The Daniel Fast
Is it a diet? Is it a spiritual practice? Find out about the Daniel Fast movement that is changing the shape of the American Church.
BY: G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Eskridge notes that evangelical thinking has periodically spawned calls for discipleship that includes plant-based diets. Examples include the Seventh Day Adventists in the 19th century to Marie Chapian’s Free to be Thin in the late 1970s. But they’ve “never caught on” in a big way, he says, in part because church fellowship is commonly associated with eating rich, comfort foods together. And social habits are hard to break.
What enables some evangelicals to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet is the Daniel fast’s spiritual dimensions. Gregory emphasizes that it’s a fast, not a diet, and a fast comes with a specific, God-seeking purpose. Some fast to find God-given clarity around big decisions; others fast simply to get closer to God. Whatever the particular purpose, evangelicals can get on board in good conscience because they’re following a model sanctioned in scripture.
Fasting and prayer are hardly new for evangelicals or their spiritual ancestors. Early Puritans in the American colonies, for instance, used to declare fast days to repent for sins, discern God’s will and seek blessings such as rain for crops. In some ways, the Daniel fast taps into that heritage by setting aside a stretch of time for disciplined eating and mindfulness.
Though the Daniel fast requires no set time frame, many partakers do it as Daniel did for 21 days. That’s generally how long it takes to break an old habit or forge a new one, behavior experts say. After that, Gregory says, some return to eating lean meats but also sustain practices honed during the fast. These include eating a mostly plant-based diet and avoiding processed foods. She adds that some come to affirm that it’s OK, even beneficial, to experience some discomfort in discipleship.
As the practice grows in popularity, Gregory finds some do it largely for the health benefits – or to take advantage of summer’s bounteous produce. She’s glad to see people embracing it, but she hopes they’ll remember it’s a spiritual discipline above all else.
“When we enter a time of prayer and fasting, it should change our life,” Gregory said. For those who sustain a healthier lifestyle, she adds: “It’s not a diet. It is helping people make that conscious choice to honor their bodies and to submit their bodies to God.”
G. Jeffrey MacDonald is a Massachusetts-based reporter with a religion focus. His book, Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul (Basic Books, 2010), received third place for Religion Nonfiction Book of the Year for 2010.