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Why Do Mormons Fast?

Updated on September 5, 2015
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy has written about health and wellness for more than five years. She is the former manager of two large clinics in Austin, Texas.

Mormon Fasting is a Physical | Religious Practice

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Are There Health Benefits to the Mormon Tradition of Fasting?

Many faiths and religions across the globe practice some form of fasting, including Mormon Church (the official name of which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the LDS Church).

In addition to the faith-based benefits believed to come from fasting, many feel fasting can help during healing processes, detox the body, add years to your life and help better manage your weight.

One of the core beliefs and practices of the Mormon Church is to fast once a month, at a time called Fast Sunday, when they forego two meals for that day. They are encouraged to donate the amount they would have spent on those two meals to a special fund the church maintains to help those in need.

Part of the fast (which is usually on the first Sunday of the month) includes a Fast and Testimony theme for that week's worship service, where members share personal testimonies of their faith.

While all members of the church are encouraged to fast if possible, it is not always a safe practice for everyone. Children do not fast until they reach a certain age, and pregnant women are not asked to fast. In addition, If a member has a serious health issue or takes medication that must be ingested with food, it might not be possible to fast completely.

While the purpose of the fast is to help you evolve spiritually, fasting can also prompt some changes in the body that may be beneficial.

Fat Soluble Elements are Stored in Body Fat

The fat in your body can be a hangout for toxins, excess amounts of vitamins and other substances.
The fat in your body can be a hangout for toxins, excess amounts of vitamins and other substances. | Source

Fasting and Detoxification

Since you are not providing food or fuel to your body during a fast (and some fasts include going without water for that period of time), your body will turn to its stored resources for food and energy.

Generally, those reserves are in the form of body fat. Some researchers feel this also gets rid of chemicals or other elements that are fat soluble, and therefore stored in body fat. Since fat soluble substances are slow to leave the body, you can build up excess amounts of these elements, which can be toxic at very high levels.

A fast of only two meals might not deplete these elements in large amounts, but it can shift your body into another gear and perhaps help in that process. Mormons (LDS members) also sometimes fast for other reasons, such as when they're going through difficult times or to ask for spiritual guidance about specific matters, and sometimes these fasts last longer than just one day.

Body fat can also store chemicals from outside sources, just as pesticides or other environmental hazards. So a process that rids you of those substances would benefit you in that manner.

Can Mormon Fasting Promote Healing?

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Does the Church of Jesus Christ for Latter Day Saints Believe in Fasts for Health | Detoxification?

Those who advocate the health benefits of fasting point to instances of animals who stop eating when they are wounded.

Members of the Mormon Church (Latter Day Saints, or LDS) do not preach that fasting is done for healing, but some have claimed to benefit in many ways. At times, a Mormon member may feel they have been physically healed through fasting.

It might sound contradictory for a lack of food to promote healing, but one simple explanation for this theory is that your body uses energy just to process and digest food. If your body already has a stored supply of energy, fasting during a portion of healing could help your body use its energy for that all-important mission.

A symptom of many illnesses is a 'loss of appetite,' which suggests the body may have an internal mechanism to reduce the energy used for digestion at those times.

Because serious illnesses require us to maintain sufficient body weight, it is important to follow the advice of your physician about fasting and food intake if you're being treated for an illness or condition with longterm ramifications.

As anyone who has gone through surgery knows, you are often given a clear-liquid diet in the immediate aftermath. This is also the protocol for certain other conditions. Although the medical rationale for this is generally to avoid nauseousness or other problems, it also allows your body to use its energy for gentle healing rather than digesting a heavy meal.

Can Religious Fasting Increase My Energy

Some people who practice religious fasting feels it increases energy or offers other health benefits.
Some people who practice religious fasting feels it increases energy or offers other health benefits. | Source

Fasting for Weight Loss, Energy and Rejuvenation

The word "rejuvenation" includes the stem syllable for juvenile, and it suggests returning to a more youthful state.

People who practice fasting for health reasons attest to feeling more energetic and 'younger' as a result of carefully planned fasts.

Regular fasting can help promote a better body weight (if practiced in conjunction with a healthy diet during non-fasting times), and those who have successfully tackled weight problems can confirm there is a renewal of energy and vitality when you lose weight.

Studies on worms and small animals have shown prolonged life resulting from food restriction. But in these studies, the lab subjects are prevented from eating, not just fasting temporarily.

Some who advocate fasting believe periodic fasting (such as Mormons do once a month) can give you similar benefits without the 'starvation' element.

