How Fasting Works

Religious Fasting

Fasting is a part of many active faiths around the globe. So what is it about this custom that has caused so many to adopt it? Scholars believe that many people view fasting as a way to initiate or maintain contact with divinity. This may be because when people choose not to eat for extended periods of time, they may hallucinate or have visions. These visions may be interpreted as a path to the spiritual world and to a deeper connection with the divine.

But the hunger that accompanies a fast is also often used in various religious circles as punishment for sins. People of different faiths ask God for forgiveness of their misdoings and maintain a fast for numerous days or even weeks as a sign of remorse.

Some religions ask followers to fast in order to control their desires, exhibit willpower, understand the sufferings of Christ and, sometimes, to feel the pain of those in poverty. For all these reasons, and perhaps for many others, fasting remains a popular practice among the faiths of the world.

Buddhists usually fast on full-moon days and other holidays. For them, the point is purification and freeing the mind. Buddhists observing a fast must abstain from solid foods, although liquids are permitted.

Catholics fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and are supposed to eat no meat on all Fridays during Lent. They fast to show control of fleshly desires, to do penance for sins and to show solidarity with the poor; the Good Friday fast commemorates the day Christ suffered on the cross. However, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, one small meal is allowed, without meat.

Eastern Orthodox church members fast on Lent and observe both the Apostles' Fast and Nativity Fast. They believe the practice strengthens resistance to gluttony and opens a person to God's grace. Participants can eat no meat, dairy, eggs or fish.

Jews fast on Yom Kippur -- the Day of Atonement. The practice is observed to atone for sins and/or special requests from God. Eating and drinking is forbidden from sundown to sundown for a 25-hour period.

Mormons fast on the first Sunday of each month. They believe fasting helps them achieve closeness to God, and concentration on God and religion. Fasting requires abstaining from food and drink for two meals and donating food and money to the needy.

Muslims fast as part of the observance of Ramadan, the 9th month of the Muslim calendar, which commemorates the month when Koran was first revealed to Mohammad. During this period, Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking, profanity and sex from sunrise to sunset.

Fasting during Ramadan is intended to teach Muslims patience, modesty and spirituality. During the month, Muslims ask Allah for forgiveness from sins, pray for guidance and aim to purify themselves through good deeds. Ramadan fast is well known due to its length and for the large number of Muslims that participate annually.

Now that we have an understanding of fasting for religious purposes, let's take a look at medical fasting in order to understand how the medical community uses food abstinence.

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