Fasting is primarily the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. An absolute fast is normally defined as abstinence from all food and liquid for a defined period, usually a single day (24 hours), or several days. Juice fasting involves abstaining from food while deriving nutritional intake through freshly-juiced vegetables and fruits such that the body may detoxify. Other fasts may be only partially restrictive, limiting particular foods or substance. The fast may also be intermittent in nature. Fasting practices may preclude sexual intercourse and other activities as well as food.
In a physiological context, fasting may refer to (1) the metabolic status of a person who has not eaten overnight, and (2) to the metabolic state achieved after complete digestion and absorption of a meal. Several metabolic adjustments occur during fasting, and some diagnostic tests are used to determine a fasting state. For example, a person is assumed to be fasting after 8–12 hours. Metabolic changes toward the fasting state begin after absorption of a meal (typically 3–5 hours after a meal); "post-absorptive state" is synonymous with this usage, in contrast to the "post-prandial" state of ongoing digestion. A diagnostic fast refers to prolonged fasting (from 8–72 hours depending on age) conducted under observation for investigation of a problem, usually hypoglycemia. Finally, extended fasting has been recommended as therapy for various conditions by health professionals of most cultures, throughout history, from ancient to modern.
Glucose is the body's primary fuel source and is essential for the brain's functioning. When denied glucose for more than 4–8 hours, the body turns to the liver for glycogen, a storage form of glucose, to be used for fuel. A process called glycogenolysis converts glycogen into a usable form of fuel. At this point, the body also uses small amounts of protein to supplement this fuel. This fuel will last for up to 12 hours before the body needs to turn to glycogen stored in muscles, lasting for a few more days. If glucose is still denied at this point, muscle wasting is prevented by temporarily switching to fat as the primary fuel source, with glucose made as a byproduct during ketosis. The brain can then use this glucose or even ketones as a fuel source, while the rest of the body thrives on primarily fat. The body continues to use fat for as long as there is fat to consume. The body will generally indicate to the faster when fat levels are running extremely low (less than 7% and 10% of body weight for males and females, respectively) with an increased urge for food. Fasts are usually broken long before this point. If the fast is not broken, starvation begins to occur, as the body begins to use protein for fuel. Health complications associated with fast-induced starvation include electrolyte imbalances, thinning hair, lanugo, cardiac arrhythmia and renal failure. Death can occur if fasting is pursued to the point of complete starvation.
Research suggests there are major health benefits to caloric restriction. Benefits include reduced risks of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, insulin resistance, immune disorders, and more generally, the slowing of the aging process, and the potential to increase maximum life span. According to Dr. Mark P. Mattson, chief of the laboratory of neurosciences at the US National Institute on Aging, fasting every other day (intermittent fasting) shows beneficial effects in mice as strong as those of caloric-restriction diets, and a small study conducted on humans at the University of Illinois at Chicago indicates the same results  According to the US National Academy of Sciences, other health benefits include stress resistance, increased insulin sensitivity, reduced morbidity, and increased life span. Long-term studies in humans have not been conducted. However, short-term human trials showed benefits in weight loss. The side effect was that the participants felt cranky during the three week trial. According to the study conducted by Dr. Eric Ravussin, "Alternate-day fasting may be an alternative to prolonged diet restriction for increasing the life span".
Adherence to Greek Orthodox fasting periods contributes to an improvement in the blood lipid profile, including a decrease in total and LDL cholesterol, and a decrease in the LDL to HDL cholesterol ratio. A statistically insignificant reduction in HDL cholesterol was also observed. These results suggest a possible positive impact on the obesity levels of individuals who adhere to these fasting periods.
Changes in blood chemistry during fasting, in combination with certain medications, may have dangerous effects, such as increased chance of acetaminophen poisoning. Excessive fasting for calorie restrictive purposes, accompanied by intense fears of becoming overweight are associated with mental disturbances, including anorexia nervosa.
Buddhist monks and nuns following the Vinaya rules commonly do not eat each day after the noon meal. This is not considered a fast but rather a disciplined regimen aiding in meditation and good health.
Once when the Buddha was touring in the region of Kasi together with a large sangha of monks he addressed them saying: 'I, monks, do not eat a meal in the evening. Not eating a meal in the evening I, monks, am aware of good health and of being without illness and of buoyancy and strength and living in comfort. Come, do you too, monks, not eat a meal in the evening. Not eating a meal in the evening you too, monks, will be aware of good health and..... and living in comfort.'
Fasting is not practiced by lay Buddhists because it is seen as a deviation from the Middle Path. This is because prior to attaining Buddhahood, prince Siddhartha practiced a regime of six years of strict austerity during which he consumed very little food. Henceforth, prince Siddhartha practiced moderation in eating which he later advocated for his disciples. However, on Uposatha days (roughly once a week) lay Buddhists are instructed to observe the eight precepts which includes refraining from eating after noon till the following morning. The eight precepts closely resemble the ten vinaya precepts for novice monks and nuns. The novice precepts are the same with the prohibition against handling money.
