Fasting with an illness can be challenging, but not impossible. There are healthy ways one can fast, even with an illness. Having had a chronic illness for over twenty-five years, I’ve experienced first hand the ways one can safely fast with an illness.
I want to be very clear: Fasting requires reasonable precautions, especially for those with an illness. If you have a chronic illness, or take prescription medications, always consult your physician before you fast. Some people should not fast without medical supervision.
Consult Your Physician
People who have an illness or eating disorder, or women who are pregnant or nursing, should never fast except under the supervision of a qualified doctor.
You may have an illness or physical condition that makes a full fast (juice fast) ill-advised or dangerous. I reiterate: Seek medical counsel before fasting. Do not engage in a water or juice fast if you are pregnant or nursing, diabetic, underweight, on dialysis, or have an eating disorder (anorexia or bulemia). In addition, there are a host of conditions and illnesses not mentioned (like Lyme Disease) for which a juice or water fast could be harmful.
Know Your Medications and the Effect Fasting
Has on Them
Find out how your medications could be affected by a fast.
For example, a women who has type one diabetes told me on Facebook yesterday that she is fasting caffeine. (She would never go on a juice fast, knowing this would be harmful.) She has learned that caffeine affects her blood sugar. So when she goes without caffeine, she knows it will lower her insulin and she will have to make adjustments.
Anther example is blood pressure medication. A vegetable juice fast can affect blood pressure. Therefore blood pressure medications might need to be adjusted as advised by your physician.
The bottom line: God would never want us to do something that is going to harm our bodies. If there is a chance that fasting might harm your body, consult your physician.
Fasting Options For Those With an Illness
A Partial Fast
A partial fast is fasting from certain foods but not all food. Thus, you’re only “partially fasting” from food.
Everyone can fast from certain foods, while not abstaining from all food. In this way, you are not depriving your body of necessary nutrients.
For example, you can abstain from coffee (caffeine), soda pop, processed foods, sweets, snack food, junk food, candy, etc.
The large amount of white sugar we consume, and the processed foods we eat with their added chemicals, are horrible for our bodies anyway:
In his book Toxic Relief, Dr. Don Colbert says that we are a “walking cellular garbage dump.” He estimates that the average American consumes 11, 250 pounds of refined sugar in a lifetime.  Tests prove that the average American consumes 5 pounds of chemical preservatives, coloring, stabilizers, flavorings and other additives each year.
In the Complete Book of Juicing, Michael Murray estimates that in addition to the 100+ pounds of sugar the average American consumes in one year, we also consume on average 55 pounds of fats and oils each year in the form of:
- 300 cans of soda pop
- 200 sticks of gum
- 18 pounds of candy
- 5 pounds of potato chips
- 7 pounds of corn chips, popcorn and pretzels
- 63 dozen donuts and pastries
- 50 pounds cake and cookies
- 20 gallons of ice cream
As if this isn’t enough to overload our system, over 4 billion pounds of additives, pesticides and herbicides are added to our foods each year. 
It would harm no one to do without these damaging foods.
You could also do without some of your favorite foods, or what would be an indulgence to you.
Fasting in this way would be considered a partial fast. The “Daniel Fast” is a partial fast.
The Daniel Fast
In Daniel chapter one, the prophet ate only vegetables and water. “Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink” (Daniel 1:12). In these scriptures, we see two of the guidelines for the fast:
- Only fruits and vegetables
- Only water for a beverage
Then in Daniel chapter ten, although the passage does not give a specific list of foods that Daniel ate, it does state that Daniel ate no rich (or choice) foods as well as no meat or wine for twenty-one days. “I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled” (Daniel 10:3). So in this passage, we see a third guideline:
- No sweeteners and no breads (i.e. cookies, cakes, etc.)
Combining the three guidelines above, it is apparent that there are also no artificial foods, processed foods, or chemicals on the Daniel fast.
Daniel’s decision not to eat the king’s food was an outward symbol of an inward commitment he had made to God. Let your choices on your fast reflect the hunger you have for God’s presence in your life.
The Daniel Fast is the most frequently used example of a partial fast. Eat no meat, no sweets and no bread. Eat fruits and vegetables and drink water.
A Modified Daniel Fast
I will write more in another post about how I fast with my illness—Lyme Disease. I will answer a series of specific questions submitted online.
But in reference to this topic, I will use my modified Daniel fast as an example of one way to modify a partial fast to suit your health needs.
