Can’t fast from food? Check out these alternatives for Lenten fasting

The Lenten Season is a season of fasting in the Church. On Fridays during Lent we abstain from meat and on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we both abstain and observe days of fasting. This can be difficult for some who aren’t able to participate, but fear not, everyone can find some alternative ways to join in the Lenten observances.

Fr. Mike Schmitz, guest host of The Patrick Madrid Show, responded to a pregnant mother who worried about fasting during Lent. “The Church has a clause … that if someone is ill, someone is pregnant, a nursing mother, that they are exempt from the fasting or abstinence rules. Because the recognition is that you have another life that you are taking care of … so you are free to eat when you need to eat. You are free to nourish yourself and your baby as you need to and not even to take a second thought about like, ‘Well I feel kind of guilty because it is Ash Wednesday.’ No. You are carrying a life and are responsible for that life.”

The USCCB says, “Those that are excused from fast and abstinence outside the age limits include the physically or mentally ill including individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes.  Also excluded are pregnant or nursing women.  In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fasting.”

If you fit these exemptions (keep in mind that abstinence from meat is obligatory from ages 14 and up, and fasting is for ages 18-59), you might consider choosing an alternative method of fasting and abstinence.

Though abstaining from meat or fasting may not fit with your particular circumstances, perhaps you could abstain from junk food? Maybe abstaining from desserts, coffee, or your favorite meals would be a good sacrifice. Without affecting the amount of food you need in a day, you could focus nourishing your body with healthy food and not indulging in anything extravagant.

And there are many ways to practice fasting that have nothing to do with what you eat or drink. Try to brainstorm what luxury or comfort you could forego on a day of fasting or abstinence. Here are a few ideas:

  • Give up your normal entertainment—music, social media, television, Netflix—and replace that time with prayer, spiritual reading, or quality time with loved ones.
  • Abstain from complaining. Instead, spread some compliments.
  • Pray the Stations of the Cross and meditate on the Lord’s Passion.
  • Offer your illness or suffering for the conversion of sinners.
  • Get out of bed right when your alarm goes off. Or, get up early for extra prayer time!
  • Do some extra chores around the house.
  • Take a shorter or cooler shower than usual.
  • Go out of your way to help a friend or visit the homebound.
  • Offer your day for a specific intention—pray a Memorare once each waking hour for that intention.
  • Stop by an Adoration chapel for face-to-face time with the Lord.

Whatever extra effort you make or sacrifice of time or comfort you choose, offer it up to God for your own spiritual growth, the conversion of sinners, or any intentions you hold in your heart. Though you may be unable to participate in the traditional Lenten abstinence and fasting, your sacrifices still have merit and power. Here’s to a fruitful Lent!


What are you doing for Lent? Deepen your faith with Fr. Rocky’s 40 Lenten Lessons on the Mass! Sign up today!

Lindsey Kettner serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a wife, mother, and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she studied journalism and advertising. She writes daily at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.