In the broadest sense, fasting is the act of voluntarily abstaining from some or all food, drink, or behavior, over a specific period of time for spiritual, health, or political reasons. In the common era, the definition of fasting has become distorted to such an extent that much of its original meaning has been lost. For example, the twenty-first century ushered in the chocolate fast, during which the individual ate only chocolate for a day.

Although water-only fasting (or water fasting) is the principal type of fasting discussed in this book, it can be helpful to understand other types of fasting. In exploring this, it becomes evident why fasting has been called one of the most misunderstood ancient practices.

The primary reason that the definition of fasting has become so bastardized is because of there are so many different types of fasting. For example, some types of fasts are extremely restrictive, such as a dry fast. Dry fasting involves abstinence from all food and liquid. Other fasts may be only partially restrictive, limiting particular foods or substances. For example, a mono fast involves eating just one type of food (such as grapes) for a predetermined number of days. This has also been called “mono therapy” or a “mono diet”. It should be noted that any time there is caloric intake, it is more accurately referred to as a modified diet as opposed to an actual fast.

Some fasting practices may preclude behaviors, such as sex or other activities, although this is more an act of ascetic renunciation than a fast. A fast may also be intermittent in nature, alternating between days of eating and fasting.

In a physiological and medical context, fasting refers to the metabolic status of a person who has not eaten overnight, and to the metabolic state achieved after complete digestion and absorption of a meal. A diagnostic fast refers to prolonged fasting (from 8 to 72 hours depending on several variables, such as age) that is conducted under observation for the purpose of investigating a problem. In contrast to diagnostic fasts, water-only fasting has been recommended therapeutically for various conditions by health professionals and spiritual leaders of most cultures throughout history, from ancient to modern.

There are many different types of fasting, and choosing the one that is most appropriate should include a recommendation from a health professional who is familiar with fasting. Within different medical approaches and religious and spiritual traditions, there are various types of fasting protocols. The methods of fasting discussed here are outlined in a general sense.

There are a number of ways in which an individual can partake in a fast. The first, and most common, is fasting at home. Other places where an individual can fast include fasting clinics, retreats, and in the wilderness. When water-only fasting is supervised under specific guidelines, it is called therapeutic fasting. Therapeutic fasting” and is defined as the complete abstinence from all substances except pure water in an environment of complete rest.

Also called an absolute fast or a complete fast, a dry fast is considered the most extreme type of fasting. Dry fasting is considerably more difficult and hazardous than other types of fasting. When dry fasting is performed, it is usually practiced for comparatively shorter periods compared to therapeutic fasting. Dry fasting has been used in Hinduism, Jainism, Judaism, and Native American traditions.

A type of fasting that has been well-researched is intermittent fasting (IF). IF is actually a pattern of fasting and eating that alternates between periods of fasting (usually meaning consumption of water only) and non-fasting. Alternate day fasting (ADF) is a form of IF that is a 48-hour routine typically composed of a 24-hour fast followed by a 24-hour non-fasting period. Like other types of fasting, As with other types of fasting, the design of the fast may be the key factor in study outcomes. For example, research has suggested that intermittent fasting is most beneficial and safest when there are at least five days of refeeding with reasonable caloric intake between the periods of time in which the individual is fasting.

Choosing the appropriate type of fast is important for success. In determining the type of fast it is helpful to consider your goals. For example, is the fast for spiritual, medical, or psychological reasons? Often, having the guidance of a health professional who is familiar with fasting can help you to decide on the right type of fasting.

For more information about fasting visit the website for Dr. Fredricks’ book Fasting: An Exceptional Human Experience at or


Fredricks, R. (2012). Fasting: An Exceptional Human Experience. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

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Comment by Lisa Shaw on October 30, 2016 at 9:50am

Thanks for this article!  I'm sending forward to the pubilshers for possible inclusion in an upcoming issue.

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