The “hangry” meme is real. If you don’t eat for a while, you are more susceptible to the negative states of anger and irritation than if you were sated. This poses a problem for Orthodox Christians, who fast from animal products for about half the calendar year, not only abstaining from certain types of food but also reducing overall portion sizes. How can we perform the fast without falling into grumpiness that may open the door to passionate sins?

Can anyone think that where there is no prayer and fasting, the devil is already there? One can! —Saint Theophan the Recluse

[…]

Anyone who rejects the effort of prayer and fasting is capable of doing nothing but evil—and all his apparent good, if he has any, is in truth not good at all, but also evil; because according to Christ’s words: “A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit”: “do men gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles?” (Matt. 7:18,16). “Beware,” Christ therefore says, “of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:15). —Archbishop Averky

The key to understanding your mood in a state of hunger is blood glucose. After you eat a meal that contains glucose, which is found in sugars and carbohydrates, your body shuttles that glucose to your muscles and brain, where it is used as an immediate and accessible energy source. For the glucose that is not immediately utilized, your body converts it to glycogen. As an analogy, we can liken glycogen to glucose stored in a closed bottle and put on the shelf (it’s actually multiple glucose molecules chained together).

Depending on your unique physiology, your blood glucose concentration will dip 2-3 hours after eating. Your brain and muscles continually need glucose, so through a complex mechanism called glycogenolysis, the “bottle of glucose” (glycogen) is retrieved from the shelf and opened to release the amount of glucose that is needed for you to function normally.

The amount of glycogen stored in your body is not unlimited: you have about 2,000 calories worth stored in your muscles and liver. If you’re an athlete and hit the “wall” during intense activity, unable to perform further, you have used up all of your glycogen (and free glucose). You have run out of gas, so to speak, but you do not need to be an athlete to run out of preferred energy stores. It is estimated that a sedentary person who is fasting from food will extinguish all their glycogen in 12-22 hours, and that will depend on their muscular physique, metabolism, and general level of activity.

If you run out of glycogen and do not have an immediate food source, do you soon die? No, our all-wise God has implanted an exceedingly complex mechanism in the animal world called gluconeogenesis which converts fat into glucose. What’s amazing about the gluconeogenesis pathway is that fats contain no glucose molecules at all, but God has easily found a way to make the chemistry work. Gluconeogenesis will occur during prolonged exercise and fasting, or if you’re eating a low-carb diet. There’s only one major issue with gluconeogenesis: it’s slow.

Your body can convert glycogen to glucose pretty fast, but converting fats to glucose takes more time and happens in a stepwise fashion like a home thermostat slowly arriving at a set temperature. Therefore, if you’re all out of glycogen, you will enter a state where your body does not have a preferred energy source. During that time, you will begin to feel the classic symptoms of fatigue, mood irritation (i.e. “hangry”), bodily weakness, and even pain in the form of headaches.

When I’m hungry, and have not eaten for over 12 hours, I often enter a state of irritation. I’m much more likely to complain and snap at those who are close to me for the most trivial of reasons. I’ve since learned to not talk at all when I’m hungry, at risk of saying something I regret. Spiritually, I was told by a monk that not eating reveals the naked state of your being when it’s not being sated with food or some other pleasure. I have a history of anger and irritation, so when I’m not being fed, those problems are able to directly rise to the surface. Modern scientists theorize (i.e. guess) that glucose is needed to control the willpower centers of the brain. When your brain doesn’t have glucose, they say, it shuts down the willpower to be a decent human being.

I would have believed the biological theory if I wasn’t an Orthodox Christian, where states of grace can transcend the body’s immediate biological needs. This year, I went to a monastery for the first week of Lent. For several days in a row, I was able to eat the one served meal a day, something I had never done before, and experienced no irritation or anger. I didn’t even feel weak. The reason is I was attending several hours a day of services. My soul was able to use any grace received from the services to supplant my body’s need for food, but then the grace ended and I could not stop thinking of food. I again felt the desire to eat multiple times a day along with sharp periods of irritation.

There is certainly a biological reality, for we do exist in the body, but it does not supplant the spiritual reality of grace that God gives to our soul at His discretion. An Orthodox Christian only needs to read the lives of the saints to see countless examples of men eating only bread and salt for prolonged periods. It’s not that these saints were anatomical supermen like professional athletes, but they so pleased God that their faith was able to suspend biological laws by grace for a sustained period.

