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Fasting is the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food and in some cases drink, for a period of time. Depending on the tradition, fasting practices may forbid sexual intercourse, masturbation, as well as refraining from eating certain types or groups of food (e.g. meat). Medical fasting can be a way to promote detoxification.

Fasting for religious and spiritual reasons has been a part of human custom since pre-history. It is mentioned in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testament, in the Mahabharata, in the Upanishads and in the Qur'an.

Religious fasting

Bahá'í faith

Main article: Nineteen Day Fast

In the Bahá'í Faith, fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset during the Bahá'í month of `Ala' (between March 2 through March 20). Bahá'u'lláh established the guidelines in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. It is the complete abstaining from both food and drink (including abstaining from smoking). Observing the fast is an individual obligation, and is binding on all Bahá'ís who have reached the age of maturity (fifteen years).

Along with obligatory prayer, it is one of the greatest obligations of a Bahá'í. The Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, Shoghi Effendi explains "It is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character. Fasting is symbolic, and a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires."


Buddhist monks and nuns following the Vinaya rules commonly do not eat each day after the noon meal, though many orders today do not enforce this. This is not considered a fast, but rather a disciplined regime aiding in meditation. Fasting is generally considered by Buddhists as a form of asceticism and as such is rejected as a deviation from the Middle way.


Fasting is a practice in several Christian denominations or other churches. Other Christian denominations do not practice it because they see it as a merely external observance.

Biblical accounts of fasting

  • Moses fasted for forty days and forty nights while he was on the mountain with God.
  • King David fasted when the son of his adulterous union with Bathsheba was struck sick by God, in punishment for the adultery and for David's murder of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah the Hittite. Nevertheless, the son died, upon which David broke his fast (2 Samuel 12:15-25).
  • King Jehosaphat proclaimed a fast throughout Judah for victory over the Moabites and Ammonites who were attacking them (2 Chronicles 20:3).
  • The prophet Isaiah chastised the Israelites in Isaiah 58 for the unrighteous methods and motives of their fasting. He clarified some of the best reasons for fasting and listed both physical and spiritual benefits that would result. [1]
  • The prophet Joel called for a fast to avert the judgement of God.
  • The people of Nineveh in response to Jonah's prophecy, fasted to avert the judgement of God (Jonah 3:7).
  • The Pharisees in Jesus' time fasted regularly, and asked Jesus why his disciples did not. Jesus answered them using a parable (Luke 5:33-39).
  • Jesus also warned against fasting to gain favor from men. He warned his followers that they should fast in private, not letting others know they were fasting (Matthew 6:1618).
  • Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights while in the wilderness, prior to the three temptations (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2).
  • Jesus said : Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. (Matthew 17:21)
  • And he(Jesus)said unto them (disciples), This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting. (Mark 9:29)
  • The prophetess Anna, who proclaimed the birth of Jesus in the Temple, fasted regularly (Luke 2:37).
  • There are indications in the New Testament as well as from the Apocryphal Didache that members of the early Christian Church fasted regularly.

Denominations and groups


For Charismatic Christians fasting is undertaken at the leading of God. Fasting is done in order to seek a closer intimacy with God, as well as an act of petition. Some take up a regular fast of one or two days a week as a spiritual observance. Holiness movements, such as John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield started in the early days of Methodism, often practice such regular fasts as part of their regimen.

Eastern Orthodox Church

For Orthodox Christians, there are four fasting seasons, which include Nativity, Great Lent, Apostles' Fast and Dormition. Fasting during these times refers to abstention from animal products, olive oil (or all oils, according to some Orthodox traditions), wine and spirits -- see Eastern Orthodoxy (Fasting). However, shellfish is allowed in some traditions, though other kinds of meat are not. Fasting can take up a significant portion of the calendar year. The idea is not to suffer, but to use the experience to come closer to God, to realize one's excesses and for alms giving. Fasting without prayer and almsgiving (donating the money saved to a local charity, or directly to the poor, depending on circumstances) is considered useless or even spiritually harmful by many Orthodox Christians.

Those desiring to receive Holy Communion keep a total fast from all food and drink from midnight the night before.

