ďGet in the carĒ my normally easy-going husband ordered, on the 18th day of what was intended to be a 40-day fast. My stubborn nature led to my refusal to eat unless a doctor told me I had to. My husband ordered me into the car so he could take me to the emergency room. He knew any doctor that examined me would order me to eat, and he was right.
Although I had previously completed a 40-day fast without any negative physical repercussions, this fast was not going so well. My breathing was labored, I could barely stand, my speech was slurred, and I couldnít form thoughts well or spell even simple words. I was also fighting to maintain consciousness.
After tests were run, it was determined that I had metabolic acidosis, and I was admitted to the hospital. Metabolic acidosis is a pH imbalance in which the body has accumulated too much acid and doesnít have enough bicarbonate to effectively neutralize the effects of the acid. It can be caused various ways, including starvation diets or improperly managed fasting. Severe metabolic acidosis that is left untreated will lead to coma and death. The doctor confirmed that I would have likely been in a coma or died within another 24 hours had I not received medical intervention.
The severity and seriousness of my symptoms was a wake up call for me. Everything I had read on fasting declared that it was perfectly safe, but my experience made it clear that fasting, when done improperly, can actually lead to death.
God taught me some things on a spiritual level through that situation, but for the purpose of this article, Iíd like to focus on what I discovered as I researched the physical and medical aspects of fasting. My hope is to spare you, or perhaps someone you know, any potential negative physical consequences as you seek to follow the Lord through fasting.
Now letís take a look at how to fast the healthy way.
As a married woman, I had my husband to step in and put his foot down when I had gone too far and was abusing my body. Without his intervention, I probably would have died.
We canít always see things clearly on our own, so may need a friend or loved one to step in and let us know it is time to stop. Whether you are married or single, submit to someone you can trust and give them permission to speak up if they feel you are ever fasting in an unhealthy manner. This is important for everyone, but even more so for women who may be more prone to eating disorders.
PREPARE IN ADVANCE
A big mistake many people make prior to beginning a fast is to fail to consider how their diet and lifestyle should be altered prior to the start of a fast. Oh, many alter their diet before fasting Ė by stuffing themselves with as much junk food as they can, with the hopes that it will make the time of fasting easier. This actually has the opposite effect, and will in fact increase your level of physical discomfort as you fast. So donít do it!
Instead, at least a few days prior to the fast, cut out all animal products from your diet, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs. Also cut out fried, greasy foods, and sweets, and reduce your consumption of coffee, black tea and sodas. Then, the day before the fast begins, switch over to nothing but raw fruit and vegetables. At this point, since youíve already reduced the consumption of coffee, tea, and sodas, it should be relatively easy to completely eliminate them from your diet. Stop consuming them altogether before beginning the actual fast.
The time of preparation prior to the fast should be considered an extension of the fast itself. The time of transition is useful for the body, but can also be used to prepare on spiritual and practical levels as well. Use it to solidify the purpose of the fast and to set into place anything that will need to be dealt with during the fast. For instance, clear your calendar as much as possible, and if applicable, prepare meals for your family or make other arrangements for their meals so meals donít have to be cooked while youíre fasting. If you donít skimp on the preparation time, your fast will likely go more smoothly and be more effective.
UNDERSTAND THE EFFECTS ON YOUR BODY
During fasting, the body eliminates toxins. Thatís a good thing, but can cause some discomfort. The most common symptom is headaches. The good news is, if you prepared properly for the fast, discomfort, while perhaps not totally eliminated, should be minimized considerably.
To help the body eliminate toxins, drink plenty of water, but donít overdo it. Three or four quarts of water per day is a good amount. While water helps to flush out toxins, it flushes out valuable minerals as well. In fact, significant bone demineralization begins after only two days of fasting. Fasting, along with huge amounts of water intake can result in a deficiency of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. This deficiency can cause muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, and fatigue. To counteract this, you might want to take a teaspoon of calcium and magnesium before bedtime. Some people also opt to drink sports drinks intended to replace electrolytes; itís best to pick up some at your local health food store rather than consuming the grocery store varieties that are laden with sugar.
BREAK THE FAST PROPERLY
The way you end the fast is just as important as the preparation prior to the fast. Most Christians I know who practice corporate fasting make the following a part of their fasting ritual: before the fast even ends, people who, most likely didnít prepare properly for the fast, start discussing which restaurant theyíll all meet at immediately after the fast ends. At the conclusion of the fast, many of them will be found gorging themselves at the local Mexican restaurant. As tempting as that might be, unless you want to pay for that dearly on a physical level, donít do it!
Instead, try this. Reintroduce food slowly, in smaller than normal amounts. Start off with fresh fruit that has a low acidic level. The second day, in addition to fruit, add in tossed green salads, with minimal salad dressing, if any. On the third day, add in proteins such as grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. By the fourth day you should be back to eating normally, without any problem.
As you can see, counting the time needed to prepare prior to the fast, the actual fast itself, and the time slowly reintroducing food, a three-day fast should actually be a nine-day process. Although this requires discipline, and wonít be easy, your body will be much healthier if you handle it this way. Consider the days prior to and after the fast as extra practice in denying the flesh and exercising the spiritual fruit of self control.
