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Fasting for Festival Season



This time of the year for South Asians is usually filled with holidays, festivals, and special religious occasions. As an Indian, I celebrate festivals like Navratri and Diwali during the months of October-November. During this time, Hindus usually hold a fast for the duration of the festival, meaning they don’t eat at all or eat restricted food during that time. Although not all Hindus fast for festivals, for my family, fasting is always something my mom encourages our family to partake in to follow the religious traditions that my relatives follow back home in India.

Many of the people that know me know that I have had eating struggles for the past couple of years and severe issues with body image, my weight, and a coping with a borderline eating disorder. I’ve been getting better these last two years and I’m in recovery and working on accepting and nurturing my body more and more every day. However, for someone who loves her religion and loves feeling a part of Hindu traditions, fasting has been a touchy subject for me. Being in recovery isn‘t always easy or a positive slope, there are a lot of up’s and down’s and relapsing is very common and easy to go into. Personally, during festival season, it is very easy for me to go back to old eating habits and put myself in an unhealthy position again. So fasting always brought back the feeling of not eating all day and made me get used to skipping meals. But every year when Navratri (9-day festival) would come around, I would follow the fast and not eat anything until the evening when I could have a specific dinner. Fasting made me feel more religious and feel good about myself for being involved in my family’s traditions more...even if it was at the cost of my own health. I was scared of being guilt-tripped that I wasn’t ‘Hindu enough’ or wasn’t fasting the ‘right way’ and thought that would determine my dedication to my religion.

This year, I told myself that I would not fast for the entire duration of the festival and would only fast if I felt comfortable. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel any less religious or guilty. I did all the pujas with my family, celebrated all the festivals per usual, and kept the same spirit of the festival throughout. I just had to remind myself that my health doesn’t determine how religious I am and even if I don’t follow all the traditions as well as my parents or family in India does, it doesn’t make me any less Indian or less cultured.

For many South Asian cultures, Eating Disorders aren’t commonly talked about in families. Part of it is because of diet culture and/or body shaming and the other part of it is lack of education. I’ve personally seen Indian aunties/uncles at Desi parties joke about someone’s body or come up to their children or others’ children and say the statement “have you lost weight beta?” or “you were a lot skinnier when I last saw you!” While they always laugh it off or treat it as a simple comment, for the children that receive these comments, it‘s extremely harmful. Getting called nicknames like Motu (meaning fatty in hindi) get embedded in us at such a young age so much to the point that we can develop unhealthy relationships with food, ourselves, our body, and even our Indian peers. Things like fasting for festivals and going to Indian parties to hear our aunties and uncles shame our body can be triggering for those who already struggle with eating or their body. Its important that we call out body-shamming in our own communities and start being more accepting to the kids that we hear get picked on the most at the next family function.

For my peers that also struggle with body-image or E.D.’s, your body and mind deserves love, nutriment, and kindness. And those three things don’t have to be achieved externally, if you can supply that to yourself, nothing anyone else gives you or takes away from you matters. E.D. recovery is not easy at all and requires a lot of patience and takes a lot of mental energy. So as you celebrate festival season, remember that your worth isn‘t determined by your weight (no matter what aunty tells you otherwise) and things like not fasting or eating more during fasting time don‘t make you any less religious. Its okay to take breaks, to not fast, to not attend those toxic family functions. Your mind and body comes first. You are all so loved, and so worthy of putting food in your bodies. Wherever you are in your relationship with food and your body, you are doing great.

Happy belated Diwali to all of you that celebrate! I wish you all love, light, and so so much happiness <3

Astha Soni

Nov. 19th 2o20

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