Have you ever fasted?

By Elizabeth Tenety Many of the world’s 1.57 billion Muslims (1.4 million in America) Wednesday began the month-long observance of … Continued

By Elizabeth Tenety

Many of the world’s 1.57 billion Muslims (1.4 million in America) Wednesday began the month-long observance of Ramadan, which requires adult Muslims to refrain from food, drink and sexual activity from dawn until sunset. Muslims in America will be fasting to develop discipline and to repent for their sins for approximately 16 hours of the day, a considerable sacrifice in the country that invented fast-food.

Although in America fasting is perhaps best associated with glucose-tests and Maple Syrup Diets, abstinence from food has a long and varied history in the world’s religions.

Catholics fast during Lent on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and refrain from eating meat on Fridays during the 40 days as in memory of the Jesus’ physical sacrifice. Many also give up a favorite food item for the Lenten season. Orthodox Christians also participate in a number of demanding fasts intended to keep them spiritually vigilant. (Updated :) Latter-day Saints also observe a 24 hour fast one day a month to deepen their faith and teach them self-control.

In Judaism, Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement” and Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the commencement of the Diaspora, are the most prominent fasting days. During both day-long fasts, Jews refrain from consuming food and water; some go so far as to not brush their teeth lest they drink some water in the process.

In Buddhism, fasting is central to the journey to Enlightenment: It was only through his life-threatening fast that the Buddha realized that “desire does not end by force.” Out of this realization emerged the concept of moderation, a central principle in Buddhism. Today, Buddhists fasting practice varies widely, but many practitioners incorporate religious values into their food philosophy, including an emphasis on vegetarianism.

Hinduism also includes elements of fasting into its spiritual discipline, but the practice varies by culture as well. Some Hindus fast on the feast days of their favored deity, or on particular days of astrological importance. There is a wide spectrum of fasting behaviors: some who fast deny themselves food entirely, others focus on eating a vegetarian diet for the days of the fast.

Have you ever undertaken a spiritual fast? Did you gain anything other than a smaller waistline? What have you learned through fasting?


Elizabeth Tenety Elizabeth Tenety is the former editor of On Faith, where she produced "Divine Impulses," On Faith’s video interview series. She studied Theology and Government at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New York native, Elizabeth grew up in the home of Catholic news junkies where, somewhere in between watching the nightly news and participating in parish life, she learned to ponder both the superficial and the sacred.
  • JenAZ1

    Devout members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormon church) fast regularly for two meals on the first Sunday of every month. Then, the money that would have been spent on food (and sometimes much more generously) is given to the local bishop for him to redistribute to the needy under his stewardship. It follows the beautiful teaching in Isaiah 58, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen?” To deal thy bread to the hungry, to clothe the naked, to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free. (paraphrased.)Besides the benefit of helping the poor, fasting is a time to grow closer to God, and as my 4 year old son said when I asked him if he knew why we fasted, “Yeah, I know why we fast. It’s to show our bodies that our spirits are stronger.” Teaching moment. For me.

  • frantaylor

    Brown rice and water for a month. The fast itself is not a religious experience, but reintroducing foods to your diet afterward most surely is. Now I revere super hot and spicy dishes, and I have no patience for junk food. Pass the vindaloo and the hot sauce, please.

  • divi3

    Religious mumbo-jumbo aside, intermittent fasting is good for the body and mind.

  • jontomus

    How do the muslim diabetics deal with this?

  • alance

    What a ridiculous question. Many people on Social Security fast for one week a month before their SS money is deposited in their checking account by the government.They don’t do it for the spirituality. They don’t do it for health reasons. They fast because they have run out of money and food. In case you were unaware – we are in the worst depression right now since the 1930s.

  • divi3

    Diabetics are exempt from fasting during Ramamamadindan. but it’s estimated that 60-70million diabetics worldwide do undertake the fast anyway. Even as someone who considers belief in gods and religion to be patently absurd, the discipline exhibited during Ramadan by a billion people worldwide is really very impressive.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    To answer the question, yes I’ve undertaken spiritual fasts. No, I don’t think I gained anything.I’ve also fasted for 24 hours and longer because I forgot to eat or was too busy. I gained a headache.I think it is possible to gain from spiritual fasting. Will try it again some day.

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