Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet. You always should check with your health provider before making changes in your diet.
21 days. Fruits, vegetables, and a few whole grains.
It wasn’t easy, but I can’t say it was overly difficult.
I just finished the fast, and I feel great. I’ve fasted before, but this was my first Daniel Fast. I journaled daily to capture the results of the experience. I chose the Daniel Fast for five reasons:
- I knew I wanted to fast
- I had never done the Daniel Fast
- I wanted to see what a partial fast was like
- I knew it would be good for my spirit and my body
- I was having surgery so a water-only fast wasn’t the best option for my health
I learned a lot during these 21 days, and I want to share what I learned. If you know what the Daniel Fast is, skip to the practical lessons. But if you don’t know, keep reading.
What is the Daniel Fast?
The Daniel fast, if you haven’t already figured it out, comes from the book of Daniel. He was part of a group commanded by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to teach literature and the language of the Chaldeans 1.
The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.Daniel 1:5
“Daniel resolved that he wouldn’t defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine he drank” 2. Daniel said, to the steward who the chief eunuchs assigned over him,
Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.Daniel 1:12-13
The steward listened to Daniel, and tested him and three others for 10 days. After the 10 days, Daniel and the others looked healthier than all the youths who ate the king’s food. So the steward took the king’s food away from them and gave them vegetables.
For practical purposes, think of the Daniel Fast as a purified vegan diet. If you wanted to follow it to the letter, then you would only consumer vegetables and water for 10 days, and then…
Later on in the book of Daniel,
In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.Daniel 10:2-3
So for 21 days, Daniel followed a similar fast to the first 10 days, but with less restrictions. Based on what they ate in those days, and what Daniel avoided, it’s believed that you can eat the following…
What Do You Eat on the Daniel Fast?
Like anything with limited-known details, this fast is open to interpretation. So prayerfully start the fast in the way God would have you do it.
If you take out the food Daniel avoided, it’s generally believed that you would be allowed to eat only:
- Vegetables – All veggies and vegetable juices of any type
- Fruit – All types of fruit and fruit juices (excluding processed juices, especially those with added sugar)
- Beans & Legumes – All types of beans and legumes, but avoid anything canned with added salt
- Wholes Grains – Brown rice, oats, whole wheat, millet, amaranth, barley, and any other natural whole grains
- Nuts & Seeds – Raw is best, nothing with added sugar, salt, or other seasoning
The main struggle for me is forgoing all seasoning. I admit that I didn’t follow that rule this time, but to get the full effect, and the full intention (I believe) of the fast: avoid seasoning.
Also avoid all sweeteners, because they’re purely added as a pleasantry, and I think that blatantly violates the fast. Avoid stimulants as well, such as caffeine and nicotine. So even black coffee is typically forbidden on this fast.
I’m not going to type out a food list of what to eat, because I assume you know what fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, nuts and seeds are.
Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this article (pun intended).
7 Practical Lessons I Learned
I always learn something when I fast, but this time I feel like I learned more than ever. Here are the practical lessons I took away from the fast:
1. Journaling during a fast will help you get the most out of it and track your results
I journaled daily to write down what I was learning and what God was teaching me. I also loosely tracked what I ate, and mentioned the things that helped me along the way.
It was rewarding and edifying. I can look back and see how the fast was going and the lessons I learned along the way.
2. Breaking sugar addiction is like breaking chains of slavery
I knew I was addicted to sugar. One easy way to tell if you are is to do a quick nationally check and see if you’re American. If you are, you’re probably addicted to sugar. I’m only partially joking.
There is substantial evidence that sugar is extremely addictive, and that most people are in fact addicted 3. Just how addictive is sugar? Well, according to an article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “Consuming sugar produces effects similar to that of cocaine, altering mood, possibly through its ability to induce reward and pleasure, leading to the seeking out of sugar,” 4. Effects similar to cocaine? That’s pretty addictive.
The average American’s daily sugar intake averages 95 grams — that adds up to about 77 pounds per year 5. It’s been increasing every year… probably since the time we discovered sugar.
I had headaches at first, and admitted that it was probably from sugar addiction, because I still drank black coffee at the beginning of the fast (before I realized that it wasn’t allowed). So it wasn’t caffeine withdrawals; it was sugar withdrawals.
Once I broke the addiction, I slowly stopped craving sugar. After the fast was finished, I had a “cheat day” before going back to a standard healthy eating plan. I drank one soda at Taco Bell, and realized that I could barely finish it. Typically I would’ve refilled my cup a few times.
I don’t have cravings for sweets. They aren’t overly appealing to me anymore. And it only took 21 days to get to this point. Honestly, I’m sure it happened early on in that fast. That was an amazing feeling!
I broke the bondage of sugar addiction, and I feel great — mentally and physically.
3. You can fast for several purposes, but be honest about it
When I first decided to fast, I considered it for health purposes. Then I thought about the spiritual implications. And then I started to feel guilty about using a fast to bring me closer to God, while also getting health benefits and checking to see if I was losing weight.
I came to the conclusion that fasting has multiple benefits. And I’m cool with that. When Daniel fasted for the original ten days, it was mostly to show the health benefits, but it was also spiritual. Between my view of fasting and my relationship with lions, I think Daniel and I have a lot in common.
