Last month, the Journal of the American Medical Association published two studies that showed that the obesity problem in America is getting worse. The first study focused on American adults and the second study focused on American children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19.
The results of the adult study were that 40% of American women are obese, a 5% increase over the past 10 years. The study also concluded that the rate of obesity among American men is 35%, a rate that has remained consistent over the past 10 years.
The children and adolescents study concluded that 17% of young Americans are obese, and nearly 6% are extremely obese. While the obesity rates among teenagers have increased slightly, the rates among young children were about the same as previous studies.
Why do so many Americans have weight problems? Neither one of the studies provided any theories as to why obesity among Americans is so high.
If you Google “number of diets,” the first link on the search-results page is to a Wikipedia page with the title “List of Diets.” The list includes more than 100 versions of vegetarian diets, low-calorie diets, low-carbohydrate diets, low-fat diets, crash diets, detox diets, belief-based diets, medical-reason diets, and an “other diets” category that includes numerous additional diets.
According to a 20/20 ABC News report from a few years ago, the annual revenue of the U.S. weight-loss industry — which includes diet books, diet drugs, and weight-loss surgeries — is more than $20 billion. At any given time, there are 108 million people in the United States who are on diets. The majority of dieters make four to five attempts each year.
One revealing fact that was disclosed in the ABC News report was that people who lose and keep off at least 30 pounds of excess weight for five years or longer, spend a minimum of one hour each day on exercise. Another interesting fact was that the average amount of money paid to celebrity endorsers of major weight-loss products ranges from $500,000 to $3 million.
The only thing that has ever worked for me in losing weight and keeping it off is eating in moderation, daily exercise, and fasting.
My problem with fasting is that I never get around to it or I don’t follow through if the only purpose of the fast is to lose weight. The only way I’m able to usually begin and adhere to a fast is when I offer the fast up as a sacrifice. The weight loss comes as a secondary benefit of making the sacrifice.
At one time, a minimal amount of fasting was required of all Catholics. Prior to 1964, anyone who wanted to receive the Eucharist was required to fast from midnight to the time the person received the Eucharist. On November 21, 1964, Pope Paul VI reduced the fast to a period of one hour.
Did you know that Canon 1251 of the Code of Canon Law still requires that Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays? The actual language of Canon 1251 is, “Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.”
An “Episcopal Conference” is a conference of bishops. Most Episcopal Conferences have determined that Catholics may perform an act of penance of their choosing instead of abstaining from meat. Each Friday, Catholics are required to choose to abstain from meat or, in the alternative, they are allowed to perform an act of penance of their choosing.
So here are my questions for you: Did you abstain from eating meat last Friday? If your answer is no, did you perform an act of penance as a substitute for the fasting? How about the Friday before last Friday? Maybe you didn’t know it, but if you failed to fast or perform an act of penance, you violated Canon 1251.
One form of prayer is to voluntarily abstain from or deny yourself something that you enjoy or desire. The practice of voluntary self-denial is known as mortification. When people voluntarily abstain from things they like, such as food and leisure activities, they strengthen and train their will to say no to things that are pleasurable (which include lustful desires and behavior).
The New Catholic Encyclopedia defines “mortification” as “the deliberate restraint that one places on natural impulses….”
In order to develop the strength to manage and control our natural impulses, we must regularly practice “deliberate restraint” toward our “natural impulses.” Because of original sin, we are naturally inclined toward wrongdoing. When our Lord’s apostles fell asleep instead of following through on what He had asked them to do, they gave in to their natural impulses. When we sin, we give in to our natural impulses.
The practice of Christian mortification was endorsed by Christ Himself when He said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23) It is impossible to maintain a fruitful and ongoing relationship with Christ without the regular practice of self-denial. This is what mortification is all about.
One of the greatest challenges we face each day is the conquest of our own selfishness and our own self-will. This can only be accomplished through daily acts of mortification. These acts can be exterior, such as the denial of food or certain comfort, or interior, such as the conscious repression of useless or hurtful words, gestures, or glances, or the suppression of anger or impatience toward another person.
There was a time in the Catholic Church when we were all reminded every Friday to practice mortification by refraining from eating meat. Although the Church still requires this of all its members, we are either ignorant of the requirement or act as though it doesn’t exist.
Georgette and I have always abstained from eating meat on Fridays. But for the devout Catholic, practicing mortification once a week is not enough. There must be daily acts of mortification, which can be as simple as giving up that one extra portion of food you desire, or keeping your mouth shut when you want to complain about or criticize another person.
One of the many benefits of incorporating acts of mortification in your daily routine is that it will make it easier for you to lose weight and keep it off.
Dear Georgette and Harry –
A good article, and reminder about doing some acts of “penance” as a sacrifice to God. Jesus did the ultimate Penance for us by dying on the Cross. Ours is such a small return to Him! To be honest, for me, abstaining from meat on Fridays is not a sacrifice – I like FISH, almost all kinds, so it’s not a sacrifice to eat fish in place of meat. So God smiles on me and tells me I am loved even as I enjoy the fish! There are lots of things to do in place of abstaining from meat, and each of us can find what is best to do for God. Thank you for the reminder! With love and prayers to both of you. Sister Roberta
Last year when my brother had heart bypass surgery, I came across a book called The Alternate Day Diet which simply is based on alternate day fasting to obtain your weight goal. Learning about optimum body mass index, I set me goal and adopted a Catholic fast of two small meals and one whole meal three days a week, figuring that rather modest method would be a good approach to my goal. Within 3 months, I reached my goal and felt I could keep going indefinitely (but tapered back to one day a week instead to maintain weight or two days when someone put a thumb on the scale). This fasting method allows you to eat normally on the other days so you don’t feel always famished with no end in sight. I haven’t been as consistent with exercise, though. An hour a day seems rigidly unrealistic. A half hour or forty five minutes three days a week seems more sustainable.
Dan – Thanks for your suggestion for The Alternate Day Diet. Sounds like a good plan. I may try it out. I hope all is going well for you and your family. Harry