I’ve been fasting since maybe elementary or middle school. At first I did it because I wanted to see if I had it in me to do it and tolerate full days of not eating or drinking like my father who did it for Ramadan. But now I do it for the benefits I feel it brings to my life. Fasting is definitely not for everyone. Firstly, it can have ill effects on your health if you have any pre-existing medical conditions. Young children, the elderly, and pregnant women should probably not fast. And there are just some people with certain body types/physiology who are just not built for it. But if your health is not adversely impacted by it, there can be some great rewards to fasting.
First let me define what I mean by fasting and the guidelines I try to follow for 30 straight days, each year:
- no eating food or drinking liquids during the time the sun is up
- no raising my voice in anger or arguing during the 30 days
- no drinking alcohol for the 30 days
- no cursing and no badmouthing people behind their backs during the 30 days
- eliminate/limit bad habits during the 30 days (for me I cut down on watching TV, I don’t gamble, etc.)
And so after following these rules to the best of my ability for many years now, here are the benefits that I get out of fasting:
- Grit: fasting is a true test of will power, character, and discipline. When I was growing up I actually had a rule, and still do, to not change my daily active routine during fasting. So I would continue going to sports practices and exercising even without water (again I don’t recommend this as it could be a health hazard for some). And just having the conscious effort to avoid yelling at your family or your spouse when you’re ‘hangry’ or frustrated and maybe suffering through boring social events without that beer can be a true challenge. But if you can keep it up, you’ll feel really great about what you accomplished and the will power it took to do so.
- Detox: If you’re like me and you go through occasional periods where you stay up and keep odd hours, binge on unhealthy foods, drink more than you should, and go weeks or months without any physical activity, fasting can actually help you really get back on track. Obviously you’re not making a lot of these changes for the long haul but fasting can reset you, cleanse your body, and give you a chance to get on a healthier lifestyle again moving forward.
- Self-reflection: fasting is also a great opportunity for some introspection and to take the time to think about what changes you want to make about yourself and your lifestyle. If you already know some changes you want to make about yourself then fasting is also a great opportunity to introduce those changes since it gives you a set period to integrate them into your life and see if you can sustain them. I try to give some thought each day to the person I am and the person I want to be, and if they don’t match what I can do to keep improving myself.
- Humility: if you’ve ever been to a third world country then you know how good you have it if you live in a developed nation. The country my parents grew up in is poverty stricken and starvation is pervasive. My parents always scolded me when I didn’t finish the food on my plate growing up. The first trip I took to where they grew up, I understood why. During the day, when I’m about getting hungry or wanting to break, I try to remember how fortunate I am to have access to food whenever I want it, and try to put myself in the perspective of what others without food go through. It helps your resolve and gives you some perspective, even if it’s a very small and trivial sacrifice I’m making by fasting compared to what billions of people have to face in their struggles every day, every year. In general I try to think about the things that I’m grateful for during this time and going through that mental process can be truly humbling.
- Improving Health: If you type health benefits of fasting you’ll get numerous hits of studies and suggestions that fasting can help you lose weight, improve brain function, fight off cancer, control hunger, battle high blood sugar, etc. I personally haven’t read all of the research out there but there are certainly research-based articles written and studies done to further evidence that there could be some very real health benefits. Personally, I feel great when I fast and look forward to it every year. But I do think my brain function is actually decreasing, but that could be due to the aging process and/or what I do with my life the other 335 days a year.
- Stress Relief: fasting is also a time when I am able to really control my stress. Because I’m focused on the goals & guidelines I’ve set for myself during the month, the noise from every day life drown out next to the greater task of what you’re trying to accomplish. The discipline, self-reflection, and detox further help you to gain control of the stress. If you want to take it a step further, I try to meditate every day that I fast as well which helps to calm, relax, and control my stress levels. Try to aim for just 5–10 minutes of meditation 2–3 times a day. I try for first thing in the morning, once during lunch, once late in the afternoon, and once late in the evening when I’m unwinding for the day.
- Productivity: when I’m not fasting, usually what’s at the top of mind is what I’m going to eat for my next meal. Not having to plan meals throughout the day or take constant breaks to go scouring the office or home kitchen for snacks can be quite liberating and give you some extra time. I also find that cutting out some of the other distractions and bad habits out for this period help me to stay focused on my goals and tasks, whether work related or personal. I very often tend to accomplish more during these 30 days then any other month of the year.
- Improve Sleep: It only takes a few days of fasting and I’m usually sleeping like a bear during winter. If you keep up with work, family, and your daily exercise routine, then fasting will certainly help you spend that full day’s energy and leave you in a nice place to pass out and sleep through the night. I am not a great sleeper, but during these 30 days I can sleep and sleep and sleep.
Good luck and happy fasting!