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What is a Daniel Fast?

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The Daniel Fast is a partial fast based on two accounts of the prophet Daniel fasting. When done as a fast, it is intended to be a time of drawing closer to God. The Daniel Fast, or perhaps more properly the “Daniel Diet,” has also been popularized as a healthy eating regime. In either case, the fast usually lasts ten to twenty-one days. Some adopt principles of the food plan into their lifelong diet.

The Daniel Fast is so called because it is based on the way the prophet Daniel is recorded to have eaten in Daniel 1 and Daniel 10. When Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and other young Israelite men were taken into Nebuchadnezzar’s service, they were to be given food and wine from the king’s table while undergoing a three-year training program. “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way” (Daniel 1:8). It is likely the royal food did not follow kosher laws. The official was fearful that Daniel would be unhealthy and that the king would be upset. So Daniel asked him to do a ten-day test in which he and his three companions would eat vegetables (or “pulses”) and drink water. “At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead” (Daniel 1:15–16).

Later, under the rule of Cyrus, Daniel received a frightening vision. He “mourned for three weeks. [He] ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched [his] lips; and [he] used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over” (Daniel 10:2–3). Then Daniel saw an angel who explained the vision to him and strengthened him. The fast was a time of mourning for Daniel and also part of how he “set [his] mind to gain understanding and to humble [himself] before [his] God” (Daniel 10:12).

Since the Daniel Fast is only styled after Daniel’s eating pattern, which is not elaborated on in the Bible, different resources have different regulations for what can and cannot be consumed while on the fast. Generally speaking, the eating plan is comparable to a vegan diet, though with more restrictions. All meat and animal products are disallowed (meat, eggs, fish, dairy), as are sweeteners (added sugar and natural sweeteners like honey or agave), solid fats, yeast, caffeine, alcohol, additives, and processed foods. The Daniel Fast includes vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and water. These guidelines are based on Daniel’s requesting “nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink” (Daniel 1:12) and eating “no choice food; no meat or wine” (Daniel 10:3). The Hebrew word for “vegetables” is sometimes translated as “pulses” and is thought to refer to food that comes from a seed. “Choice food” is seen to include things like sugar and sweeteners.

Those following the Daniel Fast are not limited in the amount of the approved foods they can eat. That being said, part of the benefit of a fast from a spiritual perspective is spending less time with food and more time focused on God. In fasting the intent is to deny the flesh and be reminded of our need for God and to draw near to Him. Those using a Daniel Fast primarily as a healthy-eating program often find unprocessed food to be more satiating, and thus they naturally eat less.

The medical community seems to agree that the Daniel Fast is well-tolerated and can have some health benefits for people. As the Daniel Fast has become more popularized in culture, at least one study has been done on its physical effects, the results of which can be reviewed here. It is important for believers to care for their bodies. In discussing sexual immorality, 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” Our bodies ultimately belong to God; we should steward them wisely, which includes taking care of our physical health.

From a spiritual perspective, a Daniel Fast can be a helpful way to focus on God. Changing our habits and not relying so much on the comforts of food can be a physical reminder that we rely on God. True satisfaction is found only in Him. Those wanting to use the Daniel Fast in this way should be certain of their motives and make steps to use the fast in a way that will be spiritually beneficial. For example, spend more time with God in prayer and in reading His Word while on the fast. Also, be certain to prepare in advance for the dietary changes. Without proper preparation, the Daniel Fast could cause an overemphasis on food instead of being a tool for spiritual growth, particularly in cultures where fad diets abound and where processed or prepared foods are popular. There are ample resources online and in book form to help people complete a Daniel Fast. Pray for God’s wisdom before beginning, and then trust Him to guide along the way.

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