Fasting is an ancient tradition that has gained traction in the health world recently.
In this post I explore how the spiritual and physical traditions of fasting can converge. How fasting for health can also add meaning to your life, and how spiritual fasting can improve your health.
Don’t like to fast? This post can help! Feel yucky when fasting? Been there. Have some solutions.
There is a great tradition around the world for fasting in a variety of ways and for different durations. In this post I pull information from some of the best of those traditions to help you develop a simple, meaningful, healthy practice that benefits you and those around you.
As I recorded this my faithful cannine Kiki lay beside me watching, and while she is usually an upbeat, happy little dog this was the look she gave me as I talked about fasting.
I think just the THOUGHT of fasting made her look like this, and it’s how I used to look and feel when I fasted.
But! There is hope! Even a borderline hypoglycemic ectomorph like myself has figured out how to fast meaningfully and without discomfort, so chances are you can too!
And when you do, I bet you never go back. So let’s jump in.
I recorded a podcast episode about this whole subject here, listen in!
Partial fasting, such as in Daniel 10:2-3 where Daniel mourned for three weeks, and ate no “choice food, no meat or wine,” but he ate vegetables and water.
Full fasting, going without food or water. These are usually for one, two, or three meals, but very rarely go more than 24 hours. And for health reasons, they shouldn’t.
One of the most famous fasts in history is Jesus fast of 40 days. However, the three Gospels each report the account slightly differently.
Most biblical scholars believe he fasted from food, but probably drank water.
In Hinduism Shukravar Vrat or Friday fasting is observed from morning to evening. While some people abstain completely from food, others take one meal in the form of kheer (milk and rice based sweet porridge). As white and red are the favorite colors of the day, devotees wear clothes in these colors, and perform ceremonial Pooja, to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Shukra, and perform chanting of mantras and hymns
Types of Health Based Fasting
Intermittent Fasting. This is the one I practice, and have for a few years… and I swear by it. It’s very simple to understand. You simply eat during a limited “eating window” of usually 6-8 hours for men, and 10 hours for women (women should not have an eating window of less than 10 hours for hormonal reasons). For me, eating breakfast around 10 or 11 AM, and dinner around 6 or 7 gives me all my food in an 8 hours window. Outside of that I drink a lot of water, bone broth morning and night, and supplements first thing in the morning.
5:2. This is the twice a week method of fasting, where on two days per week you cut calories drastically, often down to 2 meals of 200 and 300 calories on those days. These meals are usually high fiber, high protein.
24 Hour Fasts. This involves a full fast once or twice a week. Most people will eat no food at all during these times except for supplements and salt in their water, but cut out food completely for 24 hours. Usually these go from breakfast to breakfast or lunch to lunch.
(This image is from https://drjockers.com/water-fast/ which has an excellent article on extended fasts)
I practice intermittent fasting with occasional 18-24 hour fasts. The main benefits of this are:
-Sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, this could be a silver bullet for you. When you stop eating several hours before bed time, the Circadian rhythm is able to function more naturally. Melatonin increases, causing drowsiness, and when you go to bed your body isn’t expending energy digesting food. Try it!
-Hormone balancing. After that last meal, the body is repairing and resetting itself. During the night the hormones are balanced. Waking up the next morning estrogen and HGH are raised in women, testosterone and HGH are high in men, and blood sugar is low. This is an ideal state to exercise, meditate, and work. Your body maintains this state until you have your first meal, when the blood sugar will rise and the fasted state is broken. Hence the word “breakfast,” from “break the fast.”
The mind, body, spirit connection in a fasted state.
Practical Suggestions from the Presbyterian website. They do one day spiritual fasts abstaining from both food and drink.
- Start Small. Start with giving up one meal a week for several weeks. Then try two meals and work your way to fasting for a full day.
- Plan what you will do with this time. Set aside something to read and pray through or give extra time to intercede and journal.
- Consider how this will impact others and be considerate of family, friends and work associates.
- Fast from something other than food to free up more time for focused prayer and meditation. For example, consider spending an evening in prayer and the study of God’s word rather than watching entertainment or spending extensive time on social media.
- Be discreet. This should be something done in private with very little discussion about this to others unless it is an accountability partner, family member or spiritual mentor.
- Please check with a health care professional if you have a medical condition that would not allow you to skip meals.
Tips for a successful fast.
Up water intake while fasting. You get 20-30% of your hydration from food, so you have to raise your water intake. 2-3 liters a day is a good goal. I also add Maldon salt to my water. Our body is quickly depleted of sodium during a fast. But adding normal salt to water makes it taste like, well, salt water. Like the yucky taste when you turn your head in the ocean just as a huge wave shoves water into your mouth that still tastes bad 2 hours later. But Maldon salt is a salt flake that, for some reason, tastes salty but nice in water.
Now, I have learned that the word “meditate” means different things to different people. And that’s OK, there are different types for different purposes. But make sure and experiment with them all over time. Metta Meditation is a totally different experience than Vipassana. Saying “I meditate” is about as vague as saying “I play sports.” Get an app like Headspace, Insight Timer, or my favorite, Waking Up, and try the various types of guided meditations in them.
Walk or hike
Simple, low impact exercise is a great way to compliment a fast.
Don’t break your fast with a feast
Eat a normal sized meal, don’t pig out.
Stop fasting if you feel unwell.
Mindfully determine the difference between the normal feelings of fasting versus doing your body harm.
It’s normal to feel tired or a little irritable, but anything worse than that may be a sign to eat something.
Supplement during a fast
People who fast regularly are more likely to be deficient in iron, calcium, and B12.
Take a multivitamin and other supplements when fasting.
***Note that our multivitamin, Mimi’s Miracle Multi, has appetite suppressing qualities, as well as B12 in non-synthetic form, and Maca for natural energy.***
For energy, try a natural energy drink, or B12 spray.
Do not fast if:
You are a woman who is trying to conceive
You are pregnant or breastfeeding
You are underweight
You have had an eating disorder
You have problems with blood sugar regulation
Low blood pressure
Taking some prescription medications (check with your doctor)
Women with a history of amenorrhea
Older adults and adolescents