by Dr. Herbert M. Shelton

An important fact that needs emphasis is that fasting is a very much more complicated process than is commonly supposed, even by its advocates. There is much more involved in the process than merely going without food. There is an art of fasting, but, if this art is to be properly executed, it must be based on the science of fasting. Its uses seem, at times, to be almost unlimited, its inconveniences are not great, its dangers are few and rarely seen, but for the most satisfactory results, it must be conducted by one skilled in its application. It is too vital and too important to be carried out indifferently. It is not a process that should be left to the guidance of those who have but limited knowledge of its proper conduct and who have had no experience in conducting fasts. Breaking the fast is one of the most important elements of the fast.

It is possible to break a fast on any food that is available—bread, flesh, eggs, nuts, etc.—providing a few simple precautions are observed. Animals follow none of our routines in breaking their fasts. They eat whatever is at hand and do not regularly stint themselves at their first meal. From this, it may be thought that we are unduly cautious, but I do not think so. Not only are there differences between what the animal does and what the average patient tends to do, if turned loose, but there seems to be great differences in digestive power, in favor of the animal. There is also the possibility that the animal would preserve more of the benefits of the fast if it broke the fast more carefully.

We do not employ the foods previously mentioned in breaking a fast for the reason that better means of breaking the fast are available to us. At the end of a long fast, digestive secretions are not abundant and small meals or small amounts of food are advisable. The amount of food fed to the patient is increased as secretion becomes more abundant. When this rule is observed, there is little difficulty in breaking a fast and no danger in doing so.

The proper conduct of the fast is vitally important. There are really very few practitioners of any school who know how to conduct a fast or how to properly break one. A naturopath in New York City broke the fasts of a mother and a daughter, who had been fasting sixteen and thirteen days respectively, on chocolate candy. The gastric and intestinal acidity resulting from this caused great distress thoughout their bodies. I was called in one these cases, and it required four to five days of fasting to get them back into a comfortable condition. This method of breaking a fast is nothing short of criminal.

A friend of my wife describes to me how she fasted seventeen days under the direction of a chiropractor in California and worked hard during the fast. She worked for the chiropractor and he would not permit her to leave from work while fasting. He broke her fast with toast and acid fruit. This woman immediately developed a case of malnutritional edema. This is one of the few cases of this kind I have ever known to follow a fast.

Dr. Wm. F. Harvard records the following cases: “A young man of twenty-four years of age who had suffered from chronic constipation and indigestion, fasted 27 days after reading an article in a popular health publication. On the 28th day he ate a meal of beefsteak, potatoes, bread, and butter and coffee. He was seized with violent vomiting spells and could not tolerate even a teaspoonful of water on the stomach. When called on the case, I discovered an intense soreness of the entire abdomen and every indication of acute gastritis.” “A young man about 30 who had fasted on his own initiative for 42 days attempted to break the fast on coarse bread with the result that vomiting occurred and the stomach became so irritable that nothing could be retained. There was marked emaciation and extreme weakness and every indication for immediate nourishment.”

An Associated Press dispatch dated August 28, 1929, recounts the death of Chris Solbert, 40-year-old art model, following a 31-day fast, which he broke by “consuming several sandwiches.” The sandwiches, a later report said, contained beef. Ignorance and lack of self-control killed this man. The dispatch tells us that “his fast (of 31 days) had reduced him from 160 to 85 pounds,” or an average loss of more than two pounds a day. This loss I believe to be impossible. The average losses for a fast of such length vary between 25 and 36 pounds.

“Professor” Arnold Ehret tells of seeing two cases killed by injudicious breaking of the fast. He says: “A onesided meat-eater suffering from diabetes broke his fast which lasted about a week by eating dates and died from the effects. A man of over 60 years of age fasted 28 days (too long); his first meal of vegetarian foods consisting mainly of boiled potatoes.”

Ignoring the absurd explanation for these deaths, given by the “professor,” we would say that the diabetic patient threw too much sugar (from the dates) into his body and died as a result of hyperglycemia. He probably passed out in a diabetic coma. He explains that the second patient fasted too long for a man of his age, and that an “operation showed that the potatoes were kept in contracted intestines by thick, sticky mucus so strong that a piece had to be cut off and the patient died shortly after the operation.” “Professor” Ehret was so fond of mucus he could never see anything else. This fast was badly broken but the patient, in all likelihood, would have lived had he not been operated on. The fast was not too long for a man of that age. “Professor” Ehret really knew but little of either fasting or dietetics.

These cases help to influence many against fasting and yet they are the results of the worst type of ignorance and inexperience. Who but an ignoramus would feed a diabetic case a meal of dates after a week of fasting? Surely fasting cannot be blamed for this result. Before we talk of the “evils” and “dangers” of fasting, let us be sure that these really belong to fasting and not to something else.

Sinclair says: “I know another man who broke his fast on a hamburger steak, and this is also not to be recommended.” I had one patient break a fast of over 20 days by eating a pound-and-a-half of nuts the first day. Although no harm, not even slight discomfort, came from it in this particular case, this method of breaking a fast is certainly not to be recommended generally.

In some cases of fasting where efforts are made to feed the patient towards the latter end of a prolonged fast, but before hunger has returned, there has been noted a failure of the stomach to function. Dr. Dewey mentions such cases, who were induced by friends or physicians to eat, and who were absolutely unable to digest food but vomited everything eaten. Fasting was resumed and continued until the return of natural hunger, with the result that digestion proceeded nicely.

Reprinted from The Hygienic System—Volume 3