SOME PEOPLE SHOULDNíT FAST
Even if done properly, some people shouldnít fast, especially when it comes to water-only fasts. Here are some categories of people who should either not fast, or be particularly cautious when fasting:
1. Infants and children. There is really no reason for infants and children to fast. Due to their lack of maturity, they would likely not really understand the spiritual purpose of fasting, and their bodies need to take in ample nutrients regularly. If your children want to participate in a corporate fast, encourage them to give up something other than food. For instance, a friend of mine has a five-year-old son who decided to give up gumballs (something he really loves) during the time their church was fasting. Other children may want to give up an activity they enjoy such as playing video games or watching TV. Giving up something needs to be a choice the child makes, rather than something that is forced.
2. Pregnant or nursing women. Water-only fasts should definitely be avoided by women who are pregnant or nursing. The baby requires so many nutrients for normal development, and is dependent on the motherís proper nutrition to receive those nutrients. Fasting while pregnant or nursing is, in a sense, forcing your baby to fast. If you really desire to fast during this time of life, consider a short, one-or two day juice fast. Donít skimp on the amount of juice you consume during the fast, and consider consulting your doctor prior to fasting.
3. People with cancer. Cancer is usually indicative of, among other things, an immune system that is not in good shape. Water-only fasts are not a good idea during this time. Instead, try a juice fast, consisting of a variety of fresh fruit and vegetable juices for optimal benefit. Discuss with your doctor how a juice fast can best be combined with the treatment plan already in place.
4. People with other health concerns such as diabetes. Water-only fasts should be avoided by those with significant health issues such as diabetes. However, juice fasts MAY be an option, but should be undertaken only under a doctorís close supervision. Diabetics in particular should monitor their blood sugar levels, and if needed, adjust their medication during a juice fast.
5. The elderly. Water-only fasts should be avoided by elderly people, especially if they generally eat the typical American diet that is high in fat, preservatives, and other chemicals. As is true with the other categories of people who need to be cautious, elderly people who desire to fast may opt for a juice fast, and may also want to consult their doctor prior to embarking on a fast.
If you have significant health concerns, including ones not mentioned above, or if you want to fast for longer than three days, please donít even consider beginning the fast without first consulting your doctor. He or she can help you develop a fasting plan that will be safe, and perhaps even help rather than hurt your body.
ADJUST YOUR LIFESTYLE WHILE FASTING
Fasting does little good on a spiritual level if you continue on with all of your normal activities and donít set aside extra time to pray and seek the Lord. Additionally, especially if you participate in a longer fast, your physical body will require more rest, so try to take some time off work if you can while you fast. You have to remember that when Jesus fasted, He went off into the wilderness and spent time alone with God. During His times of fasting, He pulled back from public ministry, and focused instead on one-on-one time with the Father.
ALTERNATIVES TO WATER-ONLY FASTS
Perhaps youíd like to fast, but have a physical condition that limits or completely restricts that possibility. Or perhaps you have a job that is extremely demanding physically and you therefore cannot realistically spend any extended time fasting. If thatís the case, you might want to participate in a partial fast, or fast from something other than food.
Since my experience with metabolic acidosis, I have been unable to fast for longer than two days. Part of that may be due to long-lasting physical ramifications that occurred during my fast that went bad, and part of it may be psychological. Either way, Iíve looked for other options if I desire to fast for longer than two days. Here are some things that I, and others I know, have tried.
1. A partial fast. This is a fast where you cut out all sweets, meat, dairy, fried foods, etc. and eat nothing but fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Unless this is your normal diet, this type of fast requires a great deal of discipline, and the exercise of self control. The good news is, this can be done indefinitely, since it is a very healthy way to eat. If you want to fast for an extended period of time, a partial fast may be a great option.
A less extreme option can be fasting from a particular item such as sugar, coffee, etc. for a specified period of time.
2. A media fast. You may be a computer junkie with an intense need to read and send email, read message boards, or surf the Internet. Or perhaps you canít imagine a day without reading the newspaper, watching TV, reading novels, or listening to the radio or MP3 player. If thatís the case, fasting from the media may be just what you need to pull you away from the clamoring voices of the world around you so that you can more clearly hear from the Lord. This also, of course, is a type of fast that can be done for long periods of time.
3. A financial fast. Some find it helpful to choose not to spend any unnecessary money for a specified period of time. If you are going to do this type of fast, youíll need to determine ahead of time what types of things are necessary, and which are not. If youíre married, this is something that needs to be discussed with your spouse, with a high level of agreement before you begin. You might want to consider donating the money you saved during this time to a charity or person in need.
4. Sacrificing anything else you enjoy but that isnít necessary. An example would be talking on the phone, going out to lunch with friends, or going to the mall.
Fasting doesnít have to be extreme to be pleasing to the Lord. My prayer is that youíll seek Godís will for incorporating the discipline of fasting into your life, and that youíll honor Him, as you fast in a way that helps, rather than harms your body.
Disclaimer: Please be advised that I am not a medical professional. The information in this article should be considered introductory in your journey to fast in a healthy manner. If you have the desire to participate in a prolonged fast (more than three days), have health issues, or plan to fast regularly, please discuss the points in this article with your doctor.
© 2006 by Rebecca Livermore, a Christian speaker and writer from Denver, Colorado. Her passion is helping people grow spiritually. To read more of her articles on Christian living, and to check out her always growing selection of Christian resource materials, visit http://www.rebeccalivermore.com .
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