Fasting is the action of fast without eating food. A prolonged fast causes a lack of nutrients and energy sources that cause changes in the structure and function of the organs and even death.
Fasting can be done for different reasons:
- Fasting to lose weight. There is a belief that to lose weight you must fast. However, it can cause serious health problems and is associated with eating disorders such as anorexia. There are other methods of slimming more recommended and that do not contemplate fasting.
- Spiritual fast. It is done for religious or spiritual reasons. Some examples of fasting associated with religious beliefs are fasting during Yon Kippur and fasting or sawm (صَوْم) during the month of Ramadan.
- Fasting to perform a blood test. Certain types of medical tests are performed ‘on an empty stomach’. It is due to physiological reasons, since it is intended to obtain a sample ‘under normal conditions’ and some parameters change after eating food, for example, cholesterol or transaminases. It is also because the reference values are standardized based on a healthy and fasting population analysis.
The Daniel Fast is a kind of spiritual fasting. It is based on fruits, vegetables and water and is based on an Old Testament text, in the Book of Daniel: ‘In those days, I Daniel, I was afflicted for three weeks. I did not eat delicate delicacy; neither meat nor wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself with ointment, until the three weeks were completed. ‘ (Dan 10: 2-3)
Prayer and fasting
Traditionally, in some cultures fasting is associated with spirituality as a form of sacrifice, of penance, of spiritual strength before temptations, of cleaning of impurities and provokes a state of predisposition to prayer.
In the Catholic tradition there are examples in the fasting Bible. For example, in this Gospel passage according to Saint Luke:
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days and the devil put him to the test. He did not eat anything during those days, so he later felt hungry.” (Lc 4: 1-2)
In Catholic doctrine, fasting is considered to make only one strong meal a day and two small meals that do not exceed the main meal altogether. This must be done on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The withdrawal is not eating red meat. Withdrawal days are considered every Friday and Ash Wednesday. There are some dispensations and commutations established in Canon Law. These forms of penance may vary as they are established by the Episcopal Conference of each country.
The word breakfast in its origin means the opposite of ‘fasting’. It is commonly applied to food that is done at the beginning of the day and that ends the period of fasting during sleeping hours.
Other reasons for fasting
Fasting, it is occasions, can also be used as a form of protest, known as a hunger strike. In some natural medicine streams, fasting is used to combat some diseases.