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As fasting is the total or partial abstinence from all or certain foods, beverages and stimulants over a period of time, usually for one or more days, respectively. If only a very specific type of food or a stimulant is left out or restricted, one speaks of abstinence or abstinence .


The Germanic word fasting comes from the old high dt as a Christian term . fastēn , which originally means “to hold on to the commandments of celibacy ”, whereby the required celibacy was thought of as “being firm ”. Cf. also Gothic fastan "hold (firmly), strictly observe, guard".


Fasting as a design element of life is historically documented in numerous cultures and occurs in various forms and in partially fixed rituals : for certain seasons or periods of time, collectively or individually, as a complete or partial renunciation of food as well as stimulants, meat, alcohol, sexuality, etc. . a. In terms of cultural history, fasting periods predominate on certain dates, where, in addition to religious aspects, they were also viewed as medically useful. Hippocrates of Kos allegedly wrote: "Be moderate in everything, breathe pure air, do skin care and physical exercise every day [...] and cure a small pain with fasting rather than medicine."

The (religious) fasting practice in antiquity and the Middle Ages distinguished three levels:

  • Full fasting ( ieiunum naturale ): no food intake and no drinking
  • Half-fasting ( ieiunum plenum ): one meal per day and allowed fluid intake
  • Abstinence fasting ( ieiunum semiplenum ): (in contrast to vegetarianism, periodic) abstinence from certain foods (such as meat from warm-blooded animals living on land or in the air) and drinks (such as wine)

In modern times there are forms of therapeutic fasting , for example accompanying a diet or in mourning work, to forms of protest on hunger strike and political fasting, e.g. B. of a Mahatma Gandhi . On the other hand, there is a trend towards rediscovering old medical or religious traditions.

In the religious context, fasting serves, among other things, to purify the soul , to repent in Christianity , to ward off evil, to strive for concentration, enlightenment or redemption.

In general, fasting by avoiding or reducing food intake should serve several purposes:

  • religious practice, including during Christian Lent and the Islamic month of Ramadan
  • in several religions preparing for major holidays
  • the ascetic or mourning
  • a promotion of perception
  • an increase in willpower and preparation for special challenges
  • the increase in psychological and social control (see e.g. Mahatma Gandhi or hunger strike in general)
  • the increase in life expectancy and a delay in the aging process ( see main article → calorie restriction or intermittent fasting )
  • (with targeted methodology) losing weight or controlling body weight
  • as part of a therapy for diseases.

The temporary elimination of certain foods while fasting is not treated as a food taboo.

Fasting in Religions

Many religions have days or times of fasting. In ancient Egypt the fast was known. The fasting culture included, among other things, the renouncement of fish dishes during the spawning season . The Egyptian Copts are said to have taken over the 40-day fasting period before Easter from their ancestors.

In the ascetic culture of East Asia and in Hinduism , abstinence also plays a role in yoga . The ritualized fasting until death exists as Sallekhana in Jainism and as Prayopavesa in Hinduism.


In Judaism, fasting means nothing to eat or drink on the fast day from the evening before until the evening of the day (about 25 hours, but no longer). Smoking is also prohibited. Every feast day and fast day begins the evening before, because in the Jewish calendar the day lasts from the evening before to the evening of the day - not from midnight to midnight. Tisha beAv and Yom Kippur are considered to be these “long” fast days . But there are also “short” days of fasting, such as Assara beTevet , Ta'anit Esther , fasting of the firstborn , Shiva Assar beTammus and Zom Gedalja . Fasting on them does not start the evening before, but only at dawn, and then last until nightfall. Pregnant and breastfeeding women do not have to fast. Sick people ask a rabbi whether fasting is compatible with their illness. Girls from 12 years of age and boys from 13 years of age should fast. But younger children should also be introduced to fasting, for example by not necessarily eating “full” and by avoiding sweets.

The only Jewish day of rest and fasting mentioned in the Torah is the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). God calls on the people he has chosen, who are defined by their relationship to God and different from other peoples, to keep his eternal law of fasting and rest days:

“Furthermore, the Eternal said to Moshe as follows: 'On the other hand, on the tenth day of this seventh month - it is the Day of Atonement - you are to keep a holy proclamation and a day of fasting, and also offer a fire sacrifice in honor of the Eternal. On this day you should not do any art work, because it is the day of atonement on which you will be reconciled before the Eternal your God. Because every person who does not fast that day should be exterminated from their nation. And every person who does some art work that day, the same person I want to exterminate from their nation. You should not do any art work on it. Let this be an eternal law in all of your dwelling places. Let it be a great day of rest for you and you should fast. On the ninth of the month you should begin in the evening and keep your day of rest from evening to evening. '"

- ( Emor , Wajikra 23: 26-32 )

The Old Testament also reports on fasting several times as a sign of mourning or to emphasize the seriousness of a prayer ( Ezra 8.21  EU ). So King David fasted when one of his sons became terminally ill ( 2 Sam 12.15ff  EU ).