When I’m at home and only attending one or two divine services a week, I don’t have much in the way fasting grace, and every day is a struggle. I’m tempted to eat three meals a day or else I’m grumpy and can’t take my mind off food. From these struggles, here are five things I’ve learned on my quest to fast better…

1. If I’m getting angry and cannot control my thoughts or speech, it’s better to eat. Our faith is a faith of love, so if you’re a heroic faster but you’re having angry thoughts or actually attacking those close to you, you may be missing the point of the fast.

2. It takes about 30-120 minutes for your mood to be restored after eating. The bigger the meal you eat, the longer it will take for your body to digest the glucose. For an acute attack, you can try eating a couple tablespoons of honey with a slice of bread for faster relief.

3. It’s easier to fast for yourself than to fast for God. Before I came to Christ, I often did intermittent fasting and regularly went for 18 hours without eating. The reason I fasted was to improve my appearance to aid in achieving sin with women. Satan helped me every step of the way, and I did not notice being grumpy or having angry thoughts, probably because I liked my passions and thought it was an irrevocable part of my identity. To do the Orthodox fast is significantly harder because there is no worldly gain from it and the standard of Christian love is quite high.

4. Moderate bodybuilding can make you ravenously hungry. If I don’t do any workouts, and sit in front of my computer all day, I can eat two medium-sized meals without too many tears, but if I just do a little callisthenic training, I become rather hungry on the day of the exercise and the day after, and when I do eat, I have to fight the temptation to eat big. For fasting periods like Lent, you may want to tone down your workouts so that your fasting is not unnecessary hard.

5. Don’t immediately run to the pantry upon the first hunger pain. You won’t starve, though you may be tempted to believe so. I wait an hour for the sharp hunger pain to morph more into a dull ache.

This is the mark of Christianity: however much a man toils and however many righteous acts he performs; he must feel that he has done nothing. In fasting he must say, “This is not fasting,” and in praying, “I have not prayed,” and in perseverance at prayer, “I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practice asceticism and to take pains.” And even if he is righteous before God, he should say, “I am not righteous, not I; I do not struggle, but barely make a beginning each day.” —Saint Makarios of Egypt in The Fifty Spiritual Homilies

I’m a mediocre faster at best. I can abide by the dietary restrictions without much anguish, but I still eat a good amount and do not always lose weight during prolonged fasts. In times of grace where my prayer is strong and I’m attending daily services, I can fast harder, but while at home I am able to only do the bare minimum. Thankfully, God does grade us based on effort and struggle instead of pounds lost. With the knowledge of how my body works, and the fact that fasting separates me from the world to draw nearer to God, I continue to fast, and hope that my fasting becomes stronger in the years to come.

Read Next: How Coffee & Alcohol Addictions Are Linked

Loading new replies...

I am by no means an expert on this -- my experience is personal only, but I do fast daily. One thing I'll offer is that I find that carbohydrates (consisting of various chains of sugars) though necessary, are also are notorious for putting your body through a glucose swing. I imagine that managing carbohydrate intake is a significant hurdle for Orthodox fasting -- I generally avoid and limit carbs significantly, but am less strict with animal products and protein, something that looks to be particularly challenging for my Orthodox friends (many of whom are fasting today!). Being able to fast daily without getting significantly irritated in the evening has gotten a lot better with consistent meal planning, avoidance of snacking for any reason, and allowing my body's hormones (particularly ghrelin) to adapt to the routine. Either way, when its 3pm (my time to eat), and the world is not ready to accommodate me, I can definitely be far less pleasant. Especially if I am staring at a plate of food and waiting for the stragglers in the family to all sit down so we can pray!

Reply 3 Likes

click to expand...

One thing that's not well known is that you will feel hungry when your blood glucose level is falling, even if it is quite high. Here's an example: It's often said that if you eat Chinese food, you will feel hungry again an hour later. What is actually happening is that the rice in the Chinese food spiked your blood glucose up high. If you are athletic, it probably goes right up to the healthy limit of around 140, but if you have any level of insulin resistance, a meal like this might push it up to 150 or 160.

Now after an hour or two, your blood glucose spike is passing, and your level is dropping again. The dropping blood glucose can make a very clear and strong hunger signal, even when it has barely started dropping. If you peaked at 160, and now it has dropped to 145, you will feel hungry, even though 145 is still well above normal.

It's all about how fast it is dropping. It is normal that after a blood glucose spike, that the level will come back down, and there is a point when it is dropping quickly. The faster it is dropping, the hungrier you will feel, even when it still has a long way to fall. If you do eat more carbs at this point, you will keep your blood glucose in the excessive and unhealthy range, and start to develop insulin resistance.