Latter-day Saints

Latter-day Saint fasting is total abstinence from food and water. Adherents are encouraged to fast totally for two meal times once a month, and the first Sunday of the month is usually designated a Fast Sunday; many Latter-day Saints who observe the monthly fast begin the Saturday before this day by not partaking of the Saturday evening meal. The money saved by not having to purchase and prepare meals is to be donated to the church as a fast offering, which is to be used to help people in need. President Gordon B. Hinckley asked: “What would happen if the principles of fast day and the fast offering were observed throughout the world[?] The hungry would be fed, the naked clothed, the homeless sheltered. … A new measure of concern and unselfishness would grow in the hearts of people everywhere.” (“The State of the Church,” Ensign, May 1991, 52–53.)

Sunday worship meetings on Fast Sunday include opportunities for church members to publicly express thanks and to bear their testimony of faith.

Because fasting involves exercising control of the physical body, subjugating it to the mind, many Latter-day Saints consider fasting a way to focus on the spiritual body, and use it in connection with prayer to make it more meaningful.

Protestant churches

In Protestantism, the continental Reformers criticized fasting as a purely external observance that can never gain a person salvation. The Swiss Reformation of the "Third Reformer" Huldrych Zwingli began with an ostentatious public sausage-eating during Lent.

On the other hand, churches of the Anglican Communion and some American Protestant denominations, such as the United Methodist Church, affected by liturgical renewal movements encourage fasting as part of both Lent and Advent, two penitential seasons of the Liturgical Year.

Other Protestants consider fasting, usually accompanied by prayer, to be an important part of their personal spiritual experience, apart from any liturgical tradition.

Roman Catholicism
Main article: Fasting and Abstinence in the Roman Catholic Church

For Roman Catholics, fasting is the reduction of one's intake of food to one full meal (which may contain meat) and two small meals (known liturgically as collations, taken in the morning and the evening). Eating solid food between meals is not permitted. Fasting is required of the faithful on specified days. Complete abstinence is the avoidance of meat for the entire day. Partial abstinence prescribes that meat be taken only once during the course of the day.

Pope Pius XII had initially relaxed some of the regulations concerning fasting in 1956. In 1966, Pope Paul VI in his apostolic constitution Paenitemini, changed the strictly regulated Catholic fasting requirements. He recommended that fasting be appropriate to the local economic situation, and that all Catholics voluntarily fast and abstain. In the United States, there are only two obligatory days of fast - Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence: those observing the practice may not eat meat. Pastoral teachings since 1966 have urged voluntary fasting during Lent and voluntary abstinence on the other Fridays of the year. The regulations concerning such activities do not apply when the ability to work or the health of a person would be negatively affected.

Prior to the changes made by Pius XII and Paul VI, fasting and abstinence were more strictly regulated. The church had perscribed that Catholics observed fasting and/or abstinence on a number of days throughout the year.

In addition to the fasts mentioned above, Catholics must also observe the Eucharistic Fast, which involves taking nothing but water and medicines into the body for some time before receiving the Eucharist during the Mass. The ancient practice was to fast from midnight until Mass that day, but as masses after noon and in the evening became common, this was soon modified to fasting for three hours. Current law under Vatican II requires merely one hour of eucharistic fast although traditional Catholics abide by the pre-Vatican II doctrine of fasting from midnight until Mass.


Fasting is a very integral part of the Hindu religion. Individuals observe different kinds of fasts based on personal beliefs and local customs. Some are listed below-

  • Some Hindus fast on certain days of the month such as Ekadasi (the eleventh day of each lunar fortnight) or Purnima (full moon).
  • Certain days of the week are also set aside for fasting depending on personal belief and favorite deity.
  • Fasting during religious festivals is also very common. Common examples are Shivaratri or the 9 days of Navratri (which occurs twice a year in the months of April and October/November during Dussera just before Diwali, as per the Hindu Calendar). Karwa Chauth is perhaps a form of fasting unique to the northern part of India where married women undertake a fast for the well-being, prosperity, and longevity of their husbands. The Fast is broken after the wife views the moon through a sieve after sunset.

Methods of fasting also vary widely and cover a broad spectrum. If followed strictly, the person fasting does not partake any food or water from the previous day's sunset until 48 minutes after the following day's sunrise. Fasting can also mean limiting oneself to one meal during the day and/or abstaining from eating certain food types and/or eating only certain food-types. In any case, even if the fasting Hindu is non-vegetarian, he/she is not supposed to eat or even touch any animal products (i.e. meat, eggs) on a day of fasting.