Those fast days that commemorate certain events such as the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem on the ninth day of the month of Av are observed by Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews . The day of atonement, Yom Kippur, which falls on the 10th day of the month of Tishri and is the highest fasting day in the Jewish calendar, is also observed by less pious Jews.


Christian fasting is based on Jewish tradition. The Christian knows mainly 40 days of great Lent , the preparation for Easter is reminiscent of the 40 days that Jesus fasting and praying spent in the desert. The aspect of fasting during Advent , which is also a time of penance and fasting, is now more of a secondary issue .

In the tradition, a practice developed that one fasted weekly on Wednesday (the day on which Jesus Christ was betrayed) and on Friday (the day on which he was crucified) (even according to the Pharisee standard, there were already two weekly fasting days The fasting of the catechumens before baptism already existed in early Christianity , the fasts on the vigil days of some high feasts were added later.

In the Sermon on the Mount ( Mt 6 : 16-18  EU ), Jesus Christ called for humility in the practice of fasting:

“When you fast, don't scowl like the hypocrites! They appear gloomy to make people realize that they are fasting. Amen, I tell you: they have already received their wages. But you, when you fast, anoint your hair and wash your face so that people do not notice that you are fasting, but only your Father who is in secret; and your father, who sees what is hidden, will reward you. "

Orthodox churches

The Orthodox churches know several fasting periods of several weeks per year (40 days before Easter, 15 days before Assumption, four weeks before Christmas up to and including Christmas Eve) as well as individual fasting days before certain name days of saints, which are usually associated with a complete renunciation of animal food and oil ; On some fasting days only meat is not allowed, on others fish is allowed. Seafood and wine in moderation are always allowed, except for the consumption of wine on the day before Holy Communion. Participation in this requires fasting and the corresponding renunciation, especially of animal products. In addition, there is the described fasting on Wednesday and Friday as well as 40 days after the loss of a close relative. Small children and the sick are exempt from fasting and may receive Holy Communion without observing the precepts of fasting.

The most extensive fasting rules currently exist in the Greek, Russian, Romanian and Serbian Orthodox Churches, where meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and oil are avoided during the fasting period. However, oil is allowed on the saints' memorial days and fish on certain days. In some cases, the rules of fasting differ slightly between the individual Orthodox churches. In the Coptic , Ethiopian Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox Churches, on the other hand, the faithful fast on Wednesdays and Fridays by avoiding meat, eggs and dairy products. Fish, seafood and honey are allowed.

Roman Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has always paid great attention to physical expressions of penance. Until the reforms by Pope Paul VI. According to the Second Vatican Council , the required fasting and abstinence days were Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as well as the Fridays of Lent, Holy Saturday until noon and the Fridays of the four weeks of quarter . In addition, the requirement of fasting, but not of abstinence, also existed on the Vigil Day of various festivals: on Christmas Eve , and the Vigil Days of Pentecost , Assumption of Mary and All Saints' Day .

However, the corresponding church penance practice has been relaxed since around 1960: only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are considered strict days of fasting and abstinence . Fasting means that you only have a filling meal once a day and a small refreshment at the other two times at the table. With abstinence one has to abstain from all meat dishes. Adults up to the age of 60 are obliged to keep the law of fasting, and all believers from 14 years of age to the end of life are obliged to abstain.

A personal form of penance, the so-called Friday sacrifice , is required on all Fridays of the church year (except when a solemn festival falls on a Friday). Many Catholics also traditionally abstain on Wednesdays and Saturdays. In ascetic orders , the members forego meat from warm-blooded animals, sometimes even dairy products, oil, eggs or fish, completely or at least several days a week.

Influences of the Reformation

The reformers of the sixteenth century criticized the church's fasting commandments as purely external, through which the benevolence of God could not be achieved. Ulrich Zwingli's Reformation in Switzerland began with a demonstrative sausage dinner on the first Sunday of Lent. Martin Luther fasted as well, but said that man “does not become pleasant with God through fasting, but only through grace, only through faith”.

In recent years, in addition to the large churches, evangelical and charismatic circles have rediscovered fasting and often practice conscious renunciation (sleep to have more time for prayer, individual meals for the benefit of the hungry, etc.), but not as a Ecclesiastical commandments, rather than a voluntary spiritual experience. The “Lent Soup” practiced in many parishes serves similar purposes instead of the usual lunch. Before the last Gulf War, the Canadian Mennonites called for worldwide fasting days and prayers for peace. The content of this fast was derived from Isaiah 58.3–8  EU .

