People fast for various reasons, including religious, traditional, weight loss, and health-related motivations. However, for Christians, especially since the time of Jesus, the primary purpose of fasting is to establish a deeper connection with their loving Father. We fast because of our faith in God. It’s not a religious act. We fast in the Spirit to develop our relationship with God and draw closer to Him.
Fasting is about feeding our flesh less and feeding our spirit more. It’s not about starving yourself but it’s about feeding your spirit with God’s Word and denying your flesh.
Matthew 4:4 – “But he answered and said, ‘It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God.”
Jesus calls us to fast out of love for Him. Since Jesus has already paid the ultimate price, our fasting is not to obtain more from God or to convince Him to act but simply to draw closer to our Lord. In a sense, our love for Him causes us to “lose our appetite,” as a deliberate choice to seek and be with Him.
Excessive eating tends to weigh down our spirit. Fasting diminishes the impact of our physical senses on our mind while enhancing the influence of our spiritual senses. During fasting, it is easier to perceive the presence and activity of the Holy-Spirit. It is a means of expressing total dependence on Him, a way to humble ourselves and submit our flesh to the Spirit
Moreover, as we rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance during the fasting period, we also bear the responsibility of preparing our bodies. Acknowledging that our bodies, crafted by God, serve as the temple of the Holy Spirit, we should approach fasting with discernment and wisdom.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies.
In the section below we are going through the practicality of the fast, how to get prepared for a fast, what to expect and what are the physiological benefits in addition to the immeasurable spiritual benefits that we all know.
Get your body prepared
So first, one of the keys is planning, as you want your body to smoothly transition into fasting.
Luke 14:28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?
So planning is important. When you seek God and have a plan, you can better withstand temptation and prevent physical restraints.
Fasting involves more than just the fasting days. There are periods before and after where you slowly change your regular diet and then ease back into it. How long these transition periods last depends on how long you fast. So, depending on your fasting approach, preparation can take place days or weeks before and after the fast, allowing your body to adjust more comfortably and preventing any sudden shocks. Regardless of your fasting routine, the more accustomed you become to the process and the longer your preparation period, the smoother the fasting experience will be, allowing you to focus on the spiritual aspect.
For example, if you plan to fast for several days, you’ll find it helpful to start gradually reducing your portions before reaching total abstinence. By cutting down on your meals a few days before the beginning of your fast, you prepare your mind, stomach, and appetite to accept the idea of eating less food.
What happens in your body when you fast
When you fast, your body changes how it gets energy. Normally, it uses a sugar called glucose, which usually comes from carbohydrates, which comes from food including grains, dairy products, fruits, certain vegetables, beans, and even sweets. During the first day of fasting, your body uses stored sugar called glycogen. After about 24 hours, when glycogen runs out, your body starts burning fat for energy. The fat is broken down into ketone bodies, which become the new energy source. At this point, your metabolism slows down.
This is your fat offering to God!
Lev. 3:16 : “And the priest shall burn them upon the altar: it is the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat is the LORD’S.”
In extended periods of fasting, lasting several days, the body increasingly relies on breaking down protein for energy, which includes utilising muscle tissue.
Your body also adjusts its hormone levels. Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, increases, signalling the need for food. Every individual’s responses to fasting can vary, and there may be exceptions but generally this hormone peaks on the second day and starts decreasing afterward, making the second day of your fast the most challenging. It is generally better to surpass this stage for a successful conclusion to your fast. On the other side, Leptin, the hormone responsible for satiety, decreases, reducing the feeling of fullness. These hormones fluctuate throughout the day in response to fasting or eating. Therefore, feeling hungry is not bad; simply physiological. It’s worth mentioning that it’s commonly observed that after approximately three days of water fasting, individuals often experience a significant reduction in hunger.
All those changes in your body may also lead to some side effects, such as headaches, lethargy, crankiness, constipation, lack of concentration, irritation, and overeating after breaking the fast. These effects depend on many factors, including your familiarity with the practice of fasting, the duration of the fasting period, and how you manage the fast. That’s why preparation is important to decrease or avoid some of these effects, and it can be achieved by following some simple steps.