The Vajrayana practice of Nyung Ne is based on the tantric practice of Chenrezig. It is said that Chenrezig appeared to an Indian nun who had contracted leprosy and was on the verge of death. Chenrezig taught her the method of Nyung Ne in which one keeps the eight precepts on the first day, then refrains from both food and water on the second. Although seemingly against the Middle Way, this practice is to experience the negative karma of both oneself and all other sentient beings and, as such is seen to be of benefit. Other self-inflicted harm is discouraged.
The "acceptable fast" is discussed in the biblical Book of Isaiah, chapter 58:6-7. In this chapter, the nation of Israel is rebuked for their fasting, and given this exhortation:
6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
This passage makes it very clear that the acceptable fast is not merely abstinance from food or water, but a decision to fully obey God's commands to care for the poor and opressed. Zechariah, chapter 7:5-10, also repeats this message. The opening chapter of the Book of Daniel, vv. 8-16, describes a partial fast and its effects on the health of its observers.
BENEFITS OF FASTING:
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
Fasting is a practice in several Christian denominations or other churches. Some denominations do not practice it, considering it an external observance, but many individual believers choose to observe fasts at various times at their own behest. The Lenten fast observed in the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church is a forty-day partial fast to commemorate the fast observed by Christ during his temptation in the desert. This is similar to the partial fasting within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (abstaining from meat and milk) which takes place during certain times of the year and lasts for weeks. The Bible sets aside one whole day a year for fasting, The Day of Atonement. Leviticus 23:27, 32 (CEV) says "Everyone must go without eating from the evening of the ninth to the evening of the tenth on the seventh month which is the Day of Atonement."
For Roman Catholics, fasting is the reduction of one's intake of food to one full meal (which may not contain meat on Fridays and throughout Lent) and two small meals (known liturgically as collations, taken in the morning and the evening), both of which together should not equal the large meal. Eating solid food between meals is not permitted. Fasting is required of the faithful between the ages of 18 and 59 on specified days. Complete abstinence, required of those 13 and older, is the avoidance of meat for the entire day. Partial abstinence prescribes that meat be taken only once during the course of the day.
Pope Pius XII had initially relaxed some of the regulations concerning fasting in 1956. In 1966, Pope Paul VI in his apostolic constitution Paenitemini, changed the strictly regulated Roman Catholic fasting requirements. He recommended that fasting be appropriate to the local economic situation, and that all Catholics voluntarily fast and abstain. In the United States, there are only two obligatory days of fast - Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence: eating meat is not allowed. Pastoral teachings since 1966 have urged voluntary fasting during Lent and voluntary abstinence on the other Fridays of the year. The regulations concerning such activities do not apply when the ability to work or the health of a person would be negatively affected.
Prior to the changes made by Pius XII and Paul VI, fasting and abstinence were more strictly regulated. The church had prescribed that Roman Catholics observe fasting and/or abstinence on a number of days throughout the year.
In addition to the fasts mentioned above, Roman Catholics must also observe the Eucharistic Fast, which involves taking nothing but water and medicines into the body for one hour before receiving the Eucharist. The ancient practice was to fast from midnight until Mass that day, but as Masses after noon and in the evening became common, this was soon modified to fasting for three hours. Current law requires merely one hour of eucharistic fast, although some Roman Catholics still abide by the older rules.
The Catholic Church has also promoted a Black Fast, in which in addition to water, bread is consumed. Typically, this form of fasting was only used by monks and other religious individuals who practice mortifications and asceticism, but all Catholics are invited to take part in it with the advice and consent of their Spiritual Director.
The Book of Common Prayer prescribes certain days as days for fasting and abstinence, but since the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, there have been no regulations prescribing the mode of observance for these days, nor is any distinction made between fasting and abstinence. Observance of fast days declined until the 19th century, when under the influence of the Oxford Movement many Anglicans began once again taking the prescribed fast days more seriously.
The Book of Common Prayer sets out the prescribed days as follows:
A Table of the Vigils, Fasts, and Days of Abstinence, to be Observed in the Year.
- The Evens or Vigils before:
- The Nativity of our Lord.
- The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin.
- Easter Day.
- Ascension Day.
- St. Matthias.
- St. John Baptist.
- St. Peter.
- St. James.
- St. Bartholomew.
- St. Matthew.
- St. Simon and St. Jude.
- St. Andrew.
- St. Thomas.
- All Saints.
- Note: if any of these Fast-Days fall upon a Monday, then the Vigil or Fast-Day shall be kept upon the Saturday, and not upon the Sunday next before it.
- Days of Fasting, or Abstinence.
