Making Catholic Resolutions That Matter…and That Stick (Guest: Jay W. Richards)

We’re in a new year and that means resolutions. But what resolutions can Catholics make that will help them both body and soul, and how can we make sure we stick to them?

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Crisis Point
Making Catholic Resolutions That Matter…and That Stick (Guest: Jay W. Richards)
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Guest

Jay W. Richards is the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in Heritage’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation. He serves as an adjunct professor in the School of Business at the Catholic University of America and the executive editor of The Stream and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. He is the author or editor of a dozen books, including Eat, Fast, Feast: Heal Your Body While Feeding Your Soul – A Christian Guide to Fasting.

Transcript

Eric Sammons:

Well, we’re at the beginning of the new year, which means it’s time for resolutions. But how can we as Catholics make resolutions that will actually stick with us and actually change our lives for the better? That’s what we’re going to talk about today on Crisis Point. Hello, I’m Eric Sammons, your host, and the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine. Before we get started, I just encourage people to smash that like button to subscribe the channel, but don’t notify because you have a life outside of social media. Speaking of which, be sure to follow us if you are on social media @CrisisMag and just we’re on all the major social media channels. So let’s get started. I wanted to talk about the beginning of the new year. I wanted to talk about resolutions. We all make them and I think most of us all fail at them.

I want to talk about making good resolutions as a Catholic, both for our physical lives but also, our spiritual lives. I thought a great guest would be Jay Richards. He is the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He also serves as an adjunct professor in the School of Business at the Catholic University of America. He’s an executive editor at The Stream. He’s an author and editor of at least a dozen books. I’m not quite sure what the count is these days, but one of them in particular is this great book, which is called Eat, Fast, Feast: Heal Your Body While Feeding Your Soul-A Christian Guide to Fasting. I think this is perfect for a topic today because a lot of people when it comes to resolutions, they’re thinking about their health, diet, also spiritual life. Honestly, Jay puts it all together in this book for you. So that’s why I wanted to have them on. So welcome to the program, Jay.

Jay Richards:

Thanks, Eric. Good to be with you.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit, though, first about, I was fascinated in the book about your own journey of health. It seems like you’ve always been a health guy at least, and workout, exercise, things like that. But really, you radically changed how you did things, I guess, a few years ago now. Can you talk a little bit about your own history that led up to this?

Jay Richards:

Yeah. Absolutely. I was a strength trainer in college. I’ve always been interested in nutrition and fitness and that whole kind of area. It frankly drives some people crazy, like family members ’cause it’s my advocational interest. But honestly, when I was in college, students could come and I’d put them on a workout program and give them the official wisdom at the time, which was need a really, really low-fat diet, a high-carb diet, eat lots of pasta and stuff like this. This was the official orthodoxy. Unfortunately, the other thing that was really popular was to say, “You should eat lots of small meals throughout the day. It stabilizes your blood sugar levels, it keeps your body from going into starvation mode where it’s going to store fat and get rid of energy-consuming muscle,” all these kinds of things. But a lot of this stuff, when you actually look into it, is almost certainly not true.

Certainly, the super low-fat, high-carb stuff is, I go into it in detail in the book, but it’s really not well founded on the science. Neither is this idea that we’re supposed to eat lots of small meals throughout the day. It’s based on this mental image that your body’s going to go into starvation mode. It’s also based upon our experience for most of us. Most of us eat the so-called standard American diet, sad diet, which again, it’s actually high in a lot of bad fats, but really high in a lot of refined carbs and we eat very, very frequently throughout the day. So we may get up at 7:00 AM and you start eating and you go to sleep at 11:00, probably with a bowl of cereal right before you go to bed. We don’t realize that’s historically very unusual, even in American history. If you go back to the ’60s and ’70s, people tended to eat for about over a 12-hour window, three meals a day, and that was it. So it’s not like people were practicing this until recently, and it’s not like people were practicing this for most of human history, obviously.

