3 Mental Health Reasons to Hold Off On Religious Fasting


People of various faiths, such as Judaism, Islam, Christianity, or Hinduism, participate in fasts — temporarily abstaining from eating and sometimes drinking — as part of their religious practice as a means of repentance, purification, or self-discipline.

In addition to the religious and cultural significance of fasting, some people experience mental health benefits from it, too. “Some observational studies have suggested fasting to improve mood and reduce stress levels,” says Ketan Parmar, MDa psychiatrist based in mumbaiIndia, who identifies as Hindu.

For example, a study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research showed that fasting during Ramadan, a monthlong Muslim holiday that happens each spring, was associated with a drop in depressive-symptoms and stress levels afterward among nurses.

Although religious fasting is safe for most people, there are exceptions. For example, during Ramadan, Muslim people who are sick, pregnant, or breastfeeding are advised not to fast, according to another article in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research. And even though fasting may have mental health benefits for some, it can be detrimental to the mental health of others. That’s why some experts believe there should be mental health-related exceptions for religious fasting.


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