Fasting, abstaining from food or certain foods for a set period of time, is common among believers of most of the world’s religions. Lately, intermittent fasting has also been getting a lot of buzz among secular audiences for the potential physical benefits it offers to our bodies.
Fasting for Spiritual Reasons
The denial of food to fulfill our physical needs (or, in most cases, desires) is practiced for several spiritual reasons:
- concentration and improved focus on love of God (Hindu, Baha’i, Mormon)
- purification (Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan)
- imitation of Jesus and Muhammad (Christian, Muslim)
- penance, solidarity with the poor, resistance to gluttony (Christian)
- atonement for sins (Jewish)
- closeness to God (Mormon)
Each faith has specific times and specifications for how fasts should be carried out. Some last for only a few hours, while others may last up to 40 days.
Fasting for Non-Spiritual Reasons
In 2013, Michael Mosley, a journalist trained as a doctor at the Royal Free Hospital in London, and Mimi Spencer, a journalist and author, popularized the “fast diet,” also known as 5:2 intermittent fasting (eating normally for five days, then only consuming 500-600 calories on two “fast” days each week).
Taking the “fast” approach to diet is nothing new. Studies on the effects of intermittent fasting date as far back as 1946. Other techniques include fasting every other day, random periods of eating/fasting (to imitate early human behavior) and fasting for certain amounts of time during the day (16 hour fast/8 hour feed, 20 hour fast/4 hour feed).
Supporters of these approaches claim that fasting causes more rapid weight loss than other methods, helps people develop more self control when it comes to eating and improves glucose control and blood lipids.
People of many different faiths believe fasting (especially combined with prayer) can be powerful spiritually. It has been practiced for thousands of years and continues to be an integral part of developing and strengthening faith.
However, according to WebMD, “if you’re fasting to lose weight, you may want to reconsider. The weight loss may not last after you finish fasting… If your goal is to detox your body, you should know that there’s no proof that it works. Your body naturally detoxes itself.”
Do not fast if you have diabetes. Even if you fast for a short amount of time, it can lead to dangerous fluctuations in blood sugar. Other people who should not fast include women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, elderly, children or anyone with a chronic disease.