On Feb. 17, Christians will recognize Ash Wednesday, a time of repentance and preparation for the season of Lent. In order to grow more like Jesus, many Christians make sacrifices during Lent.
"Lent is a particular time we focus on [fasting] because Lent is a time we prepare to die and rise with Christ," said Monsignor Robert Mazur, rector and director of liturgy at the Altoona Cathedral.
"The whole purpose is to help us focus on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, and how that applies to our life," he said.
In the Catholic Church, Lent involves fasting and abstaining.
"Abstain means you abstain from meat. Fasting means you're fasting from something [in particular]," said Mazur.
This could be anything from television to shopping to a meal a day, he said.
Different churches have different specifications for fasting, but all agree that it is a spiritual discipline linked with prayer.
"It's not complete abstinence from food," said The Rev. Stephen Lourie of St. George Orthodox Church in Altoona.
"Part of the idea of fasting [in the Orthodox Church] is that during Lent, we want to give the animals a break, so to speak, by not eating any meat or dairy products," he said. It goes back to the days before Noah's ark, when people did not eat any animals, he said.
Orthodox believers fast twice a week, except for three annual celebration weeks. They also have four extended periods of fasting during the year, including Lent.
"The way fasting is viewed in the Orthodox Church is that it's a regular part of life," Lourie said.
"When we cut back on these food groups, we also cut back on the amount we eat so we eat a lot less. ... When you accompany that with more prayer, services in the church, and attention to the poor, you find your soul being lightened," he said.
"It becomes easier to connect with God," he said.
Churches with less specific fasting guidelines also agree that fasting results in nearness to God.
The Rev. Jeanne Jacobsen of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Hollidaysburg said when fasting, she spends her time and money on prayer and charity instead.
"If I fast a meal and spend that time in prayer, meditation or reading the Bible or some other devotional literature, I have chosen to feed my spirit rather than my body," she said.
Jacobsen fasts "one meal per day, spending that time in prayer and meditation and putting aside the money I would have spent on that meal to contribute to Episcopal Relief and Development," she said.
"Setting aside even a small amount each day can result in a significant monetary contribution at the end of the 40-day season of Lent. The combination of all these things gives fasting a multi-dimensional benefit," she said.
Pastor Greg Harbaugh, the new pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Hollidaysburg, also recommends tying fasting with almsgiving.
"I could give up my lunch and contribute it toward a cause, Bread for the World or Haiti relief or the food pantry, so that fasting and almsgiving are joined," he said.
"It's mostly a discipline oriented to bodily self control or making sure that I'm in tune with some of the ethical parameters of scripture," he said.
"The discipline of fasting itself helps to remind me who I am and how I ought to be living," he said.
"I don't think anyone should fast without prayer, because prayer is what then orients our fasting to God and seeks God's help with our fasting," he said.
"I find prayer while fasting to be a more intense experience," Jacobsen said.
"My mind seems more clear both in articulating my prayers and being attuned to hearing God's voice on a spiritual level," she said.
"Fasting must be linked with prayer. If you just take away food, that's just a diet. And fasting is not about a diet, it's about getting closer to God," Lourie said.
Although churches agree that fasting is a beneficial spiritual exercise, everyone advises caution when starting out.
"If I'm working with someone [with diabetes], I recommend they consult with either a dietician or physician to make sure they don't have difficulties," Harbaugh said.
"People need to be cognizant of their own health and the health of their children," he said.
"When able, you take on a practice of fasting that fits your life and [medical requirements]," Mazur said.
Lourie agrees, saying that when people practice abstinence from certain food groups, they grow more disciplined. They have the strength to say no to other things when temptation comes.
"I think in a society where overconsumption in all sorts of ways is part of the lifestyle and part of the culture, fasting can be a very important discipline," Harbaugh said.