210-217. Guidelines with regard of Eating


These guidelines represent a practical application of the Principle and Foundation [23] and serve as a model through the examples of dealing with food of how to order the companions’ entire life to God and should be read time to time during the Third Phase. Although the Additions [73-90] in the First Phase dealt with penance in general [1] and also gave some advice on fasting, here in connection with the contemplation of the passion St. Ignatius speaks in particular about temperance in food which is not exactly the same as fasting but nevertheless a virtue not too easily obtainable. These guidelines are particularly appropriate in the confirmation phase that follows the decision since this choice often requires also self-denial and new order in the life of the companions. The general tone of these guidelines is in harmony with the sorrowful and subdued climate of the Third Phase and it presents a good occasion to try them out.

In our days when various diets and weight loss programs compete with messages encouraging consuming more and more food and everything else competes for our attention in the advertising industry while many people are struggling to make ends meet even in the affluent countries and while entire regions of the world are suffering of starvation and malnutrition the question and meaning of temperance is a real challenge for all of us. We need in a certain degree to distinguish between diet for aesthetic or health reasons and temperance for spiritual motives; although whatever we do for religious reasons should be good for our general well-being too, and vice-versa, but if we follow healthy practices or lifestyles it should not become a substitute for an authentic spiritual life. Nowadays when overeating and abuse of alcohol is quite widespread in different cultures the guidelines are as valid as in the time of Ignatius.

These guidelines speak of food but they apply on everything else that we are used to indulge in, as drinking, watching the television, surfing the internet, games, gambling, working, playing on the stock market, chatting on the phone, shopping, lounging, smoking, taking medications and the list could be continued at length  since we are very resourceful and inventive when it comes to find things to get a bit at least addicted to it. These things are good or indifferent in themselves (if we can speak of really indifferent things out of some context at all), but they need to be used cautiously, The criteria for reviewing our objects of comfort are to see if these things take away our freedom to follow the chosen direction of our life, if these things are the source of false consolation for us, if we use them as a sort of “painkiller” to escape reality and numb our consciousness, to avoid responsibility more than for an occasional relaxation. As Viktor Frankl points out in introducing his existential analysis, in many cases of neurosis the preference for avoidance becomes an overwhelming “presentist” attitude, a desire to live far away on an island where there is nothing to do but lying on the sun, but for healthy persons it is possible to take this attitude only for certain times and as a conscious choice to relieve some pressure of responsibilities as for example during holidays and other festive occasions [2].

The guidelines given by St. Ignatius might become one of the most significant and highly therapeutic parts of the entire retreat experience, as they are effective means for the companions in ordering consciously all aspects of life. By doing this they increase the consciousness of their responsibility which is the starting point of existential analysis as psychotherapy[3]. These guidelines and the temperance they aim at will provide support also in the mind-fasting efforts of the companions [4]. We suggest arranging a meeting toward the end of the Third Phase to discuss the question of dealing with these issues and to see how they can apply concretely these guidelines in their life personally and together.

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1Cor 10:31)

First guideline

The basic staple food is not too tempting to raise an inordinate appetite unlike  other more delicate foods and in consequence there is less need to restrict its use. The basic staple food is depending on the time and culture we live in, but it varies also by families and persons. For Ignatius it was bread, while for many people it could be rice or other grains, beans, potatoes and cabbage, fruits, manioka, while for the Inuit people it is whale blubber and so on.

Second guideline

The normal drink at his time was wine and Ignatius points out that there is more need for abstinence in drinking than for eating bread. We drink a lot more variety of drinks and need to consider carefully how we use them since some of them are addictive as coffee, chocolate and a whole array of alcoholic drinks. Our danger is not always and primarily alcoholism, but at least in an affluent society we are used to indulge in drinking habits involving costly teas, juices, special bottled waters, power drinks and the list goes on, depending what the advertisements suggest as delicious, healthy or simply necessary for a “good” life. In this category belong also the costly juicer and water purifier some of us might have. If we look closer we can see that these are not indispensable and that the resources to buy these drinks could be used better. This is a point that the companions need to examine honestly and in good humor.

Third guideline

With foods in general there is more need to be careful than with our simple staple bread or rice. We can avoid excesses in these by different ways of abstinence, first of all we need to try to eat simpler and cheaper foods and secondly if once in a while we eat costly or complicated delicacies (St. Ignatius uses the word “manjares”) it should be only in a small amount. A great variety of foods could be eliminated from our diet or significantly reduced in frequency and amount without harming our health but benefiting it, especially if we thin of “junk” foods, sugary snacks and desserts. From every point of view for people in developed countries it is better to get used to eat coarser foods with basic nutrients instead of preparing refined and complex recipes that play on our weakness to addiction. Everyone knows what is in their area considered the food of the poor families, which might be followed as model.

