A Guide to Help You Learn about Fasting
Welcome! We are glad you have arrived at our website. This guide is here to help you decide if you want to fast or - if you have already made that decision - to learn more about how to go about it. When people talk about fasting they may be talking about different things: water fasting, juice fasting, or abstaining from certain types of food. There are individual pages here about different fasting methods, how they are practiced, motivations for fasting, and tips for helping you succeed in your fasting goals.
To get started, you may want to check out individual pages about water fasting, juice fasting, or a page that explains the reasons people fast. If you continue to scroll down here you will find some general background information about fasting, along with tips and advice that can help you regardless of what method of fasting you are considering.
What is Fasting
Fasting in its most general sense is some form of depriving yourself of certain foods for set periods of time. Not eating meat for a week, only drinking water from sunrises to sunset for forty days, or not eating or drinking anything for a portion of a day are all considered fasting. Most of the examples just given are rooted in spiritual and religious practices.
A variation on the selective deprivation theme is to abstain from solid foods and only drink juices. This can be done for a single day or for many days. Juice fasting is primarily done to detoxify the body rather than for spiritual reasons. There are though some spiritual fasting guides that advocate a juice fast if a person is considering a long fast.
Only drinking water for a day or many days is one of the most restrictive types of voluntary fasting (some religious fasting traditions call for total abstinence but this is only done from sunrise to sunset). Water fasts may be done for part of the day, a single day, or many days. The motivation may be spiritual, for health reasons or a combination of the two.
The type of fast that most Americans are probably familiar with is a medically prescribed fast. This is typically a water only fast and is at least 12 hour hours in duration. It is usually a prerequisite for a medical test or procedure that your doctor has ordered. If you have been prescribed a fast you may want to skip down to the sections that detail some general advice about preparing or carrying out your fast.
Check with your Doctor before Fasting
If you are thinking about fasting the first thing you need to consider is your health. Talk to your physician before you fast to be sure the dietary change the fast imposes is something your body will be able to handle. This is the very, very important!
Individual Differences and your Fasting Experiences
We are all unique. Two people can be subjected to the same conditions and their reactions can be quite different. Keep this in mind as you read through the suggestions, advice, and ideas that are presented here and in other information you find. Some techniques, tips, and advice will turn out to be quite helpful to you. Others will simply will not work for you or perhaps will not make much sense. Trial and error is the key if you are just starting out. Fasting requires discipline but also involves getting to know yourself. One of the reasons it is part of numerous religious traditions is that fasting is a great way to discover things about yourself and what you believe. Fasting is a journey of discovery. Some elements of your experience will be similar to other peoples' experiences but the combination of reactions, insights, challenges, and success you have will be unique to your fasting practice.
If you have become motivated to fast and have never done so before you will need to begin to learn how your respond mentally and physically to not eating. As you gain experience you will discover your own set of internal challenges. These will be physical and mental. There will also be external challenges. As you move through your day you go from place to place you will inevitably come across food. This is true whether you stay at home, go to work or are on vacation. You will also find yourself in different social situations. These may be interactions with your family, co-workers, and people that are part of the social communities that you have in your life. Interactions that you have with others can be a challenge because many social interactions involve food. There are also many social norms that influence how we think and feel about eating. All of these internal and external forces come into play when you carry out a fast.
Depending on the length of your planned fast it can be helpful to prepare yourself for the change and the challenges you are about to face.
Here are a few things you may want to consider:
If you have never fasted before begin by doing things on a smaller scale first. Fast for a few hours or for just part of a day. If you start in the evening and go to sleep without eating, you can spend part or all of your morning fasting. You could also try to have a day where the only food you eat is taken during a single meal. The small scale preparation approach could also include trying to be more selective in what you eat. Try to abstain from something you like or normally eat. Perhaps try to cut out one of the following out of your diet for a few days: alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, sugar, red meat, or poultry. If you’re a little bolder try to eat nothing but fruits and vegetables for a set amount of time. Whatever kind of test you can set up for yourself will give you an idea of what you will face once you jump fully into a more complete fast.
Fasting detoxifies your body. By eating less or nothing at all your body has an opportunity to clean itself in a way it normally cannot. If your diet consists of a lot of meat, processed foods, and you drink coffee and smoke it may be quite a shock to cut any or all of these things out of your diet. Not drinking coffee, for example, can induce headaches if you are used to having caffeine every day. Cutting back or altering your diet days before you fast can help your body's detoxification process be less of a shock once you get into your fast.
