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Fasting

Fasting

Definition

Fasting is voluntarily not eating food for varying lengths of time. Fasting is used as a medical therapy for many conditions. It is also a spiritual practice in many religions.

Origins

Used for thousands of years, fasting is one of the oldest therapies in medicine. Many of the great doctors of ancient times and many of the oldest healing systems have recommended it as an integral method of healing and prevention. Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, believed fasting enabled the body to heal itself. Paracelsus, another great healer in the Western tradition, wrote 500 years ago that "fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within." Ayurvedic medicine , the world's oldest healing system, has long advocated fasting as a major treatment.

Fasting has also been used in nearly every religion in the world, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam. Many of history's great spiritual leaders fasted for mental and spiritual clarity, including Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed. In one of the famous political acts of the last century, the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi fasted for 21 days to promote peace.

Fasting has been used in Europe as a medical treatment for years. Many spas and treatment centers, particularly those in Germany, Sweden, and Russia, use medically supervised fasting. Fasting has gained popularity in American alternative medicine over the past several decades, and many doctors feel it is beneficial. Fasting is a central therapy in detoxification , a healing method founded on the principle that the build up of toxic substances in the body is responsible for many illnesses and conditions.

Benefits

Fasting can be used for nearly every chronic condition, including allergies, anxiety , arthritis, asthma, depression , diabetes, headaches, heart disease , high cholesterol , low blood sugar, digestive disorders, mental illness, and obesity . Fasting is an effective and safe weight loss method. It is frequently prescribed as a detoxification treatment for those with conditions that may be influenced by environmental factors, such as cancer and multiple chemical sensitivity . Fasting has been used successfully to help treat people who have been exposed to high levels of toxic materials due to accident or occupation. Fasting is thought to be beneficial as a preventative measure to increase overall health, vitality, and resistance to disease. Fasting is also used as a method of mental and spiritual rejuvenation.

Description

The principle of fasting is simple. When the intake of food is temporarily stopped, many systems of the body are given a break from the hard work of digestion. The extra energy gives the body the chance to heal and restore itself, and burning stored calories gets rid of toxic substances stored in the body.

The digestive tract is the part of the body most exposed to environmental threats, including bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins. It requires the most immune system support. When food is broken down in the intestines, it travels through the blood to the liver, the largest organ of the body's natural detoxification system. The liver breaks down and removes the toxic by-products produced by digestion, including natural ones and the chemicals now present in the food supply. During fasting, the liver and immune system are essentially freed to detoxify and heal other parts of the body.

EVARTS LOOMIS 1910


Evarts G. Loomis is known as the father of holistic medicine. A homeopathic physician of international renown, he is an advocate of holistic treatment of disease, natural foods, exercise, and meditation. Loomis was licensed to practice traditional medicine in 1946, but began early in his career to diverge from a quiet or dull practice. He served as a dog-sled doctor with the Grenfell Mission in Newfoundland, Canada, worked in Algeria, as well as with the Friends Ambulance Unit in China before he founded Meadowlark, the first holistic retreat in North America. Loomis was a pioneer in the holistic health movement in the United States. He has also been a proponent of regulated, monitored 24-36 hour fasts, touting the benefits of both the water fast and the all-juice fast.

He and his partner, Fay Loomis, operate Health and Growth Associates, from their home in Hemet, California. Loomis also utilizes Dream Work and Kinesiology (the study of human movement) in his health and personal growth counseling. Their retreat is open to the public, and Loomis can be contacted at: 28195 Fairview Avenue, Hemet, California 92544; phone at: (909) 927-1768; or though e-mail at: [email protected]

Jane Spear

Many healers claim that fasting is a particularly useful therapy for Americans and for the modern lifestyle, subjected to heavy diets , overeating, and constant exposure to food additives and chemicals. Some alternative practitioners have gone so far as to estimate that the average American is carrying 5-10 pounds of toxic substances in their bodies, for which fasting is the quickest and most effective means of removal.

Physiology of fasting

Through evolution, the body became very efficient at storing energy and handling situations when no food was available. For many centuries, fasting was probably a normal occurrence for most people, and the body adapted to it. It is estimated that even very thin people can survive for 40 days or more without food. The body has a special mechanism that is initiated when no food is eaten. Fasting is not starvation, but rather the body's burning of stored energy. Starvation occurs when the body no longer has any stored energy and begins using essential tissues such as organs for an energy source. Therapeutic fasts are stopped long before this happens.

Many physiological changes occur in the body during fasting. During the first day or so, the body uses its glycogen reserves, the sugars that are the basic energy supply. After these are depleted, the body begins using fat. However, the brain, which has high fuel requirements, still needs glucose (sugars converted from glycogen). To obtain glucose for the brain, the body begins to break down muscle tissue during the second day of the fast. Thus, during fasting some muscle loss will occur. To fuel the brain, the body would need to burn over a pound of muscle a day, but the body has developed another way to create energy that saves important muscle mass. This protein-sparing process is called ketosis, which occurs during the third day of a fast for men and the second day for women. In this highly efficient state, the liver begins converting stored fat and other nonessential tissues into ketones, which can be used by the brain, muscles, and heart as energy. It is at this point in the fast that sensations of hunger generally go away, and many people experience normal or even increased energy levels. Hormone levels and certain functions become more stable in this state as well. The goal of most fasts is to allow the body to reach the ketosis state in order to burn excess fat and unneeded or damaged tissue. Thus, fasts longer than three days are generally recommended as therapy.

Weight loss occurs most rapidly during the first few days of a fast, up to 2 pounds per day. In following days, the figure drops to around 0.5 pound per day. An average weight loss of a pound a day for an entire fast can be expected. Studies show that cutting back just once a month can jump-start healthier eating and help rid one's body of a lifetime of extra calories.

