Fasting: This site describes some of the common and long-held pseudo-science, health-enthusiast or "New Age" benefits of fasting. While there is little more than anecdotal evidence and unstudied but logical hypotheses supporting these theories, they are not harmful ideas and may help you while fasting. It may give you an idea of what to expect.
A Christian Interpretation of Fasting
About the Cathloic Lent: What are the rules?
A Study of Ramadan and Fasting
Jewish Fast Days
A Buddhist Perspective
Indonesian Shamanistic Methods of Fasting
How can depriving your body of food be healthy?
We are trained, in this fast-food-society obsessed with body-image, that fasting is unhealthy because it sounds too much like starvation (and its association with poverty)... or worse, anerexia nervosa, which is a deadly psycological and physical condition.
But then think about what you're doing when you're eating... when your'e putting food in your body, you're also putting all sorts of things in there that your body has to work very hard to process and get rid of... especially if you're not eating very healthy or eat foods treated with certain chemicals. One view of fasting is that it gives your body a chance to process all the toxins it's collected by eating for so long.
Periodic fasting has been a part of many, many cultures for a very long time, usually associated with spirituality, nothing to do with body-image except on an internal level. Something happens to the body and the mind during a fast that can't happen while you're processing food.
I know I feel a connectedness when I fast, I learn a new respect for food each time I do it and a new compassion for those who have little and it takes me out of normal everyday activities to give me new perspective on that important element of human life... eating.
I also understand it's power to alter the mind, almost drug-like but far more basic and organic, to see things that you might not see if you were in "normal" mode and eating regularily. These experiances can be very rewarding. I wouldn't recomend fasting to everyone, but those who wish to try it may find it quite a nice meditative and learning experiance.
Also, there are different types of fasting. At Ramadan, Muslims fast for 40 days... but only during the daylight hours. Yom Kippur and other Jewish holidays use fasting as a devotional method. The Vision Quest uses fasting as a way of connecting with spirit. Some people fast with just water, some without water, some with just juice, some will eat anything except meat and call that fasting (during the Catholic Lent).
My advice for first-timers:
You're probably a lot more capable of doing this than you think. I've heard so many people tell me that they are unable to fast. "I'd never be able to do it! Imagine! I'd just get too hungry... no self control, you know..."
I think they're almost right except the "never" part. All it takes is a decision to do it and a reason to complete it. The people who claim they could "never" do it are simply saying that they can't beleive they'de ever have a reason to. And there are lots of reasons. There are plenty of purported health benefits, many religious or spiritual reasons, psycological reasons and a host of political ones, from ending world hunger to urging ones own release from captivity.
My own reasons are both spiritual and psycological. I do it as a devotional practice and to feel connected with humankind, to understand hunger and to understand my own weaknesses and strengths. I always learn a lot about my eating habits when I fast and often come out of it with a better understanding of how to feed myself healthfully.
The first step is to decide to do it.
Decide why you're going to fast.
For how long,
How you're going to do it (what type of fast),
When you're going to do it...
Deciding why and for how long are two things will give you what you need to accomplish the fast. When you finally DO it, make sure that you keep your promises to yourself. Start on schedule and end on schedule. Don't think, "Oh, I don't feel like eating, I'll wait another 6 hours or 2 days" just because you're enjoying the experiance or want to test yourself. Break when you promised yourself you were going to break. This promise will help you make your goal. Don't set you goal too far, either, that can sabatoge you. Start slow.
Decide what type of fast you want to do. Do you want to do a water fast? A juice fast? A vegetable fast? Abstaining from meat or animal products? Do you want to do it non-stop or just during certain hours of the day. Your reason for fasting will help you determine what type and for how long. I'd recomend speaking with a professional before abstaining from food for any unusual length of time, particularily if you plan on going for more than a day or two. I usually start with a specialized pre-fast diet to get my body used to the idea and, no matter what anyone says, I've found it helped me not suffer from the symptoms I've experianced without the diet. The longer the diet, the more effective it seems to be.
My diet is something like this: In the week before my fast, I eat no meat or animal products. I eat no salt or "processed" foods that are pre-cooked or have additives. I avoid fatty and rich foods. I eat mostly fresh fruits, boiled vegetables and some boiled organic grains (rolled oats, long-cooked rice). I drink plenty of water and fresh-squeezed juices, some natural baby-foods. This is as important a part of the process for as the actual fast itself. It gives me a long time to identify my cravings, watch my food-related behavior and consider other factors which will help me throughout the experiance. Each meal takes on a new aspect, a sense of thankfulness for the food and a keener sense of where my food comes from.
A Whimsical Page About Vision Questing
Sage Advice from the Lakota Soux
The stories I've been told about the Vision Quest places its origins as a Native American rite of passage and technique for shamanic journeying (though the concept can be found in many animistic societies). When a youth reaches a certain age nearing adulthood, it's be determined that he (sometimes she) goes off alone into the wilderness to seek a message from their totem spirit. This journey takes them to a special place that where they feel the presence of spirit and often entails fasting, praying, sometimes refraining from sleep or even movement of any kind. After a while, the youth hopefully receives a vision from their totem spirit, who appears to them in animal form. Upon returning to the community, the Medicine Man interprets the vision and the quester will then be associated with their personal totem animal as an emblem of personal identity, usually this animal signifies something about the persons life and destiny. A bear may signify a healer while an eagle may symbolize a strong hunter or leader. In times of need or confusion, a person may choose to seek their totem this way again in hopes of receiving advice on difficult problems or help in obtaining needs and desires.
To the modern solitary seeker, these techniques and idea can be useful. The experiance I had was rewarding, though different than I'd expected. Besides fasting, I traveled into isolated wilderness and didn't allow myself any form of entertainment. The boredom was almost harder than not eating! Fasting and boredom provided me concentrated time to meditate and experiance the world around me. In the end, I learned a lot and I plan on doing this again in the future.
-A more detailed description of my experiance.
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