Beyond Demons and Diets
Silicon Valley's favorite "life hack" comes from a Medieval Religious Order
This post is a draft of the first chapter of my forthcoming book, The Benedict Challenge, set to be released on February 7 – one week before the start of Lent on February 14.
In the Gospel of Mark, there is a critical dialogue between Jesus and his disciples that often gets overlooked. Confounded by their inability to drive out a demon from a man, they turn to Him for answers. His response is succinct:
"This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29).
This statement, echoed in Matthew's account, stands with little elaboration.
Regarding prayer, Christ provided his disciples with a template – the Lord’s prayer. But for fasting, they were given no explicit manual. He cautioned against fasting for mere show, as exemplified by the Pharisees.
Beyond this, Jesus simply indicated that a time for His disciples to fast would come when He was no longer with them:
"When the bridegroom is taken away from them, then till fast in those days" (Luke 5:35).
The lack of a detailed formula suggests that the concept of fasting was a given – something woven into the fabric of the disciples' spiritual lives. It was a legacy inherited from an ancient tradition of fasting that had been tainted by hypocrisy, but was not in need a complete overhaul.
In an age where the Church grapples with the shadows of despair, division, and doubt, this line from scripture resounds with new urgency. The disciples couldn't cast out a demon; we, too, face our own demons – within and without – that we can’t cast out. Jesus offered a simple two-fold solution: prayer and fasting. Fasting is not an archaic ritual; it's a vital, underused weapon. So why are we so afraid to use it?
The Modern Comeback of Intermittent Fasting and One Meal a Day (OMAD)
Not all are reluctant to fast. In fact, the ancient practice has made a comeback in diverse forms, from fad diets like juice cleanses to the basic discipline of time-restricted eating, or intermittent fasting (IF). Eating just one meal a day, or “OMAD,” is the pinnacle of IF, in which one’s eating window is limited to just one hour or less.
Other popular variations include:
16:8 - where you eat for 8 hours and fast for 16.
“Fast Five” - a tighter window, just 5 hours of eating.
5:2 - where you cut back on calories for two days a week, but eat normally the rest.
Subscribe and stay tuned for the 40-day Lenten fasting challenge starting February 15.
The increased attention to fasting has been part of broader trends in health and “biohacking.” What distinguishes fasting from traditional dieting is that it restricts when you eat as opposed to what or how much. While the studies on restrictive diets show little to no long-term results, the results for fasting are more promising.
General Stanley McChrystal has been eating OMAD for more than 30 years. Twitter Founder Jack Dorsey also went on the record as an adherent, causing The Atlantic to fret about “the Dangers of Silicon Valley’s Fasting Diets.” The pearl-clutching tone of the article may be the surest sign that Dorsey and his fellow biohacking tech CEOs are onto something, if not the fullness of truth around fasting. Their testimonials speak to a certain type of person who is drawn to fasting not just for health reasons but because it aligns with their regimented lifestyles and ambitions.
More than a mere diet, fasting has emerged as a tool for enhancing productivity, mental clarity and discipline. It's a method to exercise your “willpower muscles” and boost your efficiency. Some who initially adopt fasting for its practical benefits often later discover a spiritual dimension. They begin to appreciate the practice's ancient roots across various world religions and start pondering its deeper implications.