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.

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Faced with an obesity epidemic in their ranks, more and more evangelicals are taking a taste of the vegan life. But don’t expect to hear them describe it that way.

In conservative Protestant parlance, the experience is called a “Daniel fast.” Practitioners emulate the Old Testament prophet Daniel, who fasted – or restricted his eating – for three weeks by consuming only “pulse” (i.e., foods from seeds, presumably fruits and vegetables) and water. Today’s fasters modify what they eat and seek God by focusing extra attention on prayer and scripture reading.

Though it’s impossible to say how many have done Daniel fasts in recent years, the movement has certainly struck a chord. The Daniel Fast by Susan Gregory has sold 89,000 copies since it came out in 2010, according to publisher Tyndale. Gregory says her website (danielfast.wordpress.com) has had seven million hits since she starting blogging on the topic in 2008. Many liturgical Protestants embraced the practice for Lent this year, she said, and it’s proven most popular among evangelicals in independent churches.

“The Daniel fast people enter into it for spiritual purposes,” Gregory says. “Then they end up discovering the amazing health benefits of it… I get all kinds of reports about how they haven’t felt this good in 10 or 15 years.”

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America’s struggle with obesity is acute among Christians, according to research from Purdue University. One in five Methodists is obese, as are one in four Baptists. Among pastors across denominations, 75 percent are either overweight or obese, according to Duke University’s Pulpit & Pew project.

Susan Gregory
Susan Gregory

“There is a health crisis in our country, and certainly in the Christian community,” Gregory said.

The Daniel fast has fueled popular spinoffs, such as Saddleback Church’s Daniel Plan, which reportedly helped 15,000 people lose 250,000 pounds last year. (Note: critics say the 52-week Daniel Plan is a bit misleading since adherents eat lean meats, which Daniel avoided during his fast).

In effect, true Daniel fasters not only go vegan, which entails shunning animal foods such as meat and deal. They go even further by reflecting Daniel’s rigorous practice. Since he drank only water, today’s Daniel fasters shun juice, tea and coffee, all of which are OK for vegans. They give up leavened bread. They even disavow sweeteners temporarily in a bid to feel sacrifice and in deference to Daniel’s renunciation of all “pleasurable” foods.

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