Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this post, I want to be clear about a few things. First of all, I am a Christ-follower. I grew up immersed and enveloped in church culture, raised with hymns and Christian retreats and scripture memorization, Billy Graham and Sandi Patty, Petra, P.T.L. and Hillsong. (Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about). Around the age of 8, I made a personal commitment and public confession to live out the message proclaimed by Jesus Christ, and I have stuck to this path, as best as a flawed human can, throughout my adult life. I believe in the Bible. And I absolutely support the discipline of fasting. I also believe God can work in and speak to anyone He desires, in whatever way He wants, through whatever means He chooses. That’s why He is God!
That being said, I believe the Daniel Fast misses the mark. I’ll explain why, but first – a little background.
For the uninitiated, the Daniel Fast is based on the fasting experiences of the Old Testament Prophet, Daniel, and typical Jewish fasting principles. It’s a partial fast where some foods are eaten while others are restricted. Most people use this method of fasting (along with prayer) for 21 consecutive days as a way to disconnect from the flesh, draw closer to God, and experience a deeper connection with His plan and purpose for their lives. It’s meant to be a spiritual experience, with potential health benefits as well.
From the Daniel Fast website (www.daniel-fast.com):
Foods Allowed During the Daniel Fast: all fruits, all vegetables, all whole grains, all legumes, all quality oils, water (spring, distilled, and other pure water), and then an assortment of miscellaneous products like tofu, soy products, vinegar, seasonings, salt, herbs and spices.
Foods Restricted During the Daniel Fast: all meat and animal products, all dairy products, all leavened bread including Ezekiel Bread (it contains yeast and honey) and baked goods, all refined and processed food products including but not limited to artificial flavorings, food additives, chemicals, white rice, white flour, and foods that contain artificial preservatives, all deep fried foods including but not limited to potato chips, French fries, corn chips, all solid fats including shortening, margarine, lard and foods high in fat. Also beverages including but not limited to coffee, tea, herbal teas, carbonated beverages, energy drinks, and alcohol.
Clearly there is much to be applauded in this approach. Anyone following the Standard American Diet (SAD) is going to benefit, perhaps remarkably, from removing sugar in all its forms, dairy, along with chemical-laden and highly refined processed food. So when you hear about people experiencing positive health benefits from the Daniel Fast, I believe this is where those perks originate.
But it troubles me that the individual promoting this fast – her name is Susan Gregory – has no professional background whatsoever (at least none I can find) in basic nutrition, dietetics, biochemistry, or even foundational health and wellness. In her words, she is “a writer, a teacher, an encourager and sometimes an exhorter (see Hebrews 3:13). I’m a lay minister, a businesswoman, a coach for Christian living, and a wannabe techie.” These are wonderful and much-needed skills, but not necessarily the proper skill-set to be guiding thousands of people in a significant dietary endeavor. She explains that she is basing this fasting protocol on Biblical history and scriptural interpretation, but my guess is she is also relying on modern conventional wisdom, in the form of the USDA food guidelines. Remember that food pyramid you learned about in junior high? The one with grains at the bottom, then fruit and veggies, dairy and proteins, and the tiny triangle at the top labeled “Fats and Oils – Use Sparingly”? It appears to me that Susan Gregory has aligned the Daniel Fast with these USDA recommendations, and there aren’t many (outside the Paleo/Primal community) that would question her reasoning.
This kind of advice, the advice most of the modern human race has blessed and embraced, is exactly why we are a species that has become fat, sick, and unhappy. Many of us are suffering from the ill-effects of grains, dairy, industrial seed oils, and legumes, and we don’t even know it. And here is a fasting protocol that espouses these very foods, and at the same time restricts many of the God-given foods that actually support and enhance optimal health and wellness, most notably quality proteins and healthy fats.
Imagining a typical American embarking on a Daniel Fast, I can predict at the outset a series of really rough days marked by serious withdrawal symptoms (sugar and caffeine addiction, anyone?), followed by a period of maybe 5-8 days of renewed energy and clear thinking, and ending with a stretch of time where the individual is “white-knuckling” it at best, and experiencing significant symptoms of unwellness at worst. While this kind of suffering might seem like a commendable spiritual experience or worthy exercise in self-denial, biologically it’s a recipe for disaster. And, I might add, not an optimal state of health to be embarking on a journey intended for renewal and clarity. I can’t remember a time when I’ve learned anything remarkable while in a Daniel Fast-like state: feeling dizzy, light-headed, weak, terribly hungry, run down, irritated, despondent, and crazy-obsessed with food. I have actually lived a couple years of my life in and out of that very state, and I can tell you – the only truth gained was that it was a MISERABLE time in my life and I NEVER wanted to repeat that kind of self-deprivation again. Granted, dealing with a long-term eating disorder and embarking on a short-term fast are not the same thing. However, the distorted mental gymnastics that takes place during both experiences is, in my opinion, very much the same. Deprive, suffer, deny, push through, atone, punish, make amends. As far as I know, God doesn’t award extra points when we purposefully misuse or abuse our bodies, and I think the Daniel Fast falls under that umbrella. There are other ways for us to “become less” and to honor Him with fasting.
So, what if you truly want to enter into a time of simplicity so that you can focus more on hearing from God? Here are two suggestions I recommend:
1 – Commit to a Whole 30: a dietary reset supported by science and hundreds of thousands of testimonials from around the globe. You will likely still experience those few days of withdrawal at the beginning of your 30 days, but as the weeks continue, you will feel like someone just woke you up from a long slumber – awake, alive, refreshed, ambitious, rested and clear-headed. It’s nearly a guarantee that you’ll benefit greatly from a nutritional and overall wellness standpoint, as well. Think improved triglycerides, blood pressure, cholesterol level, thyroid balance, mental functioning, emotional stability, and many other measures of health. Now THAT is a much better way to pursue a spiritual awakening, in my opinion.
2 – Fast from something not food-related (TV, Facebook, gaming, etc). In a world as unbalanced and stressed out as ours, I think we would do ourselves a huge favor (spiritually and otherwise), if we unplugged from all the bells, whistles, tweets, and dings, and focused instead on meaningful relationships and enjoyable outdoor recreation. And with all that free time, we could actually take time to prepare meals at home and fuel our bodies with the food God has provided for us. How’s that for honoring Him?
If any of this seems unclear or unfamiliar, or simply flawed, I invite your questions and comments. You might also consider attending an upcoming Paleo Primal 101 Seminar to learn more. All information is found on the Seminar tab on my website, or you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.