Main article: Sawm

In Islam, fasting starting from fajr (dawn), until maghrib (sunset) is observed during the month of Ramadan. Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking, smoking, and engaging in sexual intercourse while fasting. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is one of the Pillars of Islam, and thus one of the most important acts of Islamic worship. By fasting, whether during Ramadan or other times a Muslim draws closer to their Lord by abandoning the things they enjoy, such as food and drink. This makes the sincerity of their faith and their devotion to God (Arabic:Allah) all the more evident. The believer knows that God will love them when they are ready to abandon worldly comforts for God's sake.

God informs Muslims in the Qur'an that fasting was prescribed for those before them (i.e., the Jews and Christians) and that by fasting Muslim gains 'taqwa', which can be described as the care taken by a person to do everything God has commanded and to keep away from everything that He has forbidden. Fasting helps prevent many sins and is a shield with which the Muslim protects him/herself from jahannam (hell).

Muslims believe that fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. It also means to abstain from any falsehood in speech and action, from any ignorant and indecent speech, and from arguing and fighting, and lustful thoughts. Therefore, fasting helps to develop good behavior.

Fasting also inculcates a sense of fraternity and solidarity, as Muslims feel and experience what their needy and hungry brothers and sisters feel. However, even the poor, needy, and hungry participate in the fast. Moreover, Ramadan is a month of giving charity and sharing meals to break the fast together.

While fasting in the month of Ramadan is considered fard (obligatory), Islam also prescribed certain days for non-obligatory, voluntary fasting, such as:

  • each Monday and Thursday of a week
  • the 13th, 14th, and 15th day of each lunar month
  • six days in the month of Shawwal (the month following Ramadan)
  • the Day of Arafat (9th of Dhu al-Hijjah in the Islamic (Hijri) calendar)
  • the Day of Ashuraa (10th of Muharram in the Islamic (Hijri) calendar), with one more day of fasting before or after it


There are many types of fasting in Jainism. One is called Chauvihar Upwas, in which no food or water may be consumed until sunrise the next day. Another is called Tivihar Upwas, in which no food may be consumed, but boiled water is allowed. Fasting is usually done during Paryushana but can be done during other times. If one fasts for the eight days of Paryushana, it is called Atthai. Also, it is cammon for Jains not to fast but only to limit their intake of food. When a person only eats lentils and tasteless food with salt and pepper as the only spices, the person is said to do Ayambil. This is supposed to decrease desire and passion. Self-starvation by fasting is known as Sallekhana and is supposed to help shed karma according to Jain philosophy.


Main article: Ta'anit

Observant Jews fast on 7 days during the Jewish calendar. Five of these are considered minor fast days, and on these days fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset. Except for Yom Kippur, fasting is never permitted on Shabbat. If a public fast falls on the Sabbath, it is either delayed until Sunday, or observed on the Thursday before. The reason that Yom Kippur is observed even on Shabbat is that, unlike other fast days, it is explicit in the Torah.

On the two major fast days, Jews fast from sunset to sunset the next day. The first major fast day of the Jewish calendar is Yom Kippur. It is also known as the Day of Repentance, and is considered the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. The second major fast day is Tisha B'Av, a 25-hour fast that mourns the destruction of the first and second Jewish Temple, and other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people.

The minor fast days are:

  • The Fast of Gedaliah
  • The Fast of the 10th of Tevet
  • The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz,
  • The Fast of Esther, which takes place immediately before Purim
  • The Fast of the firstborn, which takes place before Passover, and only applies to first-born sons (or their father, if underage). It is the only Jewish fast that may be avoided.

Fasting in Jewish practice means complete abstinence from all food and drink, including water. On the two major holidays it is also forbidden to engage in any sexual relations, wash or bathe, and even wear leather, which is considered a symbol of extravagence. Partial or total exemptions apply in many cases for those who are ill, those for whom fasting would pose a medical risk, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. Those who would be endangered from fasting are forbidden to do so, as endangering one's life is against a core principle of Judaism.

Aside from these official days of fasting, Jews may take upon themselves personal or communal fasts, often to seek repentance in the face of tragedy or some impending calamity. For example, a fast is observed if the scrolls of the Torah are dropped. The length of the fast varies, and some Jews will reduce the length of the fast through tzedakah, or charitable acts.

Purpose of fasting in Judaism

Judaism views three essential potential purposes of fasting, and a combination of some or all of these could apply to any given fast. One purpose in fasting is the achievement of atonement for sins and omissions in Divine service. Fasting is not considered the primary means of acquiring atonement; rather, sincere regret for and rectification of wrongdoing is key (see Isaiah, 58:1-13, which appropriately is read as the haftorah on Yom Kippur).

