The most basic and simple way to fast is to eat no food and drink only water. This is particularly good for shorter fasts (eg. 1 or 2 days). If you’ve never done that before, your body might feel a bit strange at first, but unless you are diabetic or have some other medical issue, your body should be able to cope with this. Should you choose to intake only water for longer than a few days it’s wise to research well and even take medical advice first.
After that, there are lots of other ways to fast. At the moment at The Belfrey we’re preparing for 7 Days of Prayer & Fasting, with some already beginning 21 Days. We’ve offered 3 options to people, which many are finding helpful:
- DANIEL FAST: this is a specific diet of fruit and vegetables taken from Daniel 10. For more details go to daniel-fast.com and for a list of suggested foods click here.
- PARTIAL FAST: replace one meal a day (eg. lunch) with prayer.
- SIMPLICITY FAST: cut out certain activities (eg. technology, social media) to focus on God.
These kind of fasts are especially helpful for longer periods of 7+ days.
It’s good to prepare for fasting. If you’re only going to drink water and you normally drink a fair amount of coffee or tea you’ll probably get a headache reaction for a day or so. Cutting down your caffeine intake for a few days before can make this easier, and drinking lots of water can help relieve this kind of headache just before and once your begin your fast. If you’re going on a Daniel fast it’s useful to research what foods you’re going to eat and even plan your diet. If you’re going to cut something out of your life for a season and this affects someone else then it’s good to explain or talk that through first (eg. a social media fast might require a short post of explanation; a sex fast will undoubtedly affect your spouse and require a conversation!)
It’s important to listen to your body. You will learn a lot about our body through fasting. Be attentive to what is happening. To how it feels. To its aches and groans. To its desires and urges. As you fast you are beginning to take more control of your body and not allowing its natural urge to eat to dominate. This can be a really good thing. However fasting is not meant to make you sick or ill. If you sense that happening, stop and/or consult a doctor.
If you want to know more about how to fast, there are lots of online resources for people who have questions, so don’t be afraid to use those. And finally, don’t forget the very practical words of Jesus in Matthew 6, which remind us that fasting is not about showing off our religious maturity to others – it’s to draw close to God. The Message paraphrase helpfully puts it like this:
‘When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normally outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you in full.’
Lead me Lord, so that when it’s time to fast I may do so appropriately. Teach me not only about fasting but about self-discipline. Help me to know my body better, but most of all enable me to know you better for you are the great and loving God, revealed in Jesus Christ. Amen.