People have fasted for centuries, for many different reasons. In most cases, people abstained from eating for health reasons or because of religious beliefs. Depending on the reason for fasting, people often did not drink liquids other than water. In extreme cases, even this necessary element was eliminated.
While many people fast according to strict religious guidelines or with the advice and guidance of a doctor or other “expert,” there have been cases when men and women refuse to eat and drink as a political statement or to generate interest in a particular cause. These last instances are commonly known as “hunger strikes.” In the last 100 years people have heard about and read about such fasts in Ireland, India and, more recently, among prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
However, a majority of fasting is part of a religious observance or a way to become healthier. People also fast as an attempt to lose weight in a dramatic fashion. Fasting is a way for people to cleanse their bodies because it helps the body eliminate toxic substances. Doctors often required patients to fast for short periods of time before surgery and other medical tests. These instances are often carefully monitored by medical personnel who also suggest continuing to drink water. After such a fasting period it is essential for the person to begin following a healthy diet.
Religious fasting varies from location to location around the globe. In some cases followers of certain religions do their penance by denying themselves food and drink. Believers might not eat for an extended period to show that they are atoning for sins committed or to cleanse the body along with prayer to cleanse the mind. Others might fast as a way to deprive themselves of earthly pleasures. In some cases, even when they do begin to eat again the diet is limited to a few specific items. Some religions set particular times for fasting. Muslims fast for a specified period during Ramadan, for example.
Fasting for religious or health reasons should be undertaken with expert guidance because the action can result in serious damage to the body. When the body is deprived of sustenance for extended periods it will begin to “feed” on itself, finding sugars and proteins within the body itself. When the fasting period goes beyond elimination of toxic substances the person may experience dramatic weight loss and muscle wasting. The thinking process will also be affected because the brain needs vital sugars in food to operate properly.
People have learned that fasting for weight loss may provide some health benefits if followed for a short period of time. But it is usually better to eat small amounts of healthy foods rather than eliminate food and nutritious drink altogether. In recent years, as more information became available, people have used intermittent fasting to cleanse the body and keep weight down. Fasting every other day or every third day can have beneficial effects. But this should probably be followed only with medical advice.