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Coping Mechanisms: Fasting

Updated: Jun 17, 2022

As I sit down on my sofa waiting for the Maghrib athan (sunset call for prayer) to break my fast, I internalize the value of fasting as a coping mechanism for anxiety and depression. I was expressing my lack of appetite to a friend a few weeks ago, and she recommended that I fast because it would ensure I ate at least once. And, while that is true, it is not all that fasting helps with...

First, I invite you to walk in my lack-of-appetite shoes. In the morning, I do not feel hungry and so my emotions in the food context are fine. An hour later, I start thinking about coffee. However, I still do not have any appetite and so starts the internal debate of I need coffee against But I do not want it. More often that not, the latter wins and I do not drink my coffee. A few hours in, my hunger kicks in. The first thought that comes to mind is that I can withstand hunger for a few more hours, so I do not need to eat right away. Another voice immediately jumps in and says, “but you will get hungrier eventually and this could turn into a migraine, so what will you eat and when?”. The voice goes to the drawing board and throws many options of meals and mealtimes, and as my food aversion eliminates each and every one, the voice grows fumingly frustrated. It ultimately impacts my mood and I think to myself that if I would just eat, I will feel less irritated. This resentment towards the symptom eventually evolves into self-resentment, and I find myself feeling worse.

So, while lack of appetite does not sound like the worst symptom to have, what it unravels is quite distressing.

Today, I tried fasting as a coping mechanism, and I realize that my friend is right. Not only does it guarantee that I eat a meal, but it also eliminates the entire string of chatter about when and what to eat. When fasting, I am simply convinced that when it is time to eat, I will eat anything I find. And throughout the day, I am convinced that it is still too early to think about food. So, I liberate my mind from this entire wrangle.

Today was an easy day to fast. Yes, I am thirsty and drained. But I feel okay. My emotions are stable. I did not have an anxiety attack. I am not feeling down. I am feeling more than nothing and am somewhere between 3 and 5 today (on my scale of 1-10). Fasting seems to be like a good strategy. But I am cognisant of the fact that in order to have a successful fasting day, I need to be busy and out of the house until 5 PM. Otherwise, exhaustion will drag me to my bed where I would curl under my blanket and drown in agitation.

Though I have been wanting to fast for a few weeks now, I did not have the energy to summon an intention and some willpower to see it through. In fact, seeing it through today is a significant achievement that perhaps only I will realize, and here is why…

I invite you to view fasting in relation to my entire cycle of depression. If my depression were like the seasons of the year, fasting works for the month of March where the dreary winter is bowing out and creating space for spring. Fasting did not work during the desolate January and February: when the sky was white with clouds, the ground even whiter with snow, and the space in between was bleak as the icy wind blew and the snowflakes stung my face; when the sun rose at 9 AM and set 7 hours later; when the trees lost their leaves and the streets their people. And this is not because fasting does not work; it is because I do not function during that time, so I am incapable of rallying willpower to exercise any coping mechanism.

During my cold winters, what works seems to be quality time. Quiet, tranquil, quality time with loved ones and nature. And…acceptance. Acceptance of the messiness that I am in and the messiness of life; and deciding to be okay with it.

I realize that the coping mechanisms I have developed throughout life were March-appropriate ones. I do not know of techniques that could end or mellow a harsh winter. I wonder if this is how others experience depression, too. And I what other tools I could learn for when an episode is at its strongest...

Once again, despite my challenges to force each day to pass by, I am hopeful that things will turn around and that I will experience joy in the near future. I will be able to see life as the bright and wonderous place it is, and I will be able to enjoy the little and big things. I will once again see the glass half full, as I did for so many years. I will acknowledge and feel the small blessings that come with a smile from a friend or a stranger holding the door open for me. I will marvel at a full moon and wonder at the midnight sky’s stars.

And until then, I shall carry on…


Photo: Fasting helps, and so does company...

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