The decision to fast is usually made for one of two reasons. There is either a compelling health (diet, detox, medical, etc.) or spiritual need. Many people wonder what will happen if you don't eat or restrict your intake of food. If you are curious about that you can read a little primer about hunger, nourishment, and digestion.
Medical and Health Related Fasting
There are a number of non-spiritually guided reasons for fasting:
Dieting - As part of a healthy diet or, alternatively, as an often misguided attempt to miraculously and quickly lose weight
Medical Testing - setting a baseline standards for various diagnostic tests or as a precursor to a medical procedure
Detoxification - to cleanse the body
Religious and Spiritual Fasting
Fasting is part of the traditions of (you can read more about each fasting tradition by clicking on the links):
Christianity - No formal or true fasting is required in most denominations. Dietary restrictions, often referred to as fasting, are followed for some occasions. Individuals may practice true fasting but this is done as a matter of personal choice.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -
Judaism - Observed on numerous days throughout the year. Primarily followed as a means of repentance, for mourning, and to remember important events form the past.
Islam - For Muslims fasting during the 30 days of Ramadan are a central part of their religious practice.
Buddhism - Fasting for a majority of the day is done within some communities; others practice by individual choice.
Hinduism - A belief system with a wide ranging set of ideas beliefs and practices, the ways and rules of fasting also vary widely in practical use and in importance.
Jainism - Fasting is an important discipline within Jainistic tradition and is practiced in many different ways.
Bahá'í Faith - An annual nineteen day dawn-to-dusk fast is obligatory for members of the faith.
The reasons for and manner of fasting are quite different in each tradition. You can learn more about each faith and its fasting practices here. Spiritual fasting has its roots in mysticism and other practices that have been a part of many primitive cultures (Origins of Fasting).
Fasting can be used as a form of civil disobedience or protest. Hunger strikes, for example, are often water only fasts. Numerous hunger strikes and protest fasts have been important in garnering attention for causes, stimulating public sympathy, and altering government policies. Check out more about Protest Fasting.
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