Guest post from my wife, Suzan Sammons.
Here are some ways to make your fasting spiritually and physically fruitful. (This is not medical advice*; I’m just a nutrition grad student 😁)
1. Any fast can be spiritually fruitful. Write down intentions for your fast or think of one major intention. When you get challenged during fasting, read your list or ponder that one big reason you’re doing it. Even if you’ve decided to start with just skipping snacks between meals, make it worthwhile spiritually. The best way to make your fast spiritually fruitful is to be ABLE to fast. That’s why all these practical, physiological tips follow.
2. Start with a baby step. And then keep taking baby steps, as soon as the first thing you changed feels comfortable. A great way to begin fasting is simply to limit the daily timeframe in which you eat. Rather than eating from morning to night, give yourself, at first, an 8 or 10-hour window, such as 8 or 10 AM to 6 PM. When you feel able, shrink that window by a few more hours. Essentially, look to stick with a late lunch plus dinner.
3. Understand hunger. Most people think that hunger pangs are your body’s way of telling you “You need to eat!” No. They are your body’s way of telling you “This is when we usually eat!” Ask people who routinely skip breakfast. They don’t feel hungry at that time – because that’s their habit.
4. Know that hunger comes in waves. If you are fasting and feel hungry: a) remember your prayer intention, b) tell yourself that the feeling will pass, c) drink cold water with a little salt and/or coffee or tea with no sweeteners of any kind. Particularly if you feel a headache coming on while fasting, drink water with a little salt. (Don’t drink a great quantity of water while fasting unless you’re adding some salt.)
5. Healthy people feel wide awake and energetic during a fast. If you feel lethargic, it may be due to your eating habits (see #7) or it may be that you are getting dehydrated. You need to drink plenty of water (urine should be almost colorless) but not only that – you need some salt. Sprinkle a few dashes of good salts in your water – like sea salt and “lite salt” which provides potassium.
6. When you’re ready to fast for a more extended time (40 hours is a good timeframe to try first) – choose a good day. If you have too much time on your hands, your fast will be more difficult. If you have a stressful event scheduled, fasting might be too much to handle. An example of a 40 hour fast is closing the eating window at 6:00 PM on a Thursday and fasting until 10:00 AM on Saturday. The most difficult times will likely be at the time of your normal meals on Friday. Reread #4.
7. What you eat when you’re not fasting will affect your fast. If you follow a standard American diet you may find it more difficult to fast than someone who follows a very-low-carbohydrate diet. If you find it extremely difficult to fast, try eliminating all sweeteners, all grains, and high-carb produce (such as bananas, pears, potatoes, etc) from your diet for a few weeks. Eat meats, seafood, nuts and seeds, healthy (I.e. natural) oils and fats, vegetables, berries, and full-fat dairy (if you tolerate dairy). Then try fasting again. You’ll see a big difference.
8. It’s still a sacrifice. I’ve been criticized for trying to make fasting “too easy” when it should be a penance. It’s still hard – it’s just hard in a way that makes it not impossible. And not impossible fasting means more frequent fasting. That’s a win in my book.
9. Fasting for weight control has additional considerations. To leverage fasting to lose weight, you might need to reevaluate your beliefs about which foods are good for you. Do some research that will help you understand weight gain as *insulin-driven*, not calorie-driven. The calorie-driven model America has labored under for decades has left us with an obesity epidemic. See Dr. Jason Fung’s resources, including his books.
10. Pay attention to how you break your fast. Put some good habits in place now: only eat when you’re sitting at a table (or whatever place(s) make sense for you). Prepare all the food you plan to eat before beginning to eat. Pay attention to what you’re eating while you’re eating it. Eat slowly, savoring and thanking God for the food. All these things will help you avoid overeating when you break your fast. Overeating will not likely negate all the benefits of having fasted, but it might make you feel yucky. Try to eat normally.
11. Autophagy is an important benefit of fasting. If you’re interested in disease prevention, particularly diseases of (malevolent) growth such as cancers and Alzheimer’s Disease, find out about fasting and autophagy. Your body has specific tasks it does only in the fasting state – such as the subcellular cleansing process called autophagy. Learn more from Dr. Fung.
12. Be OK with failures. There’s always tomorrow. Fasting can benefit us also by keeping us humble. We will make mistakes but a new chance at success comes around quickly.
I hope this quick explanation is of some help. Some ideas for further reading:
- An article I wrote for Crisis Magazine.
- An article by my husband on the history of Christian fasting.
- The website of modern fasting pioneer Dr. Jason Fung
*If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, save this post for later. If you have a diagnosed metabolic disorder such as T1D, find a holistic practitioner who can help you determine how changing your patterns of eating and fasting can help you. If you have ever struggled with an eating disorder, fasting is not for you.
NOTE: Fasting should never make you feel ill. If you feel ill while fasting, stop. If you try again another day and it makes you feel ill, you may want to investigate whether there’s an underlying condition at work.