Performing a fast

Fasts can be performed for varying lengths of time, depending on the person and his or her health requirements. For chronic conditions, therapists recommend from two to four weeks to get the most benefits. Seven-day fasts are also commonly performed. A popular fasting program for prevention and general health is a three-day fast taken four times per year, at the change of each season. These can be easily performed over long weekends. Preventative fasts of one day per week are used by many people as well.

Juice fasts are also used by many people, although these are not technically fasts. Juice fasts are less intensive than water fasts because the body doesn't reach the ketosis stage. The advantage of juice fasts is that fruit and vegetable drinks can supply extra energy and nutrients. People can fit a few days of juice fasting into their normal schedules without significant drops in energy. Juice fasts are also said to have cleansing and detoxifying effects. The disadvantage of juice fasts is that the body never gets to the ketosis stage, so these fasters are thought to lack the deep detoxification and healing effects of the water fast.

Medical supervision is recommended for any fast over three days. Most alternative medicine practitioners, such as homeopaths, naturopathic doctors, and ayurvedic doctors, can supervise and monitor patients during fasts. Those performing extended fasts and those with health conditions may require blood, urine, and other tests during fasting. There are many alternative health clinics that perform medically supervised fasts as well. Some conventional medical doctors may also supervise patients during fasts. Costs and insurance coverage vary, depending on the doctor, clinic, and requirements of the patient.

Preparations

Fasts must be entered and exited with care. To enter a fast, the diet should be gradually lightened over a few days. First, heavy foods such as meats and dairy products should be eliminated for a day or two. Grains, nuts, and beans should then be reduced for several days. The day before a fast, only easily digested foods like fruits, light salads, and soups should be eaten. During the fast, only pure water and occasional herbal teas should be drunk. If you exercise , keep your workouts during fasting light and relatively brief, stopping immediately if you feel dizzy, lightheaded or short of breath.

Fasts should be ended as gradually as they are entered, going from lighter to heavier foods progressively. The diet after a fast should emphasize fresh, wholesome foods. Fasters should particularly take care not to overeat when they complete a fast.

Precautions

Fasting isn't appropriate for everyone and, in some cases, could be harmful. Any person undertaking a first fast longer than three days should seek medical supervision. Those with health conditions should always have medical support during fasting. Plenty of water should be taken by fasters since dehydration can occur. Saunas and sweating therapies are sometimes recommended to assist detoxification, but should be used sparingly. Those fasting should significantly slow down their lifestyles. Taking time off of work is helpful, or at least reducing the work load. Fasters should also get plenty of rest. Exercise should be kept light, such as walking and gentle stretching.

Side effects

Those fasting may experience side effects of fatigue , malaise, aches and pains, emotional duress, acne , headaches, allergies, swelling, vomiting, bad breath , and symptoms of colds and flu. These reactions are sometimes called healing crises, which are caused by temporarily increased levels of toxins in the body due to elimination and cleansing. Lower energy levels should be expected during a fast.

Research & general acceptance

The physiology of fasting has been widely studied and documented by medical science. Beneficial effects such as lowered cholesterol and improved general functioning have been shown. Fasting as a treatment for illness and disease has been studied less, although some studies around the world have shown beneficial results. A 1984 study showed that workers in Taiwan who had severe chemical poisoning had dramatic improvement after a ten-day fast. In Russia and Japan, studies have demonstrated fasting to be an effective treatment for mental illness. A few years ago, fasting was featured on the cover of the New England Journal of Medicine, although mainstream medicine has generally ignored fasting and detoxification treatments as valid medical procedures.

The majority of research that exists on fasting is testimonial, consisting of individual personal accounts of healing without statistics or controlled scientific experiments. In the alternative medical community, fasting is an essential and widely accepted treatment for many illnesses and chronic conditions.

Training & certification

The International Association of Professional Natural Hygienists (IAPNH) is an organization of healthcare professionals who specialize in therapeutic fasting. It certifies doctors who have completed approved residencies in therapeutic fasting, including conventional medical doctors, naturopaths, and osteopathic doctors.

Resources

BOOKS

Cott, Alan. Fasting: The Ultimate Diet. Chicago: Hastings House, 1997.

Fuhrman, Joel, M.D. Fasting and Eating for Health. New York: St. Martin's, 1995.

Page, Linda, N.D. Healthy Healing. CA: Healthy Healing Publications, 1998.

PERIODICALS

Kallen, Ben."The Slow Fast: Fasting May Not be for You, but a Few 1,000Calorie Days can Launch You into Better Health." Men's Fitness (April 2002): 34.

ORGANIZATIONS

Fasting Center International. 32 West Anapurna St., #360, Santa Barbara, CA 93101. http://www.fasting.com.

Douglas Dupler

Teresa G. Odle

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Fasting

Fasting

Definition

Fasting is voluntarily not eating food for varying lengths of time. Fasting is used as a medical therapy for many conditions. It is also a spiritual practice in many religions.

Purpose

Fasting can be used for nearly every chronic condition, including allergies, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, depression, diabetes, headaches, heart disease, high cholesterol, low blood sugar, digestive disorders, mental illness, and obesity. Fasting is an effective and safe weight loss method. It is frequently prescribed as a detoxification treatment for those with conditions that may be influenced by environmental factors, such as cancer and multiple chemical sensitivity. Fasting has been used successfully to help treat people who have been exposed to high levels of toxic materials due to accident or occupation. Fasting is thought to be beneficial as a preventative measure to increase overall health, vitality, and resistance to disease. Fasting is also used as a method of mental and spiritual rejuvenation.

Description

Origins

Used for thousands of years, fasting is one of the oldest therapies in medicine. Many of the great doctors of ancient times and many of the oldest healing systems have recommended it as an integral method of healing and prevention. Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, believed fasting enabled the body to heal itself. Paracelsus, another great healer in the Western tradition, wrote 500 years ago that "fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within." Ayurvedic medicine, the world's oldest healing system, has long advocated fasting as a major treatment.

