.

  17. […] the same to me). I also do not know my castes, religions, or religious observances. And I certainly do not fast unless ordered by a […]


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