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If you follow me on Instagram, you may know that I recently participated in a spiritual fast with my church.
The fast our church chose to follow is called The Daniel Fast. It is a biblically based partial fast designed around the book of Daniel, where the prophet Daniel chose to abstain from any pleasurable food and subsisted on plain and simple foods for three weeks.
Specifically the partial fast is designed around two sections of this book:
- Daniel 1:12: “Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables [pulses] to eat and water to drink.”
- Daniel 10: 1-2: “In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.”
The purpose of our fast was to realign our daily focus to prioritize our relationship with God. Rather than seeking food for pleasure and comfort, we were to pray, read the Word (the Bible), worship, and generally just spend time with God.
For a lot of people in my church, this fast meant giving up pleasure foods like meat, bread, sugar, and dairy. For me, the main food I was abstaining from was animal foods; meat, eggs, fish, poultry, etc.
I tend to do fine with gluten-free grains and legumes as side dishes, so I wanted to try the fast and see how the spiritual fast would affect my relationship with God.
Even though I only fasted for ~10-12 days, with some of those days being a modified fast that included some fish, I learned a few things about my physical body as well as my spiritual state that I’d like to share, as I feel the fast gave me some better insight into both the health problems many of my clients experience, as well as my own personal spiritual challenges.
Here are 5 things I learned while participating in the Daniel Fast.
1. My body thrives on plenty of animal protein
I don’t think I’ve ever attempted to be a vegetarian before, let alone a vegan. I grew up in a fairly health conscious family that generally followed the nutrition principles of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which is heavy in animal products and fats.
So I wasn’t sure what to expect when attempting this Daniel Fast. After all, so many people claim to experience amazing health from following a plant based diet. Surely I’d notice some positive benefits?
It didn’t take very long for my body to react negatively to this shift in my diet to a lower fat, very high carb, low protein diet. I have no clue what my calorie intake was, but I was eating 5-6 times a day as much as I could stomach.
Even though I enjoy beans and veggies and was able to create some creative, tasty meals, every meal felt incomplete and I generally struggled to eat enough to feel full. Honestly, I was really surprised how tough the fast was to follow.
The most frustrating part of the fast was how hungry I was all the time. I normally feel appropriate hunger a few times a day before I have my meals, and I rarely snack.
On this fast, however, I was hungry within an hour or two of a large meal, despite still feeling somewhat physically stuffed (and bloated) from my prior meal. Feeling stuffed and hungry at the same time is a really weird, uncomfortable feeling.
While I wouldn’t say I had needed any convincing, I am now confident that getting 3-4 ounces of animal protein at each meal is crucial for me to feel physically satisfied after eating, and to allow me to eat 3 square meals a day without distracting hunger in between meals.
Frankly, I probably would have done better doing some true fasting (i.e. not eating at all) and keeping the animal foods in at the meals I did eat. Perhaps I’ll do that next time our church organizes a group fast!
2. Under-eating quickly causes a deterioration in my health (especially when I’m stressed)
I work with dozens of clients each month that struggle with undereating, and I’ve seen the health issues that come up in their lives when they’ve been eating too little for too long. However, I’ve got to say I was really surprised how fast I experienced symptoms during my relatively short fast.
First, my body temperature dropped significantly, to the point where if I didn’t eat something quickly, I would start shivering and shaking, and even feel my teeth start chattering. My twice weekly workouts left me feeling weak and dizzy; my limbs felt like wet noodles after a heavy lift.
I slept like garbage; I couldn’t fall asleep some days until 2-3 AM and I woke up feeling exhausted the next morning. My energy tanked. Getting out of bed was a struggle, and I needed a nap on more than a few days of the fast.
I gained weight. Now to be fair, the purpose of this fast was not to lose weight, but I feel this is an important observation of mine in the circumstances I was in. I have so many clients who gain weight when they’re restricting food and that 2-3 pounds of extra weight freaks them out and causes them to start restricting even more.
Now I can say from experience that yes, it is entirely possible to be under eating calories and still gain weight (though I’m positive it was water weight, as I lost it immediately the day after I ended the fast).
My emotional reactions to things were way more intense than usual. I admittedly am a very emotional person (not in a bad way, just objectively!) but while fasting I felt like my emotions were spiraling out of control and I didn’t even feel they were warranted in many situations.
It doesn’t help that I was under a lot of stress in my personal life this week (hello wedding planning) and my body likely felt assaulted in a variety of ways by the lack of food, lack of sleep, and extremely intense emotions all happening at the same time.
What I can say for sure is that under eating is a surefire way to make everything in life more difficult and less enjoyable, as well as intensifying any emotional or environmental stress you’re under simultaneously. Eating enough to support your body’s needs will help you handle the challenges life throws your way with a lot more energy and stamina.
3. Restrictive dieting causes craziness around food
It’s been a really long time since I’ve felt out of control around food. A few years ago when I was trying to maintain a low carb Paleo diet, any time I’d allow myself to have a night off from my diet I would go crazy.
I would eat way more dessert than I even wanted, drink tons of alcohol, and generally feel sick the next day from the extreme overindulgence. I wasn’t able to simply enjoy some tasty “off plan” food, I felt the urge to gorge myself on it.
