It’s the latest craze in the diet world and everyone from journalists to young adults to your parents are doing it. The 5:2 diet. The diet that allows you to feast to your heart’s content for five glorious days, and then endure two days of relative boredom and abstinence.
I have been staggered by the sheer number of people who have attempted 5:2. My parents now swear by it, with Tuesdays and Thursdays being their ‘good’ days. My mum sticks to the regime religiously, never stepping over the 500 mark by a single calorie – and has seen real results (my dad is less disciplined, but is still seeing the benefit of his attempts). My flatmate also has the occasional ‘5:2 week’ if she has over-indulged, and her family members now call it a ‘way of life’, determined to carry on their 5:2 discipline for the rest of their days.
There’s one really obvious and important thing to say at the outset: fasting is good for you. And for that reason – the 5:2 diet seems to actually work. People who have never before been able to shed the pounds are shadows of their former selves, as their clothes grow like billowing tents around their diminishing bodies.
More and more research has been done into the incredible health benefits of fasting, as people’s interest in the 5:2 diet has peaked. It can increase energy levels and concentration, and can lead to better sleep and enhanced performance in every area of life. According to one psychologist, fasting promotes ‘autophagy’. He says: “Autophagy, or ‘self-eating’, is the process by which cells recycle waste material, down-regulate wasteful processes, and repair themselves. Brain health is highly dependent on neuronal autophagy. Simply put, without the process of autophagy, brains neither develop properly nor function the way they should.” Brains need times of abstinence, or perhaps food scarcity, in order to develop properly – they are finely tuned to maximise these periods of stomach-ey rest.
I don’t find it very surprising that something God asks or even expects us to do is good for us. In Matthew 6, Jesus says “when you fast…” assuming that those listening would have fasted regularly. It would be awkward for Jesus to say the same to us. ‘Ah yes, fasting, yeah I did that, like, one time I think? I mean, I missed a meal – did that count?’ Jesus expected people to fast, just as we are expected to fast too. And as we have seen, fasting is good for us; Jesus knew full well that we were meant to have these periods of abstinence for optimum physical and spiritual well-being.
On another similar note – I stumbled across an interesting website recently called the ‘Sabbath Manifesto’. Not affiliated to any particular religion, or at least welcome to all and none, the Sabbath Manifesto advocates that people adopt the rhythm of rest into their lives. The site lists 10 aspects to the manifesto, including switching off and slowing down, as elements involved in a ‘Shabbat’. It also documents the proposed benefits to such an approach, for your physical and emotional well-being. Here again is an example of something God tells us to do (and yet we so often don’t do) – being key for our emotional, spiritual and physical well-being.
And another example: the atheist church. A group of people decided that there were many benefits to church from a secular perspective – a community, a sense of purpose, a task force for doing good, a group to sing songs with – so wanted to replicate the setting, but without the ‘God part’. They went on to establish the Sunday Assembly, a movement of atheist churches championing all of these beneficial aspects of church (but of course missing the point rather).
I take great encouragement from these things. They are only shadows of the intended use for fasting, the Sabbath and the church community – but they are a reminder that God’s word is true, and His decrees for us good. I think sometimes that it would be hard to obey God if His laws were totally arbitrary. It’s a great help that we can see that they are for our own benefit, and we would be wise to – like the secular world often seems to – actually follow them.