People didn’t have time or inclination or the resources to eat lots of small meals a day and protein shakes and frappuccinos. Honestly, it was a turnaround for me when I started studying first the literature on the role of sugar, the bad role of sugar in our diet, the positive effects of fat, the myths about fat and carbs. So that was all in the background for me. Then the general spiritual experience that almost all of us have, most Catholics, which is that we’re bad fasters, historically speaking. If you look at how people used to fast, most of us don’t do it, or if we think we’re doing it, we’re doing the thing on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday where we eat a little less than we used to and we’re calling it fasting. So that was all in the background for me. Then a few years ago, I had this unusual experience of actually fasting and it changed my mind about these things.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I had a very similar background. I wasn’t a fitness guy or health guy like you, but I always knew I wanted to fast. I love St. Francis of Assisi and I love the lifestyle that he really of penance, but fasting, I loved it in my head. I hated it in my body, though. I would try, and I’ve always been pre-diabetic. My dad had adult diabetes and he controlled it. This is amazing by the way, my dad, when he was 37, I think it was, so this would’ve been the 1960s, he was diagnosed with what they call, I think, adult onset diabetes back then. He controlled it for over 30 years, 100% through diet, which is amazing ’cause I found out almost nobody does that. But I’ve had this high blood pressure issue, and so I just was like, “Well, I guess I can’t fast.”

It was almost an excuse, but it was also like I tried and I would just be so miserable, hangry, just the crash, all that. I was like, “I just can’t do it,” and I felt like a failure, spiritual failure as well as a physical failure. Then, I discovered Jason Fung, like a lot of people do, the guy who wrote The Guide to Fasting. I realized, “Oh, I see. It’s not really me, it’s the diet I have been eating for my whole life that’s making it impossible.” So why don’t you explain a little bit why it is … It’s a funny thing, ’cause immediately people say, “It’s fasting. It’s supposed to be hard and yet you’re talking about making it easy,” but that’s not really what it is. But explain a little bit how fasting should be done in conjunction with a diet.

Jay Richards:

Well, yeah. Here’s the key thing, ’cause this is what, when I first started writing about this, in fact, I had a fellow Catholic accuse me of sacrilege for saying there’s a way to do fasting easy ’cause it’s supposed to be a sacrifice. I said, “Yeah, it’s supposed to be a sacrifice. It’s not supposed to be torture.” It’s like praying multiple times a day, if somebody every time they prayed they got violently ill and threw up, I wouldn’t say, “Oh, well, it’s supposed to be a sacrifice.” I’d say, “You’re doing something wrong, obviously,” and so that’s what we imagine. But you just got to think about it historically. Entire cultures, entire Christian cultures, whole countries fasted robustly. They would go a couple of days without eating. They went months sometimes without eating certain kinds of food. How did they do it? Well, either they’re all just way more spiritually powerful and disciplined than us or something else was happening.

Now I’m willing to entertain that they were more spiritually disciplined than us, but that’s not the only thing because if you look at it historically, basically fasting got less and less and less and less of a discipline. It especially became less of a discipline in the 20th century when we started eating in a certain way. The key thing to understand is that the human metabolism is designed as a hybrid system in which you can use sugars, you eat carbohydrates or you can eat straight sugar, but you eat carbohydrates, your body converts it to glucose and then it stores it, something called glycogen, just think of sugar and it uses that for fuel. But it can also use fat for fuel by converting fats in your liver to something called ketones, which is another form of it. It’s another source of energy. So you think like a hybrid car that can use the gasoline tank or the battery, our bodies ideally are metabolically flexible. They can use these two different kinds of fuel.

But here’s the kicker, if you constantly have sugars and carbs coming into the system, your body really never uses that fat ketone pathway, that other system. It would be like if you’re a hybrid car and you constantly refilled the tank and you never actually use the battery or you just use the battery but you never use the tank. Needless to say, when you tried to use the tank, it would probably be rusty if you haven’t done it for 30 or 40 years. That’s how most of us are because we eat very, very frequently. We eat very high-carbohydrate, high-refined carbohydrate diets. We’re camping out on the sugar pathway of our metabolism and we’re not using the fat metabolism. It turns out it’s the fat metabolism that you need to be using to be able to really prosper in fasting and to be able to fast with your blood sugar being level and not feeling hangry, not be tormented and feeling like your blood sugar’s going to drop and you’re going to kill someone.