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How Mormons | LDS Members Break Their Monthly Fasting

Mormons are asked to attend a worship service while fasting once each month. Typically, members will fast for the two previous mealtimes and 'break' the fast by having a meal after they attend worship services. Fasting is thought to increase spiritual awareness of what Christ would lead members to do in their lives.

If you fast for any length of time, it's especially important to give your body nutritious food when you break the fast.

Be sure to eat the proper amount of protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, and wholegrain foods as part of your meal.

Your body will be wanting the nutrients these foods provide rather than the grease and fats in a huge burger or the calories in a large pizza.

As mentioned above, Mormons eat after fasting for two meals, but other faiths practice different patterns. Those who observe Ramadan (as discussed below) also eat regularly between fasting hours.

Fasts that last for many days with little or no nutrition are quite possibly risky to your health and should not be initiated without medical supervision.

Nutritious foods are important when you break your fast

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Health Risks of Fasting

There are many 'fad' diets that incorporate fasting as part of the plan to magically lose massive amounts of weight.

While this article isn't intended to promote a specific diet plan, or to warn against any specific plan, it should be mentioned that fad-fasting can be risky.

Here are some pointers for those who are considering a fast for health-benefit reasons:

Check with your doctor! You should not subject your body to sudden changes and a loss of daily nutrients for an extensive time without being under medical supervision.

Get Proper Hydration: Although some fasts including going without water for a period of hours (perhaps as long as two meals), your body needs water, and it is very risky to deny it that precious fluid for extended periods of time.

Avoid Stress: Your body will already be adjusting to less food; don't add to its stress through over-exercise or putting yourself in high-risk situations.

Avoid Excessive Heat: Fasting and high temperatures can be dangerous. If you live in a very hot climate, pay attention to your body, hydrate properly, and avoid extended hours in the heat or sun.

Supplements Are Not A Substitute for Food: If you're looking at a 'fasting diet' that requires you to go extended periods of time with no real food, and to rely on supplements for nutrition, you should be under the care of a physician. Your body can have internal signs of distress before they manifest outwardly; you want to be healthy, not in danger.

Starvation Leads to Severe Muscle Loss: If you 'fast' to the point that your body has used up its stored energy (the fat you want to lose), it can start feeding on your muscle tissue. This is what happens with those suffering from bulimia or anorexia; your body starts consuming itself in order to survive. The body isn't picky about which muscles it consumes; it can feed on your heart and organ muscles as well as the muscles in your arms and legs. Don't go there!

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Mormon | Religious Fasting Practices

Those of the Islam faith fast for an entire month each year, called Ramadan.

As with the LDS (Mormon) church, the purpose is to allow a time of reflection, spiritual growth and of care for others. By fasting for a month, the belief is that you can better relate to the suffering of those who have little in life.

Those who observe Ramadan fast during daylight hours and eat when the sun goes down. Often, they will (understandably) rest more than usual during the daytime hours of Ramadan.

Mormons break their fast after two meals, which can be at any time of the day; some members fast at night and in the morning, and break the fast at the midday meal. Others fast for the morning and noon meals and break their fast at the evening meal.

This article is for information only and is not intended to provide medical advice. Marcy Goodfleisch has a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degree and is a university instructor in Ethics and Humanities.

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  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 2 years ago from Planet Earth

    Glad you enjoyed it, Rodric - the reasons can be useful to anyone, whether they're in this particular church or not. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Rodric29 profile image

    Rodric Johnson 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    Just came across this and it is good! Voted up.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Wow, Deb - you are really a dedicating faster (is that a word?) - I'm impressed! It indeed has some health benefits if done properly (and if your overall health suits the practice). But the church also feels it strengthens your spiritual connection with Heavenly Father.

    Thanks for sharing your experience here!

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    Deb Welch 4 years ago

    I was made aware of some important information from this interesting Hub, Marcy. Excellent and throrough - enjoyed reading. I fast approximately once or twice a month maybe more. Usually 20 - 23 hours at a time or possibly less.it does help. Thanks.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Watergeek - I hadn't realized the brain was #1 for using energy, but it makes sense. I've known for years that intense work such as writing equates to the same number of hours (or more) of hard physical labor. When I heard that statistic, I didn't feel so bad for being tired after a day at the computer!

