9 Ways to Fast When You Can Eat

This March will be the third consecutive year that I will not be physically fasting and I think I am finally getting some ideas for how I can still participate. (If you’re unfamiliar with the 19 day Baha’i Fast, Sara wrote a great introduction about it).

There are many reasons to be exempt from fasting whether it’s age, health, performing physical labour, menstruation, travel, pregnancy, or nursing a child (exemptions from the Fast can be found in the synopsis and codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas). At first I really struggled with being exempt. On one hand I was grateful: the fast is not meant to make us ill or malnourished and my baby’s development relied heavily on me eating well. On the other hand, I felt like I was no longer participating in a spiritual marathon. I was on the sidelines. I was so disconnected from the Fast that I offered my Baha’i friends food to eat in the middle of the day (so embarrassing!).

Having a grumbling tummy or parched mouth is an excellent reminder that you are fasting and without those physical cues I felt disconnected. But it’s not all about the food, so this year I’ve made a list of ways to fast when you can eat – some of which I’ve already tried, and some of which I’m looking forward to implementing:

1. Meditate & Deepen

Firstly, I recommend contemplating the sacred scriptures about this unique month whether physically fasting or not: I’ve found that it really helps bring into focus the purpose of this time period. In 2000 the Universal House of Justice released a compilation called The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting (which can be read online in full). Duane Herrmann has also put together a book called Fasting: A Baha’i Handbook. It’s a George Ronald Publication available for purchase from their website. And then there are the special prayers dedicated to the Fast. Whatever writings you choose, studying, reflecting and meditating on holy words will lend meaning to your fast, even without the hunger.

2. Be Creative 

When I partook of the Fast physically, my mind and my body slowed down. I was more aware of my surroundings, my environment, the blood rushing through my veins, the rhythm of my breathing, and my spiritual state. Baha’u’llah quoted Ali when He said:

Does thou reckon thyself only a puny form
When within thee the universe is folded?1

Whether it’s journaling, painting, capturing a subject for a photograph or shaping a bowl out of clay, doing something creative has the same effect of tapping into the universe within. This year I’m going to outline a specific daily project to be completed each day of the Fast to help me turn inwards.

3. Get in Tune with Nature

The Fast is the only period of time that I become aware of the rising and the setting of the sun: it is truly the only time of year that I pay greater attention to the natural rhythm of the planet as opposed to the artificial pattern of my day. This year, I hope to still reconnect with nature by spending more time outside and by taking the time to look around me, to watch, to listen and to smell.

4. Waking Up

I will admit I did not wake at dawn to pray during the last two Fasts. I was too sleep deprived. This year, I will try. And ultimately isn’t that what fasting is about, trying to be better, striving to improve ourselves and better commune with God?

5. Give Up Something

Absence is powerful. While I cannot give up food and water during the day, I can definitely consider sacrificing something my body doesn’t really need — like those nightly cookies I enjoy when my little ones have fallen asleep and the house is quiet. I love food and I love to eat. Physically fasting makes me appreciate food all the more so perhaps sacrificing something sweet will make it taste all the lovelier at Naw Ruz.

6. Involve Others Who Aren’t Fasting

Borrowing an idea from another mother, this year I plan to make my little ones aware of the Fast above and beyond the idea that it involves not eating. I plan to focus on a specific virtue each day, to say some of the prayers for the Fast with them, and count down the days till Naw Ruz together. It is my hope that by involving them in the Fast, they will develop a solid appreciation for it as a spiritual exercise. I’ll be connecting with my children but I’m sure there are others who aren’t fasting who would also appreciate coming together to mark the fast in a unique way.

7. Connect with Others

Fasting is a solitary and introspective experience so in previous years when I was physically fasting, I liked to pick a friend and communicate with them daily. Some times it was as simple as texting them “Happy day 7!” and sometimes it involved a more serious sharing of our thoughts, our reflections and our struggles. I hope to continue doing this even though my fast won’t involve so much discipline and restraint.