In the past few years, the “ 7 weeks without ” campaign has also caught on with many Protestant Christians . During this fasting period, they consciously avoid alcohol, sweets or other habits that have crept in and are perceived as stressful (such as television). In many Protestant congregations, this campaign, which has a motto every year, is accompanied by regular meetings.


Devout Hindus often completely or temporarily forego certain foods. Depending on the different family customs, guidelines of your guru or for political reasons. One fasts at certain moon constellations, holidays or at personally chosen times.


In Islam , fasting ( hem ) is one of the "five pillars" . During the month of Ramadan , all Muslims (except for women who are menstruating or postpartum) who are in full possession of their mental faculties ('aqil) , of legal age (baligh) , are physically capable (qadir) and are not traveling, who Duty not to add any substances to the body from dawn to sunset. This means refraining from eating, drinking and smoking.


In the Bahá'í Faith is fasting, as in many religions, from abstaining from food and liquids. The fasting hours begin after sunrise and end with sunset. Baha'i Lent begins on March 1st, 2nd or 3rd (depending on the position of the sun) and ends 19 days later immediately before the equinox in March or the astronomical beginning of spring, which in the Baha'i calendar also begins with the celebration of Nouruz marked the new year. Those weakened by illness or old age are excluded.

Studies show the positive medical effects of religious fasting according to the Baha'it interval model. Even if scientific findings suggest the health-promoting effects of fasting, in Baha'i as in other religions "the meaning and purpose of fasting is of a spiritual nature". The believer should fast out of love for the “beauty of God” and his prophets, and remember the fact that they themselves fasted during the “divine inspiration”. The wisdom of the commandment to fast is recognized in the fact that it increases "spirituality" and reduces the influence of the "lower self". Acceptance of this spiritual exercise is entirely in God's hands. Fasting helps believers to reflect on everyday habits, to train their own willpower, to get rid of bad habits and to reflect on the important things in life.

Therapeutic fasting

Therapeutic fasting is a fasting that is supposed to lead to a higher level of well-being or improved health. The founder of therapeutic fasting was Otto Buchinger (1878–1966), who no longer suffered from rheumatoid arthritis after a three-week fast and devoted himself to the research and development of therapeutic fasting. Positive health effects of therapeutic fasting were found in 1991 for rheumatism of the joints, high blood pressure or high fat / sugar levels in the blood, among other things. A significant improvement in diseases and an improvement in fat and sugar levels in the blood was suspected by a study published in 2019 by Francoise Wilhelmi de Toledo in collaboration with Andreas Michalsen from Charité Berlin .

In addition to some older forms of cure and fasting (see Pastor Kneipp ), numerous other forms of fasting accompanied by a doctor with the desired “ purification ” or “regeneration” of body and soul have established themselves in the 20th century . What they have in common is that they require a few days of preparation, aim for targeted emptying of the bowels and drink around three liters a day. Prior or accompanying medical examinations minimize possible risks, and the end of therapeutic fasting (formerly called breaking the fast ) is carefully designed.

Through a so-called short - term fasting lasting a few days , an increase in the tolerance of chemotherapies was observed both in humans and in animal experiments .

Effects of fasting on the metabolism (animation)

Video: animated illustration of fasting and metabolism

The animated film shows how the various metabolic processes change during fasting.

See also


  • Peter Gerlitz, Hugo Mantel, Stuart George Hall, Joseph H. Crehan: Fasting / Fast days I. Religious history II. Judaism III. Biblical and ecclesiastical . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie 11 (1983), pp. 41–59 (historical overview)
  • Carolyn Walker Bynum: Holy Feast and Holy Fast. The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley 1987. (On the Medieval History of Fasting)
  • Hellmut Lützner : How reborn through fasting , Gräfe and Unzer, 2008
  • C. Lee, L. Raffaghello, et al. a .: Fasting Cycles Retard Growth of Tumors and Sensitize a Range of Cancer Cell Types to Chemotherapy. In: Science Translational Medicine. 4, 2012, pp. 124ra27-124ra27, doi: 10.1126 / scitranslmed.3003293 .

