Fasting is one of the oldest known treatments for ailments. It was mentioned both in the Bible as well as in literature predating the Bible by thousands of years. It was used in eastern medicines, such as Ayurvedic medicine, the ancient Hindu science of health and medicine, as well as early western medicine. Early proponents of fasting include Hippocrates, Galen, and Paracelsus, and the reasons given include its benefits to the body, mind and soul. Many who fast claim to reach spiritual highs or heightened clarity in thinking, or, in the words of Plato, “I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency.”
In modern times, fasting has been used extensively by early Natural Hygienists such as Sylvester Graham, Herbert Shelton, who founded the How-to-Live magazine in 1928, and T.C. Fry, all of whom used fasting as the cornerstone of their healing programs.
Indeed, because fasting was known to greatly improve or eliminate such problems as anxiety, asthma, arthritis, depression, allergies, headaches, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, digestive disorders, mental illness, obesity and a long list of other ailments, it was the perfect vehicle for those who championed a health-based, drug-free approach to health, such as the early Natural Hygienist.
The principle behind fasting is simple: because up to 80% of the body’s energy is used up in digestion, a fast allows energy normally devoted to digestion to be diverted into metabolic repair and healing. In addition, the extra energy is also used to eliminate toxins that our body, overburdened by our modern diets, is unable to eliminate, leaving them in the body to cause problems at a later date.
Fasting is by far the fastest way to detoxify your body, but because of that, the fasting experience will be different for different individuals, and it will also vary depending on the diet of the person fasting and his condition of health, or lack thereof. Because both humans and animals encase toxins that they cannot rid through normal channels in fat, fasting, which will force the body to burn stored fat, will release toxins at an accelerated pace. Symptoms of a rapid detox can mimic those of the cold or flu, and may include fatigue, muscle soreness, and mild nausea.
Changing diets to include whole, unprocessed foods, including lots of raw fruits and vegetables and their juices, getting plenty of exercise, fresh air and sunshine, and drinking pure water will also help to detoxify the body, only at a slower rate. Because of this, it may be wise to initiate a change in diet and lifestyle and wait a reasonable time period after doing so before embarking on your first fast. This route may also be a better alternative for someone who is too weak to fast, is undernourished, or whose body is in the last stages of a serious disease, like cancer, which may make extended fasting unwise, if not impossible.
The frequency and duration of fasts vary, but it is generally accepted that, like exercise, any fasting is better than no fasting. Paul Bragg, a Life Extensionist Specialist known for his robust health and strong muscular appearance, wrote the very inspiring, The Miracle Of Fasting, in which he outlined his personal fasting program:
My daughter Patricia and I are very sincere and faithful to our fasting program. We know what it has done for us, for the members of our family, for our friends and for millions of Bragg health-conscious students around the world. Our Bragg fasting program calls for 4 longer fasts a year, along with a weekly 24 to 36 hour fast. Fasting helps cleanse and keep your body healthy. These cleansing fasts will help you live a longer, healthier and more vital life! So, my calendar calls for an early January fast. Sometimes this fast only lasts 7 days, it may run 8 days, it may run 9 days, and it may extend the full 10 days. At the beginning of each year I mark the days that I am going to fast for 7 to 10 days. You may wonder why I say 7 to 10 days. Sometimes I fast only 7 days because I feel that in that time I have accomplished the necessary house cleaning of my body. Be flexible on dates if you feel a cold coming on. Colds call for an earlier start to your fast to help cleanse out the mucus toxins. Colds indicate your body needs detoxifying and a good cleansing. A cold is Mother Nature forcing you to fast!
A fast of 3 days or longer should be conducted under ideal conditions. You should be able to rest any time you feel the toxins passing out of your body. During this time you might feel some discomfort. You should rest and relax quietly until the poisons have passed out of your body. It’s best to be at peace and alone when possible. This brief period of discomfort will leave as soon as the loosened toxins have passed out through your kidneys, lungs, skin, etc.
During longer fasts don’t tell others you’re fasting. Why not? During a fast you must keep in mind only positive thoughts of the cleansing and the renewing miracles happening in your body. Often others are ignorant and uninformed about fasting and project negative thoughts.
Interestingly, Paul Bragg thrived on his fasting program and lived life to the fullest while doing so. Sadly, his life was cut short in his nineties in a tragic accident in which he drowned after being knocked unconscious in the water while either water skiing or surfboarding (sources vary). It is also worth noting that Jack LaLanne, also known for his robust health and daring feats of strength throughout his life, such as celebrating his seventieth birthday with a mile-long swim, in which he towed 70 rowboats filled with 70 people, was a student of Paul Bragg.
