My Body Won't Let Me Fast: 5 Ways I Do My Best, Anyway

My doctors won’t let me fast.

Rather, the dozen or so medications they have prescribed to help battle terminal cancer, many that must be taken with food, make it nearly impossible to go without even one meal a day.  This is yet another one of cancer’s effects on my daily life, which has forced my family and I to develop our “new church normal.”

Even though I am not physically able to actually go without food and participate in a “proper fast,” I have learned there are several actions I can take to be in the proper spirit of fasting and prayer, even when my physical body prevents me from following a fast to the letter of the law.

 1.  Pray

Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “fasting almost always is linked with prayer. Without prayer, fasting is not complete fasting; it’s simply going hungry. If we want our fasting to be more than just going without eating, we must lift our hearts, our minds, and our voices in communion with our Heavenly Father. Fasting, coupled with mighty prayer, is powerful. It can fill our minds with the revelations of the Spirit. It can strengthen us against times of temptation.”1

I can't even "simply go hungry" on Fast Sunday.  How I need prayer even more!  In the spirit of fasting, I strive to start that day with a focused prayer for specific families or people in need, as if I were participating in a true fast.  Even though my body won’t allow me to go without food, the prayer can put me in the spirit of the fast.

2.  Eat Light

The food I choose to consume while the rest of my family is fasting is simple.  I choose things that do not require effort or cooking.  The simplicity of this type of eating helps remind me that I am only eating out of necessity.  This, hopefully, helps keep me in the proper spirit of the day.

3.  Teach My Children

It’s difficult to ask my children to do something hard, like fasting, when I don’t even do it myself. The “do as I say, not as I do” principle is not the most effective parenting tool.  Thankfully, my children have been part of my cancer journey and understand many of the difficulties that come along with it.  Once I explained my reasons for needing to eat and included them on the special prayer, they got on board more easily.

My children are still quite young, so we don’t expect them to fast the full two meals yet, but our oldest, who is recently baptized has started.  We also explain to the younger two that they don’t bring a snack to church that day and that we use the money we save to donate to those in need. I hope that doing my part to teach my children will help bring the spirit of fasting to our home.  As Wirthlin promised, “Fasting in the proper spirit and in the Lord’s way will energize us spiritually, strengthen our self-discipline, fill our homes with peace, lighten our hearts with joy, fortify us against temptation, prepare us for times of adversity, and open the windows of heaven.”2  We want these blessings for our children, as well.

4.  Pay a Generous Fast Offering

It seems a little like cheating to not go without food, but still pay a fast offering as if I did.  However, I believe this keeps me in the spirit of the fast when I cannot truly do so.  I cannot sacrifice hunger, but I can pray beforehand and pay an offering in the spirit of helping others.  How can that be a bad thing?  I like how Gordon B. Hinckley put it:  “What would happen if the principles of fast day and the fast offering were observed throughout the world[?] The hungry would be fed, the naked clothed, the homeless sheltered. … A new measure of concern and unselfishness would grow in the hearts of people everywhere.”3

For some people, sacrificing money can be even more difficult than going without food, but this is something I can do to help bridge the gap my physical body creates in the fasting process.  I try to keep as many of the principles of the day as I can and have faith that the Lord knows my situation and my heart.

5. Give Myself a Break

I cannot help that I have a terminal illness.  It would not be smart to stop taking my medications simply to be able to fast.  This is one commandment that I have to let go and not feel guilty about it.  If I could fast, I would, and there is no need to me to feel badly about this one small thing.
Fasting is a commandment, but only one for those who are physically able. Speaking of our monthly fast day, President Joseph F. Smith said: “The Lord has instituted the fast on a reasonable and intelligent basis. … Those who can are required to comply … ; it is a duty from which they cannot escape; … it is left with the people as a matter of conscience, to exercise wisdom and discretion. …“But those should fast who can. … None are exempt from this; it is required of the Saints, old and young, in every part of the Church.”4

Maybe there will be a time when the treatment for my illness changes, and I can participate in a regular fast.  Until then, I will continue to do my best in whatever ways I can and hope for promised blessings that can come—even from trying.  Spencer W. Kimball wrote: “Rich promises are made by the Lord to those who fast and assist the needy. … Inspiration and spiritual guidance will come with righteousness and closeness to our Heavenly Father.”5

When prophets speak of “rich promises” from the Lord for those who fast, that is something I listen to, for I can definitely use as many blessings as are being handed down.  Henry B. Eyring went on to describe the promises of fasting in detail when he explained, “The brief time we fast every month and the small amount we offer for the poor may give us only a small part of the change in our natures to have no more desire to do evil. But there is a great promise, even as we do all that we reasonably can to pray, to fast, and to donate for those in need:6
“Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.
“Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.” (Isaiah 58:8-9).
For now, “all that [I] can reasonably do” is to try my best to be in the spirit of the fast, even though my body doesn’t allow me to go without food.


