Fasting in the Gravitas Character Formation Program
The following advice on conducting a food fast was written by Dr. Zach Manis for the Gravitas Character Formation Program 4.12-13. It has been modified slightly for the purposes of this post. The Gravitas Character Formation Program guides students through a wide range of spiritual disciplines, including fasting. In the fuller program, particularly in the Temperance Modules, students learn about the purpose of fasting, right and wrong reasons for fasting, fasting safety, different types of fasts including food fasts, tech and media fasts, and fasts from various pleasures. Here we focus specifically on how to conduct a food fast.
Disclaimer: Please do not engage in a food fast if you have a medical condition that could make it dangerous or unhealthy to fast, or if you struggle with an eating disorder, or if you’re uncertain about either of these things.
The most common type of fast is a food fast. You can fast from all kinds of things…but food fasts are probably the type that it’s most helpful to have some guidance on. Here are four pieces of advice to consider before doing a food fast:
- First off, you should know that the usual type of food fast is one where you refrain from all food and all drinks other than water. You should drink plenty of water before, during, and after your fast is completed. Rarely if ever should you undertake a total fast—fasting even from drinking water—and it’s not something you should attempt apart from close adult supervision.
- Second, if you haven’t fasted before, it’s helpful to have a suggestion for a good length of time for how long you should fast. A good place to start with your first fast is eighteen hours, with the goal of moving up to twenty four hours by your second or third fast. An eighteen hour fast could mean that you’re only missing one meal. Begin your first fast after lunch (say, 1:00 pm) and break your fast at breakfast (7:00 am) the next day. An alternative “warm up” for your first fast would be to go a full twenty four hours, but to drink fruit or vegetable juice rather than only drinking water. When you’re ready for a regular twenty four hour fast (drinking only water), begin your fast after a certain meal—say, dinner—and continue the fast until that same meal the next day.
- One of the most important things to do when you’re planning a fast is to build in time during your fast for other spiritual practices, especially for prayer and Bible study. Fasting will have the effect of making these activities more focused, more intense, and more spiritually productive. Fortunately, building in time for these activities during fast days is easy: just use the time that you would normally spend eating (and perhaps also preparing food and cleaning up).
- Remember and put into practice the various types of prayer and study that you’ve previously learned: Lectio divina, contemplative prayer, breath prayer, and the various liturgical prayers we discuss in other parts of the Gravitas Character Formation Program (the Lord’s Prayer, the Prayer of Confession, the Prayer of St. Francis, etc.) Remember the primary purpose of fasting: to open yourself up to the transformative power of God at work within you. Be mindful of God’s presence. Listen for the voice of God. Pay attention to feelings of conviction: the sense that God is calling you to act or to change in some way.
For those who would like further guidance on fasting, or who would like to go deeper in their practice of fasting, a great place to begin further reading is chapter four of Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.