When I engage in a partial fast for health reasons (versus a full fast, or juice fast), I have to modify the Daniel fast. My blood sugar does not fair well if I avoid meat protein. (I have significant adrenal gland problems that require medication. So I must maintain adequate blood sugar levels. Otherwise, when the blood sugar level plummets, the adrenal glands go into overdrive trying to stabilize it. This places too much strain on this already under-functioning, overly strained gland.)
Vegetable protein does not sustain my blood sugar levels sufficiently. I have to consume at least one portion of chicken or fish a day. So, since I am adding something that is not typically on the Daniel fast, I drop one thing that is — fruit. I consume nothing sweet, not even fruit. I consume only vegetables, nuts for protein (organic raw almonds, for example) and a serving of chicken or fish.
There are variations to this of course, depending on my health and how the Holy Spirit leads me to fast. This is just one example of how God has led me to engage in a healthy, partial fast.
As I stated in another post, when I fast, I abstain from anything that is an indulgence. Fasting for me is a way to put my flesh in submission and deny its appetites. I believe my food choices should reflect the fasters in the Old Testament who “afflicted themselves and fasted” (Is. 58:3).
What is an indulgence can only be determined by the Holy Spirit. It’s something you will sense in your spirit.
When I have to eat solid foods while fasting, I avoid anything that I normally enjoy — sweets, breads, fruit, coffee, etc. For health reasons, now when I go on a lengthy full fast, I have to have some kind of nutrition. But my favorite way to fast is to drink only water. I love not even thinking about food or juice or broth — totally concentrating on Jesus! However, having only water is very hard on my health. In years past, I was able to fast one day a week consuming water only, the other six days consuming only juice. But in recent years, my health has not been able to tolerate the strain of either.
I have experienced a significant health decline in recent years. A decline that began in 2010 was accelerated in 2013 by becoming caregiver to my father who has advanced Alzheimer’s … caregiver to my mother through multiple surgeries and complications … resulting financial stress … while dealing with my own illness … and discovering just months ago that mold in my house has greatly impacted my health.
Consequently, even a juice fast is too much of a strain on my body. My doctor has advised against it. I would much prefer a juice fast with one day of water fasting a week, because for me, this is when I am most motivated to turn every hunger pain to prayer, and consequently, I become the most sensitive to the Spirit’s voice, more so than when engaging in a partial fast. But any fast—even a partial fast—is better than no fast!
This year more than any other, it was harder to part with my indulgences. The past three years, I’ve grown accustomed to eating out of stress. I eat to destress. I eat to reward myself (bribe myself) to get my body to do tasks I don’t have the energy or wherewithal to do. I eat when I want to relax and enjoy a moment. I eat for every mood and occasion. Eat. And always sweets. Yikes!
So I needed this fast to break the power of food over my flesh. To put my flesh and its appetites in subjection to the Spirit. I’m grateful to engage in a partial fast versus no fast at all!
Other Types of Partial Fasts
Other types of partial fasts could include giving up one meal and replacing that time with prayer. Again, if you have an illness, only skip a meal if your physician approves. If your physician approves, note that vigilance is needed to ensure that the value of omitting the one meal is not offset by increasing the intake and indulging at others.
Another type of partial fast would be to fast just part of the day—for example, in the morning only, or the hours prior to bed, whichever your physician recommends. When doing this type of fast, consider your work and sleep schedule. The hours that you sleep should not be considered part of your fasting period.
Along with Fasting Foods…
Along with fasting certain foods (junk and processed foods, sweets, caffeine, indulgences) you could abstain from the following:
Choose something from your daily routine (e.g. television, other media, technology, non-essential errands, etc.), abstain from it and pray instead.
Fast from media use for pleasure (as opposed to what is needed on your job). This is a good idea for everyone, even those without an illness who are engaging in a full fast. Now days, we are glued to some form of technology or media — television, social media, tablets, laptops, smartphones. And it replaces prayer and time in God’s word.
Give up something else that might have control in your life or be preventing you from experiencing spiritual growth. Replace that time with prayer and study of God’s word. Examples include sports, magazines, fiction books, shopping for pleasure. Replace the time you would spend in these things with prayer and time in the word.
