Fasting is a difficult subject because there are so many misconceptions about what fasting really is. If people understood fasting, they would fast much more. Unfortunately, because we live in an age of abundance, people hardly ever fast in the western world. A consequence of this is the explosion of many modern diseases. We simply eat too much.
Many people think that the idea of stopping eating is never a good thing. In my personal experience, fasting has been one of the most beneficial methods that I’ve tested to improve my health.
- How healthy is fasting?
- What type of fast should I choose?
- How long should I fast for?
- Should fasting be a habit?
- When shall I fast?
- How to start fasting?
- What about hunger?
- What are the different stages of fasting?
- How can I make fasting less difficult?
- How should I break the fast?
How healthy is fasting?
Since the drug industry has taken control over modern medicine, fasting has become a neglected practice, but seems to have been rediscovered recently.
In Russia, fasting has been recognised as an official method of treatment for certain diseases.
Fasting detoxifies, repairs and regenerates the body and is safe provided you follow some simple guidelines. It is important not to take fasting lightly and to take time to read about it first especially if you intend to fast for several days.
Fasting is also a great opportunity to spend time with God and a great way of dealing with certain struggles such as: gluttony, sensuality, anger, envy…
Fasting has been designed by God. Our bodies have been designed to fast regularly, not to eat continually.
Fasting is good for the body and the soul.
To make fasting more efficient and to avoid muscle loss, it is important to remain active whilst fasting, especially during long fasts.
If you intend to fast regularly, I recommend you buy a good book on the subject as this article is just an introduction.
What type of fast should I choose?
There are many types of fast.
There is the water fast, the dry fast, the juice fast, the fruit and vegetable fast…
On top of that you have more specific types such as the 5:2 diet, the Daniel fast, the intermittent fast… (see here for more information).
So the first stage is to decide which type of fasting is best for you. I can not answer this question as the answer depends on you.
The healthier you are and the more natural resources you have, the longer you’ll be able to fast.
How long should I fast for?
The most important rule about fasting is to be gentle on your body, so you might want to start with a day or even just a breakfast and then increase the length gradually.
Fasting for only one day is beneficial especially when it becomes a habit, but to get the most of the health benefits, it is best to fast for at least 3 or 4 days as, at about this point, the body switches to autophagy (i.e “eats itself”). Which means your body will then start using what is the least useful to power itself.
If you have a low level of fat in your body, I don’t really recommend doing much more than 4 to 5 days. If you’re struggling with health issues such as diabetes or fatigue, or if you’re underweight, fasting can be very beneficial, but try short fasts (e.g intermittent fasting) first, then extend very gently if you can.
Most people can go up to 8 to 15 days. Some people can fast for 30 days or more without it being harmful, but it is more beneficial (and safer) to repeat shorter fasts that to fast for such a long period.
Once your body gets used to it, it becomes much easier.
Should fasting be a habit?
When Christian people speak about fasting, they often see it as something to do when we feel that God is calling us to do so or when there is something very important to pray for.
Though we may want to fast specifically for something that is particularly important to us, I also recommend fasting regularly, i.e to have a regular pattern of fasting, for several reasons:
- The body prefers routine. Having a fasting pattern allows the body to adjust to it and makes it more beneficial.
- Do you only pray or read your Bible when you feel that God is calling you to do so? Discipline is part of the Christian life and fasting is no exception. Prayer, Bible reading and fasting should be part of the Christian routine.
- People need the Gospel. Life is a battle. There are always good reasons to pray and fast!
Fasting for 3 to 4 days in total every month is a great pattern and has many health and spiritual benefits.
When shall I fast?
When fasting, it is beneficial to:
- have time to rest and sleep as much as needed.
- take time to do some gentle physical exercise (walking, jogging…) and go outside.
- take time to relax and have some spiritual time.
So, avoid stressful times or times when you’re feeling tired, but choose a time when you’ll have time for yourself.
Some recommended fasting when you are not working, but working may actually help as it will make you focus on something other than your hunger.
How to start fasting?
Choose a date to start fasting and get mentally ready. Try not to see it as a chore, but as a positive experience for your body, your mind and your soul.
It is important to have a preparation time (at least one day when fasting for several days) before fasting to allow your body to slowly get used to eating less. You should only have light meals. Some recommend only eating fruit and vegetables during the preparation period.
It is also (strongly) recommended to cleanse the bowel. When fasting, bowel movements stop. It is therefore good practice to cleanse it on the day before and after the fast.
The most common way is by enema, but there are other ways to do it as described here.
Fasting is all about cleansing the body and the mind, so it makes sense to also cleanse the bowels, even though this may seem unnatural for a lot of people.
What about hunger?
Jesus fasted for 40 days (Matthew 4) (unless you have a very good knowledge about fasting, don’t try to do the same). It is interesting that it is said that after 40 days, He was hungry. Jesus felt hungry because He reached the limits of his body. At this point, it was necessary to eat and His body started to be deprived of what it needed. The hunger that is felt at the beginning of a fast is not a real hunger and must be ignored.
Just like when entering into cold water, the body sends signals as a reaction, but they should be ignored at the beginning. The body will soon get used to it. After a few weeks, comes real hunger which must not be ignored.
It is important to highlight the fact that if your body is used to eating several times a day, it will be a shock not to have any food. The consequence of that is that you might find it difficult. But don’t be discouraged, after a few fasts you should find it easier.
So, don’t focus too much on your hunger. Try to have positive thoughts instead, to be active, to read your Bible and/or to focus on the goodness of God.
What are the different stages of fasting?
The beginning of a fast is difficult as the body will feel deprived and will need to adapt to the situation. At this stage, hunger is just a feeling. Real deprivation does not start before three weeks for most people. So, ignore your hunger and carry on!
It is important to understand that we all react differently to a fast, though there are some general guidelines.
During the first 2-3 days, the digestive system is at rest. After that, the body will switch to autophagy mode, which can lead to acidosis (i.e your body fluids contain too much acid) which is usually accompanied by fatigue and which can last for a few days, but it can vary from one person to another. The more difficult this stage is, the more the body needs to fast and to cleanse itself.
The more you are used to fasting, the easier fasting becomes.
Once the acidosis phase is finished, you should feel better, and possibly even better than usual. Your mind should feel clearer and you should have more energy, though this varies from one person to another.
How can I make fasting less difficult?
There is no easy answer. Some people find it easier to do a juice fast or a water fast.
When you feel hungry, drink warm salty water.
If you have a low level of energy, you can drink some warm water with a teaspoon of honey or juice.
If you find it difficult and you want to break the fast earlier than planned, you could reintroduce fruit and vegetables only or carry on with an intermittent fast.
And don’t forget to drink as much as needed to stay hydrated.
How should I break the fast?
- It is very important to be gentle on your body and not to eat a rich meal just after a fasting day. Start by eating just fruit and vegetables (preferably raw at first).
- After a few days of fasting, give time for your body to get back to a normal rhythm.
- Have a bowel cleanse. Optional but recommended.
For more information, I recommend the following website: www.allaboutfasting.com