Whether or not to tell friends and family you’re fasting can often be a huge dilemma. Just this last week, several visitors to waterfasting.org have brought up the subject in some shape or form. It usually goes like this:
- “I can’t tell anyone I know that I’m fasting. They’ll think that I’m crazy…”
Or something like this:
- “Yesterday my friend gave me some fruit and I didn’t say no, because otherwise I’d have to tell her that I’m fasting…”
I can’t possibly give a simple answer about whether you should tell or not tell those around you about your fast, and I don’t believe that there’s a single ‘right’ answer for everyone. In discussing the two examples above, though, I hope you’ll be able to reach the right decision for yourself.
Let’s take the first example. It’s true. People really do often think you’re crazy – I know plenty of people, for instance, who think that I’m crazy :-). Why? Because beyond the fact that I probably am a little crazy, fasting forces those around you to look into an often unwanted mirror. They have no choice. The fact that they see and know you’re not eating inevitably faces them with the fact that they are eating, as well as the fact that they probably have very deep-seated fears about giving up food in the way that you are now. Fair enough. In the long run, no food = no life. Death. The fact that you’re fasting forces them – even if it takes places on a subconscious level – to deal with fears of mortality. And most people don’t want to deal with that, especially at Sunday lunch, at the pub or a birthday party.
The best scenario is that people’s own fears of life and death, combined with general misinformation surrounding fasting, causes them honestly to worry about you. It’s a situation of love for you expressed through fear.
It often goes beyond this, though. Deep down inside, we all know we should be dealing with the big questions of life, death and our own death. The fact that, at least implicitly, you are (through fasting) and they aren’t (through eating) can make others feel inadequate and inferior, triggering a defensive overreaction in response. Remember, most people don’t just not understand you. They think you’re crazy or downright reject you.
The flipside of the coin? It’s easy for people fasting to feel superior, more elevated and enlightened to those around them. But this is no better, no more ‘enlightened’ than the reaction of people who think you’re crazy. We’re all brothers and sisters in life, after all.
Don’t let other people’s fears dupe you into the deeper reasons you don’t want to tell others about your fast. These very much concern your own fears. Fears of rejection. Fears of your own mortality, not only catalysed through the fast itself but also by having to bear the fears of those around you. In the same way that you provide an unwelcome mirror to others, the fears of family and friends magnify and reflect back towards you: themselves an unwelcome mirror in your own consciousness. So much fear… This isn’t the end of the story, though, because these same fears then go on to create a very practical concern: your fear of their fears weakening your resolve to carry out and successfully complete your fast.
For me, this is the most important issue. Unless you’re fasting on a whim – and hardly anyone does – then surely priority number one is to finish your fast. If this means hiding the deep, dark secret that you’re fasting, then so be it. Especially if you’re a novice faster, a lack of confidence in your ability to successfully complete your fast may lead to this decision. In time, with more experience, you’ll prove to yourself that you can fast, regardless of what others think. I promise!
If you do have the strength, I would strongly advise coming out of the closet and confessing the awful truth about your fast, if and when you find yourself in a situation where there’s no other choice. Just as other people’s fears and rejection of you and your fast can sap your energy, so it takes an awful lot of energy and inner turmoil to inhibit a full and natural expression of yourself. Here, this means living out your fast to the full, in the open.
In a sense, to do otherwise means living a lie. True or not true?
So honour yourself with the truth, your truth.
We all have our secrets, we all have our little lies, but given the way that fasting roots so deeply into the subconscious and deeper Self, I really believe in trying to keep this area of our lives clean.
I’m not suggesting that you advertise your fast to the world, complete with selfies and a youTube video, but rather quietly getting on with it and being quietly honest about yourself, if and when situations arise in which revelations to others become inevitable.
This is where the environment in which you fast plays a central role. Fasting in solitude or on retreat removes the possibility of having to deal with other people and their worries. It allows you to go deeper into yourself, experiencing the full potential of the fast.
Of course, we don’t always have the luxury of stepping out of everyday life, every time we fast. When this is the case, the way that people respond to the knowledge that you’re fasting largely depends on how you tell them. Even without selfies and a youTube video, you’re liable to ruffle feathers if you announce your fast in the manner of a selfie or youTube video! Even if you yourself are blind to it, those around you will detect the slightest whiff of superiority, and they’ll rightfully crucify you for it.
Feelings of superiority are likely to kick in only after you’ve vanquished your fears about the fast. It’s easy, oh so easy to feel proudly inflated when you’re no longer faced by doubt and danger! For novice fasters, this usually takes place only after the end of the fast. For those with more experience, though, it can easily occur during the fast itself. So beware, and observe your feelings!
Feelings of superiority are always a potential danger. Until you’ve reached this point, though, it’s far more likely that the opposite is true. You’re probably feeling insecure and inferior.
It’s precisely these feelings of insecurity and inferiority which lead to people compromising themselves and their fast – by eating anything from that small piece of fruit to a whole meal – in order not to have to reveal the truth of what they’re doing. It’s so sad, really sad to hear such stories, in which people lack the confidence to stand up for themselves and live out their truth, in which something as, yes, sacred as a fast falls casualty to the petty, ignorant views of others.