- I. The Forty Days of Lent.
- II. The Ember-Days at the Four Seasons, being the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the First Sunday in Lent, the Feast of Pentecost, September 14, and December 13.
- III. The Three Rogation Days, being the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, before Holy Thursday, or the Ascension of our Lord.
- IV. All the Fridays in the Year, except Christmas Day.
In the process of revising the Book of Common Prayer in various parts of the Anglican Communion the specification of abstinence or fast for certain days has been retained, though because each province is free to set its own calendar, there is no universal Anglican rule for which days are fast days. Generally Lent and Fridays are set aside, though Fridays during the Easter season are sometimes avoided. Often the Ember Days or Rogation Days are also specified, and the eves of certain feasts.
Individual Anglicans are free to determine for themselves what particular measures of abstinence they will follow in the observance of these days, though certain parishes and dioceses are more encouraging of fasting than others. The Anglican Diocese of Sydney discourages its people from fasting during Lent.
For Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Christians, fasting is an important spiritual discipline, found in both the Old Testament and the New, and is tied to the principle in Orthodox theology of the synergy between the body (Greek: soma) and the soul (pnevma). That is to say, Orthodox Christians do not see a dichotomy between the body and the soul but rather consider them as a united whole, and they believe that what happens to one affects the other (this is known as the psychosomatic union between the body and the soul). Saint Gregory Palamas argued that man's body is not an enemy but a partner and collaborator with the soul. Christ, by taking a human body at the Incarnation, has made the flesh an inexhaustible source of sanctification. This same concept is also found in the much earlier homilies of Saint Macarius the Great.
Fasting can take up a significant portion of the calendar year. The purpose of fasting is not to suffer, but according to Sacred Tradition to guard against gluttony and impure thoughts, deeds and words. Fasting must always be accompanied by increased prayer and almsgiving (donating to a local charity, or directly to the poor, depending on circumstances). To engage in fasting without them is considered useless or even spiritually harmful. To repent of one's sins and to reach out in love to others is part and parcel of true fasting.
There are four fasting seasons, which include:
Wednesdays and Fridays are also fast days throughout the year (with the exception of fast-free periods). In some Orthodox monasteries, Mondays are also observed as fast days (Mondays are dedicated to the Angels, and monasticism is called the "angelic life").
Other days occur which are always observed as fast days:
Fasting during these times includes abstention from:
When a feast day occurs on a fast day, the fast is often mitigated (lessened) to some degree (though meat and dairy are never consumed on any fast day). For example the Feast of the Annunciation almost always occurs within the Great Lent in the Orthodox calendar: in this case fish (traditionally haddock fried in olive oil) is the main meal of the day.
There are two degrees of mitigation: allowance of wine and oil; and allowance of fish, wine and oil. The very young and very old, nursing mothers, the infirm, as well as those for whom fasting could endanger their health somehow, are exempt from the strictest fasting rules.
On weekdays of the first week of Great Lent, fasting is particularly severe, and many observe it by abstaining from all food for some period of time. According to strict observance, on the first five days (Monday through Friday) there are only two meals eaten, one on Wednesday and the other on Friday, both after the Presanctified Liturgy. Those who are unable to follow the strict observance may eat on Tuesday and Thursday (but not, if possible, on Monday) in the evening after Vespers, when they may take bread and water, or perhaps tea or fruit juice, but not a cooked meal. The same strict abstention is observed during Holy Week, except that a vegan meal with wine and oil is allowed on Great Thursday.
On Wednesday and Friday of the first week of Great Lent the meals which are taken consist of xerophagy (literally, "dry eating") i.e. boiled or raw vegetables, fruit, and nuts. In a number of monasteries, and in the homes of more devout laypeople, xerophagy is observed on every weekday (Monday through Friday) of Great Lent, except when wine and oil are allowed.
Those desiring to receive Holy Communion keep a total fast from all food and drink from midnight the night before (see Eucharistic discipline). The sole exception is the Communion offered at the Easter Sunday midnight liturgy, when all are expressly invited and encouraged to receive the Eucharist, regardless of whether they have kept the prescribed fast.
During certain festal times the rules of fasting are done away with entirely, and everyone in the church is encouraged to feast with due moderation, even on Wednesday and Friday. Fast-free days are as follows:
With the exception of the fifty days following Easter in the Coptic Orthodox Church, fish is not allowed during Lent, or on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Baramon days. Other than that fish and shellfish are allowed during fasting days.
The discipline of fasting entails that, apart from Saturdays, Sundays, and holy feasts, one should keep a total fast from all food and drink from midnight the night before to a certain time in the day usually three o'clock in the afternoon (the hour Jesus died on the Cross). Also, it is preferred that one reduce one's daily intake of food (typically, by eating only one full meal a day).
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has an especially rigorous fasting calendar.