For me, it was the missing ingredient. What we want to be is metabolically flexible where our bodies could use both of these fuels. When we are fasting, whether it’s daily or it’s a limited amount of time during the day or it’s a couple of days a week or it’s a seasonal fast, it just comes much more easily. Now, yes, it’s still a sacrifice, but it’s not torture. I think that’s absolutely crucial for making fasting a real part of your lifestyle. If it’s just torture, look, we already know what that leads to. It leads to excuses and not fasting, and so I really think that this is a key thing to understand that if you adjust your diet and your habits, you can actually train your body so that it treats fasting as a normal thing to do.

Eric Sammons:

It really is amazing as somebody who’s actually, I think it was four years ago I started doing this. For at least 10 years before that, I was under the impression I could not fast. I just thought I was physically naive. I would even tell people, and I would basically the only two days of the year I would fast would be Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and I would do the cheaters fast. The two small meals, one that’s like whatever.

Jay Richards:

Once you’re fasting, it’s like I say this is residual fasting. It’s just the leftover smell in the air after you burn the toast, right?

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, right.

Jay Richards:

It’s really not what fasting was. It’s like, “Okay, we’ll do this little thing.”

Eric Sammons:

Let’s say, the beginning of new year and a Catholic says, “I do think it’s important to fast. I want to do that this year. But I’ve been a failure?” Like I have been, you have been in the past, we’ve been a failure at fasting. Now, I would just recommend, first of all, just buy the book is the real answer, Eat, Fast, Feast, but what are some steps? What are the steps you take before you eat, ’cause you to listen to this podcast today, don’t fast today if you’ve never fasted before.

Jay Richards:

Absolutely not.

Eric Sammons:

There’s steps you take to move up to that, what are some of the-

Jay Richards:

That’s right.

Eric Sammons:

… basic steps you take?

Jay Richards:

The basic steps are, there are really two. So one is, start narrowing the time window in which you eat, so this is so-called intermittent fasting now. It was California popular a few years ago, now it’s widely practiced. All that means is you’re narrowing the amount of time, the time window in a 24- hour day when you eat. So rather than eating over a 16-hour window and then fasting for eight hours when you’re asleep, you change that. So you do 12 hours and you eat all the food you’re going to eat, you have all the meals. It’s just that you’re narrowing the window and you do this slowly over a period of weeks and your body gets used to this longer and longer periods of time without having any food go in. The good news is that most of that’s actually when you’re asleep, and that’s really how you start.

But to make that easy simultaneously, you also want to make an adjustment temporarily to a more ketogenic way of eating, in other words, a diet that’s much, much, much lower in carbohydrates, higher in fat. Yes, I know that sounds like a heresy, but your body needs to learn how to metabolize fat for fuel. Most of us are really good at storing fat. We’re really good at that, but God didn’t design us to walk around with huge amounts of fat on our bodies. That’s a protective mechanism. But if you’ve got a lot of extra fat on your body, that’s a sign that you’re storing fat but not using it for fuel. So you basically train your metabolism. Really the only way to do that to get yourself into this metabolic state called ketosis, either don’t eat for the next three days, that’ll do it. If somebody locks you in a box, you’re going to get into ketosis. That’s the hard way.

The easy way is to just eat ketogenically for a few days and then your body uses up all the glycogen stores. That is all the sugar it has stored. It’ll use it all up. Then your liver starts converting either your dietary fat or your body fat into ketones and it uses that for fuel and you get that system up and running. Once that’s working and you get used to going longer and longer periods of time without eating, then you’re really prepared for real fast where you could go almost all of the day or even an entire day without eating. But people will often say, “Okay, I’m going to do this 40-day fast that I heard about.” That’s like saying, “I’m going to go run a marathon and I don’t even have any tennis shoes and I’ve never run a mile.” It just doesn’t make any sense. Fasting like anything, like prayer, like singing, like concentration, it’s a skill that you develop over time.

Eric Sammons:

I think one thing that’s interesting is that in our modern world, we very much separate the body and the soul. We think of things like prayer, that’s our spiritual life and maybe exercise, that’s our physical life. So when we’re making resolutions for the year, we might say, “Okay, I’m going to exercise more. I’m going to diet,” or whatever the case may be, “Maybe I’m going to read more books,” the mental aspect as well.

Jay Richards:

Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

But I feel like though, one of the things, and one of the reasons I appreciate your book and the way you look at this is that these are all one thing. Can you talk a little bit about how the fasting and even exercise and things like that, how does that then tie into the spiritual life, and how are they connected to each other?

