People of various faiths, such as Judaism, Islam, Christianity, or Hinduism, participate in fasting—temporarily abstaining from eating and sometimes drinking—as part of their religious practice as a means of repentance, purification, or self-discipline.
In addition to the religious and cultural significance of fasting, some people experience mental benefits of fasting as well. Some observational studies have suggested that fasting improves mood and reduces Stress levels” Ketan Parmar, MDa psychiatrist based in MumbaiIndia, who identifies as a Hindu.
For example, a A study published in Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research showed that fasting during Ramadan, a month-long Islamic holiday that occurs every spring, was associated with a decrease in Symptoms of depression and stress levels afterwards among the nurses.
Although religious fasting is safe for most people, there are exceptions. For example, in the month of Ramadan, Muslims who are sick, pregnant or breastfeeding are advised not to fast according to another. Article in Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research. And while fasting may have mental health benefits for some, it can be detrimental to the mental health of others. That’s why some experts believe that there should be mental health-related exceptions to religious fasting.
In fact, many religious practices stress the importance of personal well-being. as such Shera Rosenbluth, LCSWHe is a Jew and is in recovery from an eating disorder. Posted on Twitter in September 2021“lamOthers remember that the Torah [Jewish religious texts] It tells us that we need to put our health first, [and] includes mental [and] physical health.”
Here, experts offer three reasons why it may be important to abstain from religious fasting to protect your mental health.
1. You have a history of eating disorders
An estimated 20 million American women and 10 million American men have them eating disordersaccording to National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Furthermore, eating disorders appear to be more common in some religious communities, such as Jewish women, than in the general population, Nada Experts say.
As with other chronic health conditions, people with eating disorders may not fully relapse, or may need to undergo treatment more than once, at a time. Nada. For people recovering from anorexia nervosa In similar cases, religious fasting may trigger disturbed thoughts about food or even relapse, which can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Eating disorders are the second deadliest type of mental illness, surpassed only by opioid addiction Nada.
For these reasons, it is usually Not Religious people with eating disorders say it is safe to fast Renee Solomon, PsyDa licensed clinical psychologist and CEO of Forward Recovery in Los Angeles, who identifies as Jewish. This reinforces the idea that it is OK for them not to feed themselves. They work hard to force their minds to accept the idea that they need to eat and that they deserve to eat. Dr. Soliman warns that fasting today completely contradicts all the work they have done.
Dr. Parmar agrees. “People in recovery are generally advised to avoid fasting, as it can lead to unhealthy behaviors and thoughts.
2. You have another mental health condition
Although not all people with mental health conditions find religious fasting difficult, many people find it more difficult to manage their condition while fasting. For example, a A small study published in world of psychiatry I found it among the Muslim patients Two-way disorderIn fact, fasting during Ramadan was associated with relapses (meaning they had a manic or depressive episode) in 33 percent of the patients who fasted, while only 15 percent of those who did not fast experienced a relapse.
It is also not uncommon for people with Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) Struggling while fasting. one reason? For some people with this condition, fasting may worsen OCD symptoms. According to the experts at OCD Massachusettsa mental health clinic in Belmont, the obsessions and compulsions that occur among people with this condition can be “focused on food and meals” and, as with many eating disorders, may “involve repetitive ritual behaviors.”
For example, some people suffer from a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder called “atrophy,” which means that their obsessions are related to religion or morals and may include being forced to frequent purges and ritual cleansing (such as fasting), according to International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation.
3. In general, you feel very negative when you fast
Some people who participate in religious fasting have more stressful times than others, and fasting for longer periods, such as during Ramadan, may be too much for them. During Ramadan, many Muslims who follow traditional practices do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset.
small primer A study published in May 2021 in frontiers in psychology She found that people who had no experience with fasting and who fasted for the first time had more negative moods and were more stressed than people who fasted.
Alternatives to fasting if you can’t participate
Religious fasting is not the only way to express your faith on the holidays. If you decide not to fast for mental health reasons, this does not make you the least part of your religious community. For example, “Even though [a Jewish person with an eating disorder] They should not fast on Yom Kippur, they are still part of the Jewish community,” Solomon said.
Parmar and Solomon recommend that you talk to your doctor or other mental health professional about whether fasting is good or bad for your mental health. If you decide that fasting is not a healthy option for you now, you can ask a religious leader in your community for other ways to participate in religious holidays without jeopardizing your safety. Some potential options to consider:
- During the holiday focus on prayer or meditation at home or in a place of worship.
- Attend religious services either virtually or in person.
- Watch movies, documentaries, or other media to learn more about the history behind the religious holiday you are celebrating or your faith in general.