Thursday, November 23, 2017


I know that this post is going to be posted on Thanksgiving, a day of feasting, but I wanted to write a bit about the opposite: fasting. I'll cover the effects in my normal “Four parts of a person” method.

Fasting, for those who've never heard the term, is temporarily abstaining from food and/or drink for a period of time. Normally not more than a day or two long, an intermittent fast can have benefits for those of us who don't have medical issues that would prevent us from skipping a few meals. Diabetics and people with metabolic or digestive disorders should talk with a doctor before attempting a fast, as missing meals could be dangerous for them.

Fasting is nothing new, although there are salesmen who are trying to make it a “diet” plan for losing weight and will over-hype its benefits. Records of fasting rituals predate all modern religions; it is a part of the human experience whose origin has been lost to time. Most religions have a place for fasting in their rituals --  it is a well established method of showing piety and commitment -- but it has benefits for the non-religious as well. Here are a few:

Intermittent fasting gives your body a chance to “take stock” of its reserves and start processing some of them. Without the demand to digest new food, your body will switch to using stored energy (fat) for its needs and will make more efficient use of the food that is still present in your gut. Using fasting as a diet doesn't work very well, since a long enough fast (durations vary widely) will signal your metabolism that you are starving. In starvation mode, your body will try to store as much energy as it can, and once you break the fast you will still be in that mode and you'll gain back any weight you may have lost. 

Fasting will not “cleanse” or “detoxify” your body; your natural processes do that whether you eat or not.

Fasting is a good way to train your mind that it is in control of your body, and “mind over matter” is the basis for taking charge of your stomach. This is good training for times when food may be harder to come by and will also help build self confidence, self control, and discipline which are all good things to have is stressful situations; you'll be less susceptible to giving into hunger pangs if you know that you aren't going to die if you don't eat three meals a day.

By giving up eating for a day or two, you free up a lot of time to contemplate, meditate, or pray. This is usually a good way to clear your head and improve your state of mind. Think of all of the time you spend in a normal day planning, buying, prepping, eating and cleaning up after your meals; that's time that you will have during a fast to be doing other things.

If you choose to fast for spiritual reasons, the act of denying the physical self clears the mind of earthly attachments and brings us closer to God (or whatever you choose to call the higher being that is the center of your belief system). In times of crisis, many of us are going to be talking to our God, looking for a way through, around, or out of those hard times. Fasting may help you focus on those communications.

Christians are told that our fasting is to be a private matter between ourselves and God, never a public display (Matthew 6:16-18). The various sects have specific dates when you should fast, but the goal is to guard against gluttony and get closer to God.

The Old Testament records fasting for various reasons;
  • As a sign of mourning or grief (2 Sam. 1:12, 3:35, 12:16 and many others)
  • As a form of repentance or seeking forgiveness (Est. 4:13-16, Deut. 9:9, 18, 25-29; 10:10. )
  • To aid in prayer (Daniel 10:3-13)
  • As a public show of ceremonial prayer (1 Kings 21:27-29 )
Ashura is a remembrance of Moses and his fast to celebrate the freeing of the Israelites, and is also recognized by Sunni Islam.

Islam, Hinduism, Buhdism, Taoism, and Yoga all have rules and dates for fasting' only the Sikhs reject it as a spiritual aid. Consult your local religious leader for clarification of your particular belief's stand on fasting.

How and when to fast is up to you, but I'd start slow and simple if you're new to the idea. Try skipping a meal or two before going on a three-day, food-free binge, just to get a feel for it. Different folks will feel the need to fast at different times and for different durations. It is a particularly personal experience that can make a meaningful difference in your life.

Now, go enjoy your turkey and stuffing. Happy Thanksgiving!

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