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Column Beurskens: Dieting and fasting

One of my obese patients hops into my office once again. I heard that there are new slimming pills! She is of the -what one of my old teachers irreverently called- teacosy-model. Every half year she comes with new ideas to diet, because every half year there’ll be something new on the market. It never works. This time also I grumble my invariable answer at her if it doesn’t work it’s swindle, if it works it’s poison. Gold can be earned from the fat ones, but one has to come up with something new every now and then.

Not everyone can be held responsible for his obesity, though. It can be in the genes. Moreover too much weight is not unhealthy in everybody. It depends. Other factors, like stress, are often more important as causative agents for the disease of Western civilization. Atherosclerosis is reversible, if an adequate diet is followed. Nevertheless obesity is not good and dieting helps against many a disease.

We diet because we want to be healthy and good-looking, not because we want to be good. Our weight hasn=t got anything to do with our spiritual live. In our perception there is a major difference between dieting and fasting, while at the same time factually we do the same thing. Dieting is for bodily health and fasting is for spiritual health. My fat patient always diets and never fasts.

Fasting plays a vital role in every religious tradition. However, the line between dieting and fasting has not always been drawn so sharply. In our times we make a rigid distinction between the technical functioning of the body-machine and the spiritual live. It can be called the body-soul dualism. Although that can be traced back to the Greeks, in our times it directs all our thinking and doing. In Medieval times it was not like that, neither is it nowadays in Judaism and Islam. This can be the reason that in Christianity fasting is in decline, while at the same time in Islam the Ramadan is celebrated widely. To give a place to fasting nevertheless we often connect it with sacrifice. We bring suffering to ourselves to do penance and in this way to get remission of our sins. Those are virtues which then through a back-door have a healing effect on the soul. All this doesn=t make fasting all that much more popular though.

That fasting would be directly essential to our spiritual life doesn’t often come to our minds. When you eat too much neither your body nor your soul can be healthy. That, we think, is weird and incomprehensible. However the distinction between dieting and fasting is typically Western. Our never-ending preoccupation with our weight might have deeper sources than an ideal of beauty and health or a whim of fashion. Still not everything is lost if nothing helps. When the Holy Thomas Aquinas, Teacher of the Church and well-known as the doctor angelicus, >the angel-like= doctor, sat at the banquet of the King of France, they hat to cut a piece out of the table for him, because he was so fat that otherwise he couldn’t reach the food.