I’m a Glutton for Punishment

October 1, 2010

Denny's "Breakfast Bucket"

Come to think of it, I’ve never really looked at any kind of food I wanted and said, “I’d better not.  I’m watching what I eat.”

I’ve never fasted, never really denied myself any food I wanted.  And until now, I haven’t needed to.  I’ve got naturally skinny genes.  Seriously, a few years ago, while in college, I went in for a physical with my doctor, and he said I was technically underweight.  He asked what I did all day.  I told him my job was delivering about 2,000 phone books a day, which are quite heavy.  He asked what my diet was like.  I told him that before I came to his office, I ate an entire pizza.  He told me to keep it up.  One time in high school, my debate team was volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.  I challenged a guy who had about a hundred pounds on me to a pizza eating throwdown.  While eating amounts of pizza in excess of what is commonly referred to as “excessive,” while standing in 95 degree afternoon heat proved to be a negative choice for both of us, I won, and I’m proud of it.

But a few weeks ago, Brad Ruggles inspired me with his annoucement that he was doing what he dubbed the “Daniel Fast,” meaning eating just whole grains and vegetables like Daniel in the Bible for an entire month.  I knew I didn’t have the willpower to go completely vegan, or do it for a whole month.  But as of today it’s been a week for me without meat dairy and sugar. 

I’d like to think it’s been a learning experience.  Here’s what I learned about myself.

I Like Meat

I really do.  Living in what the locals consider to be the barbecue capital of the world, as I do, meat is sacred.  I can literally go to a barbecue shop in a gas station, and get an entire barbecued chicken…or a half a chicken, if I’m not that hungry.  I love all the most un-kosher parts of the most un-kosher animals.  I hold meat in my arms tenderly and sweetly, and whisper sweet nothings to it.  My wife does not mind, because she treats meat the same way.  We have an open relationship.  We have each other, and we have meat.  I don’t know how, but it has been as if my body has been revolting against the seven straight days of beans, rice, and miscellaneous green things, demanding the return of the flesh sacrifice.  The path to bodily and spiritual cleansing is painful.

When I suggested this whole thing to my wife, we took probably an hour to just answer the question, “If we can’t eat meat, what else is there?”  It really took a lot of planning just to figure out how to not inadvertantly eat an animal.  It was as if while walking around a grocery store, we tripped and fell face first into double cheeseburgers…repeatedly.  It seems ironic to me that I live in a time and place where not devouring a cow for a week is a flat out inconvenience.

But, as the week went on, I realized something else.

I Don’t Need Meat

 That’s not to say that I’m going to become a permanent vegetarian.  Don’t be ridiculous.  Remember, if a cow got the chance, she’d eat you and everyone you hold dear. 

But after a few days, the discomfort of denying myself the things I want wore off somewhat.  Sure, I’m going to break this fast by going straight to Five Guys’ Burgers and Fries, but I’m not desperate for the things I’ve always taken for granted.  I’ve also left out cheese, butter, and sugar this week.  I love all of those things, in copious quantities.  But I’m coming out of this week realizing I don’t need them.  They’re more of guilty pleasures rather than necessities.  I’m not a slave to them, as I thought I was.

I Wonder What Else I Don’t Need

People have always used fasting as a spiritual discipline, and I’ve been missing out on that.  I didn’t know what I would learn from this.  Maybe I wouldn’t learn anything.  Maybe I’d just be desperate to clog my body with delicious carnivorous foodstuffs again.  But that hasn’t happened, and I did learn something.  If I can give up a few things I want, things that I took for granted, even thought were necessary, I wonder what else I can give up.  What else do I consider necessary, that I would be just as happy without?  What do I act like a slave to, that I really wouldn’t miss?

For now, I just might make my weekly fast a once a month thing.  Maybe I’ll fast from other stuff too, maybe not just food.  Maybe I’ll find some other guilty pleasures that I can do without. 

What are your guilty pleasures, food or otherwise?  Have you ever tried to fast from them?  How did that work out?

26 responses to I’m a Glutton for Punishment

  1. Good post, Matt. Remember, a whole section of Christianity does practice the fasts.

  2. Interesting Matt. When I had cancer I ate only organic food for a year. That was awesome. But the Daniel fast is extreme. I may have to give that a try.

    But I’ve only fasted for 2 days before and I noticed I could focus better in general.

    I guarantee there are a lot other things I don’t need, tv, computer, etc. I actually took some advice from Donald Miller as he made a commitment not to judge for 30 days. I failed on that miserably. So I think I’ll try fasting from judging people for the next 30 days. So hard, yet so worth it, and so freeing.

    Nice Simpsons reference about if a cow got the chance, he’d eat us lol.