Jay Richards:

Well, they’re connected to each other because we are not ghosts trapped in machines or bodies. But we’re also not just apes that have climbed down from the trees and are walking. We are this unique hybrid of the material and spiritual. We’re fully spiritual and we’re fully material beings that God has made us, the fancy Aristotelian word is hylomorphism. We’re matter and form, together, we’re both of those things. That’s what makes fasting so interesting because fasting is a spiritual discipline that literally has to do with one of the most basic biological needs. Eating. So you are marshaling your metabolism for a spiritual end. That’s what’s absolutely amazing. So that’s why, again, fasting and prayer are supposed to go together. So really, the nice thing about fasting, if you’re really thinking about it clearly, you realize it helps us get over this idea that there ought to be this facile divide between the material and the spiritual. Your body has to do with your spiritual life and your spiritual well-being has to do with your bodily health. Those things are connected and fasting done right is going to connect both of those things.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. One of the things I’ve found in my own life is that when I’m doing better on the physical side, I’m exercising regularly. I’m fasting regularly, is that my mind is more clear to pray more and to maybe read spiritual books and do spiritual reading, things like that, it ends up helping out. When I’m doing badly, like I’m eating poorly, my mind’s so clouded, my prayer life just disintegrates. I think that it all ties in together to all of one piece. So I think that’s important for people to know when we’re doing these things.

I realized that my years of not fasting had an impact on my body, obviously, in a bad way, but they also had an impact on my soul. It just was a time that wasn’t as easy to pray and to do things like that, so I do think we tie all that together. Now, so we talked about fasting, so we’ll talk about that again maybe in a little bit. I want to talk about in conjunction with the liturgical calendar, but what about other resolutions? We all make resolutions to be more healthy. So what are some other things we can do beyond fasting and maybe doing a more ketogenic diet like exercise? You got a history with this.

Jay Richards:

Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

What are some things like your average person, maybe hasn’t done anything, what can they do?

Jay Richards:

I even end up having a little chapter in here on basic exercise that people can do. I’m a very strong proponent of resistance training. I think, again, the long, steady cardiovascular exercise that we all learn to do, it’s certainly better than doing nothing. It’s actually not the optimum thing. The optimum thing you can do is a combination of resistance training where you’re putting your body under controlled stress, your bones and your muscles, and then allowing time for them to recuperate. Your body, unlike a steel structure or concrete structure, you put it under pressure, it will eventually break. But your body and your muscle and your bones, if you put them under pressure and then you give them time to recover, they actually build back stronger than they were before. So that’s the way we’re designed. I think that’s true, but also in the spiritual life. But you need to be doing something long term, whether you’re a male or female, young or old, that involves resistance training.

Then I actually think the best bang for the buck for cardiovascular health is actually high-intensity interval training in which rather than doing the little slow, steady stuff doing exercise in which you’re … It may be kettle bells, it may be jumping jacks in which you really push yourself quickly, say for 30 seconds, get your heart rate up fast. Then you slow it down and you do that periodically, you can actually get a lot more benefit with a lot less time. But everyone should just absolutely be doing that and not treating it as a physical thing. As you said, look, mental prayer, if you can’t concentrate, if you can’t focus, if your mind is cloudy, you are bad at mental prayer, so don’t think these are separate things. Your ability to focus and the well-being of your mind actually plays a direct role in whether you can do mental prayer. These things are just, we can look at them as different aspects, but I’m absolutely convinced they’re all connected.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I’ve seen that with myself as well. When I’m not doing exercise and things like this, my mental prayer is just a waste. I’m just falling asleep or just it’s too cloudy, like you said. I want to tie into something that you actually tweeted this week about the differences between men and women and their strengths. What are those differences? For example, let’s say just a generic man or a generic woman who they want to start resistance training, they want to start doing some exercises, what are the differences between what they’re doing?

Jay Richards:

The main difference for men and women is that men are stronger than women. Everybody knows this, and men are much stronger than women in their upper body. So my arm strength, for instance, it varies from muscle to muscle, but it’s probably two-thirds or three-fourths stronger than the average man, stronger than the average woman. Your glutes and your legs and your calves, men and women are close, they’re closer, it’s more like 70 or 80%. A woman has about 70 or 80% of the average man’s strength there because we’re doing the same things. But at the same time, I don’t want to overemphasize those differences when it comes to things like resistance training. Women will often say, “Well, I don’t want to lift too heavy because I don’t want to bulk up.” You are not going to bulk up as a woman with muscle unless you are a huge genetic anomaly.

