Extreme Fasting: I think my brother's gone off the deep end


My brother has been doing these extreme fasts. He has no food at all. I think he did this a long time ago, in his younger days, when he was involved with karate and reading things about transcendentalism and eastern mysticism. He has since come back to the Catholic church, his wife converted, and his daughter goes to Catholic school. However, he doesn’t always make it to church because of his working hours, and he is a child of the poor catechesis after V2. He began doing these fasts last Lent, and went 38 days. :eek:

He is reading a book by a zen spiritualist–The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, and a christian book called Gods Chosen Fast. He finds this kind of fasting very spiritual, but I am concerned about 1) his health and 2) his spiritual life.

Should I say anything? Does anyone know of some good Catholic books about fasting and/or ascetism? I should also mention that I recently joined a religious cloistered community, which greatly impressed him, and I think brought about a spiritual awakening in his own life.


I am sure that not eating any food for 38 days is NOT healthy…That is not good for him…Did he drink protein shakes?or really no food at all?..but that is not good, he should talk to a priest…fasting is good but it needs to be done safely…


If he is called to a life of relative asceticism (spelling?), then he must, absolutely MUST do so under the guidance of a spiritual advisor. And I’m sure that a spiritual advisor would not want him to stop eating altogether. Especially since his a husband and father, he would not be called by God to the same sort of ascetic lifestyle as the Desert Fathers, for example. However, his desire to do penance is commendable. It just needs to be guided by a priest.


Maybe he has an eating disorder?

I always thought fasting was skipping a daily meal for a short amount of time. From what you describe it does seem very extreme.
I would ask him & make sure he is okay.


I don’t think he has an eating disorder.

The thing is, I don’t think he would be willing to listen to a Catholic spiritual advisor. He is talking to his former karate instructor, and I think that man is who got him doing this in the first place. I think what he is doing is mixing this eastern mystic/ ascetic practice with Christianity–and I’m sure he sees nothing wrong with it. He loves Zen Buddism, but would never call himself a Buddhist. How do I convince him they shouldn’t be mixed? That speaking to a priest would be beneficial? He finds this practice very very VERY spiritually enriching.


Eating disorder or no the FIRST person he needs to be speaking with is a dr. He could be destroying his bones, muscles, eyes…etc. We’re not disposed to give medical advice on this board but really, part of this is a purely medical question one which only he and his DR can figure out.

As far as spiritual life…is he doing this because it makes him feel good? powerful? Right now with his cafteteria style God he’s really choosing to be God…which is VERY bad spirtually.


How is his health? How thin is he? How strong is he?

Maybe the best approach would be to stress his health situation. There are many documented cases of involuntary fasts (like hunger strikes by political prisons, famines, conditions in concentration camps) so you could find a lot of evidence about how 38 days of not taking food at all is bad for the health. But does he do this frequently or was it a one time thing?

You might stress that it’s important that he is alive and strong because his daughter and his wife need him.


If this Zen and Eastern martial arts stuff he likes includes the tenet of being able to lead whatever spiritual life one wants to at any time regardless of family relationships and responsibilities, he may just be absorbing that idea and trying to follow a Desert Fathers-like path despite being a husband and father. He should talk to a good priest, and get the scoop on what he can do, given that he has a family.


You need to say something. I honestly didn’t think the human body could do 38 days of fasting.

I think he needs a shrink.


Fasting is never beneficial if it does not go along with prayer and participation in the sacraments. Without it it is only a kind of hubris.

Many eastern religions do have extreme fasting, due to their view of the body, which is quite different than Christianity. But Buddhism doesn’t tend to be one of them - the Bhudda rejected such practices as not useful. So I would be surprised if your brother was reading his Zen books all that accurately either.

I’m not sure there is much you can do, except to point out your concerns, and that all traditions say such practices should be carried out in addition to other spiritual disaplines and under the supervision of an experienced teacher.