If you have never fasted you are in for a treat. Many of us like to think we control ourselves and our thoughts pretty well. Be prepared to be humbled. There have been times when I have been fasting when I could think of nothing but eating. At other times I have been going about my day, have a completely empty stomach, and completely forgot I was trying to fast. I got to a place where it was the time and situation where I normally eat and I simply proceeded to so without thinking about fasting. As you fast more and more you will begin to have your own interesting experiences. Fasting provides many benefits and learning about ourselves is just one of the many rewards it can offer.
Here are some tips for dealing with some of the challenges you may experience:
Decide who you will tell and talk to about your fasting.
Besides a few people you trust and find supportive, you should consider limiting who you tell. The first few times you fast, and talk to people about what you are doing, you will learn more about why this is important. People will ask or tell you all kinds of things about food, nutrition and religion when you mention you are fasting. This can be interesting but it can also be a bit draining too have to deal with potentially emotional reactions from other people. With this in mind, a group of colleagues you sometimes eat lunch with might not be the people tell about your fasting. Your close friend at work is probably a safer confidant. If your fast is spiritual in nature you may have people in your spiritual community that you can talk about this with, which can be really nice. It is also good to have some idea of what you might want to say if you are get into a situation where others are eating while you, conspicuously, are not. It is not always easy on you to have to get into a discussion about fasting with folks that may have strong opinions and little knowledge about fasting. Realize too that there is nothing wrong with saying you do not feel like eating, rather than feeling like you need to tell everyong you are fasting.
Consider how Fasting fits with your other plans.
It can be easier to fast if you have more control over your time and surroundings. If you are going on a one day water fast you should probably not plan to do it on a day when you have a scheduled social event that includes eating a meal. Some people find it easier to fast if they are busy. This allows them to be distracted from thinking about food. Other people find it easier to fast when they have less demands on their time. A Saturday or Sunday, for example, might work better than than a work day.
Try to remove or eliminate temptations.
Hide the food you normally have out in your kitchen. Don't go out to eat with a group of people or visit someone that will have a spread of food out at some event. Or maybe you don't need to worry about any of this. Some people have a hard time being around food when they are fasting while others are not bothered at all. You could also try to have fun with things (maybe you could tape the refrigerator shut if you live alone!), if you can, and take any steps you can that will help you succeed. Your food environment can make a big difference in how you feel about not eating.
Limit your physical exertion.
You do need to consider that you are likely to be limiting or entirely stopping your intake of calories and nutrients. Think about how the proper mix of fasting and (potentially limited) physical activity will make the most sense for your situation.
Be prepared for mental, physical, and spiritual challenges.
Feeling hungry and not eating does a lot to you mind, body, and spirit. It may be physically uncomfortable. Headaches, dizziness, and other ailments may arise as a result of detoxification. Hunger pangs can also manifest themselves in a physical way (if you develop any strong physical symptoms or problems you may need to break your fast and possibly go see a doctor). You will also discover a lot about how you feel about food and eating through denying yourself food. You can use this as an opportunity to think about how and why you eat. This knowledge can teach you to how to eat better during times that you are not fasting. From a spiritual perspective many people use fasting to focus on their beliefs, to enter into periods of prayer, and grow their faith. As with the mental side of things, fasting can serve as a wonderful way to help you to explore, learn and expand your spiritual life.
Breaking your fast
Once your fast is completed you can potentially realize more benefits and avoid some discomfort by being aware of a few things.
You have just put your body through a period of heightened detoxification. If you have been on an extended fast, you should have sought medical guidance that includes plans for how you will deal with some potentially serious issues once your fast ends. Your body has adjusted to a different state and you should not severely shock it by eating and drinking things that will cause discomfort and physical problems.
Even if you are not coming off a long restrictive fast (and are following the medically provided plan you have in place to break it!), you should carefully consider your first meal. The health effects of shorter fasts, for instance, can be extended by eating a simple but nutritious meal. If your fast has gone longer than a day, there is also a chance that you may experience discomfort that can include diarrhea or other sickness if you eat too heavy or too dense a meal when you break your fast.
That's it for the general advice and overview. Enjoy your fasting!