It’s perfectly fine to appreciate the spiritual and physical side of a fast, as well as the mental strength and discipline that’s built up during the fast. You have to keep yourself honest to get all the benefits. But if you’re only doing it for one of the benefits, be honest about that too.
Don’t tell yourself you’re fasting to become closer to Jesus, without caring about the health benefits, and try to hide the fact that there are other benefits. Be open, honest, and transparent with yourself. Sometimes you are the hardest person to admit these things to.
4. It’s not a sin to tell people you’re fasting
In Jesus’ day, many of the religious people would fast for outward gain. They wanted people to know they were “spiritual,” so they would moan and complain about how they were fasting — ultimately, about how “spiritual” they were being.
I can see it now: “hey everyone, come and see how spiritual I am!”
The defeats the purpose. Jesus said,
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.Matthew 6:16-18
But that doesn’t mean you should jump through hoops to avoid telling people you’re fasting. You may find that people are skeptical when you suddenly start refusing the office donuts, and other treats, when you would normally take five.
Telling immediate-people you’re fasting, like your spouse and coworkers, makes sense. Of course, there’s no reason to tell them if it’s not relevant. Jesus’ main concern was to not brag about it. It’s to be done in private, not for a public reward. But let common sense prevail.
It’s a matter of the heart. You have to ask yourself why you’re telling others that you’re fasting. If it’s for practical purposes, and you’re doing it with a clear conscience, it’s perfectly acceptable and reasonable. If you’re telling people because you want to show everyone how spiritual you are, stop it.
5. You can find systems and routines that help your fast
My wife fully supported my fast. She even kept a pot of soup that I could eat any time I was hungry. I knew I could always heat up a bowl of that soup when there was nothing else I could eat. That made it easier for me, and it took away the temptation of eating something I shouldn’t be eating.
Find systems and routines that work for you. Here are some things that worked for me:
- Keep food you can eat readily available
- If possible, get rid of the junk food in your home
- Always keep things like fruit and nuts with you to avoid temptation
- Plan ahead for social events and gatherings to either eat beforehand, or bring food with you
Those were the practical things that helped make my fast possible. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making it easier on yourself.
Speaking of easy…
6. It’s easier if you follow a plan
I did a 21-day Daniel-Fast Bible study, called Fast Like Daniel. It helped keep me on track, it reminded me which day I was on, and it helped me connect with God through His Word. There’s also a great 10-day plan, if you just want to get your feet wet, and another great 21-day fast Bible study that is useful for any type of fast you choose.
Fasting takes discipline, and you must stay on track. Sometimes that means minute-to-minute decisions, especially when temptation arises.
Stick to a plan!
7. Staying disciplined is easier than cheating – Use “I don’t,” not “I can’t”
When you take sugar and processed foods out of your diet, you’ll have cravings… at least, in the beginning.
Make up your mind to say “NO” to all temptations along the way. Don’t start telling yourself that it’s ok to cheat here and there. It’ easiest if you know up front that you are not going to cheat at all.
On day #1 of my fast, we had a going away for a friend of mine who was moving. We went to a restaurant that’s famous for their chicken and craft beer. It wasn’t easy, and many others told me I should make an exception, or wait one more day to start, but I didn’t. And it made me stronger.
There will always be something going on during your fast that makes you want to cheat. Each time you say “no” to a temptation, it gets easier. Discipline is built like a muscle.
When you say “I can’t,” each time you have to make a decision, you’re telling yourself that you’re deprived of something. By saying “I don’t,” you’re training your mind that this is simply something you don’t do.
It’s not that it’s an option you’re saying “no” to; you already said “no” when you made the initial decision that you don’t eat this or that. Studies show that this is the most effective way to deal with discipline decisions 6.
James Clear refers to this concept as creating “identity-based habits.”
According to many studies, self-discipline is a limited resource, and it’s built and trained like a muscle 7. Fasting is only one of many ways to strengthen it.
Your Turn to Try It!
If you’re considering a fast, I highly recommend trying the Daniel Fast. Even if you’re not in it for spiritual reasons, it’s still a great cleanse for your body.
There are so many benefits to the Daniel Fast, and I’m sure you’ll discover even more when you try it.
Further Book Reading
- Fasting by Jentezen Franklin
- Fast Like Daniel by Scott Williams
- The Complete Guide to Fasting by Jason Fung
Over to You!
- What experience do you have with fasting?
- Have you ever done the Daniel Fast before?
- What are the reasons you fast, or why haven’t you tried it?
- Daniel 1. ESV.
- Daniel 1:8. ESV.
- Avena, Rada & Hoebel. (2007, May 18). Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 32(1), 20-39.
- DiNicolantonio, O’Keefe & Wilson. (2017, August 23). Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 52:910-913.
- Addiction Resource Staff. (2018). Sugar Addiction: Facts and Figures You Need to Know. Delphi Health Group.
- Patrick & Hagtvedt. (2012). “I Don’t” versus “I Can’t”: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior. Journal of Consumer Research. Vol. 39, No. 2 , pp. 371-381.
- Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven & Tice. (1997). Ego Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource? Case Western Reserve University. Personality Processes and Individual Differences. pp. 1252-1265.