Here are some concrete suggestions if you feel in danger of compromising yourself, your fast and the inner truth of both. First, you can avoid using the term ‘fast’. It’s a loaded gun to most people. It’s a word they don’t understand, so why say it? “I’m not eating today,” or “I don’t feel hungry” can often suffice, as well as truthfully represent what you’re doing, without pressing other people’s buttons.
This may work fine in passing encounters or once-off situations, but obviously not when you come into repeated contact with someone over the duration of your fast. They’ll get suspicious if you’re always “not eating today.” Sooner or later, you’re going to have to say “fast.”
The only context in which the word and concept of fasting is generally accepted in the Western world today is when it comes to weight loss. After all, shedding a few pounds doesn’t trigger people’s fears of their own mortality. If you simply say you’re “fasting to lose weight”, no-one is going to question you – I dare say even if you’re at someone’s birthday party. If you’re offered a slice of cake, you can laugh it off by saying that you’ll have a glass of delicious-and-nutritious water instead. In the absolute worst case, they may be a little disappointed, but this utterly negligible compared to the self-compromise of eating the cake. The main thing here and in other social situations is to keep it light.
Even if you feel completely self-conscious and out of place watching others eat their cake, those around you will hardly blink and eye. So don’t feel so self-important. They’re too busy enjoying their sugar high!
The ‘losing weight’ story can work well for most women and sometimes for men too. Otherwise, guys tend to be less forgiving with other guys. Dieting, after all, is kind of ‘girly’ wouldn’t you say?… When this is the case, there’s another angle you can take: one as convincing (if less well known) as losing weight. It’s the ‘health and fitness’ story. For me, at least, it’s also certainly true. Part of the reason I fast is to be able to enter ketosis more quickly and efficiently during long-distance runs. As with any other prolonged aerobic activity or endurance sport, this means you’re less dependent on refuelling with sugars, sports bars and gels while literally on the run. You don’t have to be an ultramarathoner to appreciate this. It applies to any activity in which you’re burning significant amounts of calories. Above and beyond this, fasting increases your cells’ mitochondrial density, enabling your muscles to perform more efficiently, regardless of what you’re doing. Not bad, huh?
When it comes to closer friends and especially family with whom you share a home, you can and should reveal your true colours to a greater extent. In fact, given the living situation, you have no choice! In these circumstances, the main problem is bearing the weight of your loved one’s fears. This tends to be directly proportional to the length of your fast. No-one is going to bat an eyelid if you tell them you’re doing a 24-hour fast. Anything longer, though, does run the risk of eliciting genuine, honest, heart-felt fear for your well being and survival. Even if the fear is misplaced and based on ignorance, you have to respect that.
So before you announce you want to do a 40-day fast, show them first that you can safely manage a 36-hour fast, moving on next time to perhaps a 48-hour fast and then a three-day fast. Work incrementally until you reach the desired length of your fast. Prove to them each time that you don’t actually waste away, and drop dead.
Starting with little steps is better than not starting at all, for fear of what their reaction will be.
That’s what I did when I started fasting. The fears of my family gradually subsided with each successive fast, until it no longer became an issue at all by the time I had reached 7-10 day fasts. They still don’t fully understand why I fast, but they do tolerate it now, accepting that it’s a part of who I am, even if they themselves are afraid to try it.
The more you can take part in family like during a fast, the easier it is emotionally for loved ones. It shows you’re not suffering, not about to collapse in a pack of bones. Also, the more you can preserve their daily status quo, the less you impose your fast upon them. In addition, this approach ensures that you don’t undertake a fast you can’t comfortably manage – something I would always recommend in any case.
There does come a point, though, beyond which the sheer length of a fast is going to be too much for family members to accept, let alone embrace. Although it may no longer be a question of their fear for your survival, the fact that day after day you’re not eating becomes a constant reminder of the unwelcome mirror you’re providing. It becomes a kind of war of attrition in their mind, and at some point it will become too much for them. If you feel you’re reaching such a tipping point, then you might ask your loved ones whether it would be better for the family if you step out from family life for a while and do the fast away from home.
Something similar happened last year when I told my wife I wanted to do a 21-day water fast. Her immediate reaction was: “not here at home, you’re not!” Rather than trying to prevent me from fasting, though, she told me to go into retreat instead. This was the best for everyone, certainly myself included, and I’m still extremely grateful for her demand that I leave home.
If your own partner isn’t as used to you fasting as mine is, you are probably the one who should make such a suggestion, because until they’re totally used to the idea and actual experience of you fasting, any mention of fasting is most likely going to close them down rather than opening them up to finding solutions. Again, this happens not out of any desire to thwart you, but because the whole issue of fasting causes deep, irrational fear, which causes the brain to freeze like a rabbit in front of the proverbial headlights.
Like they say, where there’s a will there’s a way. There are always solutions in how to tell others that you’re fasting. It’s easy to find excuses not to. It’s easy to hide in your shell. It’s easy not to live out your truth – whether here or in the rest of life. Fasting is always about staring hunger, starvation and ultimately death in the face, and yet walking away alive.
So I would always urge you to choose life over one not fully lived. This means being honest with yourself and those around you.