In the last couple of years, my relationship with food has changed dramatically. While I generally eat pretty healthy for most meals, I allow myself treats when I want them and don’t feel driven to eat myself sick during holidays and social events.
And it doesn’t actually require any self control; I simply don’t feel the drive to eat that way anymore now that my diet is more nourishing and less restrictive. (Side note: it also helps that I now derive my self worth from God and not my physical appearance, which caused me to put a lot more pressure on myself to eat “perfectly.”)
So I was a little caught off guard during this fast when all the sudden I was craving food really intensely. And it wasn’t just meat. I started drooling over chocolate at the grocery store or wishing I could have a pint of ice cream.
These are things that haven’t happened in a really long time and I had honestly forgotten what it felt like to feel mentally consumed by thoughts of food all the time.
This lesson somewhat ties into the previous one, as I’m sure that under eating was causing my body to crave high calorie, sugary foods even more. But it’s another lesson for my clients: overly restricting your diet is a good way to leave you feeling crazy around food, increase your cravings (especially for sugar), and cause you to have food on your mind so frequently that it’s actually distracting from daily life.
4. Fasting reveals some of my biggest sin struggles
So here’s where some of my spiritual lessons come in. As all of this craziness was happening with my health and my mood, I started noticing some of my more sinful tendencies to come out as my self control was exhausted.
I can be extremely impatient, I use sarcasm as a defense mechanism, I am often selfish and only consider my needs in a situation, and I can be extremely unkind if I feel threatened or criticized by another person.
While my walk with Jesus over the past 4-5 years has helped me overcome many of these sinful tendencies, I did find it interesting how easily they came back once I was feeling tired, hungry, stressed, and emotionally overreactive.
Though this fast was a bit of an extreme situation, I feel that God is showing me that I still fall back on old sinful behavior when I’m stressed, rather than relying on His strength and love to get me through a tough situation.
I did have several experiences with my fiancé during this time (who was also fasting) that tested our ability to be loving towards each other when we were feeling exhausted and depleted, and I’m proud of how we both were able to be loving rather than selfish or defensive in many of those situations.
However, I can see that I still have much work to do in aligning my choices with God’s will for my life. I still need to work on living as the new person in Christ that God created me to be, rather than the old person who is bound by the chains of fear, guardedness, hurt, anger, and selfishness.
This has nothing to do with God’s love for me. I’m secure in that no matter how much of a selfish, sinful brat I’m being on any given day. Yet I know that God’s calling me to a higher level of love, compassion, patience, and peace than I’ve yet to experience in my life, and this fast was a great reminder of the areas in my life where I need God’s intervention and power.
5. I still struggle with creating an idol out of my body
As a health professional, my ability to help others get physically and mentally healthy is a gift that I use on a daily basis. I constantly see how a healthy body and mind can make such a huge difference in a person’s quality of life and ability to live out their purpose with joy and passion. I know that physical health is an important tool in our lives to hep us live life to the fullest.
However, I also see how being overly focused on one’s health and physical body can really detract from other areas in life, particularly one’s spiritual practice. It’s really easy to be so focused on your physical body that you forget to work on your spiritual health. Or perhaps you just don’t make time for it, despite making time for the gym, grocery shopping, meal prep, taking supplements, etc.
The purpose of our fast was to increase the amount of time we were spending with God on a daily basis. And I do feel I was able to accomplish that. Unfortunately my focus during that time was a real struggle, primarily because I was so distracted by how physically uncomfortable and unwell I felt.
As a generally healthy person with good energy on most days, it was a new experience for me to feel like garbage for a week and a half. It doesn’t help that I was feeling cranky about how I felt, since I knew exactly why I felt that way and knew what I could do to fix the problem (just eat meat!)
But this experience really drew my attention to how much of my daily focus is around making my body look, feel, and perform better. Not that there’s anything wrong with taking care of my body; there’s a level of physical health and energy that benefits my Christian walk in the sense that I’m better able to pour kindness and compassion to others when I’m not feeling utterly exhausted.
However the main question I have for myself after this fast is this: how can I rely on God’s strength and love to flow through me in the times when I’m not able to take care of my physical body in an optimal way?
I do believe that healthy food and exercise are basic needs that our body needs to feel good and function well. That hasn’t changed after this fast.
But I want to learn more about how my time with God – praying, worshipping, reading the Word, serving others – can be my MOST basic need on a daily basis. I want to learn how to make that my first priority in the morning rather than thinking about what I’m having for breakfast, or whether I should drink coffee or tea, or when I’ll be working out that day.
This is a “work in progress” area for me and something that I am going to continue focusing on even as I’ve ended the Daniel Fast. Ultimately I want to learn to be content with God’s provision, and be able to live and love in a way that demonstrates the freedom that faith in Christ brings, regardless of whether I’ve had enough food that day or sleep the night before.
I don’t want my physical health to ever detract from my ability to allow God to work through me to bring His Kingdom here to earth.
I’ve learned a bunch of important things during this fast, and those are the five things I thought would be most useful to share with y’all on my blog!
Ask me any questions you have about my fast in the comments below, or check out my Instagram feed to see what I was eating during that time.