Some fasters or would-be fasters believe religiously in first undergoing a mechanical colonic cleanse, although I have never seen anyone fail to have a good fast just because they skipped having a colonic cleanse.
After missing a few meals, whatever pain(s) the body has disappears almost entirely, in most cases. Hunger can be slightly bothersome during the first day or two of a fast. Then changes in the body and emotional or spiritual state start to become more obvious. Instead of the pain of whatever symptoms, such as sore throat or toothache, the body mainly experiences an acceleration of toxic elimination, and hunger generally abates. The mind, however, may be more attached to the thought of food than the body is.
During the pre-fasting symptoms — the evidence of illness that may prompt us to fast — the discharge of mucus is an unpleasant inconvenience and irritation. Those symptoms may continue until the fast is nearly finished. The urge to stop the symptoms, whether one is fasting or not, is understandable. However, even people's cherished natural treatments, e.g., echinacea, vitamin C and homeopathic medicine, are stop-gap measures that do not offer a long-term solution, nor do they always work. Fasting always takes effect and means complete rest, and is more of a long-term solution. But it is not "the solution" because it does not by itself permanently change, for example, the habitual intake of artery-cloggers known as cheeseburgers, nor the intake of carbon monoxide and other toxins from sitting in cars.
Non-fasters' denial and self-imposed misery
Life-style change is the real cure, which medical doctors generally agree with more and more nowadays. Unfortunately, the fact that life-style change is the real factor in preventing heart attacks — and not the heart bypass operations which may not fix all the vulnerable areas — is not disclosed to hapless patients, according to David Cundiff, MD, author of The Right Medicine. His long experience tells him that the $40-50,000 heart-bypass cost is a waste, but the cost outlay and the doctor's orders do ignite a scared patient's dietary change, cessation of smoking cigarettes, and the adoption of more exercise.
I have known many people, including family members, who have suffered allergies or respiratory ailments for many years. Instead of trying a fast or attempting a mucusless diet, they may rely on medicines and accept a lack of top physical performance in order to cope. Their misery, however, continues and stifles their capabilities and denies them their best mood. Worse, the toxification has not been addressed and it only increases. If simple ailments are allowed to remain because they are not addressed through improved diet, elimination of pollution and better rest and exercise, and intense detoxification through fasting does not ensue, the body may take on a serious disease. One could say the body's purpose in so doing is to really get the person's attention, just as nerves signal the brain that a hand on a hot stove is a bad idea.
With cancer, the body's notification — to our distracted, stressed-out minds — of something seriously wrong, may be, by definition, too late. But faced with choosing between radiation and chemotherapy, which frequently kill the patient, I would fast and improve my environment instead of "destroying the village in order to save it." The fear of ignoring authority and one's peer group and missing some meals prompts people to choose super-expensive anti-life treatments. It should be remembered that the word antibiotic means anti-life. There are more and more doctors who advocate a natural-healing approach to diseases such as cancer. And, there are cases where chemotherapy and radiation do work. Perhaps a post-medical-treatment fast would restore some of the body's immunity and rid the body of certain residues.
One may live with a chronic disease, but life may be shortened, or a fatal disease can come along. At that point, a fast may still be possible to turn around one's health, but one may find the freedom to fast no longer exists. Certainly in the case of Terri Schiavo, who was famously disconnected from her feeding tubes, the "fast" was terminal, non-healing, and arguably a blessing. In fact, some people at the end of their long lives choose a dignified, painless ending through fasting, as was the choice of well-known activists Helen and Scott Nearing.
There are times when fasting will not work to rejuvenate and restore, and fasting would be inadvisable — but the alternative can be worse: in addition to radiation or chemotherapy, surgery and mishaps kill patients; even a non-critical hospital stay can kill because of medical or bureaucratic mistakes and the germ-ridden environments of hospitals. The food at hospitals is notoriously poor, although many would argue it is wholesome, just like a corporate cafeteria or a prison offers the best organic, fresh, local ingredients — not!
