Should Catholic women give up fasting for Lent?
The tension between fasting and dieting in a culture that judges women’s bodies
When Lent arrives each year, I find myself in conversations about fasting with other Catholic women. We exchange plans for our seasonal food abstinence — small meals and no meat on Fridays, often accompanied by a fast from sweets, or alcohol, or snacking between meals.
Then, inevitably, someone voices what many of us have privately considered: “Hopefully this will help me lose another few pounds.”
Such admissions are often accompanied by some self-deprecating acknowledgement that weight loss is not supposed to be the goal of our seasonal penance. Nevertheless, sympathetic nods and similar confessions arise in response. Year after year, these conversations evince a tension between our perceptions of what fasting ought to be and our experience of it as Catholic women in the contemporary United States.
These conversations inspired my search for resources aimed at helping Catholic women fast in a setting where we face relentless pressures to conform to society’s young, white, able-bodied, effortless, slender ideal.
Why Lent can be a dangerous time when you’re recovering from an eating disorder
It took me a long time to believe that God was not disappointed with my body. It took me even longer to learn that Ash Wednesday was not my yearly diet launch date, that Lent was not a time for me to give all my food-related desires to God and come out the other end a better person, slimmer and with more self-discipline.
Unfortunately, Lent is the time of year where my Catholic faith threatens to derail my hard-fought healing—a years-long process of learning to accept my large body and to realign my relationship with food amid an eating disorder diagnosis. The whole “give up sugar and lose weight during Lent” impulse? That is the impulse of diet culture, and it is a problem when it surreptitiously slides into our churches unchecked.
Diet culture is the miasma of social expectations that to be considered “good,” a body must be trim and healthy. It is a message that saturates the cultural fabric, and no matter where I go, I witness its demands—in commercials, in online interactions, in the harsh whisper of my inner critic—that my very large body is a disappointment to God and that I need to change it. I am not even safe in church.