Fasting is abstaining from anything that hinders prayer. ~ Andrew Bonar
There are many ways you could engage in a partial fast while dealing with a health condition. Once a few years ago, I was about to teach a women’s conference and wanted to fast in preparation. I could not engage in a juice fast, and a partial fast was not drawing me to prayer like I desired, not like I had grown accustomed to with juice fasting.
Along with the modified Daniel fast, I felt led to fast from television entirely. I’m a TV news junky. In addition, ever since I was confined to the house for those seven years, when I’m inside four walls, it helps just to have the light of the television on in a room. It opens up the room to the outside world. The sound doesn’t have to be on. Just the lights. So I often turn the television on in the background to make a room not feel so closed in, even if the sound is not turned up.
Fasting from television that week, I was able to hear God’s voice clearly, intensely. And boy did He convict me a huge area of disobedience in my life—an area that were I to persist, would have rendered me a useless vessel to the women I was about to teach. God told me if I did not obey Him in this area, I could go speak to the women, but I would do it alone; His voice and His power would not be speaking through me. It was one of the sternest rebukes I have ever received from Him. … Because I fasted from anything that hindered prayer, including television.
So don’t dismiss the power of the the abstentions available to you, even with an illness. Fasting is abstaining from anything that hinders prayer.
1. Don’t Let Others be Your Holy Spirit
Don’t let others be your fasting police. Don’t let their expectations, approval, or disapproval determine what you do or don’t abstain from during your fast. Your physician is the only person whose opinion matters.
Fasting is not a legalistic effort. It’s something between you and God. We fast to please God—not others … and not even ourselves.
Let the Holy Spirit of God guide you in what to abstain from.
Elmer Towns’ guidance in The Beginner’s Guide to Fasting is helpful:
Ask God to lead you in what to drink [or eat], and fast with a good conscience toward God. Make sure you are comfortable with your fast in the presence of God, and eliminate anything that convicts your conscience: “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith” (Romans 14:23). 
If you’re on a partial fast, eat only food that glorifies God: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
The choice of what you abstain from can only be made between you and God. If we’re not careful, the fast itself becomes our focus and not God. We can be so focused on what we’re eating or not eating that we basically putting our confidence in the fast itself, not in God. We can become preoccupied with the menu and miss the most important part—prayer!
“[Christian fasting] comes from confidence in Christ and is sustained by the power of Christ and aims at the glory of Christ.” ~ John Piper 
Fasting is from God, through God, and to God. That’s why no one, not even you, can be the voice of God determining what you fast. No human strength can be the power by which you fast. And no one should receive the glory for your fast. Fasting comes from assurance in Christ, is sustained by the power of Christ and has as its aim the glory of Christ.
2. Combine Your Fasting with Prayer and the Word
Otherwise it’s just a diet! Make sure that food consumption, or lack thereof, isn’t taking precedence over your conversation with God. Spend that time in prayer. Persist in secret, importunate prayer.
- “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12).
- “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jeremiah 15:16).
Don’t just sit in front of the TV! Don’t let your phone, or your tablet, or your computer steal your attention. Don’t be consumed by Google, or Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram, or Pinterest, or YouTube … or the hosts of other distractions Satan will use to steal your time and attention from prayer and the Word!
- Do you have an illness or health condition, or take medications that would necessitate the advice of a physician before you fast? Have you consulted your physician?
- In what ways can you partially fast, using the Daniel fast or a modification, to fast safely with your health condition?
- Are you abstaining from anything that hinders your prayers? From television, technology, media, shopping, sports—everything that keeps you from and hinders your prayer life?
- Are you fasting to the glory of God? Is your fasting from God, through God, to God?
- Are you combining your fasting with prayer and time in the word?
1. Don Colbert, M.D. Toxic Relief (Lake Mary, FL: Siloam, 2001), 30
2. Michael Murray, Complete Book of Juicing(New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1998), 3-4
3. Elmer Towns, The Beginner’s Guide to Fasting (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2001 ), 39
4. John Piper, A Hunger for God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1997), 48
FROM THE ARCHIVES:
- Don’t Judge the Results of Your Fast Based on What You Feel (Part 1)
- The Origin of Fasting: Reversing Cause and Effect
- Fasting Day 12: Is Fasting a Requirement?
- Fasting Day 12: Entering God’s Rest
- Fasting Day 12: The Reward of Waiting
- Fasting Day 12: If I Fast Without My Husband, Will It Still Help?
- Why Is It So Hard for Christians to Pray? (David Wilkerson Sermon)