How to get your body prepared
Firstly, as mentioned earlier, it’s crucial to plan. If you choose a partial fast, determine your fasting window and meal plan by deciding when and what you’ll eat in advance. For a water fast, ensure you have electrolyte-rich beverages on hand to maintain a balance of electrolytes (minerals like sodium, potassium, calcium, and others) during the fast, as one of the main challenges during fasting is mineral depletion.
Also, it’s best to prepare yourself a few days beforehand by skipping one or two meals. Depending on how extreme your fast will be you may want to alter your diet 1 to 2 weeks before fasting or 1 or 2 days for a shorter fast.
Avoid overeating. Many of us have been guilty of indulging in excessive food the day before a fast. However, doing so can strain your body, making it challenging to endure your fast.
The quality of what you eat it’s important too, so avoid consuming heavy, greasy foods or starting your fast after a sugary meal; opt for a balanced and moderate diet with increased portions of cooked or raw fruits and vegetables to prevent discomfort during the fast.
A good way to do this is to eliminate a few things a day. Refined sugar products in the first couple days, meat in the next couple, and then dairy, etc.
Finally, eat smaller portions of meals so that your digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard, and your body starts to become accustomed to operating on fewer calories than it usually does.
During the fast
*STAY HYDRATED : Drink a fair amount of water. A general guideline is to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day but some may require more. For extended fasts, as mentioned earlier, incorporating electrolyte drinks can be beneficial. Options like coconut water and broths can provide essential minerals.
Here is a simple recipe of electrolytes water beverage to stay hydrated
1 ½-2 cups water
Juice of ½ lemon
1/8 to 1/4 tsp real sea salt ( Himalayan salt)
2 tsp raw honey
*REST : Rest is essential. First in the Lord but also ensure you get sufficient sleep and avoid engaging in intense physical activity during this time.
After the fast (breaking the fast)
If you’ve been doing a multi-day fast, it will usually take about half the number of days you fasted for your digestive system to return to normal.
You need to gradually ease back into eating and depending on your type of fast, you may need to be cautious in reintroducing some food in your diet and choose the best foods to break your fast.
Here are some tips to consider, but feel free to customise them based on the specifics of your fast, as these suggestions are primarily tailored for post-water fasting.
The most important thing to keep in mind when breaking your fast is to do it gently. The longer you’ve been fasting and the more restricted it is, the slower you need to take this.
So firstly, the best foods to break a fast are those that are lower in carbohydrates, rich in electrolytes, and gentle on the stomach especially if your fast was water-only or a similar restricted fasting approach.
Some suggest starting with apple cider vinegar diluted in water before actually breaking the fast as this helps stimulate the digestive tract and improve digestion on your first meal.
When breaking your fast, consider starting with easily digestible foods, such as cooked vegetables instead of raw. Broths are a good initial option. Fresh fruits can be an option but you may be careful to choose easy digestible options such as melons and berries otherwise you may irritate your gut. It’s also recommended to avoid legumes, seeds and nuts as your first post-fast meal, as these foods can also be challenging to digest as well as cruciferous veggies that can lead to gas in your gut.
Then you can incorporate in addition to your cooked vegetables, yoghurt or Kefir as they contain bacteria that are good for your intestinal flora.
As your digestive system returns to normal and seems more tolerant of the foods you are eating, you can incorporate other whole cooked foods, such as whole grains; nuts; and raw vegetables and fruits. Keep your grains and legumes well cooked, so that they are soft and easy to digest.
Then you can start incorporating non-cultured dairy products into your diet, such as milk, as well as eggs and meats. Make low-fat food choices, so you do not shock your system.
In addition to eating the best foods to break a fast, you also need to be cautious and deliberate about how much you are eating at one time. There is a natural tendency after fasting to dive right back into food and to overeat, and that can lead to stomach discomfort. Also, make sure to eat slowly, chew your food really thoroughly.
Finally, don’t forget to pay attention to how your body responds as you reintroduce food gradually. If you experience any discomfort, consider adjusting your food choices and portion sizes.