Nevertheless, fasting is conducive to atonement, for it tends to precipitate contrition in the one who fasts (see Joel, 2:12-18). This is why the Bible requires fasting (lit. self affliction) on Yom Kippur (see Leviticus, 23:27,29,32; Numbers, 29:7; Tractate Yoma, 8:1; ibid. (Babylonian Talmud), 81a). Because, according to the Hebrew Bible, hardship and calamitous circumstances can occur as a result of wrongdoing (see, for example, Leviticus, 26:14-41), fasting is often undertaken by the community or by individuals to achieve atonement and avert catastrophe (see, for example, Esther, 4:3,16; Jonah, 3:7). Most of the Talmud's Tractate Ta'anit ("Fast[s]") is dedicated to the protocol involved in declaring and observing fast days.

The second purpose in fasting is commemorative mourning. Indeed, most communal fast days that are set permanently in the Jewish calendar fulfil this purpose. These fasts include: Tisha B'Av, Seventeenth of Tammuz, Tenth of Tevet (all of the three dedicated to mourning the loss of the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem), and Fast of Gedaliah. The purpose of a fast of mourning is the demonstration that those fasting are impacted by and distraught over earlier loss. This serves to heighten appreciation of that which was lost. This is in line with Isaiah (66:10), who indicates that mourning over a loss leads to increased happiness upon return of the loss:

Be glad with Jerusalem, and exult in her, all those who love her; rejoice with her in celebration, all those [who were] mourners over her.

The third purpose in fasting is commemorative gratitude. Since food and drink are corporeal needs, abstinence from them serves to provide a unique opportunity for focus on the spiritual. Indeed, the Midrash explains that fasting can potentially elevate one to the exalted level of the Mal'achay HaSharait (ministering angels) (Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer, 46). This dedication is considered appropriate gratitude to God for providing salvation. Additionally, by refraining from such basic physical indulgence, one can more greatly appreciate the dependence of humanity on God, leading to appreciation of God's benificience in sustaining His creations. Indeed, Jewish philosophy considers this appreciation one of the fundamental reasons for which God endowed mankind with such basic physical needs as food and drink. This is seen from the text of the blessing customarily recited after consuming snacks or drinks:

You are the Source of all blessing, O' Eternal One, our God, King of the universe, Creator of many souls, who gave [those souls] needs for all that which You created, to give life through them to every living soul. Blessed is the Eternal Life-giver.


Sikhism is probably the only major organised world religion that does not promote fasting except for medical reasons. The Sikh Gurus discourage the devotee from engaging in this ritual as it is considered to "brings no spiritual benefit to the person". The Sikh holy Scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib tell us: "Fasting, daily rituals, and austere self-discipline - those who keep the practice of these, are rewarded with less than a shell."(SGGS page 216). So most Sikhs have never undertaken a fast of any kind.

Medical fasting

People can also fast for medical reasons, which has been an accepted practice for many years. One reason is to prepare for surgery or other procedures that require anesthetic. Because the presence of food in a person's system can cause complications when they are anesthetized, medical personnel strongly suggest that their patients fast for several hours before the procedure.

Another reason for medical fasting is for certain medical tests. People are often asked to fast so that a baseline can be established.

A longer fast for health reasons typically lasts a week or longer and includes some food intake, such as fruit or vegetable juices, as part of a detox diet.

Some doctors believe that pure water fasting can not only detoxify cells and rejuvenate organs, but can actually cure such diseases and conditions as cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, colitis, psoriasis, lupis and some other autoimmune disorders when combined with a healthy diet. They believe that "Fasting is Nature's Restorer."[2]

Recent studies on mice show that fasting every other day while eating double the normal amount of food on non-fasting days led to better insulin control, neuronal resistance to injury, and health indicators similar to mice on calorie restricted diets [citation needed]. This may mean that alternate-day fasting is an alternative to caloric restriction for life extension. However, this result may not apply to human physiology.

People who feel they are near the end of their life sometimes consciously refuse food and/or water. The term in the medical literature is patient refusal of nutrition and hydration. Contrary to popular impressions, published studies [3] indicate that "within the context of adequate palliative care, the refusal of food and fluids does not contribute to suffering among the terminally ill", and might actually contribute to a comfortable passage from life: "At least for some persons, starvation does correlate with reported euphoria."