The reality is, you can’t build lean muscle mass and strengthen your bones unless you’re putting your bones and your muscles under a progressive overload in which you’re adding weight. So that’s something that a lot of women worry about. They say, “Well, I want to be slender and toned, but I don’t want to be bulky.” You’re not going to get bulky from resistance training unless you’re taking lots of steroids or something. Frankly, that’s true for most men too, so don’t worry about bulking up. Do what you can. Don’t expect that you’re ever going to be as strong as a man, but women should be doing resistance training just as much as men should.

Eric Sammons:

Now, generally, what is a realistic starting point? Because I think another problem with resolutions is, “Okay, I’m going to run five miles a day starting today,” and I haven’t run in 10 years. It’s like, good luck with that. What’s a realistic thing for somebody just starting off, let’s just talk exercise. What would be a realistic week’s worth of work?

Jay Richards:

If you’re not exercising at all, I would say start light, and so something like 30 to 45 minutes of a combination of resistance and cardiovascular exercise three times a week. Now, I consider that a minimum necessary dose. That’s absolutely not optimal. But as you said, you don’t want to start off with these unrealistic goals. You need to think in terms of slow, steady progress. Look, if you’re generally healthy and you’re under age 60, you can run a marathon in a year. But to do that, you’re going to have to start, get yourself up to running a mile.

Then once you do a mile, add two miles and then you do that consistently and the general rule is. you add an extra mile once a week, you eventually get to 26.2 miles, and hopefully you do that without shin splints. But notice that in principle, it’s going to take you at least 27 weeks to get there. You’ve knocked out half-a-year, that’s pretty darn good. It’s just a half-a- year, but it is a half-a-year, it’s not two weeks. That’s true with all exercise. Your body will slowly adapt and improve as long as you keep pushing it on the edge, but then you give yourself enough nutrition and enough time to rest and recuperate.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I used to run cross country and track in high school. I ran a marathon in college and then I basically stopped running in my late 20s. So it’s been almost, it’s been at least 25 years since I ran and a couple of months ago I decided to run again. I ran a third of the mile my first time. I was like-

Jay Richards:

Oh, yeah?

Eric Sammons:

… and that was kind of rough.

Jay Richards:

That’s right.

Eric Sammons:

Right?

Jay Richards:

Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

It was like, “That’s better than zero, isn’t it?”

Jay Richards:

Sure is.

Eric Sammons:

Now, I’m up to a couple of miles and I just figure, “Okay, it’s not a race to get to the top of how many miles you run. You got to get there slowly and build it up,” but I do think that’s important. Okay. So let’s tie in now putting it together, the spiritual, the physical, but also with being Catholic.

Jay Richards:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

I think one of the things is we have this liturgical year the church has given us, and I think we think of it just spiritually, but how would you tie the liturgical year into all these different recommendations of our resolutions and what we can do to improve this year?

Jay Richards:

Well, the great thing about the liturgical calendars you said is it’s given to us. The dates are already there. I honestly say, look at what the Eastern Rite Churches and the Eastern Orthodox Churches are doing. It will put you to shame if you’re a normal Roman Catholic. That tradition has retained a lot of these disciplines. Now, in many cases they’ll have very long, they’re intense abstinences rather than strict fasts. But if you look at what the early church did, we know the early church generally fasted every Wednesday and Friday; Wednesday, because that’s the day Jesus was betrayed, Friday because it’s the day He was crucified, mini feast on Sunday. There’s always a mini feast on Sunday. So that’s every week. So Wednesday and a Friday, two of the seven days you’re fasting in some way. Then there are these four periods, seasonal fast, called the Ember Days fast.

They’re basically the joints of the seasons, and those are Wednesday, Friday, Saturday fasts, so you add an extra day there. Then you have, of course, the big feast, Christmas and Easter are preceded by fasting season. So, of course Lent, which we still recognize as a fasting season, but Advent was also a fasting season. You’ll notice in the Church in Her Wisdom tends to pair fasts with feasts. We have kept the feasts and dropped the fasts and should not be surprised with the results of that both physically and spiritually. So I honestly think we could do a lot worse than simply doing what the early church … At least the early churches practice for weekly fast plus just return those fasting seasons so that they’re treated as real fasting seasons, because right now, we’re not actually doing that.