Fasting has also been used in nearly every religion in the world, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam. Many of history's great spiritual leaders fasted for mental and spiritual clarity, including Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed. In one of the famous political acts of the last century, the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi fasted for 21 days to promote peace.

Fasting has been used in Europe as a medical treatment for years. Many spas and treatment centers, particularly those in Germany, Sweden, and Russia, use medically supervised fasting. Fasting has gained popularity in American alternative medicine over the past several decades, and many doctors feel it is beneficial. Fasting is a central therapy in detoxification, a healing method founded on the principle that the build up of toxic substances in the body is responsible for many illnesses and conditions.

The principle of fasting is simple. When the intake of food is temporarily stopped, many systems of the body are given a break from the hard work of digestion. The extra energy gives the body the chance to heal and restore itself, and burning stored calories gets rid of toxic substances stored in the body.

The digestive tract is the part of the body most exposed to environmental threats, including bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins. It requires the most immune system support. When food is broken down in the intestines, it travels through the blood to the liver, the largest organ of the body's natural detoxification system. The liver breaks down and removes the toxic by-products produced by digestion, including natural ones and the chemicals now present in the food supply. During fasting, the liver and immune system are essentially freed to detoxify and heal other parts of the body.

Many healers claim that fasting is a particularly useful therapy for Americans and for the modern lifestyle, subjected to heavy diets, overeating, and constant exposure to food additives and chemicals. Some alternative practitioners have gone so far as to estimate that the average American is carrying 5-10 pounds of toxic substances in their bodies, for which fasting is the quickest and most effective means of removal.

Physiology of fasting

Through evolution, the body became very efficient at storing energy and handling situations when no food was available. For many centuries, fasting was probably a normal occurrence for most people, and the body adapted to it. It is estimated that even very thin people can survive for 40 days or more without food. The body has a special mechanism that is initiated when no food is eaten. Fasting is not starvation, but rather the body's burning of stored energy. Starvation occurs when the body no longer has any stored energy and begins using essential tissues such as organs for an energy source. Therapeutic fasts are stopped long before this happens.

Many physiological changes occur in the body during fasting. During the first day or so, the body uses its glycogen reserves, the sugars that are the basic energy supply. After these are depleted, the body begins using fat. However, the brain, which has high fuel requirements, still needs glucose (sugars converted from glycogen). To obtain glucose for the brain, the body begins to break down muscle tissue during the second day of the fast. Thus, during fasting some muscle loss will occur. To fuel the brain, the body would need to burn over a pound of muscle a day, but the body has developed another way to create energy that saves important muscle mass. This protein-sparing process is called ketosis, which occurs during the third day of a fast for men and the second day for women. In this highly efficient state, the liver begins converting stored fat and other nonessential tissues into ketones, which can be used by the brain, muscles, and heart as energy. It is at this point in the fast that sensations of hunger generally go away, and many people experience normal or even increased energy levels. Hormone levels and certain functions become more stable in this state as well. The goal of most fasts is to allow the body to reach the ketosis state in order to burn excess fat and unneeded or damaged tissue. Thus, fasts longer than three days are generally recommended as therapy.

Weight loss occurs most rapidly during the first few days of a fast, up to 2 pounds per day. In following days, the figure drops to around 0.5 pound per day. An average weight loss of a pound a day for an entire fast can be expected.

Performing a fast

Fasts can be performed for varying lengths of time, depending on the person and his or her health requirements. For chronic conditions, therapists recommend from two to four weeks to get the most benefits. Seven-day fasts are also commonly performed. A popular fasting program for prevention and general health is a three-day fast taken four times per year, at the change of each season. These can be easily performed over long weekends. Preventative fasts of one day per week are used by many people as well.

Juice fasts are also used by many people, although these are not technically fasts. Juice fasts are less intensive than water fasts because the body doesn't reach the ketosis stage. The advantage of juice fasts is that fruit and vegetable drinks can supply extra energy and nutrients. People can fit a few days of juice fasting into their normal schedules without significant drops in energy. Juice fasts are also said to have cleansing and detoxifying effects. The disadvantage of juice fasts is that the body never gets to the ketosis stage, so these fasters are thought to lack the deep detoxification and healing effects of the water fast.

Medical supervision is recommended for any fast over three days. Most alternative medicine practitioners, such as homeopaths, naturopathic doctors, and ayurvedic doctors, can supervise and monitor patients during fasts. Those performing extended fasts and those with health conditions may require blood, urine, and other tests during fasting. There are many alternative health clinics that perform medically supervised fasts as well. Some conventional medical doctors may also supervise patients during fasts. Costs and insurance coverage vary, depending on the doctor, clinic, and requirements of the patient.

Preparations

Fasts must be entered and exited with care. To enter a fast, the diet should be gradually lightened over a few days. First, heavy foods such as meats and dairy products should be eliminated for a day or two. Grains, nuts, and beans should then be reduced for several days. The day before a fast, only easily digested foods like fruits, light salads, and soups should be eaten. During the fast, only pure water and occasional herbal teas should be drunk.

Fasts should be ended as gradually as they are entered, going from lighter to heavier foods progressively. The diet after a fast should emphasize fresh, wholesome foods. Fasters should particularly take care not to overeat when they complete a fast.

Precautions

Fasting isn't appropriate for everyone and, in some cases, could be harmful. Any person undertaking a first fast longer than three days should seek medical supervision. Those with health conditions should always have medical support during fasting. Plenty of water should be taken by fasters since dehydration can occur. Saunas and sweating therapies are sometimes recommended to assist detoxification, but should be used sparingly. Those fasting should significantly slow down their lifestyles. Taking time off of work is helpful, or at least reducing the work load. Fasters should also get plenty of rest. Exercise should be kept light, such as walking and gentle stretching.