  3. I’ve done the Daniel Fast 3 times, twice for 3 weeks and once for 40 days. It’s hard, but for me it wasn’t the meat. Not much of a meat eater anyway, but I really missed cheese and yogurt. I learned a lot about myself also. I felt totally cleansed physically, emotionally, and spiritually at the end of each time period and actually returned only to dairy (no meat) at the end of the 40 day fast for about another month. I still only eat meat once or twice a week. I don’t live in the BBQ capital, though, so I don’t smell it on a daily basis. Since then I’ve found I don’t need gluten (by choice, not by disease) and it, too, has been an interesting journey of not coveting my neighbor’s sourdough. I’m praying I can make this a lifelong fast, as the health benefits have been amazing for me.

    Loved this, Matt. We can do without SO much, or perhaps we simply have too much.

  4. Please tell me that bucket is real…

  5. I have a sordid past with fasting. I have heard so many spiritual giants talk of it like it was the second coming of Christ.

    I once went to a conference and felt led to do a fast – just water for 3 days. The hardest thing I ever did – well short of basic training.

    Another time our church did the 40 Day Fast along with Bill Bright and some others. It was liquids only. Literally broth, potato/vegetable water, juice and water. I lasted 3 days and ate a pork chop and rice.

    I did some Daniel fasts; fasting from choice foods. For me, it wasn’t that big a deal as we eat a lot of veggies anyway – but they were shorter than yours. I didn’t feel real spiritual.

    The two that had the most impact were the daily fasts. I skipped an entire meal everyday for pretty much 3 years. During that time, I did missions and things – wow, God’s presence really was powerful.

    The other thing that helped was a fast from media and electronics: no videos, video games, no TV, no cell phone, no radio and no Internet – nada. Before the Internet and cell phones – way back in the early 90’s, I used the TV time to read the Bible through cover to cover including the study notes.

    I think you are correct – we have too much, work too many hours, and focus on lots of other things besides God.

    BTW – Your comments on my 500th blog post will be posted on Monday the 4th along with Tony C, Brett Barner and some others. Thanks for joining the celebration, Matt.


  6. I have a teen who wanted to go on a fast, and I told him no. So he settled for something like this “Daniel fast.” It drove me crazy for about a month. I have six children, and two of them have different food allergies. Add the “no meat” to the mix, and that means five different dinners each night. Mostly frozen Superpretzels from Sam’s Club.

    Perhaps I’m not that spiritual, because I dread this whole idea of someone in the family needing a special diet for a “fast.” Arg.

    • No, I can sympathize with you. With all those mouths to feed, a kid who’s fasting quickly becomes just “picky.”

    • I never restricted what my children ate or told them they had to eat a particular thing. But I also didn’t prepare separate meals. The allergies are different, but if a teen wants to go on a fast he should have the courage of his convictions and hustle himself into the kitchen. Of course if I could prepare things he would eat as part of the normal meal and he just supplemented, wonderful. Self-sufficient young people (and adults) who count the costs of decisions are rare and priceless!

  7. I tried the Daniel diet once, not for spiritual reasons but because I knew I ate too much junk. I lasted 2 days and was hungry the entire time. I’m very impressed that you pushed through it and are thinking about doing it again.

    In recent years, I’ve fasted from one thing at a time for a period instead of trying to go cold turkey on everything. The last time I decided I wasn’t going to drink pop (aka soda), I was able to break my addiction to it altogether.

    Still clinging to my chocolate, though. 😉

    • I broke with soda when I realized I couldn’t drink water. It started making me gag. When my husband thoughtfully pointed out that it didn’t bode well for my survival, I decided to drink only water, and now I can’t let myself go back. On the up side, it’s a very easy decision to make now that water bottles (and bottled water) are everywhere!

      • Switching to water was tough for me at first. I thought I would ease into it with flavored drinks, but the sugar in those was too much so I gave up and went to water and now I have no trouble at all. It was mostly a matter of forming the habit – once I had done that, I didn’t crave pop anymore…at least not much. I still allow myself one once in awhile but then go straight back to my water-only ritual.

  8. Good for you for trying to eat less meat!
    I’ve never fasted for spiritual reasons, but I’ve maintained a vegan diet for over four years now (vegetarian for ten). It’s a totally natural way of eating for me since I’ve never liked eggs or meat and was born lactose-intolerant. My version of veganism does include a lot of cookies and sweets and dark chocolate–probably too many. I’ve tried to give up simple sugars in the past for days at a time and failed pretty miserably. Because of my past history with eating disorders, restricting myself from my favorite foods inevitably leads to problems.

  9. I’m really confused as to why you posted this.

    Fasts are between you and God, not the audience of this blog. They are intended to get you closer to the Father, by not focusing on certain foods. Also, they should be supplemented with prayer.