Fasting in the Ethiopian Church implies abstention from food and drink. No animal products are consumed, including dairy, eggs, meat, and utensils that have touched such products must be washed before touching the strictly vegan foods that are consumed on fast days. During fast periods, Holy Liturgy (Mass) is held at noon (except on Saturdays and Sundays), and because no food can be consumed before communion, it is traditional for people to abstain from food until mass is over (around 2 to 3 in the afternoon). Every Wednesday and Friday are days of fasting because Wednesday is the day that the Lord was condemned and Friday is the day he was crucified (the Wednesdays and Fridays between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday are an exception as well as when Christmas or Epiphany fall on a Wednesday or a Friday ). The fasts that are ordained in the canon of the Church of Ethiopia are:
In addition to these, there is the fast of repentance which a person keeps after committing sin, it being imposed as a penance by the priest for seven days, forty days or one year. There is also a fast which a bishop keeps at the time he is consecrated. Also there are fasts that are widely observed but which have not been included in the canon of the church and which are therefore considered strictly optional such as the "Tsige Tsom" or Spring Fast, also known as "Kweskwam Tsom" which marks the exile of the Holy Family in Egypt.
Monks and nuns observe additional fast days not required of the laity. All persons above the age of 13 are expected to observe the church fasts. Most children over age 7 are expected to observe at least the Fast of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin. Dispensations are granted to those who are ill.
The total number of fasting days amounts to about 250 a year. While many observe the Coptic churches allowance for fish during the longer fasts, it has increasingly become practice in the Ethiopian Church to abstain from fish during all fasts.
In Protestantism, the continental reformers criticized fasting as a purely external observance that can never gain a person salvation. Martin Luther believed that a Christian may choose to fast individually as a spiritual exercise to discipline his own flesh, but that the time and manner of fasting should be left to the individual's discretion; thus, he rejected the collective diet rules and prohibitions imposed by the canon law of the Catholic Church. This position was upheld by Lutheran churches, in that collective fasting was not officially enforced, whereas individual voluntary fasting was encouraged. John Calvin went further in arguing that in general, instead of relying on designated fasting periods, the entire life of the religious should be "tempered with frugality and sobriety" in such a way as to produce "a sort of perpetual fasting". He believed that collective public fasting could only be appropriate in times of calamity and grief for the community. Similarly, the Swiss Reformation of the "Third Reformer" Huldrych Zwingli began with an ostentatious public sausage-eating during Lent—though Zwingli himself did not partake of the sausage.
In general, fasting remains optional in most Protestant groups and is less popular among Protestants than among other Christian denominations. Still, in more recent years, many churches affected by liturgical renewal movements have begun to encourage fasting as part of Lent and sometimes Advent, two penitential seasons of the liturgical year.
Members of the Anabaptist movement generally fast in private. The practice is not regulated by ecclesiastic authority.
Some other Protestants consider fasting, usually accompanied by prayer, to be an important part of their personal spiritual experience, apart from any liturgical tradition.
As explained above, the Lutheran Churches encourage individual fasting. Certain modern Lutheran communities also advocate fasting during designated times such as Lent. It is also considered to be an appropriate physical preparation for partaking of the Eucharist, but fasting is not necessary for receiving the sacrament. Martin Luther wrote in his Small Catechism "Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training, but a person who has faith in these words, 'given for you' and 'shed for you for the forgiveness of sin' is really worthy and well prepared.".
Classical Pentecostalism does not have set days of abstinence and lent, but individuals in the movement may feel they are being directed by the Holy Spirit to undertake either short or extended fasts. Although Pentecostalism has not classified different types of fasting, certain writers within the movement have done so. Arthur Wallis writes about the "Normal Fast" in which pure water alone is consumed. The "Black Fast" in which nothing, not even water, is consumed is also mentioned. Dr. Curtis Ward claims that undertaking a black fast beyond three days may lead to dehydration, may irreparably damage the kidneys, and result in possible death. He further notes that nowhere in the New Testament is it recorded that anyone ever undertook a black fast beyond three days and that one should follow this biblical guideline. Dr. Herbert Shelton advises that one should drink water according to natural thirst. In addition to the Normal Fast and the Black Fast, some undertake what is referred to as the Daniel Fast (or Partial Fast) in which only one type of food (e.g., fruit or fruit and non-starchy vegetables) is consumed. In a Daniel Fast, meat is almost always avoided, in following the example of Daniel and his friends' refusal to eat the meat of Gentiles, which had been offered to idols and not slaughtered in a kosher manner. In some circles of Pentecostals, the term "fast" is simply used, and the decision to drink water is determined on an individual basis. In other circles profuse amounts of pure water is advised to be consumed during the fasting period to aid the cleansing of internal toxins. Most Pentecostal writers on fasting concur with Dr. Mark Mattson who says that sensible intermittent fasting with a sensible water intake can strengthen the organism and assist thwarting degenerative diseases.
