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.

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