    Jesus said in Matthew 6:16-18:
    “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

    No one should know you are fasting; a fast without a spiritual purpose is simply a change in diet.

    • Hey Ryan. I think Jesus was attacking a heart issue with the Pharisees. They walked around looking miserable while they fasted so everyone knew they were doing it and would think they were holy.

      I don’t think that is Matt’s heart here at all. He is sharing what he’s learned in his experience as a way to encourage others. I know it encouraged me.

      Be blessed man!

      • Thanks Tony. Ryan, I’m not boasting. If anything, I’ve got nothing to boast about for not fasting until just now. If blogs aren’t for sharing our experiences and encouraging one another, then I don’t know what I would write. I did pray with this fast. I told God that I didn’t know what fasting was for, but if there is a purpose, then I hope it becomes apparent. This post is the result of that prayer being answered.

  10. I think fasting is a great thing to incorporate into our lives. Over the years I’ve done a variety of fasts like the ones already mentioned in the comments. Sometimes it’s been for spiritual reasons, and to go hand in hand with prayer. Sometimes it’s been for physical reasons to cleanse my body, and sometimes for emotional reasons, to refocus. There have also been times that I did to to save money from something that could be put to better use ministry wise. It’s amazing what just giving up buying drinks out and sending it to ministry groups who are doing valuable work can do. It can provide water for villages, or food and care for children or any number of things. Those fasts taught me that I can live more simply and use my money more wisely. I love setting aside days for fasting and prayer from time to time. Our time is so precious and ultimately the older I get the more I realize what limited time we have on earth… taking part of that time to step away from my busyness and technology and my tendency to worry about stuff, and to acknowledge that God is still in control and hears the cries of our heart is a great thing all the way around.

  11. Thanks for sharing your experience, Matt. This is great. I don’t fast nearly enough but when I do it always has a profound affect on me. I’ve fasted food, technology, certain people and every time the biggest thing I realize is how much time and energy I waste thinking about those thing. When I fast something in my life, I realize how much more time I have for God. It’s pretty amazing…and sobering.

  12. Well, i already don’t eat gluten. Too much pain & headaches when i do, tho i have to admit that i slip on that one.

    I’m largely vegetarian (depending on definition, technically pescatarian, because i still eat sea food).

    But recently the doc told me i’m “reactive” to some foods & i need to give them up for a while.

    Lettuce. Say what?
    Pinto & navy beans
    Cow’s milk (pasteurized, but i can still have cheese)
    Cauliflower & lentils (hooray! i don’t have to force those anymore)
    Brewer’s yeast (it is in everything that has vinegar)
    Baker’s yeast (no biggie, i don’t do much – GF – bread anyway)

    Plus 6 others i don’t remember. My thought, what AM i going to eat? Do you know how many things we eat that have tomatoes &/or vinegar? I figure i’ll just be hungry all the time.

    I wonder if i can fast for the 3 months i have to give these up on trial? I’m not too thrilled with food these days.

    Meat – yuck. I tried to eat it again a few months ago & it is just gross. Now i’ve just alienated everyone who reads this. Sorry. I’ve been whinging for days since i learned of these restrictions.


  13. Hey this blog is awsome. I saw you at camp. I understand that blog to.

  14. I haven’t been much of a faster because of blood sugar issues, but this year for the first time, did a 24 hour fast for the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) as the Bible instructs to purge the soul that day-it was totally a God thing-only doing water and tea and not crashing blood sugar wise-I have been a vegetarian for 27 years, as long as I have been a believer-trying to cut down on the dairy now-hard to give up the ice cream and cream in the coffee!

  15. Hi Matt,

    Great post.


    Makes me glad I don’t own a Five Guys franchise.

    When it comes to fasting, that’s the only point I win in the Jesus Secret Spiritual Giant Contest.

    He told us to do three things in secret: give, pray and fast.

    He said to give in secret so we would not be shamed when other folks learn how little we give. But, I keep a record of my giving for the IRS so there’s no secret there. Besides, I can’t spell annoymouse. I’m sure God understands.

    I loose in the matter of secret prayer too. What good is praying if nobody knows how pious I am? Why, once I even wrote a book about prayer (to help lesser folks)so my piety is renown everywhere. No secret there.

    However, when it comes to fasting, I’ve got that one knocked. I win points. Anyone looking at a photo of my handsome visage weighing in at a robust, rotund 275 pounds–they’d never guess how much I fast. It’s a secret.

  16. jesus said its not what goes into the mouth that makes us unclean but comes out the mouth .also that if we thank god everything is clean but if we do not everything is defieled.and fasting,prayer,and giving only benifit us when done in with god not with advertising.god bless,come lord jesus.

  17. I have fast as the Lord leads, and always do it in secret as the Bible commands. I always do the water only fasts. Sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks. The thing is to fast for the right reasons.