8. Cook & Serve Others

When you’re exempt from fasting, cooking is less of a challenge. You can taste as you work and you don’t drool at the sight of every single ingredient. I find that nothing beats breaking the fast with others. I love the reverence of saying prayers together, the cacophony of people serving themselves and piling food on their plates, and the comfortable soft quiet that ensues because everyone is too busy eating to talk. If you plan to cook for others who are fasting, just make sure the meal is ready on time. Trust me on this one.

Cooking for your friends is just one service you can render during the fast. Serving others, like fasting, is a sure fire way of polishing the mirror of our hearts. In the days leading up to the Fast, I’d like to take the time to reflect on ways I can be of service and to evaluate my service to my community.

9. Dream and Scheme

On her website Enable Me to Grow, Chelsea has prepared a booklet called “Dream and Scheme” to help you reflect on the previous year and to prepare goals for the coming 19 months. While her website is directed primarily at mothers, this resource could be useful to anyone.

The Fast is an excellent opportunity for a spiritual tune-up and I’m really hoping I don’t lose out this year. What about you? If you can’t abstain from food and drink, how do you plan to fast?


  1. Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys, p. 33 []

About the Author

Sonjel Vreeland

In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a mother, a wife and a bookworm but professionally she is a museologist and a library technician. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.

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Discussion 24 Comments

  1. This is my first year since I became a Baha’i 11 years ago that I cannot physically fast, so I, too, have been wondering how to recharge myself spiritually. You have some great suggestions, and two of them are ones that I had thought up before I read your article. I thought I would try to really chant meditatively the 95 Allah-u-Abhas and breakfast before sunrise. This is an important subject for many of us, and I appreciate your article’s honesty and devotion.

  2. Kudos on a fine article. We’d just like to mention, especially for readers in the U.S. and Canada, that the book mentioned — Fasting: A Baha’i Handbook — is also available through our online site, BahaiBookstore.com. Here’s the direct link: http://www.bahaibookstore.com/Fasting-A-Bahai-Handbook-P6059.aspx

    In addition, we have a number of other books related to fasting, and of course many related to prayer and many other topics. We also have a great Persian cookbook if you’re looking for delicious ways to break the fast…or to enjoy tasty meals any time of the year: “Farah’s Persian Cuisine” (http://bit.ly/farahs_persian_cuisine).

    We invite you to come have a look. Thank you!

  3. Thank you, Sonjel! Your article was filled with gentle love and and understanding for the many who are not able to fast.
    I’ve developed the 19-Day Cards (http://www.19daycards.com) as a way to slow down and become more aware of the spiritual qualities of each day, given us by the Ba’b in the Badi’ calendar.
    Since they include interfaith scripture, they have been teaching the faith too!
    Enjoy your fast!

  4. Thank you, Sonjel! Now that I am 72 and in my second year of being exempt from the physical part of the Fast, I found these very helpful and inspiring. You’re right – it’s a challenge to stay connected.

  5. Thank you so much! My health problems don´t allow me to fast and as it looks like, I will suffer this for the rest of my life. When ill, you should accept Bahá´u´lláh´s exceptions and not fast. But how to build that enlightement without fasting? And fasting for me means bad worsening – i tried it last year. I will focus on what I can do and for that I take inspiration from this blog- thank you.

  6. Thank you for this article. Due to health issues I struggle with the physical aspect of fasting… which has often leads to me feeling angry and resentful (two emotions that are not conducive to the spiritual aspects of the fast ;-D). I think by accepting my limitations and incorporating some of your suggestions, I hope to approach the next 19 days with a more gentle and accepting approach.

  7. Many years ago I edited the book by Duane Herrmann for George Ronald, and in recent years we have another book that speaks to some of the issues raised here: The Supreme Remedy: Reflections on applying natural healing arts to the Bahá’í Fast, by Deborah Walters. There’s a chapter in it on how to participate if you are not physically fasting.

  8. Being a diabetic and not in the best health, I usually make a donation to the local food bank and meditate and pray a lot. Cooking for others is a great idea too.

