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The Difference Between Dieting and Fasting

New Year’s resolution season is just around the corner, which means things like eating more veggies, cutting calories and jogging regimens are on the brain. But the downfall of these resolutions is that they notoriously fall through the cracks about two weeks into the new year. But what happens when you approach resolutions as revolutions?


This article is part of a fall wellness series RELEVANT is producing in partnership with Unite Health Share Ministries.

Author and writer Wendy Speake, sat down with RELEVANT to talk to us about the connections between what we eat and our spiritual lives, the difference between fasting and just dieting and her book The 40-Day Sugar Fast: Where Physical Detox Meets Spiritual Transformation.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Where did you got the idea for this book?

Originally I was just ministering online to moms who struggle with angry, reactionary parenting. And it was in that conversation where I said, “What would happen if we gave up sugar for forty days? Just physiologically, would we be able to be calmer, kinder, more consistent, maybe even more Christ-like?” But it’s not a diet that I wanted to suggest. “What if we actually fasted? What if instead of turning from sugar high to sugar high to get us through our hard days, we started turning to the Most High?”

It’s been an intense lesson in fasting. It’s something that we are lacking in our Christian culture today. But it is a spiritual discipline that unlocks the bondage breaking power of Christ. 

Tell me a little bit about the very first fast that you started. What was the arc of those first 40 days like?

The first time I did it, it was really talking to moms. And we did find physiologically things changed. We got healthier when we stopped running to the wrong things. If you’re running to Starbucks because you found that coffee is your source of strength, you don’t get healthier physically or spiritually. But when you run to the Lord who says, “I am your strength. I’m your refuge. I’m your strength.” God even refers to himself as our stronghold. And yet, so often I hear people who realize sugar’s a stronghold or alcohol’s a stronghold or, man, even our phone can be a stronghold.

That’s what we found during those first 40 days. It’s what I find every single time I lead a group of people through this fast, which I do every January. We finds that strongholds fall. They crumble. When we fast from those things that we’ve been turning to, and we’re finally freed up to experience the stronghold of Christ in our lives again. 

The first few days don’t feel good. But I think that that’s going to be true whenever you give up that thing that you’re running to that isn’t good for you. But in the conversation of overdoing sugar, you’re going to go through the sugar flu. You’re going to feel kind of cruddy. You’re going to have a headache. But I was most surprised that I was sad. That I was emotionally, not just physically, broken. One of the things that the Lord revealed to me came out of Joel 2 where he says, “Return to me with weeping and mourning and fasting.” I think why we feel so bad other than physiologically detoxing from sugar or caffeine is you’re laying down and turning back to Christ. I think that conviction and that repentance should allow us to be in touch with a soul sadness.

Can you tell me about the practical difference between the program that you talk about in this book, and somebody who’s just like, “I’m going to cut back on sugar so I can have a six pack for the summer.”

This is more than a physical detox. We know that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy. We’re not looking for just a physical answer to our problems. A diet will change your body, but a fast will change your life. God never said, “Hey, I want a sugar sacrifice.” He said, “I want a living sacrifice.” 

If you just need to sacrifice sugar, you probably need a diet. But if you want to grow, to feast on Christ, to have him reshape your life, not just reshape your body, then go to a fast, not just a diet. 

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Do you have any advice for people who want to do it, but they’re concerned it’s just going to be the same new year’s resolution as last year?

You know, I love new year’s resolutions, but I don’t need another resolution. What I need is a revolution. I need not me resolving to do better, but God revolting against the world in me. And there’s a lot of the world in me.

So I say, “God, do a revolution in me.” And again, to the difference between a diet and a fast, a diet is my resolve. A fast isn’t my willpower, it’s God’s power in me. It’s not me saying, “God, gee, I really hope I don’t fail you.” It’s, “God, because you’ve been so faithful, I want to practice the spiritual discipline. I want to grow in you. I want to understand your power at work in my weakness.”

During our fasting days, I say, “Well, what else? What else, Lord, is keeping me back from turning to you? What else am I turning to? Not just the handful of chocolate chips at three o’clock to get me through the hump, not just the glass of wine in the evening to reward myself for making it through another home-bound day. But what else am I turning to?”

And he says, “Your phone, maybe even this wonderful, good and godly podcast.” And it just starts radically changing our lives. So don’t worry about, “Am I going to make it through 40 days?” Say, “God, you’re going to bring me through 40 days and you’re going to want more than just my sugar. And this is going to change so much more than I can even fathom.”

Wendy Speake’s The 40-Day Sugar Fast: Where Physical Detox Meets Spiritual Transformation is available now. 

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