Most of the world’s world religions perform some form of religious fasting. In ISKCON we have Ekadashi fasting twice a month. For us, Ekadashi fasting is all about purifying your soul and preparing yourself for attaining Moksha (salvation). This practice helps us get rid of planetary influences and attain a peaceful mind. While most Hindus observe this fast, it is particularly popular among the devotees of Vishnu (the Vaishnavas) and is kept on the 11th lunar day of the lunar cycle of a Hindu calendar.
The most well-known religious fast is probably Ramadan, observed by Muslims, the followers of Islam. This fast lasts for one lunar month of twenty-eight to thirty days and lasts from sunrise to sundown. Another well-known religious fast is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement; followed by followers of the Jewish faith. Yom Kippur is a twenty-six-hour fast where the observant refrains from both food and drink followed by a feast the following evening. Other well-known fasts include Lent, the Assumption, and the biblical Daniel Fast.
Religious fasts are observed to benefit the spirit, but how do they affect the body? The past two decades have seen an increase in scientific studies on this subject. Most religious fasts to some degree, are vegetarian. The most studied fasts are of three types: dietary restriction, calorie restriction, and alternate-day fasts. (Trepanowski and Bloomer The impact of religious fasting on human health – nutrition journal)
Fasting during the month of Ramadan entails that the participants do not eat or drink between the hours of sunrise to sunset. There is typically one large meal eaten after sundown and sometimes one before the participant goes to sleep. The health impact of the Ramadan fast had too many variables to determine an overall result. The variables included smoking status, fasting time, and dietary habits. There were no control groups to separate participants in the study by these variables, so the results were inconclusive.
The Greek Orthodox Church has multiple fast days throughout the year. Entailing approximately 190 days per year total. “Collectively, dietary consumption is restricted for 180 – 200 days each year. The Greek Orthodox Christian diet consists largely of bread, fruits, legumes, nuts, seafood, snails, and vegetables during fasting periods. (Trepanowski and Bloomer The impact of religious fasting on human health – nutrition journal) Greek Orthodox Christian fasting appeared to decrease the body mass of participants. Also, consumption of carbohydrates, fiber, and magnesium appear to increase while fats, protein, and cholesterol decrease during the fast.
The Daniel Fast is a popular biblical fast that restricts the participant to a whole food diet of vegetables, fruits, oil, beans, grains, etc. The participants of this fast abstain from meat, eggs, dairy, refined and white flour, additives, sweeteners, caffeine, preservatives, and alcohol. This fast is commonly twenty-one days in length even though shorter fasts are popularly participated in and are often observed at the beginning of the year. The Daniel Fast was shown to be highly beneficial to its participants as in recent studies it has shown to improve one’s overall health.
Overall, it is shown that it is the quality of food eaten, and not the quantity of it that affected the fasters health the most. So, whether one is fasting on Ekadasi or Yom Kippur, if you elect to consume simple, healthy food you will nourish both the body and the spirit.
Trepanowski, John F, and Richard J Bloomer. “The Impact of Religious Fasting on Human Health – Nutrition Journal.” BioMed Central, BioMed Central, 22 Nov. 2010, https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-9-57.
“What Is Yom Kippur? – the Day of Atonement – High Holidays.” Chabad.org, Chabad, https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/177886/jewish/What-Is-Yom-Kippur.htm.
ISKCON Dwarka Everything you need to know about Ekadashi, https://iskcondwarka.org/blogs/benefits-ekadashi-fasting/
Originally Published: iskconnews.org