Fasting: Is it healthy?

Written by Darren Hewer

girlstaringatpeaFasting has been a common human activity since the beginning of recorded history. At its most basic level, fasting is abstaining from food and liquids, or sometimes just solid food. But is fasting healthy? More specifically, can fasting be used to lose weight, or detoxify (detox) harmful materials from the body?

Fasting to lose weight

Medical experts agree that fasting is not a safe or beneficial way to lose weight. Although it may help you lose a little weight in the short term, it presents numerous health risks and is not a long-term solution. Weight lost due to fasting usually is regained quickly. In fact, fasting can actually make weight problems worse.

Dr Joel Fuhrman explains that “Fasting is not a weight loss tool. Fasting slows your metabolic rate down so your diet from before the fast is even more fattening after you fast.”1 After fasting, your body will quickly try to regain your “set point”, whereas if you lose weight more gradually, by changing your diet and combine that with exercise, this effect will not be as pronounced.

Fasting to detox the body

Lately various schemes to detox the body have become popular. Dr Michael Ho (famous for the “DR-HO Dual Muscle Therapy System”) makes numerous claims about his Digestive Detox system, including that it “helps cleanse and detoxify the intestinal tract by promoting regular bowel movements” which “help eliminate built-up toxins, parasites and worms from the digestive system.”2

However, such products are not supported by the medical field. Research has concluded that “detox diets do no more than the body’s own natural system to get rid of toxins.” Similarly, suggestions that fasting can somehow clear toxins from the body is repudiated by most medical experts, who suggest that drinking plenty of water, along with getting enough sleep and getting fresh air, are all that are needed.3

What’s the point of fasting?

If fasting isn’t useful for dieting or detoxing the body, why bother with it at all?  Traditionally fasting was a spiritual exercise. It is mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible, where people like Moses, King David, and others fasted to humble themselves or to focus more on spiritual matters rather than merely physical ones. Fasting is also found in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions.

Jesus taught about fasting, and commented that:

When you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.4

For him, fasting was all about focusing on prayer and your relationship with God. Although most biblical fasts were for a single day, Jesus once fasted for 40 days! This is feat that has been repeated by others in recent times such as Dr. Bill Bright who fasted for 40 days as a time of spiritual renewal.  He later described the experience as being “a great blessing.”5 He undertook this fast after many years of doing smaller fasts.  If you are considering a long fast be sure to consult your doctor first.

The role of fasting today

Today the tradition of fasting continues in several different ways. One of them is Lent, a forty day long tradition commemorating the forty days Jesus spent in the desert. It is celebrated during the forty days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter, which is the celebration of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection. During Lent many Christians will fast or give up a certain cherished food or activity in order to try to spend more time in spiritual contemplation.

In a society that often over-emphasizes the feverish pursuit of material things to the detriment of development of our spiritual lives, fasting is a way to focus on things that are more important. Have you ever felt like something important is missing from your life? Perhaps it’s time to take the spiritual component of your life more seriously, maybe for the first time? If so, here are some links you might be interested in exploring.

Who is Jesus? To explore this complex question, you may find these short articles or an interactive online study to be thought-provoking.

Another option is the article Who did Jesus think he was anyways? which explores Jesus’ own self image.

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1. Susan Seliger, “Is Fasting Healthy?,” WebMD, n.p. Cited 25 February 2009. Online: http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/is_fasting_healthy

2. “Benefits of DR-HO’S® Digestive DetoxTM,” Dr. Ho Website, n.p. Cited 25 February 2009. Online: http://www.drhonow.com/digestive-detox-benefits.php

3. “Scientists dismiss detox schemes,” BBC News (3 January 2006), n.p. Cited 25 February 2009. Online: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4576574.stm

4. Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, verses 16-18. (New Living Translation)

5. Kerry Batchman, “Fasting for 40 days,” Today’s Pentecostal Evangel (March 11, 2001), n.p. Cited 25 February 2009. Online: http://pentecostalevangel.ag.org/conversations2001/4531_bright.cfm

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2 Responses to “Fasting: Is it healthy?”

  • John says:

    I find it sad that fasting is so frowned upon by the medical establishment. Bear in mind, this is the same establishment whose customers have statistics such as 1 in 3 dying of heart disease, of the remaining people, half of those get cancer. We know more about disease, have more more medicines and treatments than ever before, yet we are dying faster, getting sicker and we think that our doctor has a pill to fix it.

    Fasting should NEVER be undertaken to lose weight. If you lose weight as a result of fasting, that’s a side-benefit but that’s all.

    I’ve fasted before – 3 days being the longest. I don’t have any health issues, I’m not overweight. For me, it was a spiritual and psychological cleansing. A few hours after the fast started, I felt achy, sore and irritable. My joints hurt, my head throbbed and my energy levels dropped. However, the hunger pangs disappeared quite fast.

    On day 3, I started to feel so good, I almost cried with gratitude. It was profound. I still felt a bit weak but the inner transformation was amazing. Physically, I know I was stronger as a result of fasting. Despite what the “experts” will tell you, your body really does take the opportunity to clean out. I would never say this if I didn’t know it from personal experience. You should even take my word with a pinch of salt and investigate this for yourself. Always do your research. If you take medication, definitely consult a doctor but don’t be surprised if you’re laughed out of the office or told to put aside such an old-fashioned, unnecessary trial.

    Marisa, – fasting is an amazing experience. I do it regularly. It always draws me closer to Him, it turns you away from the world and it has incredible health benefits. Look for a book called ‘Wisdom from the Monastery”. It’s a brilliant book, about a man who went to a monastery to fast for a week. It’s one of my favorite books ever! Also, check out http://www.freedomyou.com. If the site will give you my email, you may contact me. I just don’t want to write it here.

    Blessings,
    John

  • Marisa says:

    I like to have a plan how to fast…can you help me? and how to start. Thank you

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