Basically, this is a false hunger signal. A lot of times you can actually still feel stuffed, but have this hunger signal. If you know you recently ate a lot of carbs, and now you are feeling hungry 1-2 hours later, you should know that your body is basically lying to you. If you must eat to quell the hunger, have something with no carbs, like some nuts, or some meat or cheese if your fasting schedule permits it.

Reply 2 Likes

click to expand...

This article comes at the right time. I struggle with anger and fasting contributes to it. When I noticed that, I fasted as much as I could which prevented my lashing out at others. On Wednesdays and Fridays I either don't eat anything but when my emotions get the better of me I stick to a vegetarian diet for the day. Though I cheat on the lack of energy with coffee or matcha tea, which is a bad idea on an empty stomach. High acidity in our biochemistry is the cause of modern diseases and mental illnesses.

Reply 1 Like

Imagine your job was digging postholes manually, hour after hour, day after day, all week.

Zero tolerance for fasting.

Reply 3 Likes

I wonder if there's a difference in the protein created by autophagy when people are fasting, or on a strict diet where no proteins or fats are consumed, and what role that might have from generation to generation upon cells when the protein that's been produced in a fasting state gets to the lysosome.
I'm very curious about epigenetic expression within faith communities.
From what I understand, certain receptors in cells are turned on and off in the process of fasting, so heritability is engaged on an rna production level by dietary and other lived experiences.
But there's no real conversation about the specific confusion produced in ribophagy through dietary strictures, where certain parts of the rna being produced are turned off temporarily, only *this person and this person had such and such genetic marker, so their child got SMA.* Is it possible to perform miracles with a diet?
Though, any miracle like that would be impeded in my culture by the sheer insistence on making everything about the next meal.

Reply 1 Like

click to expand...

I'm fasting now for Saint Michael's lent in order to invoke the aid of Saint Michael in exposing and driving out the evil within the Catholic Church and I'm finding it fairly easy. I eat nothing until the afternoon and then I eat a bit here and there throughout the day ultimately consuming less than a full meal. I've given up all meat and alcohol during this time.

I do become irritable sometimes and occasionally I'm struck with a strong urge to feast but I see these temptations as trials to be overcome for the glory of God.

Reply 1 Like

Imagine your job was digging postholes manually, hour after hour, day after day, all week.

Zero tolerance for fasting.

Indeed. Fasting is near impossible when you live in a hermetically sealed kitchen and are a caregiver, too. I can't get anything done outside, so I've just had to allow the dogs in. I had to take over the kitchen in another house to keep everything clean, and portion the things I eat and leave them at the other house.
My house is just for my kids and pets, now. It's not that I don't like the outside, but it's pine rattler breeding season. Males are particularly aggressive, and fight over breeding females. I thought I'd lost one of my dogs to a bite during breeding season last year. I had to feed her roast beef from a fork on the couch until the swelling went down enough for her to open her eyes and mouth.

Anyway. It's very hard to fast when all you do is make dinner and feed babies, and everyone expects you to be sweet.

Reply Like

click to expand...

Imagine your job was digging postholes manually, hour after hour, day after day, all week.

Zero tolerance for fasting.

Tried that on a Friday by eating a couple baked goods for lunch while working in construction. After the workday was over my mouth was running with water and had a pizza and calzone at once. I broke the fasting also by eating meat. It is impossible to fast when you work hard physical labor.

Reply Like

Lots of excuses ITT... don't get me wrong I am a terrible faster due to lack of discipline so I'm not trying to criticize. But open the biography of St. Paisios and see what incredible labors he undertook under the strictest asceticism. Don't mistake our weakness of spirit for impossibility.

Reply 3 Likes

Tried that on a Friday by eating a couple baked goods for lunch while working in construction. After the workday was over my mouth was running with water and had a pizza and calzone at once. I broke the fasting also by eating meat. It is impossible to fast when you work hard physical labor.

Yes brother, you understand perfectly

Reply Like

"For an acute attack, you can try eating a couple tablespoons of honey with a slice of bread for faster relief."

And if you first toast that bread, and then butter it when it's still warm (so the butter melts), and then put honey on it, you will thank me later :)

Reply 1 Like

There is certainly a biological reality, for we do exist in the body, but it does not supplant the spiritual reality of grace that God gives to our soul at His discretion. An Orthodox Christian only needs to read the lives of the saints to see countless examples of men eating only bread and salt for prolonged periods. It’s not that these saints were anatomical supermen like professional athletes, but they so pleased God that their faith was able to suspend biological laws by grace for a sustained period.

