What is Fasting?
It's more than just not eating.
Fasting is a natural practice done to promote healing, to fortify the body and soul, not to tear them down. In the
animal kingdom it happens on an
instinctual level. While we humans usually have to make a greater effort, it is still a natural biological
action. Eating 24/7 is not natural. Taking a break from food allows for a rebalancing within the
body, and within our psyche, affecting also our sense of connection to the world of spirit.
See here for a variety of quotes from
doctors, writers, and health professionals about the effects of fasting.
So what are all the different terms?
In its simplest form, fasting is abstaining from all food and drink except water. (Although there is a purer
form yet, called "dry fasting".) This is the
older definition for fasting and the meaning implied by the ancient teachers, like Hippocrates when he
prescribed fasting for health. (See History
In our modern-day world, the definition has become more complicated because we often include modified
fasting in the definition. Modified fasting allows the addition of other items to the diet besides water, like
juice or fruit or other simple, wholesome foods. Technically, these would actually be "diets" and are sometimes
called "cleansing diets" or "detox diets", to emphasize the cleansing aspects, and "fasting diets".
What they all have in common is that they abstain from select food or drink for a specified period of time,
with an intent toward either increased health or increased spiritual awareness, or both.
On this site, we use the term fasting for the more intense methods where food and nutrition are severely
restricted, as in none at all (water fasting) or very limited (as in the
Master Cleanse or
fruit fasting). These methods are a drastic
change from normal eating patterns. We use the term "cleansing diets" for those methods which are milder in
nature and allow for a greater diversity and quantity of food. (See
Types of Fasting for more information
on the different methods.)
As you learn more about fasting, you'll discover there is every shade of gray between fasting and a
cleansing diet and a "regular" diet.
What healthy fasting is not
Fasting for the purpose of starvation (by healthy individuals) or for political reform is obviously not the
healthful therapeutic fasting we're promoting here. There are those who use fasting, the denial of food and/or
water, to do themselves bodily harm. One can fast until bodily tissue is irreparably destroyed and until death
by starvation occurs. Sometimes this is purposeful and sometimes, as in the case of eating disorders, it is
Even without such extreme intentions, we can do our bodies a disservice if we are not careful about the
process. There are those who have come out of a fast feeling worse than when they started. In these rare cases,
invariably some signal of distress by
the body was ignored. We can't let our goals and expectations for the fasting experience override our
connection to health and well being.
To quote Herbert Shelton, a proponent of water fasting, from his book, Fasting Can Save Your Life:
"One must differentiate between fasting and starving. To fast is to abstain from food while
one possesses adequate reserves to nourish his vital tissues; to starve is to abstain from food after
his reserves have been exhausted so that vital tissues are sacrificed. We are not left unwarned as to when
the reserves are nearing exhaustion. Hunger returns with an intensity that drives one to seek food, although
during the fast proper, there is no desire for food. This differentiation between fasting and
starving should help to dispel any notion that starvation sets in with the omission of the first
Since there are certain health conditions that preclude fasting, be sure to read
Who Can Fast before beginning a fast.
Physiological effect of fasting
When fasting, our bodies' change gears to that of cleansing and healing. Energy, in the form of glucose is still
necessary to proper functioning. Ketosis
is a complex metabolic process whereby some bodily functions will switch to using ketones for fuel instead
This process can protect us during times of famine, which is a long-term event, but serves us well in the
short term, during times of illness or stress or any other imbalance for which abstinence from food is called for
or accidentally occurs. The body will
signal when its reserves are no longer capable of supporting the body's energy needs.
The purpose of fasting is many-fold
There are many benefits to fasting, as it
has such widespread effects on our being as a whole. Not just our physical bodies are affected, but also our
mental and emotional states, as
well as our feeling of spiritual connection.
Physically, fasting provides a natural resting period for our bodies, during which stored waste materials
can be more easily eliminated and greater healing can occur. There are many
common conditions that have consistently shown
improvement in fasting individuals. And after the initial detox discomfort passes, we experience a greater
level of energy and enthusiasm toward life.
Spiritually, fasting has been or is a part of every major religion. The clarity and insights gained through
fasting lead to greater faith and understanding. Prayer becomes more meaningful. Meditation becomes more fulfilling.
There are a variety of approaches to healthy fasting
It's not just water fasting anymore. There are lots of options for us now; juice fasting, rice fasting, and fruit
fasting are some of the most popular (see Types of
Fasting page). And the length of time
to fast is not set in stone, you can go whatever length of time feels appropriate to you, even less than a day.
If you're looking specifically to do a fast for detox or cleansing, any fast or cleansing diet will deliver
that--it's just a matter of how quickly the detox happens and how much discomfort you may feel in the process.
Methods of fasting are as varied as we are. Just as each of us is unique, so the perfect method to meet our
individual needs will be unique. Listen to your inner knowing in deciding what method to employ and feel free to
alter any given style as you see fit.
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