The resistance to fasting is largely psychological, or is often based on misinformation and fear. Rather than miss even two meals, the chronically mucus-congested person may stubbornly refuse to try a short fast of 24 hours. One of my family members, addicted to nose drops to relieve sinusitis for years, tried just a day and a half fast and got unprecedented relief. However, that experiment was never repeated or expanded, despite the clear success, and she went back to nose drops chronically — even though on the container the directions say not to use the drug longer than a few days consecutively.
Food addiction is real. It is a joke-phrase, when we all need food, but some people cannot bear the idea of missing a meal no matter how miserable they are because they do not give their bodies a complete rest through fasting.
People — doctors and non-doctors alike — have varied and endless arguments against fasting. Some say it is dangerous for a person to fast if one is too underweight or has a certain kind of blood condition. A chiropractor who prided herself on holistic healing once assured me, when I told her about a successful fast I recently had had, that "fasting causes brain damage." Any brain damage I might have ever had, however, must have predated the fast — when I think of how foolish I had been to go to her in the first place, as she eventually inflicted an injury on me by punching down on my chest to "adjust" a rib!
Arguments for fasting
The thin person can and should fast, particularly if weight-gain has been difficult even when eating has been adequate. In my experience, fasting rebuilds the body and one attains a clean slate, making weight-gain finally possible beyond replacing the pounds lost in the fast.
In today's toxic world, when PCBs and DDT are in breast milk, and all Americans have one or more forms of plastic or plastic additives in their urine, one would think that detoxification is vital. However, fasting is so unknown and ignored that I know of no before/after studies that have measured how much less a body's petrochemical contamination is after a thorough fast. One therefore must base progress or improved safety "by feel," and how much more immunity to disease, such as colds, may be clearly obtained by fasting. Fortunately, benefits such as immunity are substantial and noticeable.
Other benefits of fasting include improving erectile function. Generally, one does not feel like engaging in sex during a fast, but it is possible and pleasurable. The big point here is the future reward that helps make the fast worthwhile, if improved erections are desired. (Or take some Viagra and keep treating your body like a machine.) Another noticeable benefit from a fast is the improved retaining of one's urine longer and more comfortably.
During a fast, just sleeping is a sheer pleasure. This particular feeling cannot be achieved by any other means, such as drugs or alcohol or sex. It's fortuitous I'm on a little fast right now as I write; because I had forgotten the special sweetness of sleeping that can happen in a fast. Sometimes this pleasurable feeling is only upon waking up in the morning. The feeling can be absent or fleeting if one is not ready to eat. If the fast has done all its detoxification — through all one's cells, it seems — then the ecstasy of awakening is long lasting and strong, causing one to bound out of bed in joy. Some of us take longer to reach certain points in the fast, and a full-cycle fast can take longer depending on age, toxicity and weight.
During the fast and one's slowed pace, a peaceful though somewhat melancholy vibe usually takes over. Worries fall away and one relaxes while the mind lets go. Thoughts don't stop; one does daydream, but stress is less. This feeling is meditative and deep, and may be hard to achieve or impossible to imagine without the fast. One's usual eating state — while having the typical, modern, chronically high toxin level — seems to block the mind and spirit from becoming one with nature and the universe. Being on a short fast as I write this, I marvel at the more peaceful feeling I am enjoying. Slowing down our often frantic and usually busy day is vital for health and reflection. We evolved in a calmer, natural state, with a slower pace, than today's industrial and technological lifestyle. Primitive people worked less than people of cultures of the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions.
Many people want to be more spiritual and have a spiritual experience, in addition to being healthy. But many such people refuse to try the fasting route. Their interest in meditation and spirituality translates mainly to sitting, while their whole body is still distracted by the work of digestion (even between meals, the body is not cleansed of food and waste for long). They read, go on quests at retreats, and sing the praises of calming the mind to "tune into" the universe without workaday distractions. This is sincere but lacking in the most ready experience of total mind & body meditation: fasting with just water. Communion with nature and one's own soul are easy and constant with fasting, lasting for days, but this sure-fire meditation is rejected or avoided simply because of one's culture and our mind's conditioned rules of habitual eating.