  • watergeek profile image

    watergeek 5 years ago from Pasadena CA

    I had forgotten, but I still fast regularly - usually on Sunday - partly by default, but very often because it feels good and does help focus during meditation. I learned recently that the digestive system is second in line for using the most energy in our daily functions. The first is the brain.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thank you, Margie! We've begun realizing there's a lot that people don't understand about the church. So glad you liked the tips on fasting!

  • Mmargie1966 profile image

    Mmargie1966 5 years ago from Gainesville, GA

    I had no idea the Mormons fasted every month! I didn't realize the health benefits either. This was extremely educational and I truly enjoyed it! Voted up and awesome!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, SilentRead - I hope I can answer a few of these for you. There are no 'fasting retreats' as far as I know. Fasting is a quiet and personal time with your family (or alone, if you live by yourself). Many people 'dedicate' their fast to a specific concern they have, such as an illness a friend is going through, or the need for comfort during difficult times. Sometimes an entire congregation will fast for a member who is struggling with serious health issues.

    I understand your point about being distracted by hunger if you're trying to pray or meditate on an empty stomach. All I can suggest is that fasting can give you an insight you might not receive while not fasting. The insight might be sure and definite, or far more subtle (which is more common, since the perception is that God speaks to us in a 'still, small voice,' or a 'whisper').

    A spiritual fast is one that includes prayer, reverence, honoring the teachings and a personal attitude of inviting the spirit into your heart. This differs from fasting in a manner that only focuses on the body. Spiritual fasting is quite common throughout many ages, and it is recognized by a diverse number of faiths as a form of purification and spiritual growth.

    Yes, foregoing two meals is considered a fast - it takes about a full day to reach the point when you break the fast and eat again. So you have fasted for a day.

    I hope this helps - and thanks for reading and commenting!

  • SilentReed profile image

    SilentReed 5 years ago from Philippines

    It is hard to meditate on a full stomach:) Can forgoing a meal or two be considered a fast? I am curious as to what would constitute a spiritual fasting in the manner that great teachers in different religion have fasted to find and test their faith. Do members of the Mormon church have retreats where fasting is of a longer duration? Thank you for sharing.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Sis - I'm glad you found some new information here, and it sounds like your body has naturally adopted an intermmitent sort of cycle of eating and fasting. We would all be healthier if we ate only when hungry and stopped eating when we were full. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Angela Blair profile image

    Angela Blair 5 years ago from Central Texas

    Super informative Hub -- my entire life I think I've "fasted" -- if that's what one could call it. I eat only when hungry and sometimes a day can pass where I don't even think of eating -- which drives docs crazy! Obviously fasting -- properly -- doesn't hurt the body as mine has functioned on a fasting lifestyle for years. Best/Sis

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Suzzy - fasting that is done sensibly can have some benefits, but as you mentioned, starving yourself can trigger other (some very serious) issues.

  • suzzycue profile image

    Susan Britton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    I learned a lot here. I thought it was a bad idea to fast because your body thought it was starving and would slow down your metabolism. I eat small meals every 2-4 hours instead of three meals to speed up my metabolism. It was interesting to me to read that fasting gives you more energy.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, alocsin - thanks for reading and commenting here. It's interesting to see how many religions in the world have similar practices. The Mormon fast is part of the spiritual refining we are supposed to do while on Earth (as is the intent with other religious fasts), but it also gives us a perspective about poverty and the role food plays in our lives.

  • alliemacb profile image

    alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

    I have recently tried fasting after watching a documentary on the health benefits and I have to say it was easier than I thought it would be. So interesting to read about the Mormon practice of fasting. Great hub.

  • alocsin profile image

    alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

    I was aware of certain fasts by Muslims, but did not know about this Mormon practice. I agree that doing it, whether as part of a religious practice or not, is one way of losing weight and maintaining health. The religious practices include built-in safeguards for avoiding the ill effects of too much fasting. So it's important to include such safeguards when fasting on your own. Voting this Up and Interesting.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks so much, fpherj, for your kind comments here! Yes, fasting is indeed something Mormons believe in and practice. And as you mention, it's a long-held tradition in many religions and faiths. Thanks for suggesting the book you mentioned!

  • fpherj48 profile image

    Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    Marcy.....Fasting has been practiced since the beginning of time...with good reason. You have given such great info here and explained so well.

    I have fasted numerous times........for health/detox purposes. In fact, I would like to mention a book I believe is fantastic. "7-DAY DETOX MIRACLE." Peter Bennett,N.D. and Stephen Barrie, N.D with Sara Faye.

    I was not aware of the Mormon facts on fasting. Thank you so much for this very useful hub. UP++