For Charismatic Christians fasting is undertaken at the leading of God. Fasting is done in order to seek a closer intimacy with God, as well as an act of petition. Some take up a regular fast of one or two days each week as a spiritual observance. Holiness movements, such as those started by John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield in the early days of Methodism, often practice such regular fasts as part of their regimen.
For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, fasting is total abstinence from food and drink accompanied by prayer. Members are encouraged to fast on the first Sunday of each month, designated as Fast Sunday. During Fast Sunday, members fast for two consecutive meals for a total of 24 hours. The money saved by not having to purchase and prepare meals is donated to the church as a fast offering, which is then used to help people in need.[not specific enough to verify] The late LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley asked: “What would happen if the principles of fast day and the fast offering were observed throughout the world[?] The hungry would be fed, the naked clothed, the homeless sheltered. ... A new measure of concern and unselfishness would grow in the hearts of people everywhere.”
Sunday worship meetings on Fast Sunday include opportunities for church members to publicly bear testimony during the sacrament meeting portion, often referred to as fast and testimony meeting.
Fasting is also encouraged for members any time they desire to grow closer to God and to show self-mastery of spirit over body. Members may also implement personal, family or group fasts any time they desire to solicit special blessings from God, including health or comfort for themselves and/or others.
Individuals can also use fasting as a part of their repentance process or to show gratitude toward God.
Fasting is a very integral part of the Hindu religion. Individuals observe different kinds of fasts based on personal beliefs and local customs. Some are listed below.
Methods of fasting also vary widely and cover a broad spectrum. If followed strictly, the person fasting does not partake any food or water from the previous day's sunset until 48 minutes after the following day's sunrise. Fasting can also mean limiting oneself to one meal during the day and/or abstaining from eating certain food types and/or eating only certain food types. In any case, even if the fasting Hindu is non-vegetarian, he/she is not supposed to eat or even touch any animal products (i.e., meat, eggs) on a day of fasting. (Milk is an exception for animal products). Amongst Hindus in Maharashtra during fasting, starchy items such as potatoes and Sago are allowed. The other allowed food items include milk products and peanuts. It should be noted that peanuts and the starchy items mentioned above originate outside India.
In Sri Vidya, one is forbidden to fast because the Devi is within them, and starving would in return starve the god. The only exception in Srividya for fasting is on the anniversary of the day one's parents died.
Mahatma Gandhi employed fasting as a tool in "Satyagraha". In attempt to avoid elements of self and egoism Gandhi developed very clear rules of fasting. In essence, fasts were an expression of "suffering love". According to Bhikhu Parekh, in his book in the Past Masters series, Gandhi’s reasons for fasting were essentially fourfold:
In some specific periods of time (like Caturmasya, Ekadashi fasting...) it is said that one who fast on these days and properly doing spiritual practice on these days like associating with devotees (sadhu-sangha), chanting holy names of Hari (Vishnu, Narayana, Rama, Krishna...) (kirtanam) and similar (shravanam, kirtanam vishno...) may be delivered from sins which s/he accumulated for hundreds of lifetimes. On days like Krishna Janmashtami it is also said: "One who fasts, follows the Janmastami vow, and keeps an all-night vigil on this day becomes freed from the sins of ten million births. Of this there is no doubt." However, one who doesn't follow such vows is also to be considered a great sinner. So it is strongly advised that one celebrate such days like Ekadashi, Caturmasya, Janmashtami and other vaishnava holidays: "One who eats on Lord Krishna’s birthday is lowest of mankind. .. His pious credits of ten million births are at once destroyed. .. he becomes a vulture for ten billion births, a pig for a hundred births, a dog for a hundred births, and a jackal for a hundred births."
Fasting is the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam and involves fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, which is probably the most notable time for fasting among Muslims.
In Islam, fasting for a month is an obligatory practice during the holy month of Ramadan, from fajr (dawn), until the maghrib (dusk). Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking (including water), and engaging in sexual activity. They are also encouraged to temper negative emotions such as anger and addiction. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is one of the Pillars of Islam, and thus one of the most important acts of Islamic worship. By fasting, whether during Ramadan or other times, a Muslim draws closer to God by abandoning body pleasures, such as food and drink. This makes the sincerity of their faith and their devotion to God (Arabic: Allah) all the more evident.
The Qur'an states that fasting was prescribed for those before them (i.e., the Jews and Christians) and that by fasting a Muslim gains taqwa, which can be described in one word as 'Godconsciousness' or 'Godwariness'. Fasting is believed to help promote chastity and humility and prevent sin, the outburst of uncontrolled lusts and desires and far-fetched hopes. To Muslims, fasting acts as a shield with which the Muslim protects him/herself from jahannam (hell).