Giving up one thing during Lent is not making that a fasting season. It means that you’re abstaining from one thing. It turns out, this is what to me, was the most exciting thing about doing the research for this book, is that there are physiological benefits to different fasts at different time scales. If you practice this where you limit the amount of time during the day when you eat, you have a twice a week, two days out of the seven is fasting, and then you follow a robust fasting schedule with the liturgical calendar, you are going to sample different time scales of fasts. Every one of those is going to have spiritual benefits and it’s going to have corresponding physiological benefits that you wouldn’t get if you were just doing one or the other kind of fast.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I think one of the things I know I’ve learned over time is that your body adapts to whatever you change to, because if you change to a whole new schedule and you keep that schedule, your body starts to adapt to that. I actually gained weight after I had been fasting every day for while even doing OMAD, which is one meal a day for a while. I even started gaining weight and I was like, “What’s going on?”

I learned that the body just says, “Okay, now I’m used to this, I’m going to adapt to that.” So there’s almost like this wisdom in the church, and this is one thing I wanted to make sure you brought up. In the book, this is one of the great things is, and I think this is how we fail our resolution sometimes, is that we get too hardcore and then we’re like we’re always in this state of, “I have to be fasting, I have to be disciplined, I have to be whatever,” and eventually, our body just in our mind just says, “Forget it.” So talk about how we tie in the feasting and the fasting-

Jay Richards:

Absolutely.

Eric Sammons:

… and how that all works together.

Jay Richards:

Absolutely, because first of all, we know just psychologically, look, if you are having to be really, really disciplined all the time and you’re always depriving yourself of things, you’re going to probably just snap at some point and binge. That’s what people do that do this. Here’s the sad thing is that actually that’s a bad diet. So the way most people diet is they perpetually reduce the number of calories that they bring in. Well, guess what? That’ll work initially. You’ll lose some weight. Almost everyone regains that within a year. The reason is ’cause it slows down your metabolism, your body downshifts. But if you do this kind of variation, a periodicity where sometimes you don’t eat it all, sometimes you eat modestly, sometimes you eat a lot, that prevents your metabolism from downshifting in that way, and so that’s the great thing.

So I’ve wanted the word feast in the title because feast days are not cheat days. That’s not like, “Okay, well I’m going to eat some junk food because otherwise, I’m cheating against someone. I don’t know who it’s against.” No, the feasting is a part of the natural pattern. It’s the blessings that, and we’re celebrating the blessings that God has given us when we do that. It turns out that that’s just the right pattern for our bodies as well. So that’s the irony, ’cause you might think, “Okay, if I were just to calculate the total calories that I consumed over a week,” you might have the same number of calories on a caloric restricted diet versus one where you eat modestly, fast two days a week and eat and just pig out on Sunday. Same number of calories, totally different metabolic effects. That’s something that really was not understood until the last 10 or 15 years. Those are just two different ways of acting. They’re two different ways of living. One is sustainable, one’s beneficial to us. It turns out one also corresponds to the church’s traditional liturgical calendar, which we mostly abandoned.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. Right, for sure. I love the Ember Day, by the way. You brought those up before. My wife and I, we took forever to finally start adapting them. We knew about them years ago and I think literally this past year was the first time we actually followed them.

Jay Richards:

Yeah. Well, you got to get them on the calendar, otherwise, it’s like, “Oh, wait, I just missed the Ember Days.”

Eric Sammons:

That’s right. Exactly. That has happened a few times to us, so that’s always good. I also think that the whole fasting and feasting has been very good for me because I feel like I can tend to just hunker down on the fast mode, the discipline mode and then I break and eventually, it’s like you can’t do it. But this past Advent, I was doing some fasting and whatnot, but I had even told myself, “Okay,” I talked to my wife, “On Christmas day, let’s make sure we have this treat that I don’t normally eat.” I was so much looking forward to it, and then when it was Christmas day, it was so much better, than it would’ve been if I had just been eating like that for the past couple of weeks. It was like, “This is awesome.” It was a true feast in other words.