People are much more likely to take various mind-altering drugs for some instant Nirvana or cheap high than to try a fast. If they do later fast, the drug residues just have to come out, making the elimination phase of the fast that much longer.
People preach about meditation and spirituality, but for various reasons have never tried a fast except perhaps to go on a juice diet for a few days. Jesus reportedly fasted 40 days, but he was less unusual in his time and place than such a faster in the U.S. and many countries today. I know he must have gotten a lot out of his fast, an idea that anti-fasters of the Christian sects would also swear by as an article of faith — even though they never fast, as if Western medicine and the god of science take precedence over Jesus's ways and teachings.
Some downsides of the fast
In my lifetime of fasting and witnessing others fast, I have never seen an adverse reaction to fasting; I have only seen mistakes upon eating before one is ready, or eating too much too soon, or eating too richly. The main consequences of those common pitfalls are (1) usually a sudden dissipation of the finished fast's nirvana-like pleasure of feeling alive, and (2) the immediate loss of the renewed taste-buds' new-found thrill after the fast. Self-control is difficult, so a knowledgeable companion or care-giver is very helpful.
One friend who took it upon herself to fast 26 days, after I described my experiences, endured a significant hair loss after the fast had ended several days before, but it all grew back. I do not know exactly how the fast was conducted or what constituted the resumption of eating. This event was worrisome to the woman, because she was unprepared for it. It was rare enough that I had never heard of it. She was glad she fasted anyway, as she had spent years handling chemicals as a painter and she wanted to detoxify.
Early symptoms of poor health or low immunity, such as a runny nose, are messages from the body to our conscious minds that there is an imbalance with our bodies, and that there needs to be rest and our intake altered. During the fast, elimination of mucus can start to increase or decrease, but the consistency of the mucus gets more concentrated. The smell and taste of the discharge, and the odor of the breath and urine, get stronger. The strongest elimination is that of vomiting, after which one feels much better.
Drinking water throughout is important, although may not be as pleasant as when we have just eaten a large salty meal. The middle portion of the fast is characterized by heavy elimination, and vomiting can be nightly two or three nights in a row. The mind and facial expression of the faster in this period are sometimes sad, bored, and possibly impatient. Nevertheless, healing is proceeding regardless and rapidly during this phase, and the fast should not be broken at this point. When the body has eliminated most of its toxins, the original "dis-ease" is gone, and pain-relief is usually complete, but the fast continues its final cleansing of the body's toxins. Hunger may start to return slightly, and the tendency is for one to want to terminate the fast to shake off the boredom, enjoy normality once again, and taste those fabulous foods one has missed.
However, a white/yellow-coated tongue and listless behavior indicate that the fast should not be broken at such a time, despite the excellent detoxification that has been taking place. Letting the fast continue is important for maximum healing, as is complete rest. No vitamins or herbal teas should be taken to interrupt the fast (activating the digestive system and distracting the heart from sending the maximum amount of healing-blood to the rest of the body).
Walking in the garden is fine, but stress such as business calls is counter-indicated. The body can take some stress if there is no purpose to the walk other than to shake off some boredom and to behold the wonder of nature. Nature, and life itself, by the middle of the fast, have taken over the mind and spirit, and one's full contemplation of nature and indoor surroundings is inescapable. Time has slowed down in the fast, which may be a consequence of the meditative state achieved by the complete rest and the desire to see the end of the fast. The memory of foods becomes almost overpowering. Paradoxically, the yearning for food and to indulge in taste sensations at this stage are an indication the fast is not complete. One needs to return to the novel or to quietly talk with a friend or family member. Great rewards come when detoxification is complete and the body and spirit feel better than ever.