In natural medicine, fasting is seen as a way of cleansing the body of toxins, dead or diseased tissues, and giving the gastro-intestinal system a rest. Such fasts are either water-only, or consist of fruit and vegetable juices. Some results have been achieved while including fasting in the treatment of some (but not all) kinds of cancer, [4] autoimmune diseases, [5]and allergies. [6]

Political fasting and hunger strikes

Main article: Hunger strike

Political fasts (today more commonly known as the hunger strikes) have been around since antiquity. Fasting was used as a method of protest and receiving justice in pre-Christian Ireland, as well as in India.

One of the most famous people to go on a political fast was Mohandas Gandhi. Some people see a difference between a hunger strike, a pure political act, and fasting, a political and religious act. By fasting, they intend to take some of the responsibility of the problem in question.

Hunger strikes have been used by personalities all over the world, including Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Sands, Cesar Chavez and Lanza del Vasto (during the Algerian War, Vatican II and the struggle of the farmers of the Larzac plateau).

In early 2003, prior to the invasion of Iraq, it became known that President George W. Bush had pledged to refrain from eating sweets while American troops were in harm's way. In June of that year, a newspaper story carried an account of Bush dining on peach melba and lemon pound cake with European Union leaders.[citation needed]

Today, hunger strikes are often used by refugees seeking political asylum.

A crossover between the religious fast and the political fast can be seen in 40 Hour Famine, an event run annually by the Christian relief organization World Vision Australia, in which participants fast for 40 hours to raise awareness of world hunger and funds for World Vision's relief efforts. Each year the 40 Hour Famine draws hundreds of thousands of participants throughout the Pacific Rim and beyond.

In India, the tradition of political fasts continue. Politicians participate in short token fasts for gaining media attention. But people's movements in India, many organized around Gandhi's doctrine of non-violence and truth, continue to use fasting as a means of peaceful protest. Members of the Narmada Bachao Andolan have often employed this tool of protest, with decreasing efficacy.

Physical effects of fasting

When food is not eaten, the body looks for other ways to find energy, such as drawing on glucose from the liver's stored glycogen and fatty acids from stored fat and eventually moving on to vital protein tissues. Body, brain and nerve tissue depend on glucose for metabolism. Once the glucose is significantly used up, the body's metabolism changes, producing ketone bodies (acetoactate, hydroxy-butyrate, and acetone). Even though this transformation to an alternative form of energy has been made, some parts of the brain exclusively need glucose, and protein is still needed to produce it. If body protein loss were to continue, death will ensue.

After approximately three days of fasting, feelings of hunger usually become infrequent or disappear altogether. According to Herbert M. Shelton, a proponent of Natural Hygiene, who over a period of 45 years supervised patients fasting on water only for up to ninety days. Shelton claimed the 'hunger' experienced during the first three days of a fast is "gastric irritation", and not "true hunger", which appears after all the body's resources are used up and when the fast must be broken to avoid permanent and irreversible organ damage. [7]

Fasting in literature

  • Franz Kafka's short story A Hunger Artist (Ein Hungerkünstler - 1922) describes a man who fasts as a form of art or theater.


  • The Bridegroom Fast - This fast was initiated by the leaders of the International House of Prayer, and is observed on the first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of each month. Based on Matthew 9:15, its focus is intimacy with Christ, who is described in the Bible as the bridegroom of the Church. The fast is accompanied by services in Kansas City, which are freely accessibly by webcast. It is observed largely in charismatic circles.
  • Jeûne genevois (lit. "fast of Geneva") is a public holiday and day of fasting in the canton of Geneva, Switzerland, occurring on the Thursday following the first Sunday of September.

See also

External links


  2. Fasting and Eating for Health : A Medical Doctor's Program for Conquering Disease, Joel Fuhrman,MD 1998, ISBN 0-312-18719-X
  4. Shelton, H M, Fasting Can Save Your Life. American Natural Hygiene Society Inc. 1964, Fourth Printing 1991, pp. 38-9, 160-3. ISBN 0-914532-23-5
  5. ibid page 107-13.
  6. ibid pages 122-4.
  7. Shelton, H M, Fasting Can Save Your Life. American Natural Hygiene Society Inc. 1964, Fourth Printing 1991, p. 34. ISBN 0-914532-23-5

Fr:Jeûne Nutrition and mental health

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