Jay Richards:

It’s a true feast. You really do not understand a feast, you don’t know a feast in the way you’re meant to know it unless you’ve really done a fast. If you do work your way up during Lent so that you can do a three-day fast say, from Thursday until Easter Sunday, which you could do that. It’d take you some weeks to get to that where you could do a three-day fast, wow, that celebration on Easter Sunday, it’s a completely different experience.

Eric Sammons:

Absolutely. It really does make it different. Also, if you look at the church’s old calendar, even before 1955, every major feast day, like Apostles Saint Day, wherever there was a vigil the day before-

Jay Richards:

That’s right.

Eric Sammons:

… and that was supposed to be a day of penance and this abstinence or fast, it’s like even St. Peter and St. Paul the day before. Like you mentioned the Eastern guys, boy, those guys are hard-core.

Jay Richards:

How did they do that? So they’ve got one, it’s not just Advent in Lent, it’s St. Peter or Paul or the Saints during June. So they knock out another month there in June.

Eric Sammons:

I think they do one before the Assumption in August too.

Jay Richards:

Oh, absolutely. So I met a Coptic Christian a couple of weeks ago and was talking about this, and it’s something like 220 days out of the year is some kind of fast on the Coptic calendar-

Eric Sammons:

Oh, the Ethiopian church-

Jay Richards:

Yeah, the Ethiopian-

Eric Sammons:

… they are hardcore.

Jay Richards:

… they’re hardcore. It’s funny ’cause it’s like a lot of Ethiopians I know, it’s like they don’t necessarily look the same as the average American.

Eric Sammons:

Yes, there’s a difference there.

Jay Richards:

Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

One other thing I wanted to bring up was that one of the things I think is important a lot of times for this is trying to do it with others. That’s the great thing about the liturgical calendar, you’re doing it with others. Obviously our Lord said, “We’re not going to proclaim our fasting and tell everybody about it,” but I do think there’s a nice support for this. One of the things I want to mention, my own wife, she’s really into this stuff. She’s getting a nutrition degree and she does this and she actually has a fasting support group on Facebook-

Jay Richards:

That’s great.

Eric Sammons:

… where basically people can … and it’s Catholic. The idea is like, “Okay, learn about how to fast,” the practical stuff. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well. I think it’s really helped people when they have that type of support. Do you know of anything else? How would you suggest people maybe get that support, because I do think it really does help when they are doing it with other people and they can talk about their failures and their successes?

Jay Richards:

Absolutely. At the moment, what we’re trying to do is create a groundswell from the bottom up for a return to fasting. That’s this benefit is that I think we can own it. What happened before is the church had these policies and then it gave us 1,000 little exceptions and dispensations. But as you said, there are support groups like that. I’m glad to know she’s doing it. There’s actually a free study guide if people wanted to use my book during Lent. A lot of people do this, you can download it, the free study guide actually online and work through it, because what you end up doing is you create your own small communities. In some cases, there’s a church, actually, I think it’s a church in Ohio actually, that is giving out a copy of my book to everyone in the parish during Lent.

But when an entire parish does this, that’s just absolutely transformative. This happens in Protestant settings. I talk about some churches that have done this in which an entire church will do a three-week fast during the first three weeks of January for instance. That’s a really different experience. I think that’s the way we’re ultimately supposed to experience it is in community, entire countries like Crete. Everyone, at least at one point was doing this. That makes it a heck of a lot easier. We don’t really know what that’s like the experience of that spiritually unless you were to actually have it. That’s why 25 years from now, I’m hoping that we have recovered all of these things. But at the moment, we’re just, I think at the very beginning of the recovery, unfortunately.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. I think it’s funny because when I was Protestant I thought Catholics, they were going against our Lord’s words when they’d have these scheduled fast like on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we’re supposed to keep it secret or something like that. What I realized was, is if everybody’s actually doing it, it’s like you’re not standing out anymore. That’s the real reason our Lord’s saying is if you’re trying to look like, “Hey, look how much better I am than all you people are because I’m fasting,” that’s a problem. But if everybody’s doing it, you’re not better in anybody.

Jay Richards:

There’s no point. You don’t get any bragging points. Of course, it’s a fast day. We’re all fasting. Yeah.