An alternative to the fast that seems to detoxify is the Master Cleanse: a drink one makes of water, lemon juice, grade B maple syrup, and cayenne. A "salt water flush" is done once a day. The Master Cleanse calls for certain preparations and quantities of the ingredients. Judging from the white tongue during the Master Cleanse, that clears up after several days, and the need to rest most of the time, the Master Cleanse may be just right for many of us. It appears to be a way to keep up a semblance of a normal schedule, because calories are available to deal with some work or schooling. Somehow, though, the water-only fast would be much preferable for its simplicity, purity and faster results — and perhaps for the meditative benefit. The ingredients of the Master Cleanse comprise a strange diet, one must admit. It may be harder to refuse substantial food when one is on a very restrictive diet and the body is in an eating/digestion mode. But if people are opposed to fasting, or cannot obtain the privacy and support they deserve, they should perhaps try the Master Cleanse.
Triumphing over sickness and narrow habits
The end of the fast clearly approaches when mood improves, symptoms disappear, energy returns, and hunger may reappear or intensify. However, the full return of energy, as in the capability to run, and the joy of feeling alive, along with clear, beautiful eyes, for example, are the real indicators that the fast is complete — one has forgotten about the fixation on food. A bowel movement may be the best indication a fast is over. When calm and euphoria coexist in a clean, happy body and mind, and one desires — with freedom rather than obsession or conditioning — to resume nourishment and end the fast, it is a good time to eat.
It is particularly critical not to break a fast with "heavy food" such as refined or processed or heavily cooked foods. Combinations are a bad idea, so a fast is to be safely broken with one small item of raw, organic food. I have found that cooked brown rice or miso soup also work well, even though they are not raw. Over the next few meals, one has only one food at a time. If one broke a fast on one large raw carrot, one can, by day three of eating (after a fast of ten or fifteen days, for example), eat two large carrots for a meal. No salad-dressing! One can switch immediately, upon breaking the fast on one food, to another food for the subsequent meals. Meals should be spaced apart by at least two to four hours, and eating should only occur when hunger is present.
After a few days, simple combinations are fine and quantities are increased. Generally, one cannot eat a pizza and wash it down with beer until the fast has had its full rebuilding time afterward: the same amount of time as the fast. So, a six day fast must have another six days of eating very carefully, and one guards against overeating and unwise combinations. Fortunately, one does not have any desire for alcohol or other drugs (including refined sugar) after a fast if the period after breaking the fast is carefully handled.
I eventually fasted voluntarily as a child and was not forced. I have been around people fasting and have assisted them, but I don't pressure them to fast. Fasting is an individual decision and must only be undertaken when conditions are conducive and the opportunity is there.
When one has to drive a car or meet a deadline, for example, it is not a good idea to fast because rest is imperative. For a full-cycle fast with no arbitrary end point, one needs to block out time such as one's entire winter or spring vacation, or longer. Good books and someone to help pamper are good ideas. It is also vital to accept a slowing down of one's world and the unpleasantness of toxin-elimination. Right after one of my fasts in Los Angeles, where I would lapse right back into habits that created the discomforts that prompted me to fast, I was struck by the notion that driving a car is a violation of the spirit. I did not know what that meant exactly, but I could feel it.
I have been amazed at how much good a one-day fast (24 hours) has occasionally done me. On a New Year's Day in 1997 perhaps, a family bike ride — all of us fasting — made it memorable for the beauty of the beach we rode to. I later noted that my hay fever did not return that season ahead.
My father fasted 40 days with just Perrier water, upon contracting myasthenia gravis in 1974. It seemed just a bad flu at first. Aristotle Onasis caught the same disease at the same time in the same place, and the most expensive medical help in the world could not save him. My father was written off as dying by doctors and friends who paid their last respects. When his test results started turning around in the middle of the fast, the doctors dismissed it all as a fluke. Fasting is very unprofitable for doctors whose bread and butter are just drugs and surgery. Dan Lundberg, my father, got rid of his asthma permanently during that 40 day fast. His recovery from myasthenia gravis was rapid, and he lived twelve more years to age 73.