Side effects

Those fasting may experience side effects of fatigue, malaise, aches and pains, emotional duress, acne, headaches, allergies, swelling, vomiting, bad breath, and symptoms of colds and flu. These reactions are sometimes called healing crises, which are caused by temporarily increased levels of toxins in the body due to elimination and cleansing. Lower energy levels should be expected during a fast.

Research and general acceptance

The physiology of fasting has been widely studied and documented by medical science. Beneficial effects such as lowered cholesterol and improved general functioning have been shown. Fasting as a treatment for illness and disease has been studied less, although some studies around the world have shown beneficial results. A 1984 study showed that workers in Taiwan who had severe chemical poisoning had dramatic improvement after a ten-day fast. In Russia and Japan, studies have demonstrated fasting to be an effective treatment for mental illness. Fasting has been featured on the cover of medical journals, although mainstream medicine has generally ignored fasting and detoxification treatments as valid medical procedures.

The majority of research that exists on fasting is testimonial, consisting of individual personal accounts of healing without statistics or controlled scientific experiments. In the alternative medical community, fasting is an essential and widely accepted treatment for many illnesses and chronic conditions.

Resources

ORGANIZATIONS

Fasting Center International. 32 West Anapurna St., #360, Santa Barbara, CA 93101. http://www.fasting.com.

KEY TERMS

Ayurvedic medicine A traditional healing system developed in India.

Toxin A substance that has poisonous effects on the body.

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fasting

fasting In fasting, individuals or whole communities abstain from food and drink, usually for a specific reason and a specific amount of time. Fasting differs from dieting or avoidance of certain foods, in that it implies complete abstinence from food, with only small modifications such as time limits or subsistence liquids. Documented in a wide array of cultures and throughout history, the motivations for fasting are many. Religious tenets have most commonly instigated fasts, but so have rites of passage, special occasions, political beliefs, and health ideals.

All of the major religions have called for some form of fasting. Though many factors motivate religious fasts, successful fasting demonstrates one's ability to subsume physical needs to spiritual desires, and has been thought to bring the faster closer to the divine. According to Islamic precepts, Moslems undertake Ramadan, a month-long fast (no food until after sundown), as well as other lesser fasts, such as Ashura. Buddhism requires ascetic behaviour, including fasting, by its monks, but not from other followers. Hinduism encourages fasting on the eleventh day after a new moon, after the full moon, and every Monday in November.

Judaism also calls for regular fasting as a part of its doctrine. The major fast, Yom Kippur (Fast of Atonement), the holiest Jewish holiday, falls on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tishri. The Old Testament specifies at least six other minor fasts. During all of these except Yom Kippur, which demands abstinence from sunset to sunset, faithful Jews fast from sunrise until the first night stars.

Most sects within Christianity have also advocated periods of fasting. The early Church called for voluntary fasts, but by the fourth century specific fasting practices were enumerated. In the past, the Roman Catholic Church required numerous fasts, including all Sundays during Lent, Easter week, and all Fridays except from Christmas to Epiphany and from Easter to Ascension. Today, the Church recommends only a few fasts. Adults (those over 21) and youths (those over 14) are expected to conduct limited fasts on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as well as a one hour fast before communion. The Greek Orthodox Church lists over 250 fast days, including the 40 days before Christmas and Easter. The Eastern Orthodox Church proscribes meat during the first week of Lent and then precludes other foods, including fish, cheese, oil, butter, and milk, for the duration.

In all faiths, religious ascetics, especially saints and holy figures, have undertaken extreme fasts as a path to spiritual perfection. Hindu Yogis, Greek priests, and Christian martyrs all fasted. Recently, historians have taken great interest in the fasting practices of medieval women. Rudolph Bell suggests that the fasting rituals of such figures as Catherine of Sienna mirror present-day anorexic behaviour. Others suggest that though the behaviours may appear similar, their meanings, deeply rooted in each era's specific prescriptions about women, food, religion, and the body, make them distinct phenomena. Medieval saints fasted to receive God and to offer service to others, while modern anorexics fast for a complicated set of more individualistic reasons, including a desire for self-control and slenderness.

Many cultures have marked rites of passage and special occasions with fasting. Puberty is often accompanied by fasting, as for example among Sioux boys and some Africans, while Orthodox Jews fast before the marriage ceremony. Initiation in the cults of the ancient Isis and Mithra required fasting, and fasting has commonly accompanied grieving and mourning customs. Certain special occasions, such as celebratory feasts or, on the other hand, crises, provoke fasting — often in order to appease the gods.

Political activists have used fasting or ‘hunger strikes’ to gain attention, dramatize their cause, or force the hand of their opponents. The modern hunger strikers in Ireland protesting against British rule in Northern Ireland were preceded by the tradition of ‘fasting on’ someone to force them to make legal restitution. Mahatma Ghandi made effective use of political fasts, as did the British suffragists, who brought hunger strikes to the American suffrage movement.

Fasting to ‘purify’ health has long historical roots, especially among utopian societies. A number of such nineteenth-century American communities, led by such figures as Sylvester Graham and John Harvey Kellogg, recommended various dietary restrictions, including fasting. The health movement of the 1960s and 1970s, combined with the ‘cult of slenderness’ spawned new fasting fads (juice, liquid formulas, fruit only, etc.), including Alan Cott's Fasting as a Way of Life.

While dieting or abstaining from particular ‘fattening’ foods differs from strict fasting rituals, many who want to lose weight undertake fasts. It is this type of fast that is perhaps most common in modern Western cultures, where, even among the faithful, religious fasts are commonly evaded. Many fast intermittently for aesthetic reasons (to slim the body to fit beauty ideals) without incident, but such rigid weight-loss regimens have also contributed to the increase in eating disorders among young females.

Margaret A. Lowe

Bibliography

Brumberg, J. (1988). Fasting girls: the emergence of anorexia nervosa as a modern disease. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
Bynam, C. W. (1987). Holy feast and holy fast: the religious significance of food to medieval women. University of California Press, Berkeley.