I believe this is true. I also believe most modern people, especially those who are really sick/unhealthy, should not fast as it is too draining. Read up on Matt Stone's RRARF(rehabilitive rest, aggressive re-feeding)

Reply Like

click to expand...

"For an acute attack, you can try eating a couple tablespoons of honey with a slice of bread for faster relief."

And if you first toast that bread, and then butter it when it's still warm (so the butter melts), and then put honey on it, you will thank me later :)

No butter for fasting Orthodox alas :sad:

Reply Like

I believe this is true. I also believe most modern people, especially those who are really sick/unhealthy, should not fast as it is too draining. Read up on Matt Stone's RRARF(rehabilitive rest, aggressive re-feeding)

I've been familiar with Matt Stone for about 10 years. His RRARF solution is specifically for those who have undergone prolonged calorie deficits and/or are suffering from eating disorders, whose bodies are showing physiological signs of low body temperature, low thyroid hormone, elevated cortisol, etc. Your average person in a first world country (especially in the US) is overweight and has been RRARFing most of their life. He has some ridiculous ideas like all calorie deprivation is fundamentally unhealthy and unsustainable when really its only an issue with poor diet practices, excessive leanness, or a conflating illness.

Using his arguments as an excuse to not fast, in the way that the Orthodox teach to fast, is crazy.

Reply 1 Like

click to expand...

I've been familiar with Matt Stone for about 10 years. His RRARF solution is specifically for those who have undergone prolonged calorie deficits and/or are suffering from eating disorders, whose bodies are showing physiological signs of low body temperature, low thyroid hormone, elevated cortisol, etc.

I'm basically having this issue even though I don't think I have necessarily gone through calorie deficits nor suffered from eating disorders. No matter how much I eat, and I eat about twice the average(for this European country), and I still have low body temperature and will drop weight ridiculously fast.

I will preface this by saying I'm unfamiliar with Christianity. But I have read that biblical fasting was different, in that fasting was actually healthy back then. But now it is too depleting to a body which is already depleted, which is most modern people. So you need nutrition to recover, and to do that you need to RRARF.

Reply Like

click to expand...

I'm basically having this issue even though I don't think I have necessarily gone through calorie deficits nor suffered from eating disorders. No matter how much I eat, and I eat about twice the average(for this European country), and I still have low body temperature and will drop weight ridiculously fast.

I will preface this by saying I'm unfamiliar with Christianity. But I have read that biblical fasting was different, in that fasting was actually healthy back then. But now it is too depleting to a body which is already depleted, which is most modern people. So you need nutrition to recover, and to do that you need to RRARF.

Apologies if this is hijacking the thread, but:

There's been a lot of research on weight loss and rebound since he started his blog (notice he's also stopped blogging because his approach is wrong and he won't admit it).

Modern evidence suggests long term weightloss can be maintained by eating a maintenance level of calories for a prolonged period of time (at least as long as the period of deprivation was), without the need for excessive weight rebound, which he promotes based on the 1945 Minnesota Starvation Experiment that 1) failed to control for maintenance calories and 2) was highly extreme in the measures of deprivation it used. Your body temperature may be genetically lower in temperature, you may have lower thyroid hormone naturally or because of an environmental chemical exposure (pesticides, plastics, etc), but eating to obesity will not permanently fix your body temperature like you think, you'll only damage your body in other ways.

Anyway, back to the thread - Even if you're committed to RRARF because of illness you can still restrict animal products without restricting calories for the periods the Church recommends, especially given that shellfish is allowed. The same is true for people working calorie intensive manual labor jobs. With proper planning you can hit your calorie/macro goals and still gain the spiritual benefits of obedience.

Reply 1 Like

click to expand...

Imagine your job was digging postholes manually, hour after hour, day after day, all week.

Zero tolerance for fasting.

I have wondered this myself since a big part of my job is intense manual labor. I fasted during pascha and pretty much just ate bread all day every day (sour dough) and it sucked pretty bad. But I imagine there were Orthodox laborers of days gone by who fasted strictly.

Reply 3 Likes

I have wondered this myself since a big part of my job is intense manual labor. I fasted during pascha and pretty much just ate bread all day every day (sour dough) and it sucked pretty bad. But I imagine there were Orthodox laborers of days gone by who fasted strictly.

There are many calorie dense fasting foods that can help you in your labors. Did your priest tell you to eat that way?

Reply Like

There are many calorie dense fasting foods that can help you in your labors. Did your priest tell you to eat that way?

No, he just told us what to abstain from. What do you recommend brother?

Reply Like