Eric Sammons:

Right, exactly. I love the idea though that a parishes is handing out the book. I think that would be great for parishes to really do this during Lent, even if it’s not from the … Ideally, it’s from the pastor, but even if it’s just a group within the parish that says, “Okay, this Lent we’re going to really increase our fasting.” The great thing about the book is you literally have a plan that fits into Lent if you wanted to, and you could actually use Lent itself as the way to by the end, you will be able to fast throughout the year.

Jay Richards:

Yeah. What’s funny is when I was working on, okay, how long does it take the body to adapt to this? Because your cells actually, if you do this, if you eat ketogenically for a few weeks, your cells’ mitochondria change the way in which the mitochondria are populated within the cell. These are the little power plants in your cells, so your body has to adapt to this. But it looks like it takes about six weeks for the body to adapt to fasting. It turns out that Lent’s about six-and-a-half weeks. A lot of people don’t know this, that the Sundays even within Lent, our little feast days.

Eric Sammons:

It is amazing how that all works. I was reading a book recently on breathing actually, and it was talking about how praying the Hail Mary in Latin, if you breathe with it, the actual time, it’s like the most healthy way to breathe. I was just like, “Oh, my gosh, that’s amazing that-

Jay Richards:

It aligns your heart rate. There have been specific studies on this, if you do it in the right speed.

Eric Sammons:

It’s just amazing. It shouldn’t be that surprising because God understands us completely, so I think though, if we follow that. So I would just say, so we’ll wrap it up here. Oh, first of all, the free study guide, can you send me a link to that? I’ll put that-

Jay Richards:

I will. Absolutely.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. I’ll put that in the show notes, ’cause that’d be perfect. I would encourage people, Lent’s actually coming up in just a month-and-a-half or so and so it’d be a great time to really do something like that. I’ll also put a link to the book. I’ll put a link to my wife’s fasting group, support group. But I just think the big encouragement here is, in 2023, it really is doable to make changes to your life. I personally think that fasting is one of the most transformative things you can do. I think we’re all called to do that mainly because it goes so much against how our whole world is today. Our world is nonstop feasting, which is actually unhealthy for us.

Jay Richards:

That’s right.

Eric Sammons:

So doing something like this is great. So any other suggestions for people as they’re getting into the year for resolutions?

Jay Richards:

Be realistic and come up with a plan to habituate, that’s the key thing. It’s one thing to tell yourself you’re going to do something. The things that you actually will do are going to be the things that you come up with an actual plan in which you get it down in your habits so that it’s automatic. That is absolutely crucial.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, great. Where can people find about all the other stuff you’re doing? What are you doing at the Heritage Foundation?

Jay Richards:

Yeah-

Eric Sammons:

What are you doing about that?

Jay Richards:

I’m a fellow and a director of the DeVos Center at Heritage. Actually, the DeVos Center focuses on life, marriage and religious liberty. We are working really hard to fight gender ideology at the moment, actually.

Eric Sammons:

Oh, man. That’s so important these days, so things like men and women have different physical characteristics.

Jay Richards:

Men and women are different. Yeah. Exactly.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah. Yeah. Radical statements like that.

Jay Richards:

It’s crazy stuff.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Well, I’ll put a link to the Heritage Foundation stuff you’re doing as well in the show notes so people can check that out. But I really appreciate you coming on. I hope this is practically helpful for people. Again, the book is Eat, Fast, Feast: Heal Your Body While Feeding Your Soul-A Christian Guide to Fasting. I’ll tell a story here for everybody that I told you beforehand was a couple of months ago I had this idea for a book. I thought, “This is really important. We do a book that would talk about fasting, but from a Christian aspect, but also, physically and tie it all in.” Then my wife was like, “You know you got that Jay Richards book for me and that’s exactly what that does?” I was like, “Oh.” I read it and I was like, “Oh, this is it. This is the book idea I had.” So that’s why I encourage people to get it.

Jay Richards:

It was a good idea.

Eric Sammons:

It was a very good idea. You had it years before me and that’s great. It’s nice when somebody else has already written it. It’s like I can just recommend that book. I don’t have to worry about writing it or finding somebody to write it now.

Jay Richards:

Absolutely.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Well, thanks a lot, Jay. I really appreciate you coming on the program.

Jay Richards:

Okay. Great to be with you, Eric.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, til next time, everybody. God love you.

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