“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18
Fasting for Physical Health
A number of years ago I was introduced to Intermittent Fasting (IF), an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It doesn’t specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat. People all over the world are using IF to lose weight, improve their health and simplify their lifestyles.
Sometimes when I tell someone I am doing IF, a look of horror crosses their faces as they exclaim, ”Oh, I could never go that long without eating!” They are concerned they wouldn’t be able to go more than a few hours without food, or that their blood sugar would drop and they would become dizzy and faint. The truth is, fasting times can be – and should be – built up progressively, just like a regular muscle is built with progressive weight training. By slowly increasing the length of time between meals, the fasting period can be increased without too much discomfort.
Many people are under the impression that IF is dangerous and should be avoided altogether; however, fasting has been a practice throughout human evolution. Ancient hunter-gatherers didn’t always have food available. Sometimes they couldn’t find anything to eat for days or weeks. As a result, humans evolved to be able to function without food for extended periods of time. Unless there is an underlying medical condition, fasting is safe and effective for most people.*
There are several physical benefits to following an IF eating pattern, including:
- Weight loss
- Reduced insulin resistance
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved blood markers
- Improved brain health
- Possible prevention of certain types of cancer
There are lots of ways to do intermittent fasting — all of which involve splitting the day or week into eating and fasting periods. During the fasting periods, you eat either very little or nothing at all, but drink plenty of fluids.
It’s not as difficult as it seems, I promise! Remember, fasting muscles are built progressively. For example, if you normally eat breakfast at 8:00 a.m. and lunch at noon, try waiting until 12:15. Stick to that until it feels comfortable, and then see if you can make it to 12:30. And then 12:45. In the process, you will retrain your system as to when it expects food, and your fasting periods will increase naturally as your hunger decreases. (There is a physiological reason for this, which we won’t get into here.)
Popular methods of IF include:
- The 16/8 method: Restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 12–8 p.m. Then you fast for 16 hours in between. Many people find the 16/8 method to be the simplest, most sustainable, and easiest to stick to. It’s also the most popular.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: Fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week. For example, not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day on non-consecutive days.
- The 5:2 Diet: Consuming only 500–600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week, but eating normally the other 5 days.
By reducing your calorie intake, all of these methods should cause weight loss as long as you don’t compensate by consuming too much during the eating periods. Be sure to drink plenty of water, though.
*If you have a medical condition, you should consult with your doctor before trying intermittent fasting. If you’re underweight or have a history of eating disorders, you should not fast without consulting with a health professional first.
Fasting for Spiritual Health
Spiritual fasting is to deny your body its physical needs (usually food) so that it moves your focus from the physical to the spiritual realm. In simple terms, it is fasting for spiritual growth because it helps you to grow closer to God.
The Bible gives many examples of people fasting in both the Old and New Testaments (David, Daniel, Nehemiah, Paul, and many others including Jesus himself, who fasted for 40 days!). Biblical fasting is not intended for weight loss, but as a means of focusing our minds and bodies for a spiritual reason, including:
- To strengthen prayer
- To seek God’s guidance
- To express grief
- To seek deliverance
- To express repentance
- To overcome temptation
- To spend time and resources ministering to the needs of others
With both physical and spiritual fasting, you can start out by simply fasting for one meal and working your way up to fasting an entire day, if God is calling you to do so. Little by little, you can show your flesh that your spirit is stronger, and you can invite God deeper into every area of your life.