  9. Great topic, Sonjel!

    I agree about waking up before sunrise being a wonderful idea, even when we’re not fasting! (There’s so many passages in the Writings about the special effects of praying at the “hour of dawn”, such as at the Mashriqul Adhkar)

    However I also agree about it being difficult to do! I have yet to wake up when not physically fasting.

    I came across this passage in my morning prayers (at noon, haha) today, and I felt a bit chastised!

    “For Thine ardent lovers Thou hast, according to Thy decree, reserved, at each daybreak, the cup of Thy remembrance, O Thou Who art the Ruler of rulers!  These are they who have been so inebriated with the wine of Thy manifold wisdom that they forsake their couches in their longing to celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy virtues, and flee from sleep in their eagerness to approach Thy presence and partake of Thy bounty.”
    -Baha’u’llah

  10. Thank you for this. I thought I was alone in not being able to fast. For me, it’s a severe illness. This makes me feel more connected.

  11. Thank you for this. I feel such a loss with not being able to fast. One thing I do every year that helps too is I divide the Kitab-I-Iqan into 19 sections and read a section every day.

  12. Thanks a million for this! I haven’t been able to observe the fast for health reasons for years. It is always a difficult time because of that. Your article really hit every area where I felt disconnected. This will be a much better fast. Thanks so much!

  13. During last year’s Fast, I became ill and subsequently diagnosed with a debilitating disease. As I prepared for this upcoming Fast, I have been lovingly encouraged not to participate. This morning I woke at dawn with the determination (or perhaps stubbornness) to complete the Fast. During my prayers, I requested, guidance on the best direction to take. I know that the goal is not to starve ourselves but to become more aware of our spirit and detachment. I am struggling to come to terms that i now have physical limitations. This post is right on time for me. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  14. After fasting happily for 40 years, my health required that I stop. I felt left out and pretty useless, but these ideas are good and worth a try to remedy that. I am most grateful.

  15. These are quite wonderful ideas and love how you are encouraging of yourself and others. I also saw some wonderful resources shared by commentors. I wanted to share also that Baha’u’llah gave women a little prayer to say if they opt not to fast during their monthly cycle. I think it’s wonderful to use if one isn’t able to fast for other reasons as well. This is found in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, and prayers for women. You start with ablutions, say the prayer daily 95 times between noon and the following day. It is: “Glorified be God, the Lord of Splendor and Beauty. “

  16. Fasting, for me, has also been a time when I pay more attention to what I put in my body, as well as what is in my mind (spiritual vs. worldly thoughts). The Fast links the idea of food for the body with food for the soul. With that in mind, whether exempt from fasting physically or not, one can pay more attention to eating good healthy nutrition packed food rather than fast and/or processed food. With this in mind I have, in recent years, changed what I eat in the morning during the fast to often include home made soup or stew because it supports me better through the day than typical breakfasts that I grew up with (I.e. eggs, cereal, toast).

    I heard a lecture that said the mind functions differently on sugars vs. ketones that I wish to pursue as it may be enlightening as yet another reason why fasting is so important to spiritual health.

  17. At 69, this is my last obligatory Fast, yet I don’t really look forward to not having to fast in future years. Thanks for these ideas!
    A story about the exemptions… Some years ago during the Fast, the late Continental Counselor Raul Pavon, father of Radio Baha’i, was on an hours-long bus ride from Ecuador to Colombia, accompanied by a pioneer. The Counselor was the embodiment of the Beloved Master’s advice to “tread the spiritual path with practical feet.” Also, like the Master, he had a rich sense of humor.
    Around noon, the bus stopped at a restaurant. Counselor Pavon turned to the pioneer with an intense look on his face and said, “You know, there’s a divine reason for every law in the Aqdas.”
    “Yes, Counselor,” meekly replied the pioneer, bracing himself for whatever comment might be coming next.
    “And,” continued the Counselor, “there’s also a reason for every exemption.” Then a smile broke across his face as he continued, “Let’s go eat!”

  18. Great article. Obviously it is really about what to do when you can’t fast rather than being exempt, as one of the missing options here is to still fast. Only in illness are we forbidden to fast, with exemptions we are acting in accordance with the law wether we fast or not.

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