Muslims believe that fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. Fasting also includes abstaining from any falsehood in speech and action, abstaining from any ignorant and indecent speech, and from arguing, fighting, and having lustful thoughts. Therefore, fasting strengthens control of impulses and helps develop good behavior. During the sacred month of Ramadan, believers strive to purify body and soul and increase their taqwa (good deeds and God-consciousness). This purification of body and soul harmonizes the inner and outer spheres of an individual. Muslims aim to improve their body by reducing food intake and maintaining a healthier lifestyle. Overindulgence in food is discouraged and eating only enough to silence the pain of hunger is encouraged. Muslims believe they should be active, tending to all their commitments and never falling short of any duty. On a moral level, believers strive to attain the most virtuous characteristics and apply them to their daily situations. They try to show compassion, generosity and mercy to others, exercise patience, and control their anger. In essence, Muslims are trying to improve what they believe to be good moral character and habits.
For Muslims, fasting also inculcates a sense of fraternity and solidarity, as Muslims believe they are feeling and experiencing what their needy and hungry brothers and sisters are feeling. Those who are already poor and hungry are often considered exempt from fasting, as their condition renders them effectively fasting all the time; however, many still refrain from eating during the day. Moreover, Ramadan is a month of giving charity and sharing meals to break the fast together.
The Siyam is intended to teach Muslims patience and self-control, and to remind them of the less fortunate in the world. The fast is also seen as a debt owed by the Muslim to God. Faithful observance of the Siyam is believed to atone for personal faults and misdeeds, at least in part, and to help earn a place in paradise. It is also believed to be beneficial for personal conduct, that is, to help control impulses, passions and temper. The fast is also meant to provide time for meditation and to strengthen one's faith.
While fasting in the month of Ramadan is considered Fard (obligatory), Islam also prescribes certain days for non-obligatory, voluntary fasting, such as:
Fasting is forbidden on these days:
Although fasting at Ramadan is fard (obligatory), exceptions are made for persons in particular circumstances:
There are many types of fasting in Jainism. One is called Chauvihar Upwas, in which no food or water may be consumed until sunrise the next day. Another is called Tivihar Upwas, in which no food may be consumed, but boiled water is allowed. The main goal of any type of fasting in Jainism is to achieve complete Non-Violence (दया, ahimsa) during that period. Fasting is usually done during Paryushana but can be done during other times. If one fasts for the eight days of Paryushana, it is called Atthai, and when it is for one month, it is known as Maskhamana. Also, it is common for Jains not to fast but only to limit their intake of food. When a person only eats lentils and tasteless food with salt and pepper as the only spices, the person is said to do Ayambil. There are other types of fasting in which a Jain eats only one meal a day, which is known as Ekassana. Similarly, another fast, called Beasana, allows for two meals a day. The goal of all these fastings is to decrease desire and passion for the physical world, and attain spirituality by meditation.
Self-starvation by fasting is known as Santhara and is supposed to help shed karma according to Jain philosophy. The ritual can be carried out to voluntary death. Supporters of the practice believe that santhara cannot be considered suicide, but rather something one does with full knowledge and intent, while suicide is viewed as emotional and hasty. Due to the prolonged nature of Santhara, the individual is given ample time to reflect on his or her life. The vow of Santhara is taken when one feels that one's life has served its purpose. The goal of Santhara is to purify the body and, with this, the individual strives to abandon desire.
Fasting for Jews means completely abstaining from food and drink, including water. Traditionally observant Jews fast six days of the year. With the exception of Yom Kippur, fasting is never permitted on Shabbat, for the commandment of keeping Shabbat is biblically ordained and overrides the later rabbinically instituted fast days. (The fast of the 10th of Teveth would also override the Sabbath, but the current calendar system prevents this from ever occurring.)
Yom Kippur is considered to be the most important day of the Jewish year and fasting as a means of repentance is expected of every Jewish man or woman above the age of bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah respectively. It is so important to fast on this day, that only those who would be put in mortal danger by fasting are exempt, such as the ill or frail (endangering a life is against a core principle of Judaism). Those that do eat on this day are encouraged to eat as little as possible at a time and to avoid a full meal. For some, fasting on Yom Kippur is considered more important than the prayers of this holy day. If one fasts, even if one is at home in bed, one is considered as having participated in the full religious service.
The second major day of fasting is Tisha B'Av, the day approximately 2500 years ago on which the Babylonians destroyed the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem, as well as on which the Romans destroyed the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem about 2000 years ago, and the Jews were banished from their homeland. Tisha B'Av ends a three-week mourning period beginning with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz. This is also the day when observant Jews remember the many tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people, including the Holocaust. The atmosphere of this fast is serious and deeply sad (in contrast to Yom Kippur which is a day of atonement).
Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur are the major fasts and are observed from sunset to the following day's dusk. The remaining four fasts are considered minor and fasting is only observed from sunrise to dusk. Both men and women are expected to observe them, but a rabbi may give a dispensation if the fast represents too much of a hardship to a sick or weak person, or pregnant or nursing woman.
The four other public but minor fast days are:
There are other minor fast days, but these are not universally observed, and they include:
It is an Ashkenazic tradition for a bride and groom to fast on their wedding day before the ceremony as the day represents a personal Yom Kippur. In some congregations, repentance prayers that are said on Yom Kippur service are included by the bride and groom in their private prayers before the wedding ceremony.
Aside from these official days of fasting, Jews may take upon themselves personal or communal fasts, often to seek repentance in the face of tragedy or some impending calamity. For example, a fast is sometimes observed if a sefer torah is dropped. The length of the fast varies, and some Jews will reduce the length of the fast through tzedakah, or charitable acts. Mondays and Thursdays are considered especially auspicious days for fasting. Traditionally, one also fasted upon awakening from an unexpected bad dream although this tradition is rarely kept nowadays. In the time of the Talmud, drought seems to have been a particularly frequent inspiration for fasts. In modern times as well the Israeli Chief Rabbinate has occasionally declared fasts in periods of drought.
Judaism views three essential potential purposes of fasting, and a combination of some or all of these could apply to any given fast. One purpose in fasting is the achievement of atonement for sins and omissions in divine service. Fasting is not considered the primary means of acquiring atonement; rather, sincere regret for and rectification of a wrongdoing is key (see Isaiah, 58:1-13, which appropriately is read as the haftarah on Yom Kippur).
Nevertheless, fasting is conducive to atonement, for it tends to precipitate contrition (see Joel, 2:12-18). This is why the Bible requires fasting (literally self affliction) on Yom Kippur (see Leviticus, 23:27, 29,32; Numbers, 29:7; Tractate Yoma, 8:1; ibid. (Babylonian Talmud), 81a). Because, according to the Hebrew Bible, hardship and calamitous circumstances can occur as a result of wrongdoing (see, for example, Leviticus, 26:14-41), fasting is often undertaken by the community or by individuals to achieve atonement and avert catastrophe (see, for example, Esther 4:3,16; Jonah 3:7). Most of the Talmud's Tractate Ta'anit ("Fast[s]") is dedicated to the protocol involved in declaring and observing fast days.
The second purpose in fasting is commemorative mourning. Indeed, most communal fast days that are set permanently in the Jewish calendar fulfil this purpose. These fasts include: Tisha B'Av, Seventeenth of Tammuz, Tenth of Tevet (all of the three dedicated to mourning the loss of the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem), and the Fast of Gedaliah. The purpose of a fast of mourning is the demonstration that those fasting are impacted by and distraught over earlier loss. This serves to heighten appreciation of that which was lost. This is in line with Isaiah (66:10), who indicates that mourning over a loss leads to increased happiness upon return of the loss:
The third purpose in fasting is commemorative gratitude. Since food and drink are corporeal needs, abstinence from them serves to provide a unique opportunity for focus on the spiritual. Indeed, the Midrash explains that fasting can potentially elevate one to the exalted level of the Mal'achay HaShareyt (ministering angels) (Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer, 46). This dedication is considered appropriate gratitude to God for providing salvation. Additionally, by refraining from such basic physical indulgence, one can more greatly appreciate the dependence of humanity on God, leading to appreciation of God's beneficence in sustaining His creations. Indeed, Jewish philosophy considers this appreciation one of the fundamental reasons for which God endowed mankind with such basic physical needs as food and drink. This is seen from the text of the blessing customarily recited after consuming snacks or drinks:
In the Bahá'í Faith, fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset during the Bahá'í month of `Ala' (March 2-March 20). Bahá'u'lláh established the guidelines in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. It is the complete abstaining from both food and drink during daylight hours(including abstaining from smoking). Consumption of prescribed medications is not restricted. Observing the fast is an individual obligation and is binding on Bahá'ís between 15 years (considered the age of maturity) and 70 years old. Exceptions to fasting include individuals younger than 15 or older than 70; those suffering illness; women who are pregnant, nursing, or menstruating; travellers who meet specific criteria; and individuals whose profession involves heavy labor and those who are very sick where fasting would be considered dangerous. For those involved in heavy labor, they are advised to eat in private and generally to have simpler and/or smaller meals than are normal.
Along with obligatory prayer, it is one of the greatest obligations of a Bahá'í. The guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, Shoghi Effendi, explains: "It is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character. Fasting is symbolic, and a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires."
Sikhism does not promote fasting except for medical reasons. The Sikh Gurus discourage the devotee from engaging in this ritual as it "brings no spiritual benefit to the person". The Sikh holy Scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib tell us: "Following the daily rituals, and austere self-discipline - those who keep the practice of these, are rewarded with less than a shell." (Guru Granth Sahib page 216).