I’m not really sure there is anything I could say that would change his mind either. The real trouble is that he finds it a deeply fulfilling spiritual experience. So, how do you convince someone who is having a spiritual experience, and sees it as drawing them closer to God, that maybe that isn’t what’s happening? That maybe this isn’t such a great thing? And, really, am I sure that God is not reaching out to him this way?

For those who asked about his health, the funny thing is this started after he had a health scare, but ended up with a clean bill of health from his doctor. He did it as a way to thank God for his good health. I think he does drink a little juice and may also take a little clear broth, but nothing solid.

I don’t think it’s a mental health problem, but maybe a spiritual health problem. And I do wonder if some of these spiritual experiences are coming as a result of lack of nutrition. I’m really wondering if I should say anything, or maybe just share my own journey and see if he responds to that. Of course, I pray for him often, which is the most powerful thing. I just feel like maybe I should say something.


I would like to remind you that your body needs essential nutrients that it cannot manufacture on its own. That is why we need vitamin supplements, in case we don’t get everything our body needs from the food we eat.

When your brother denies his body food it must search for those nutrients that it may have stored elsewhere. For example, this means if he needs calcium for cell communication it will go into his bones and rob it of the calcium. You can imagine what this will do to your bones if it continues. They will become brittle and look as if he has osteoporosis. Eventually, when the body cannot find the compounds it needs it will shutdown certain essential life processes.

It is really not healthy to deny your body food for an extended amount of time.


I have to say that I’ve known lots of evangelicals who do these types of fasts. It’s actually encouraged. They have a view of fasting different from Catholics. Where we say fasting involves 1 meal a day, they think it’s either all water or some juice/broth. If you eat it’s not real fasting. They are able to do this without compromising their health. I did a juice fast myself for 21 days. I think we Americans are generally so overfed that this isn’t a problem for most of us. Of course, consult a doctor.

I’d be more concerned that your brother is seeking a mix of buddhism and catholicism. Perhaps find him some good monastic literature. Maybe give him the Spiritual Exercises. I don’t doubt that his fasting gives him a “high”. If you can’t convince him to practice the sacraments, try to feed him with the written wisdom of the Church.


This seems kind of dangerous. I know that Jesus fasted for forty days but Jesus is God so He could do it. Your brother should not mix this kind of eastern beliefs with Christianity. He needs to see a priest. Have you tried to tlk to him?

And how is he taking care of himself? Is he taking vitamins or protein shakes or is he taking nothing? This is really worrying and it could lead to some severe problems if not corrected soon, such as damage to his physical state.


Another poster commented about this and I agree with his/her post.

I went to an Assemblies of God church before becoming Catholic. Those more “devout” used to fast at least once a year. Some would either just do juice or milk for 40 days. They would do this particularly when they were praying for something “big” like a presidential election or to end abortion. It’s thought of much differently than the postings I am seeing here.

I have done a 40 day fast myself. I went to my Dr. first and got a physical to be sure that it was safe. After all my blood tests, etc. he told me that I could go ahead and do it. That was the longest I have fasted ever but I don’t think it is as dangerous for a healthy person as we are all thinking.

in Christ


I want to thank everyone for their concerns and support. I do remember an evangelical friend of mine doing a long fast, but they had a small meal at the end of each day–maybe half a sandwich and a cup of soup, or a piece of fruit with some crackers and cheese.

Anyway, I have of course been taking this to the Lord in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I know He wants me to say something, but the question was what? Do I become confrontational? Do I approach it as only a health concern? Do I mention the spiritual aspect?

I looked through the Gospels and realized Jesus was always questioning. So, I decided to come at it from a perspective of “Tell me more…Explain why…? How come…? What do you think about…?” and to also simply suggest some Christian help–such as praying the Scriptures in Lectio Divina (or even reading them at all), and how much the Sacraments have helped me on my spiritual walk, and doing some backhanded catechesis on the grace received from them–that it is real, beneficial, and substantial to those with an open heart.

Thank you again.


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