See also dieting; eating disorders; religion and the body; starvation.

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fasting

fasting, partial or temporary abstinence from food, a widely used form of asceticism. Among the stricter Jews the principal fast is the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur; in Islam the faithful fast all the daytime hours of the month of Ramadan. Fasting is general in Christianity. The most widely observed fasts are Lent and Advent. Both of these are preliminary to seasons of great rejoicing, and traditionally the vigils of several feasts were also kept as fasts, e.g. (in the West), those of Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday, the Assumption, and All Saints. Ember days were also fasts in the West. Protestants have generally abandoned fasting, but in New England an annual Fast Day was proclaimed (in Massachusetts until the 20th cent.). In the late 1990s there was renewed interest among evangelical Christians in the United States in fasting and prayer as a means of spiritual revival. The Roman Catholic Church differentiates between fasting (eating only one full meal and little else in a day) and abstinence (eating no flesh meat). In 1966, Pope Paul VI issued Poenitemini, an apostolic constitution reorganizing the discipline of the Catholic Church. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are now the only required days of fast. The observance of Fridays as days of abstinence is now urged rather than, as formerly, made a matter of obligation. Roman Catholics are asked to abstain from food and drink for one hour prior to receiving communion. Fasting and hunger strikes have also been used by various political and social activists to bring attention to the causes they support.

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Fasting

Fasting

The term fasting refers to voluntarily or involuntarily going without food. A person may fast voluntarily because of an eating disorder , as a dietary practice related to religious proscriptions , or for health reasons, such as weight loss or internal cleansing. There are, however, no nutritional benefits to fasting.

During a full fast a person abstains from all foods except water or other liquids. A person may also engage in a partial fast, during which particular foods are avoided. Extended fasts lasting longer than a few days can be dangerous because intake is not supporting growth and maintenance. Fasting also promotes the development of ketones , which can be harmful to body organs if they accumulate in the body. Ketones are acidic compounds produced from the incomplete breakdown of fats when there is insufficient carbohydrate intake, and they can disturb the body's acid-base balance.

see also Dieting; Religion and Dietary Practices.

Judith C. Rodriguez

Bibliography

Anderson, J., and Deskins, B. (1995). The Nutrition Bible. New York: William Morrow.

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fasting

fasting Going without food. The metabolic fasting state begins some 4 hours after a meal, when the digestion and absorption of food is complete and body reserves of fat and glycogen begin to be mobilized. In more prolonged fasting the blood concentration of ketone bodies rises, as they are exported from the liver for use by muscle and other tissues as a metabolic fuel.

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fasting

fasting •matting • exacting •Banting, ranting •parting •enchanting, planting •everlasting, fasting, lasting •narrowcasting •letting, setting, wetting •self-respecting, self-selecting, unreflecting, unsuspecting •tempting •unconsenting, unrelenting •excepting •arresting, unprotesting, unresting, westing •bloodletting • trendsetting •pace-setting • typesetting •photosetting •grating, plating, rating, slating, uprating, weighting •painting •pasting, tasting •undeviating • self-perpetuating •unaccommodating • self-deprecating •suffocating • self-regulating •undiscriminating • underpainting •unhesitating •beating, fleeting, greeting, Keating, meeting, self-defeating, sweeting •easting •fitting, sitting, unbefitting, unremitting, witting •printing, unstinting •listing, twisting, unresisting •shopfitting • marketing •telemarketing • pickpocketing •weightlifting • side-splitting •carpeting • trumpeting •uninteresting • visiting •backlighting, lighting, self-righting, sighting, unexciting, uninviting, whiting, writing •infighting • prizefighting •dogfighting • bullfighting •handwriting • screenwriting •scriptwriting • copywriting •skywriting • signwriting •typewriting • songwriting • knotting •prompting •costing, frosting •self-supporting, unsporting •malting, salting •ripsnorting • outing •accounting, mounting •coating •Boulting, revolting •posting, roasting •billposting • disappointing •shooting, suiting, Tooting •sharpshooting • footing •off-putting •cutting, Nutting •bunting •disgusting, self-adjusting, trusting •blockbusting • linocutting •woodcutting • disquieting •disconcerting, shirting, skirting

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Fasting

FASTING

FASTING , that is, complete or partial abstinence from nourishment, is an almost universal phenomenon within both Eastern and Western cultures. Although fasting has been and continues to be subscribed to for a variety of reasons, the present article deals with it as a phenomenon evoked for religious reasons, that is, by ideals or beliefs that consider it a necessary or advantageous practice leading to the initiation or maintenance of contact with divinity, or some supranatural or transcendent being.

Although the origins of fasting as a moral or religious discipline are obscure, the custom or practice of fasting is attested in many ancient cultures. The fact that it was in some cultures connected with rites of mourning has led some scholars to equate its origins with the custom whereby friends and relatives leave with the dead the food and drink that they (the living) would normally consume, so that the deceased might have nourishment in an afterlife.

Others consider fasting in earlier cultures to have arisen as a result of the discovery that it could induce a state of susceptibility to visions and dreams and hence give the practitioner direct access to a spiritual world. As such it became for some a discipline creating the proper state necessary for some degree of participation in divinity. It gradually became an integral part of a purity ritual with definite religious intent. In some of the more archaic religions fasting became part of the discipline ensuring both a defense against taboo powers and a means of obtaining mana, or sacred power.

Within certain Greco-Roman philosophical schools and religious fellowships (e.g., the Pythagorean), fasting, as one aspect of asceticism, was closely aligned to the belief that humanity had originally experienced a primordial state of perfection that was forfeited by a transgression. Through various ascetic practices such as fasting, poverty, and so forth, the individual could be restored to a state where communication and union with the divine was again made possible. Hence, in various religious traditions a return to a primordial state of innocence or bliss triggered a number of ascetical practices deemed necessary or advantageous in bringing about such return. For such groups the basic underlying assumption was that fasting was in some way conducive to initiating or maintaining contact with some divine power or powers. In some religious groups (for example, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) fasting gradually became a standard way of expressing devotion and worship to a specific divine being.