1, 2. Joseph B. Wirthlin, “The Law of the Fast,” Ensign, May 2001.

3. “The State of the Church,” Ensign, May 1991, 52–53.

4. Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 244.

5. Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (1969), 98.

6. Henry B. Eyring, “Is Not This the Fast That I Have Chosen?” Ensign, May 2015, emphasis     added.

Melodee Cooper is a Texan by birth, an Aggie by choice, the wife of a fellow Aggie because “he loves her more,” and a mother of three boys by a combination of time, modern science, and divine intervention. She has taught both 5th and 6th grade math and science, and is now able to be a stay-at-home mom, an amateur decorator, a crafter, a blogger, and a holiday enthusiast. She is battling Stage 4 cancer while remaining optimistic and grateful for the blessings in her life. Melodee is the co-author of "Suffering & Surviving: Finding Sunshine in the Storm."


  1. Thank you for this post! I cannot fast and it has always been a struggle for me. I feel guilty and unworthy, especially on fast Sunday. Thank you for sharing and providing some relief in that I am not alone.

  2. I have always understood fasting, as time set aside without food or drink, with prayer and contemplation for a purpose. If one is unable to complete a, "true fast" then do what you can. Have a meal take the needed medications then start your, "Mini Fast" with a prayer. Continue on until you need to end your fast, close this time with prayer. Have another meal and repeat as often as needed. I know that the Lord will look upon this as acceptable. If we set time aside between meals, if that is all we can do, then the blessings and answers to our fast will come just as a traditional fast. I have a testimony of this in my own experience. We are never asked to do more than we have capacity to accomplish. Bless you all.

  3. I've had several people ask me "how to fast when I have ....." as I'm a RN. I don't have a magical answer and don't feel it's my place to make spiritual recommendations. This article is great! I have a friend who has diabetes and cannot fast, she gives up something she loves/needs for the same period as fasting. She sees it as offering a sacrifice to the Lord.

  4. Thank you for posting. You are an inspiration.

  5. I love it! See, you really are fasting!

  6. I was once told by a GA, that if fasting from food is not an options, perhaps the fast could be going without something else, like a cellphone or social media (just my examples). I believe the idea is to abstain from something that you deem as hard, to show your willingness to sacrifice something.

  7. I also cannot fast from meals because of health reasons. This doesn't leave me feeling guilty. I was also raised catholic. So I learned to fast from other things, like chocolate or social media, internet, and tv. I do this for a full week because I feel this allows me the same spiritual guidance and growth as fasting from food does. I can also say, it is not easy. Every time I am tempted, I am reminded to pray over the things I am fasting for. I have gained the same personal revelation as I would just fasting for 2 meals, and it lasts a whole week. I have been doing it this way for years. So, take heart! Do what you need to do, and know God knows your heart and answers prayers for all who strive to follow his commandments.

  8. Many moons ago as a missionary we had some people we wanted to fast for. As is still the case, missionaries are told to only fast once a month. We needed another way to fast. So we decided to fast from our letters for a few days. I served in Scotland. Mail was delivered twice a day, once around 7:30 and again around noon. During both of those times of the day we would be seated at the table as the mail would be dropped through the slot in the door and hit the floor. So it was very hard to just leave those letters sitting on the table each day. I think it was even more difficult than going without food. I learned through this experience that there other ways to fast. In our day, just fasting from FaceBook could be a tremendous sacrifice for some!

  9. thank you, you are an inspiration. It was always meant to be the spirit of the law. The Church has recently changed the definition of the fast on Fast Sunday to "go without food and water for a period of time" (Guide to Scriptures, Fasting Definition)no longer does it say 24 hours or even the 2 meals.

  10. I can not fast as well due to medications. So I fast from my favorite activity on sundays. It is still a sacrifice. But I do pay fast and tithes.

  11. I can not fast due to medications I take every 6 hours. So I pray, but I give up my favorite activity on fast sunday. I pay fast offerings and tithes.

  12. Thank you thank you!!! I too have health issues that won't let me fast the "normal" way. This read has given me the feelings of it's ok & your not alone. Appreciate all the comments and ideas!

  13. As a diabetic, I am unable to fast for 24 hours but I try to fast for as long as possible without missing my medication, which must be taken with food. I do the best I can and I leave the rest to the Lord.

  14. Thank you for your article/suggestions, it was very helpful.
    I also gleaned help from other commentors, and thank them too.

    When I was a young mother, nursing babies and couldn't fast, I'd seek the spirit of fasting/prayer, and give up something for 24 hours, such as desserts.
    Now older and finding times not able to fast from occasional health challenges of growing older, so I do the same as when young mom.
    Seeking the spirit of fasting/prayer and giving up something for 24 hours has blessed me when I can't actually go without food or water
    Sometimes I'll fast until feeling sick, then still keep the spirit of fasting/prayer, but have to eat