Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I Learned Something about Fasting Today

I'm about to break Matthew 6:16-18 in favor of Matthew 7:12.

OK, I really don't think I'm breaking Matthew 6:16-18, technically speaking, but I do try not to speak much about my personal practice of fasting, neither during the midst of it nor afterwards. But I've learned something about fasting that you might need to know someday, and I think it might be important for me to share it.

First, a little story.

In 2012 at my annual physical (which I had not been having anywhere CLOSE to annually), my doctor notified me that my cholesterol was a little high. He suggested that I consider taking a daily statin. I suggested that he consider taking a hike.

I do not like to take medicine. I certainly do not want to take DAILY medicine. And I'm not going to consent to taking daily medicine until I have explored every possible alternative to taking medicine. That's just me.

So, for a year I worked on losing weight. I was weighing in at something in the neighborhood of 216 when I went to that first appointment. In the ensuing months, I got my weight down to 199. How did I lose weight? Basically, I started to eat two meals a day instead of three. I'm not saying that's the healthy way to do it. That probably wouldn't work for you. But it worked for me.

In October 2013 I went back in for my next annual physical, prepared for plaudits and exuberant congratulations from my doctor. Instead, I received news that absolutely disgusted me: My cholesterol had GONE UP 30 POINTS!!! My doctor informed me that cholesterol medication was no longer a suggestion, but was now a strong recommendation.

How could this be? Sure, I hadn't pulled out all of the stops. I hadn't exercised at all. Although I was eating less, I was still drinking whole milk and eating real butter, etc. I could have imagined only slight improvement, or even no improvement at all, but how on earth could my body be DOING WORSE with regard to cholesterol levels after I had disciplined my eating for a year and had lost so much weight?

My natural inclination when faced with a troubling problem is to research it, so I began to research. What I discovered surprised me a little.

You see, my 2013 physical came just before a time of considerable activity on my part. In the ensuing days I was to make a major presentation at our state convention's annual meeting and then take an unanticipated journey to Africa as a part of our church's Embrace assignment. I was doing important work, as I saw it, and I had a lot on my plate. In light of these upcoming commitments, I had been fasting.

I knew that I would need to fast a little bit for the bloodwork anyway, so I just started early as a part of my prayer life leading up to these events. By the time of my appointment, I had been fasting for around three days.

My lipid levels were so disappointing that I began to search the Internet for any rationale that would justify them. What I found was this: "Effect of prolonged fasting on plasma lipids, lipoproteins and apolipoprotein B in 12 physicians participating in a hunger strike: an observational study. In this little study, "prolonged" fasting (three days, so that's hardly "prolonged" in the biblical sense) led to a significant spike in LDL cholesterol levels.

Armed with this study, I emailed my doctor and requested from him a re-test of my cholesterol levels along with other testing. Today those most recent results came in. Here are the three test results (last year, this year's first test, and the re-test) side by side:

 2012October 2013December 2013

So, here's the moral of this little story: If you practice fasting as a Christian discipline and you receive unexpected medical results from tests taken during a period of fasting, before you take action based upon those results, you might consider obtaining new tests at a time when you are not in the midst of what your doctor would consider "prolonged fasting."

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