Although it is difficult to pinpoint a specific rationale or motivation for an individual's or a group's fasting, in most cultures that ascribe to it at least three motivations are easily discernible: (1) preliminary to or preparatory for an important event or time in an individual's or a people's life; (2) as an act of penitence or purification; or (3) as an act of supplication.

Preparatory Fasting

In addition to the basic underlying assumption that fasting is an essential preparation for divine revelation or for some type of communing with the spiritual (what is above or beyond the natural for humans), many cultures believe that fasting is a prelude to important times in a person's life. It purifies or prepares the person (or group) for greater receptivity in communion with the spiritual. In the Greco-Roman mystery religions, for example, fasting was deemed an aid to enlightenment by a deity, and an initiate into most of these religions had to abstain from all or certain specified foods and drink in order to receive knowledge of the mysteries of the specific religion.

Within some of the mystery cults, fasting was incorporated as part of the ritual preparation for the incubation sleep that, by means of dreams, was to provide answers to specific questions and needs of the person. Dreams and visions were viewed as media through which spiritual or divine revelations were made manifest. Philostratus (c. 170c. 245 ce), for example, presents the view that since the soul was influenced by diet, only by frugal living and the avoidance of meat and drink could the soul receive unconfused dreams (Life of Apollonius 2.37). Both Greek philosophers (e.g., Pythagoreans and Neoplatonists) and Hebrew prophets believed that fasting could produce trancelike states through which revelations would occur. Plutarch narrates how the priests of ancient Egypt abstained from meat and wine in order to receive and interpret divine revelations (Isis and Osiris 56), and Iamblichus tells how the prophetess fasted three days prior to giving an oracle (Egyptian Mysteries 3.7).

Among the Eastern traditions Hindu and Jain ascetics fasted while on pilgrimage and in preparation for certain festivals. Within classical Chinese religious practice, chai, or ritual fasting, preceded the time of sacrifices. By contrast, later Chinese religious thought, particularly Daoism, taught that "fasting of the heart" (xinzhai ), rather than bodily fasting, was more beneficial to arriving at "the Way" (dao ). Confucianism followed the practice of Confucius in approving fasting as preparation for those times set aside for worship of ancestral spirits. Although the Buddha taught moderation rather than excessive fasting, many Buddhist monks and nuns adhered to the custom of eating only one meal per day, in the forenoon, and they were obliged to fast on days of new and full moon. Among modern-day Buddhists it is more common to fast and confess one's sins four times per month.

Within the Judaic tradition only one day of fasting was imposed by Mosaic law, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Lv. 16:2934), but four additional days were added after the Babylonian exile (Zec. 8:19) to commemorate days on which disasters had occurred. The Hebrew scriptures set fasting within the context of being vigilant in the service of Yahveh (e.g., Lv. 16:29ff.; Jgs. 20:26), and it was considered important as a preliminary to prophecy (e.g., Moses fasted forty days on Sinai; Elijah fasted forty days as he journeyed to Horeb). Judaism allowed for individual voluntary fasts, and there is evidence that Mondays and Thursdays were set aside by some Jewish communities as special days of fasting. According to Tacitus, fasting had become so characteristic of the Jews of the first century that Augustus could boast that he fasted more seriously than a Jew (Histories 5.4).

Although formalized fasting was spoken against in the New Testament (Mt. 6:166:18), it eventually became the favorite ascetic practice of the desert dwellers and monastic men and women who saw it as a necessary measure to free the soul from worldly attachments and desires. Within the Christian tradition there gradually developed seasonal fasts such as the Lenten one of forty days preparatory to Easter; Rogation Days in spring in supplication for good crops; and Ember Days, days of prayer and fasting during each of the four seasons of the year. There were also weekly fasts on Wednesdays and Fridays and fasts prior to solemn occasions celebrating important moments in people's lives (e.g., baptism, ordination to priesthood, admission to knighthood, and reception of the Eucharist).

In the Islamic tradition Muslims continue to observe the ninth month, Ramaān, as one of rigorous fasting (awm ), during which days no liquid or food is allowed between dawn and sunset, as stipulated in the Qurʾān (2:180ff.). Some of the stricter Muslim groups fast each Monday and Thursday, and the Qurʾān recommends fasting as a penance during a pilgrimage, three days going and seven returning (2:193). ūfīs recommend additional fasting for the purpose of communing with the divine, and the Shīʿī Muslims require fasting as one of the ways of commemorating the martyrdom of ʿAlī, the son-in-law of the Prophet, and his two sons.

Basic to the beliefs of many Native American tribes was the view that fasting was efficacious for receiving guidance from the Great Spirit. Generally, a brave was sent off into the wilderness on a fast in quest of such guidance, which was usually revealed through a personal vision. The young man's vision was often viewed as necessary for his future success in life, indicating a personal relationship between himself and his guardian spirit. Lakota braves, for example, were advised in their search for a vision of Wakantanka, the supreme being, to "walk in remote places, crying to Wakantanka, and neither eat nor drink for four days." Within many of the tribes there was a period of ritual fasting prior to a boy's reaching puberty and a girl's first menstrual period, considered times of growth into adulthood. In New South Wales, Australia, boys had to fast for two days at their bora ceremonies. In the Aztec culture the ritual training required of one who aspired to become a sacrificing priest included fasting as one form of abstinence. While fasting was often viewed as a disciplinary measure that would strengthen the body and character of the individual, prolonged fasting and other austerities were also undergone so that the individual might see or hear the guardian spirit who would remain with him or her for life.