Here we can mention also the eating-out habit, for which a similar rule might be established, that is to go to restaurants if there is a special occasion and not to choose fancy and rather expensive places but simpler ones. Notwithstanding the bad fame of fast food as unhealthy, if we visit these places only occasionally - on travel for example – it does not harm and provides complete meals at reasonable price. It seems that a special care of eating exclusively what certain diet gurus retain as “healthy”, organic, or bio food has the danger to become a special cult getting too much of the attention, time and effort of the followers of such advice. We need to find freedom from excesses also in these everyday concerns.

Fourth guideline

Common sense suggests that as we take away from the amount of food we can understand where the necessary “mean” is in the quantity of food and drink. Of course we should not take away so much to fell ill in consequence or arrive to a point when because of loss of strength nor prayer nor work nor relationships go well since we feel irritated or weak. Such fasting is not what is the goal, since by reducing the amount of food and drink we want to achieve more openness for prayer. In fact the right type of deliberate restriction in food might help to experience consolations and through such experimentation we can discern quickly what is the optimal use of these things for us given our life style and personal sensitivity.

Fifth guideline

For those who find it attractive it might be useful to imagine during meals to be in the presence of Jesus and his disciples, consider how he eats and drinks and so on. This use of imagination could help to remain in prayer during eating rendering our behavior more harmonious; besides this we will pay less attention on the food and more the others around us and so on. Anyway, God with his angels and saints is present in reality at our table even if invisibly. Here as in the entire Exercises process the continuous contemplation of Jesus has the goal to enable us to overcome our unhealthy and self-centered tendencies and bring us to the consciousness of ordering everything to God.

Sixth guideline

Some people might find it helpful to have spiritual reflections during meals. Let us recall the classic image of the dining room of monks where there is silence during the meal and one reads for the others from the life of saints and martyrs or from similar literature. The companions might want to try it out sometimes to have such reading, reflection or dialog during meals. There are different views however regarding the propriety of such arrangement among spiritual writers; for example St. Francis of Sales has the opinion that no serious matters should be discussed at table. The companions need to act also in this matter with the freedom to use only what promotes the main goal to find God in all things.

Seventh guideline

We should not pay excessive attention on what we are eating and be careful not to be carried away by our appetite and eat in a hurry. We need to arrive to a mastery of ourselves in the quantity as well as the manner of eating. Again this is a general guideline and the speed of normal eating for example might vary from person to person. Moderation is the right word for what we seek here, the companions who eat hurriedly because of their appetite might try to slow down while who never finishes a meal needs to try to arrive to a “mean” also in this. A good measure is to see if there is something to correct if one is always the first to finish the meal in a company or consequently is still working on it enjoying the food when everybody is waiting for him or her.

Eighth guideline

To find easier where is the “mean” it can be helpful to decide upon what we will eat the next day right after dinner when we are not hungry. After such agreement, the companions should fix also the amount to eat and not to exceed it during the meal by second and third helpings no matter what occasions or desires arise. Rather, as the usual advice of St. Ignatius suggests we need to go further and “to overcome better every disorderly appetite and temptation of the enemy, if he [or she] is tempted to eat more let him [or her] eat less” [217].


It might happen that reading these guidelines one can react by becoming too concerned about implementing them while others might not give enough attention and remain “immune” to change. We should remind the companions again that these guidelines are only means to use as long as they are helpful toward our goal. When considering this guidelines the companions might fruitfully reflect upon the “Notes Concerning Scruples” [345-351] in Appendix C, which as we told in the introduction might be connected with the Third Phase as an aide to discernment during the confirming process. They might want to read in this context again also the “Guidelines to deal with material goods” [337-344], which as we saw earlier is a concrete example of the third method of decision (see in [169-189] “Arriving to a Decision”) and belongs to the Second Phase.


[1] See Addition #10. on “Penance” which corresponds to [82-90] in the book of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

[2] Frankl, “The Doctor and the Soul,” pp.22-23.

[3] Ibid., p. 20.

[4] We introduced the mind-fasting technique of Christotherapy in the First Phase, in connection with the Second exercise [55-61].