Web links

Wiktionary: fasten  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Fasting  - Quotes
Commons : Fasting  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Friedrich Kluge , Alfred Götze : Etymological dictionary of the German language . 20th edition. Edited by Walther Mitzka . De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1967; Reprint (“21st unchanged edition”) ibid 1975, ISBN 3-11-005709-3 , p. 186.
  2. ^ Gundolf Keil : Vegetarian. In: Medical historical messages. Journal for the history of science and specialist prose research. Volume 34, 2015 (2016), pp. 29–68, here: pp. 36 f.
  3. ^ A b Françoise Wilhelmi de Toledo, Andreas Michalsen, Stefan Drinda, Audrey Bergouignan, Franziska Grundler: Safety, health improvement and well-being during a 4 to 21-day fasting period in an observational study including 1422 subjects . In: PLOS ONE . tape 14 , no. 1 , January 2, 2019, ISSN  1932-6203 , p. e0209353 , doi : 10.1371 / journal.pone.0209353 , PMID 30601864 , PMC 6314618 (free full text).
  4. Fast days , Chabad. Retrieved January 7, 2020.
  5. ^ Understanding Jewish History: Texts and Commentaries By Steven Bayme , p. 363
  6. ^ W. Gunther Plaut, Annette Böckler [Authoris. Trans. U. Ed.], Walter Homolka (Ed.): Wajikra = Ṿa-yiḳra = Leviticus. 3rd edition, 1st edition of the special edition. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2008, ISBN 978-3-579-05494-0 , p. 234 ff .
  7. ^ Walter Dürig , Andreas Blasius, Helmut Hundsbichler, Hartmut Zapp : Fasten, Lent, Fastendispense, A: Christian area, Latin West . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 4, Artemis & Winkler, Munich / Zurich 1989, ISBN 3-7608-8904-2 , Sp. 304-307.
    Evangelos Konstantinou : fasting, times, dispensing. B. Eastern Churches . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 4, Artemis & Winkler, Munich / Zurich 1989, ISBN 3-7608-8904-2 , Sp. 307-309.
  8. ^ Gundolf Keil : Vegetarian. In: Medical historical messages. Journal for the history of science and specialist prose research. Volume 34, 2015 (2016), pp. 29–68, here: p. 36.
  9. Hindu Faith Practice. In: Lexicon of Religions on April 23, 2014, accessed December 1, 2017 .
  11. ^ Fritzsche, Religious Fasting. Health for body and soul , Patmos-Verlag, 2008
  12. Bahāʾullāh , Kitab-i-Aqdas , section 10.Pregnant women, breastfeeding women (Kitab-i-Aqdas, section 16) and monthly rule (Kitab-i-Aqdas, section 13), debilitating illness, an age from the completed seventieth year (Kitab -i-Aqdas, questions and answers No. 74 and explanations No. 14 and 25), travel under certain conditions (Kitab-i-Aqdas, section 22) and hard work (Kitab-i-Aqdas, questions and answers No. 76) refers to Bahāʾullāh as legitimate exceptions.
  13. ^ Daniela Liebscher: Effects of religious fasting on anthropometric parameters, blood lipid values ​​and hemodynamics of normal weight healthy subjects. Dresden, 2012. For a journalistic presentation cf. Aheimer: Bahá'í fasting does it. In: .
  14. ^ Biesalski, Bischoff, Puchstein: Nutritional medicine. 4th, completely revised and expanded edition. Thieme, 2010; Oliver Ploss: Naturopathy for functional diseases. Thieme, 2012.
  15. Shoghi Effendi: Kitáb-i-Aqdas , Explanation No. 25.
  16. ^ Baha'ullah, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, para. 4
  17. ^ Duane L. Herrmann, Fasting - a Bahá'í Handbook, p. 28, Oxford, Revised Edition 2001. He quotes Corinne True, who reproduces a table conversation with Abdu'l-Baha from 1907 in Chicago.
  18. Abdu'l-Bahá in a letter on the wisdom of fasting in Má'´diyih Asmáni, Volume 9, p. 23, Tehran 1973, pp. 23-25.
  19. “If you should regard the one who broke the fast as one who kept it, then such a person will be counted among those who have kept the fast for all eternity. And if you should determine that one who kept the fast broke it, he will be counted among those who have soiled the garment of your revelation with dust and are far from the crystal clear waters of this source of life. "(Prayers, Bahá ' í – Verlag GmbH, Hofheim-Langenhain, 1996, No. 233)
  20. Cf. Aheimer .
  21. ^ Felix Rohrbeck: Fasting: A lot of money for empty plates . In: The time . February 27, 2018, ISSN  0044-2070 ( [accessed January 23, 2019]).
  22. ^ Claus Bernet: The physician Otto Buchinger (1878-1966) . In: Journal of the Association for Hessian History (ZHG) . Volume 112, 2007, pp. 227–234 ( PDF [accessed January 23, 2019]).
  23. J. Kjeldsen-Kragh, M. Haugen and others: Controlled trial of fasting and one-year vegetarian diet in rheumatoid arthritis. In: Lancet. Volume 338, Number 8772, October 1991, pp. 899-902, ISSN  0140-6736 . PMID 1681264 .
  24. NDR: Can fasting support chemotherapy? Retrieved September 30, 2019 .
  25. Judith Görs: Fasting in the fight against cancer. Retrieved September 30, 2019 .
  26. For breast and ovarian cancer: Short-term fasting probably makes chemotherapy more effective and easier to tolerate. Retrieved September 30, 2019 .