Fasting as Penance or Purification

Ancient Egyptian and Babylonian customs included ritualized fasting as a form of penance that accompanied other expressions of sorrow for wrongdoing. Like people of later times, these nations viewed fasting as meritorious in atoning for faults and sins and thus turning away the wrath of the gods. In the Book of Jonah, for example, the Assyrians are depicted as covered with sackcloth, weeping, fasting, and praying to God for forgiveness (Jon. 3:5ff.).

For the Jews, fasting was an outward expression of inner penitence, and on various occasions a general fast was proclaimed as a public recognition of the sin of the people (1 Sm. 14:24, 1 Kgs. 21:9, Jer. 36:9). Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is such a day of fasting and praying for forgiveness of sins. But fasting is also viewed as a means of orienting the human spirit to something or someone greater. According to Philo Judaeus (25 bce50 ce), the Therapeutae, a group of Jewish contemplatives living in community, fasted as a means of purifying the spirit so that it could turn itself to more spiritual activities such as reading and study (On the Contemplative Life ). The Essenes, a Jewish group who followed their "righteous teacher" into the wilderness at Qumran (c. 135 bce70 ce), in their Manual of Discipline prescribed fasting as one of the ways of purification, of preparing for the coming of the "end of days."

Although fasting as a means of atonement and purification is evident in other traditions, it was among the Christians that fasting became a predominant feature. Already in the first and second centuries it began to appear as one of the many ascetic practices that became widespread in the Middle Ages. With the rapid growth of ascetic movements that incorporated Greek dualism into their thought patterns, fasting became an important means of ridding the body of its attachment to material possessions and pleasures, thus freeing the person for attaining the higher good, the love for and imitation of Christ. The prevailing notion was that whereas food in moderation was a necessary good for maintaining health, abstention from food was particularly effective in controlling the balance between body and spirit. Like the Pythagoreans with their elaborate taboos on food (sixth to fourth century bce), the early Christians saw such ascetic practices as fasting, praying, and almsgiving as means of reducing or eliminating the tension between the earthbound body and the divine, spiritual soul. Although it is true that for some individuals or groups fasting became an end in itself rather than a means to an end, most monastic manuals or rules warn the monastics to avoid excessive fasting, which could bring harm to both body and soul. Though the practice of fasting varied in different countries, most Christian manuals of instruction and worship began to regulate more strictly the times for obligatory fasts (cf. Didachē 7ff.; Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 61). But it was with the growth of monastic communities in the fourth century that fasts began to be more universal.

Modern-day Christian denominations display a considerable diversity of opinion and practice in regard to fasting. For most Protestant denominations, except for some of the more evangelically oriented groups, fasting is left to the discretion of the individual. Although within the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches prescriptions still govern both individual and corporate practices, rigid fasting practices have been abolished. Roman Catholics still practice partial fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Within the Greek Orthodox church fasting is usually one of the acts of purification preparing one for participation in the liturgical mysteries.

Although Buddhists generally favor restraint in taking food, and many consider fasting a non-Buddhist practice, it is listed as one of the thirteen Buddhist practices that can serve as an aid to leading a happy life, a means of purification (dhutanga ). Therefore, many Buddhist monks have the custom of eating only one meal a day, often eating only from the alms bowl and declining a second helping. For other Buddhists enlightenment was considered more easily attainable by renunciation of wrong ideas and views rather than by fasting. Within Jainism there is the belief that certain ascetic practices, like fasting, are purificatory in that they can remove the accumulation of karman that weighs down the life-monad. Fasting could therefore carry people upward along the path to liberation from karman. Within the Islamic tradition fasting is viewed as one of the "good works," one of the recognized duties of the devout Muslim, and is considered efficacious in pardoning an individual from all past sins (Tibrīzī, Mishkāt al-maābīh 7.7.1).

Within some of the Native American tribes, the practice of fasting was considered conducive to purifying the body prior to some great feat or challenge. The Cherokee Indians believed that prior to slaying an eagle the individual had to undergo a long period of prayer and fasting that purified the body, strengthening it for the necessary combat. Siouan-speaking Indians believed that before both hunting and war the body had to be purified through fasting for these noble tasks. Among the Incas, fasting from salt, chili peppers, meat, or chicha (beer made from maize) was one of the ways of preparing the body for an important event and also for a public form of penance.

Fasting as Supplication

Although it is difficult in many instances to distinguish clearly between fasting as a means of penitence and fasting as a means of supplication, within certain traditions the latter has widespread usage. Within Judaism, for example, fasting was one way of "bending the ear of Yahveh," of asking God to turn to the Jews in mercy and grant them the favor requested. Ahab, for example, fasted to avert the disaster predicted by Elijah (1 Kgs. 21:2729, cf. Nm. 1:4, 2 Chr. 20:3, Jer. 36:9). Because penitence and supplication were often dual motivational forces for fasting within Judaism, fasting emerged as both conciliatory and supplicatory. As in the Christian and Islamic traditions, the Jewish notion of fasting reflected an attitude of interior sorrow and conversion of heart. Within the Christian ascetic circles, fasting was viewed as one of the more meritorious acts, which exorcised demons and demonic temptation from the individual's consciousness. Therefore, fasting emerged within Christianity as a potent force in calling down God's mercy and aid in ridding the individual of temptations against "the world, the flesh, and the devil." Fasting was a means of calling God to the struggling Christians' side in order to be both strength and encouragement in the battle against sin. In the Qurʾān fasting as supplication to God is considered of merit only if one also abandons false words and deeds. Otherwise, God pays no heed to the supplication (see, e.g., sūrah 2:26).

