How I Fast When I Can’t

The Catholic Church specifies that those 14 years and older abstain from meat on both Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays in Lent. Those ages 18-59 also observe a fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Intentionally failing to observe the regulations of fast and abstinence constitutes grave sin, unless a legitimate moral or physical impossibility precludes one from observing this Lenten discipline (one example might include medical circumstances which excuse one from fasting/abstinence).  
Out of the past nine years, for seven of those years (in total), I have been pregnant or nursing. I am currently excused from both fasting and abstinence for this Lenten season as I am nursing our infant.  Despite not being obligated to fast or abstain, I still try, to the best of my ability, to observe some form of penance that is not detrimental to my health or the health of my baby.
This may sound strange, but I have found joy in fasting.  It turns out this may not be so strange after all. In “The Rule of St. Benedict,” written in 516, St. Benedict pledged to God, among other promises, “To chastise the body. Not to seek after pleasures. To love fasting.” As I have been unable to really fast in some time due to pregnancy and nursing, I look forward to one day being able to, as we win spiritual battles when we fast AND pray. Remember in Mark 9 when Jesus speaks to his disciples about fasting and prayer after he casts out an unclean spirit from a boy that the disciples had been unable to do so.  He tells them “This is the kind that can be driven out only by prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:28-29)
It is important to again note that none of what I will mention is mandatory, it is simply what I do.  I am not a medical professional and what works for me may not work for you.  Speak to your doctor before making any changes to your health.
Here is how I fast when I can’t.
1. Avoid condiments and grated cheese
 Being Italian, I have a significantly hard time not adding grated cheese to my food.  Note that I said food and not just pasta, as grated cheese is delicious when added to much more than just pasta. (Looking at you, broccoli!) I also try not to use condiments, which is also difficult when pregnant or nursing, as I experience aversions to eating certain foods and condiments are a way in which I avoid displeasure while eating.  I make sure that I am not going to be sick when eating, as that would be detrimental to both me and the baby, but not adding hot sauce to my eggs while pregnant is equally good for virtue and heartburn.
2. Ditching treats and other cravings
 This is especially hard when pregnant and the cravings hit harder than my five-year old during t-ball. While I believe in my head that if I don’t eat chocolate chip cookies dipped in ice cream I will certainly perish from the earth, I will survive even if I do not indulge in my cravings.  In fact, it may be more meritorious to avoid or at the very least delay your cravings by a day or two while pregnant or nursing versus when one does not have cravings.
3. Eating healthier
  During the first trimester in all my pregnancies, I was repulsed by vegetables. This is very odd for me as my mother used to call me a bunny when I was a child because I loved vegetables and would happily eat a cucumber instead of other snacks.  For some reason, while pregnant, I can’t even look at my favorite sugar snap peas.  The very thought of a carrot makes me want to gag and even grated cheese on broccoli won’t cut it.  While I do coerce myself to eat some vegetables during pregnancy, during Lent, I try to eat even more and avoid adding condiments as I stated above.
4. Don’t make it obvious
  When my children get hurt, even if it is a small injury, if they see that I’ve witnessed them get hurt, the injury turns into a huge catastrophe that requires instant medical attention in the form of band aids, kisses and lots of hugs. However, if they do not see that I saw them get hurt, they usually just get up and carry on with their business.  The same goes for fasting, we need to fast like no one else is watching and not try to get attention for it.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:16-18 exactly how to fast. While I am sharing the ways in which I fast here, I do not make it obvious to anyone around me and I encourage my oldest child to do likewise.
St. Francis de sales said, “We must fast with our whole heart, that is to say, willing, wholeheartedly, universally and entirely.” 
Christina Frye is a lifelong Rhode Islander, wife, mother and founder of Catholic Mom Rhode Island,