While everyone may not feel it necessary to fast on a weekly basis or for seven to ten days at a time, two to four fasts of a two to three day duration a year, accompanied by twenty-four-hour fasts throughout the year, at the individual’s discretion, would be of great benefit to most Americans.
There are a few important items for those who have never fasted. It is generally considered best to start out with a few short fasts before undertaking a long fast if you have never fasted before. Also, a person who is generally healthy should be able to fast safely for a week or more, but someone with a health problem may want to find a professional to supervise even a short fast. And there are certain conditions, such as diabetes, gallbladder problems, thyroid dysfunction, and kidney problems, where fasting is not recommended or should under no circumstances be undertaken without first consulting with a professional with experience in fasting.
Since the invention on the juicer, juice fasting has become quite popular and many people use the word fast to mean a juice fast. It should be kept in mind that juice fasting is a relatively new event in fasting history and that for most of history, fasting meant water fasting. When the term fasting is used by Paul Bragg and others, it should be taken to mean water fasting.
This isn’t to say that juice fasting doesn’t have its place. It is generally recommend that someone who fasts to gradually decrease the heavy foods they eat and gravitate toward lighter foods and fresh vegetable and fruit juices as they head into the fast and reverse this process as they break the fast. In these instances fresh juice may be very beneficial.
It should be kept in mind, however, that part of the benefit of fasting comes from the body going into ketosis while on the fast. Ketosis means that the body, deprived of carbohydrates, turns to stored body fat to burn for its energy (which also releases ketones into the body in the process, thus the term ketosis). Since toxins are stored in body fat, it is important that the body metabolizes some of its fat for energy in order to rid the body of toxins.
A person who juice fasts is more correctly going on a juice diet, which may be very beneficial from time to time in its own right because nutrition is obtained in an easily digested form that does free up energy normally used in digestion, while still providing the body with vitamins and minerals. But regardless, fresh vegetable or fruit juice is still food, it has just been separated from its fiber, so a person who claims to be “juice fasting” is still eating and not doing a fast in the traditional sense of the term.
As a person moves from sickness into health, even though a person may experience fatigue during a fast, few things will provide the exhilaration and feelings of wellness that fasting will provide. It should be stressed, though, that too much of anything, no matter how beneficial in normal amounts, can be detrimental to your health in abnormal quantities, and there are no exceptions to this rule for fasting.
While it may be entertaining to read about individuals who supposedly go for months on end or even for a full year without eating, this isn’t something that should be seriously considered. Several prominent figures in the raw-food movement, including Rev. George Malkmus and Dr. Norman Walker, are (or were) firmly against extended fasting.
There is also an segment of people who are quite cultist about fasting and elevate its abilities to mythical proportions. A person should keep a level head and understand the limitations of fasting. Even major proponents of fasting such as Hebert Shelton admitted it had limitations. Dr. Edward Howell, while noting in Enzyme Nutrition that fasting would be of great benefit to cancer patients in theory, fully acknowledged the limitations of fasting and had the foresight to take the individual’s condition into account:
Earlier in this volume I explained that it is necessary to drastically tame down overly rich digestive enzyme secretions so that metabolic enzyme potency can be increased to an effective level. A complete fast reduces digestive enzyme secretion to a trickle in several days. This would enable the enzyme potential to effectively remodel any area involved in defective metabolism. But the victims of terminal cancer are poor candidates for a fast long enough to be effective.
As Dr. Norman Walker pointed out in Pure and Simple Natural Weight Control, a person who has eaten three meals a day, averages one thousand meals a year, and a person who is forty years old has consumed over 40,000 meals in their lifetime. Dr. Walker wrote:
Consider the number of years you have lived and how long it has taken you to get into the condition that you find yourself today. You did not get into this condition suddenly, overnight. No, indeed! You are today the sum total of the food you have eaten all your life, and of the lack of care and attention which you should have given to your body every day of your existence.
The fact that diseases that took years and many thousands of improper meals to develop can begin to diminish within months after a diet and lifestyle change and can begin to improve with even short fasts, points out the true miracle of the body God created for us and its resiliency. But with all the factors of age, diet, and other factors, such as drugs, alcohol, physical injury, etc., while some diseases may improve dramatically, some degree of damage done to the body may be irreversible even with a program such as the Wellsville Diet accompanied with fasting.
A reader who feels that he or she is “too far gone,” though, should not despair. Dr. Norman Walker nursed himself back to health from near death in his mid-forties to early-fifties and went on to live to be 110 to 118 years old (sources vary). Even though there are other factors involved, the greatest cause of sickness is diet related, and when you remove the cause of sickness, the body will heal.