Fasting is often indicated prior to surgery or other procedures that require general anesthetics, because of the risk of pulmonary aspiration of gastric contents after induction of anesthesia (i.e., vomiting and inhaling the vomit, causing life-threatening aspiration pneumonia). Additionally, certain medical tests, such as cholesterol testing (lipid panel) or certain blood glucose measurements require fasting for several hours so that a baseline can be established. In the case of cholesterol, failure to fast for a full 12 hours (including vitamins) will guarantee an elevated triglyceride measurement.
People near the end of their lives sometimes consciously refuse food and/or water. The term in the medical literature is patient refusal of nutrition and hydration.
Prolonged fasting also has a long, albeit controversial, history as a form of medical treatment. Since the 1900s, hundreds of thousands of human fasts have been supervised and recorded. Doctors who supervised tens of thousands of patients studied the effects and results, and found that fasting (and drinking only water) helped eliminate a variety of diseases, and helped to maintain health afterwards as long as the patient followed Natural Hygiene. Twenty-first century studies showed that such Hygienic fasting helps eliminate hypertension. Natural Hygienist doctors such as Joel Fuhrman continue to use this method.
Although some fasting methods use juice or various amounts of food, the health of such methods is questionable, according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman. A true fast, he contends, consists of an intake solely of water, and can last (healthily) for extended periods of time when undertaken with the correct knowledge. Any fasts of such nature should be preceded and followed by a healthy diet, and should also be supervised by a knowledgeable physician to make sure that deficiencies of any nutrients do not take place and detract from the healthful benefits of such a fast.
There are also recent studies on mice that show that fasting every other day while eating double the normal amount of food on non-fasting days can lead to improved insulin and blood sugar control, neuronal resistance to injury, and general health indicators. Punctuated fasting diets produced superior improvements compared with mice on 40% calorie restricted diets. Alternate-day calorie restriction may prolong lifespan and attenuate diseases associated with inflammation, oxidative stress and aging. Fasting has been shown to be an effective treatment for hypertension.
Many fasting protocols are used by integrative medicine practitioners as part of alleged detoxification or cleansing diets.
Fasting can be dangerous when the body is not able to perform gluconeogenesis. If the body is not in ketosis, then the brain and vital organs (which can burn either glucose or ketones) need 800 calories a day to have ample glucose. If less than 800 calories a day are consumed (such as from stored and converted glucose), the brain and vital organs are deprived of necessary glucose, causing damage and, eventually, death. Ideally, therapeutic fasts should be supervised by experienced health care practitioners.
Fasting is often used as a tool to make a political statement, to protest, or to bring awareness to a cause. A hunger strike is a method of non-violent resistance in which participants fast as an act of political protest, or to provoke feelings of guilt, or to achieve a goal such as a policy change. A spiritual fast incorporates personal spiritual beliefs with the desire to express personal principles, commonly in the context of a social injustice.
Notable annual fasts include the famine events (such as the 40 Hour Famine) coordinated by World Vision to bring awareness to world poverty and hunger.
Activists have also used fasting to bring attention to a cause and to pressure authority or government to act. For example, Canadian medical doctor and politician David Swann launched a seven-day fast in December 2007 to bring attention to the world's inaction on the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. On April 27, 2009, Mia Farrow began fasting for as long as possible to raise awareness about the crisis in Darfur; after 12 days she was advised to stop immediately by doctors. Richard Branson agreed to continue in her place, taking a 3 day fast. Congressman Donald M. Payne and recording artist and Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman took on the fast after Branson finished on May 11.
In Northern Ireland in 1981, a prisoner, Bobby Sands, was part of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, protesting for better rights in prison. Sands had just been elected to the British Parliament and died after 66 days of not eating. His funeral was attended by 100,000 people and the strike ended only after 9 other men died. In all, ten men survived without food for 46 to 73 days, taking only water and salt.
In British India, the political and religious leader Mohandas K. Gandhi undertook several long fasts as political and social protests. Gandhi's fasts had a significant impact on the British Raj and the Indian population generally.
César Chávez undertook a number of spiritual fasts, including a 25 day fast in 1968 promoting the principle of nonviolence, and a fast of 'thanksgiving and hope' to prepare for pre-arranged civil disobedience by farm workers. Chávez regarded a spiritual fast as "a personal spiritual transformation". Other progressive campaigns have adopted the tactic.
In 2011, Anna Hazare, a prominent leader of the 2011 Indian anti-corruption movement undertook a 12-day fast in support of the Jan Lokpal Bill. Palestinian activist Khader Adnan went on a 66-day hunger strike starting December 2011 in order to protest, among other things, his own placement under administrative detention without trial or charge; he was eventually able to agree to cease his strike in exchange for a planned release in April.
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