Within other groups fasting was also viewed as meritorious in obtaining rewards from higher powers. In the Intichiuma ceremonies of the tribes in central Australia fasting was practiced to assure an increase in the totem food supply. Young Jain girls fasted as one means of requesting the higher power to give them a good husband and a happy married life. Fasting frequently accompanied or preceded the dance rituals of certain tribes who prayed for a renewal of fertility and a productive harvest from the earth (e.g., the Dakota Sun Dance; the Cheyenne New Life Lodge; the Ponca Sacred Dance, or Mystery Dance).

In summary, from earliest records to contemporary society, fasting has been a common religious practice, serving as both a prelude to and a means of deepening the experience of transcendence of the material or bodily state. The voluntary abstinence from nourishment has been for many an ideal means of expressing human dependence on a higher power, or a liberation from those things that stifle aspirations toward a "higher" form of existence. Fasting has often served as a sign and symbol of the human conversion toward something beyond the everyday, a turning toward the spiritual, the transcendent, the Great Spirit, God, and so on. In modern times the therapeutic value of fasting has been adopted as a good health practice that has often taken on the aspect of religious ritual.

See Also

Asceticism; awm.

Bibliography

Brandon, S. G. F., ed. A Dictionary of Comparative Religion. London, 1970.

MacCulloch, J. A., and A. J. Maclean. "Fasting." In Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, vol. 5. Edinburgh, 1912.

MacDermot, Violet. The Cult of the Seer in the Ancient Middle East. London, 1971.

Rogers, Eric N. Fasting: The Phenomenon of Self-Denial. Nashville, 1976.

Ryan, Thomas. Fasting Rediscovered: A Guide to Health and Wholeness for Your Body-Spirit. New York, 1981.

Underhill, Ruth M. Red Man's America: A History of Indians in the United States. Rev. ed. Chicago, 1971.

Wakefield, Gordon S., ed. The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. London, 1983.

New Sources

Berghuis, Kent D. "A Biblical Perspective on Fasting." Bibliotheca Sacra 629 (2001): 86103.

Diamond, Eliezer. Holy Men and Hunger Artists: Fasting and Asceticism in Rabbinic Culture. Oxford and New York, 2004.

Kaushik, Jai Narain. Fasts of the Hindus around the Week: Background Stories, Ways of Performance and Their Importance. Delhi, 1992.

Lambert, David. "Fasting as a Penitential Rite: A Biblical Phenomenon?" Harvard Theological Review 96 (2003): 477512.

Shaw, Teresa Marie. The Burden of the Flesh: Fasting and Sexuality in Early Christianity. Minneapolis, 1998.

Siebenbrunner, Barbara. Die Problematik der kirchlichen Fasten- und Abstinenzgesetzgebung: eine Untersuchung zu dem im Zuge des zweiten Vatikanischen Konzils erfolgten Wandel. Frankfurt am Main and New York, 2001.

Stökl, Daniel Johannes. "Whose Fast Is It? The Ember Day of September and Yom Kippur." In The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, edited by Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed, pp. 259282. Tübingen, 2003.

Rosemary Rader (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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Fasting

Fasting

Fasting practices in the United States are as diverse as American religion itself. Not only have various immigrant traditions brought an assortment of fasting rituals with them to the United States, but also many original American religions have developed their own fasting practices. Motivations for fasting in American life include, but are not limited to, supplication, penitence, and the desire to draw closer to a divine power or being. Fasting involves refraining from eating or drinking for a prescribed amount of time, abstaining from particular foods or drink for set periods of time, or simply eating or drinking less than desired.

Supplicatory fasting, or fasting to make a request of a higher power, colors the tapestry of American religion. Many Hindu women in America, for example, continue to take a vow to fast weekly, monthly, or yearly to protect the lives of their husbands and sons. Some Native American tribes view fasting as a means to receive guidance from divine spirits. These are two examples of fasting practices utilized by Americans to make a request of a higher power.

Americans also fast to purify themselves before offering penance and asking for forgiveness, or to prepare themselves for an encounter with a divine power. For example, American Jews annually abstain from all food and drink on the day of Yom Kippur while praying to God for forgiveness for their transgressions. Muslims and Christians in the United States also fast to expiate past sins or to purify their bodies to prepare themselves for closeness to God. Mormons ritually fast, as well. They have established the first Sunday of each month as a fast day on which they abstain from food for twenty-four hours to prepare for testimonials of their faith.

Connection with a divine power is a common motivation for fasting in American religion. While American Catholics have obligatory days of fasting, such as Ash Wednesday and in Lent, American Protestants fast at their own discretion when they desire to draw nearer to God. For example, the Campus Crusade for Christ has organized a Fasting and Prayer event annually since 1994. In contrast, the Muslim-American community fasts during the month of Ramadan. From sunup to sundown each day of Ramadan, Muslims refrain from food and drink to develop their spiritual connection to God.

The practice of fasting in the United States, however, is not limited to the rituals of these organized religious traditions. In fact, many Americans chose fasting as a means to protest involvement in the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. There have also been connections drawn between anorexia and traditional religious practices of fasting, although there is debate concerning the legitimacy of this connection. The pursuit of health has become a popular motivation to fast in the contemporary United States. While these practices do not derive wholly from specific religious traditions, they appropriate the religious custom of fasting to achieve a larger goal, thus adding to the diversity of fasting practices in the United States.


See alsoFood; Practice; Vegetarianism.


Bibliography

Denny, Frederick. Islam and the Muslim Community. 1987.

Fenton, John Y. Transplanting ReligiousTraditions:Asian Indians inAmerica. 1988.

Macculloch, J. A., and A. J. Maclean. "Fasting." In Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. 1912.

Rader, Rosemary. "Fasting." In The Encyclopedia of Religion. 1987.

Stamberg, Susan. Talk: NPR's Susan Stamberg ConsidersAll Things. 1993.

Vandereycken, Walter, and Ron van Deth. From FastingSaints to Anorexic Girls: The History of Self Starvation. 1994.

Williams, Peter W. America's Religions: Traditions andCultures. 1998.

Sara E. Karesh

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