12 health benefits of fasting
Studies suggest that the constant food intake we experience in our current modern countries may lead to health problems. Researchers have started looking at whether fasting can have potential benefits for some people. These findings suggest that an extended fast or the timing of when you eat—even when it doesn’t affect your weight—can bring health benefits for some people though most of it has been conducted on animals, not humans. But further research still needs to be conducted to truly understand the effect of fasting on the body. However, here are some of the benefits found:
- Promotes Detoxification
Fasting promotes detoxification as the body burns fat and releases toxins. Organs like the liver and kidneys actively eliminate waste and harmful substances from the bloodstream during this process.
- Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Fasting improves how your body handles sugar by making cells more responsive to insulin. Your cells can control your blood sugar levels well after you eat so your pancreas doesn’t have to work as hard to keep your blood sugar levels in balance.
- Rests Digestive System
During fasting, the digestive organs rest. Fasting gives the digestive system a much-needed rest, allowing for the maintenance of a healthy balance of gut bacteria. A healthy gut is crucial for immune function. After fasting, both digestion and elimination are invigorated.
- Boosts Immunity
Fasting contributes to the improvement of the immune system. Make sure to have a balanced diet between fasts. Eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods including a mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats in your diet.
- Corrects High Blood Pressure
Fasting effectively addresses high blood pressure. In the majority of cases, blood pressure normalises during fasting, and maintaining a health-supporting diet and lifestyle afterward helps sustain lower blood pressure levels.
- May Help to Overcome Addictions
Fasting makes it easy to overcome bad habits and addictions. Many people have overcome tobacco and alcohol addictions by fasting, and even drug addictions. Fasting rapidly dissipates the craving for nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and other drugs.
- Promotes Weight Loss
Fasting reduces the store of fats in the body. However, fasting is not a good weight loss strategy. Prioritising a healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods, reducing both fat and sugar intake, and increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables contribute to effective weight management. Additionally, ensuring adequate rest is crucial, as insufficient sleep can hinder weight loss efforts.
- Promotes Healthy Diet and a Stable Appetite
Extended fasting helps reset your hunger hormones, making your appetite more stable over time. It’s like tuning your body to better understand when it’s really hungry and when it’s full. It has been observed that fasting reduces craving for processed foods. It promotes desire for natural foods, especially water and fruits.
- Resolves Inflammatory Response
Certain studies suggest that fasting might help make inflammatory diseases and allergies better. Examples include arthritis and skin conditions like psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis.
- Improves Health of the Skin and Ageing
Fasting clears the skin and whitens the eyes. It is common to see skin eruptions clear while fasting, and the whites of the eyes never look so clear and bright as they do after fasting. It also prevents wrinkles, ageing, and acne and slows down the process of ageing of the body.
- Promotes Mental Function
Fasting redirects energy to the brain, generating new cells and improving performance, memory, mood, and focus. This change may not be noticeable until the first few days of a fast because your body takes time to adjust. Fasting also boosts proteins that help the brain handle stress and enhances cell production. Clinical studies show positive effects of fasting on conditions like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis, with potential benefits for Parkinson’s, stroke, autism, and anxiety disorders.
- Enhances processus of autophagy
During fasting your body undergoes a process known as autophagy, a process where the body destroys old or damaged cells in the body and regenerates new, healthy ones. This processus during fasting can depend on various factors, including the duration of the fast and individual variability. Autophagy may initiate within several hours, potentially around 12 to 16 hours after the last meal, leading to some of the benefits mentioned above.
In conclusion, it’s important to remember that fasting can be a beautiful experience when well-prepared and when focused on the Lord. Be mindful to not focus so much on the list of foods you can and cannot eat, or the timing you’re supposed to break your fast. Remember to focus on building your relationship with God and less about the act of fasting.
Galatians 5:24-25 – “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
Matthew 5:6 – “Blessed [joyful, nourished by God’s goodness] are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [those who actively seek right standing with God], for they will be [completely] satisfied.”
Lots of blessings and HAPPY FASTING!