Guest Post: A Short History of Fasting


Photo by Kamil Szumotalski on Unsplash

Fasting can be described as either complete abstinence from food or a reduction in the amount of food a person consumes. In some cases, it can include abstinence from drinking as well, and it can be both short-term and long-term. There are many reasons for fasting, from spiritual ones to individual ones, and the benefits of it range as well. So, if you’re considering fasting, or if you simply want to learn more about it, here are some basic things you should know.

The Beginnings

Some of the first instances of fasting date back to ancient Greece. Hippocrates, for example, would often prescribe fasting to his patients, as he believed that to eat while sick meant to feed the illness as well.

Plutarch also believed that fasting was sometimes better than using medicine. Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras were supporters of this practice too.

Furthermore, in some primitive cultures, fasting was required before going to war. In some cases, it was also an important part of a coming-of-age ritual. Native Americans, for example, would fast to please their deities and prevent natural disasters.

In general, fasting has played an important role in many religions. It has usually been associated with penitence, humility, and self-control. All three major monotheistic religions have annual periods of fasting; for Christians, it’s 40 days during Lent, which marks Christ’s fast in the desert; Muslims fast during the holy month of Ramadan; Judaism has several fasting periods, one of which is during Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement.

Sometimes, fasting is also used as a means of making a political statement, to bring awareness to a certain issue. For instance, the political and religious leader Mahatma Gandhi undertook 17 fasts during the protest for Indian independence. The longest one lasted 21 days, and they all had a great influence on Indian society.

Medical purposes

As mentioned, fasting in medical purposes has been known even during the time of the ancient Greeks. The logic behind it came from the fact that people, just like animals, do not feel like eating when they are sick. The ancient Greeks also believed that fasting can improve one’s mental abilities, because eating a lot during a short period of time, like during a Thanksgiving meal, for instance, makes one drowsy and lethargic instead of energetic and focused. This is because overeating reduces the amount of blood that goes to the brain, which results in something commonly we all know as the food coma.

Moreover, therapeutic fasting became very popular in the 20s. It was used for treating and preventing all kinds of illnesses, from heart disease and allergies to obesity and digestive problems. It was done with medical supervision, and each person would first be tested to see if they were suitable for this kind of treatment. Eventually, better drugs were developed and more scientific medicine pushed fasting aside.

It has been revived, though, mainly through different diets that imply intermittent fasting – an eating method that is based on eating only within a specific time period. It’s mainly used for the purposes of detox and losing weight, which is why it’s often combined with other healthy eating practices.

Moreover, one of the most commonly known medical reasons for fasting is surgery. You’re advised not to eat before any surgery because you don’t want to put the pressure of digesting food on your body while it’s going through all the other changes under anesthesia. Plus, it’s also often required in order to get accurate medical results, like when testing for blood sugar levels or cholesterol.

What does it do to your body?

There are more than a few benefits of fasting. For example, some studies have shown that fasting can help you control your sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance. However, it doesn’t have the same effect on men as it does on women.

Next, research has shown that it can help people decrease levels of inflammation and treat inflammatory conditions in general. For example, one animal study has shown that a very low-calorie diet that mimics the effects of fasting can help treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

Also, fasting can help people lose weight by improving their metabolism and preserving muscle tissue. It can increase the levels of human growth hormone too, which can also improve a person’s metabolism, strengthen their muscles, and help them lose weight.

Modern fasting

As mentioned, intermittent fasting has become popular due to its weight-loss benefits. There are many different methods, and if done right, all of them can help you reduce your calorie intake – as long as you don’t compensate by overeating during the eating periods, of course. There is also some evidence that this kind of fasting can help you keep more muscle mass when dieting than you would if you were only restricting your intake of calories. Another reason for its popularity is its simplicity – many people find intermittent fasting easier to stick to than the usual diets.

How to make it easier?

Even though fasting is simple in its basic rules, it can still be challenging in general. After all, it does imply a certain lifestyle change. So, it’s not uncommon for people to look for ways to make the transition easier. For example, some people choose to take weight loss drops in order to achieve their goal faster.

On the other hand, some people opt for meditation and other mindful practices that can help them handle stress and other psychological changes. You can also take up a new hobby that would distract you from thinking about food.

Fasting is a lifestyle change with a long history and many benefits. As many other lifestyle changes though, it can be difficult to get used to. So, if you think that fasting could benefit you, think about ways to make it easier for you to stick to it. Also, do your research on the different methods, and choose the one that would fit your lifestyle best. This way, the results will be better, and you’ll be more likely to see them sooner.


Bio: Lauren Laporte blogs about health, wellness and mindfulness at She’s a full time writer and vegan, determined to challenge the common misconceptions about plant-based living whenever the opportunity arises. Healing on our own is easy, but it takes being in tune with our body. And it’s the specifics of correct  comprehension of bodily signals that she believes is the most important wisdom she can share. You can find her at: facebook; twitter


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