Being brought up in an environment that included a fair amount of globe-trotting, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with several of my kin, friends and acquaintances who include fasting among their other spiritual and healing practices. As for me, fasting is something that I have solely performed out of curiosity as a result of a friendly debate or two.

When I fasted, it was less of a spiritual experience and more of a watchful eating experiment. I realized, it was only when I fasted that I became more hungry. Although, once I immersed myself in my dailies duties, my mind was easily drawn away from food.

What surprised me the most was that in spite of missing several meals, I felt more energetic and was able to exercise more enthusiastically than usual! And when I did finally eat, I noticed enjoying my meal more and appreciating each morsel. I also did not overeat and felt good about the portion of my meal.

I’ve only just recently discovered a spiritual part of myself and having an avid interest about the inner workings of the body and mind, it intrigued me to learn more about their connection with medicine and spirituality. Being an Endocrinologist, I have treated and met several patients who have fasted for long periods of time for religious or spiritual purposes. Thus, this was a perfect opportunity for me to learn more about my passion.

What I am sharing with you today is not a thorough guide or analysis of fasting. Neither is it an account of the advantages and cons of fasting. I don’t intend to compare the differences between different forms of fasting or different religions that it is performed under. This is also not an attempt to advocate or change your opinion on fasting as it is clearly an individual choice. I simply want to share what my experience with spiritual fasting felt like.

Spiritual fasting can come in many different forms, methods and factors affecting it. For example; how often one should fast, if one is allowed to sip on water or eat basic food, etc. This differs from religion to sect to countries and everything in between. It is often understood that when one fasts, they should also sacrifice other pleasures and be watchful of what they say, think or act upon.

For your better understanding, let me touch upon a few examples of fasting in connection to religion.

Judaism states that when one fasts, they should totally abstain or considerably reduce the intake of food and water on six pre-selected days a year. In Hinduism, the follower can give up certain types of food during predetermined holy periods and on specific days of the week. Roman Catholics are expected to sacrifice and fast during their holy month of Lent. Jainism allows the choice of fasting during their 8 holy days a year or by abstaining from food consumption all together post sunset. Meanwhile, in Buddhism, the monks and nuns are expected to sacrifice all food after their lunch.

Spiritual fasting is believed to have many potent spiritual advantages:

  • Prayer and contemplation of God are the tools through which the cravings of the mind might be calmed by redirecting the sense organs inward, as opposed towards worldly temptations.
  • Spiritual understanding and contemplative techniques are deepened through fasting.
  • The craving for food as well as sensations of hunger can be considered transient and insignificant, as other thoughts and emotions appear and disappear in the mind.
  • Abstinence from food brings with it a better understanding, gratitude and love for one’s own body and mind.
  • The needs of the soul and spirit and placed ahead of bodily and materialistic desires.
  • As many faiths recommend vegetarianism, fasting is then considered a form of non-violence.
  • One’s connection to God is highlighted and prayer helps to fortify this bond.
  • Hunger is a solemn reminder of one’s own dependency, while reigniting a sense of gratefulness for one’s blessings. Breaking the fast is symbolic of enjoying a plentiful life.
  • Partaking in food with others at the time of breaking the fast helps instill the values of harmony, modesty and kindness.

It is apparent to me that fasting, just like mindful eating, helps align the body-mind complex and nurtures in the individual a sense of appreciation, humbleness and communion.