Western medical history has been full of deadly treatments by doctors who eventually went on, after many victims, to less harmful or different treatments. Blood letting was long common centuries ago, along with many cockamamie methods. Circumcision was a cure for masturbation which supposedly caused blindness or distraction from going to church or the factory. Nowadays, tonsils are not removed; when I was a child my brothers and sisters were different for keeping my tonsils. X-rays were touted as miraculous and harmful, but over the years the "sage dosage" has been diminishing and diminishing, so that there is no harmless level at all according to scientists. The point here is that the harmful things doctors do are still with us, although practices and fads change.
My own fasts started with the very short ones that sufficed when I was a small child, whereby a cold or flue was dispensed with completely. When I got into my teens, the three-day fast did not do the trick, and several days became necessary. At age 20 I did a twelve day fast: on the twelfth day before breaking the fast, I ran on the beach faster and further than I ever had before. I also experienced euphoria of enjoying smells, thoughts, and familiar Beatles songs whose humor had sometimes eluded me before.
I have had other fasts that benefited me regarding some of the unpleasant effects of aging (I'm 52). And one fast of nine days last September completely alleviated a nerve injury to my collarbone area that an overzealous masseuse caused. I have accomplished such feats as eliminating my hay fever long-term, stopped completely the toothache pain that Ibuprofen was powerless to help, and at age 20 I erased acne scars. As I have increased my happiness and peace of mind after a fast, it has occurred to me that mental illness can be said to be a disease of the head. The brain, or the mind, is a piece of meat like the stomach or liver. If the body is unhealthy, the mind cannot be healthy. Healing needs to take place in the mind and cannot be accomplished fully if the body is toxic or overstressed.
It is commonly believed that modern society has increased longevity, whereas the quality of life slips. However, has life really been extended when the statistics rely on averages and distortions? Lessened infant mortality can make it look like adults stopped dying typically at 45 and instead live many years longer. At the other end of the spectrum, people are kept alive beyond their capacity to live normally (e.g., the Schiavo case) which boosts "life expectancy." Medical science helps, but most people do not benefit, and the public health and real life expectancy must be slipping, as evidenced by rising cancer rates.
I have never had a vaccination. I never got any of the diseases that shots can prevent, but plenty of people have gotten the disease directly from the shot. The materials in vaccines have included poisons which the body must process out if possible. With high immunity, diseases are successfully fought off. If a disease comes, it means that detoxifying and immunity-raising are urgent.
Caveats include the influenced mind
While society says it is alright for young people to eat junk food, sit in front of the TV for hours a day, drive cars, and use questionable and legal medications, young people are somehow not supposed to learn about fasting. One of my classroom experiences was in Hollywood High, in my senior year in 1970, when the health teacher told us to do a report on any topic on health. The teacher came to me after the assignment was given and said the principal forbade my reporting on fasting. But one student heard me talking about it and went on what turned out to be a twelve day fast on her own accord. She transformed herself from an overweight, pimply girl into a beautiful, happy, young adolescent. The teacher was not interested, or, was more interested in keeping her job.
Fasting can be used as a weapon when its mention is designed to instill fear or paint a person as out of the mainstream or a kook. Ex-spouses contesting custody of a child sometimes have resorted to accusations of fasting. And in a legal dispute I was accused as “believing in fasting,” even though my adversarial family member was expert at fasting from the earliest age onward. [Note: this paragraph was formerly two paragraphs on this website and in the first edition of Songs of Petroleum, that had to be edited down for legal reasons in January 2013.]
My family knew Herbert Shelton, the well known fasting practitioner and owner of clinics and healing resorts. He wrote many books on fasting and digestion. My father started the family on fasting when he met a former patient of Shelton's who helped cure, via fasting, my older brother and sister of deadly childhood dysentery in Mexico. For a lifestyle change, the family later went off to live by a pristine river, in a big tent in Kern County, California.
One should not advise fasting unless a competent and qualified helper is on hand to assist, as one needs guidance and support. It can't be overstated that one's stress must be minimized during and just after the fast. (I have had heart-rate unpleasantness from trying to do too many things in succession right after a 15 day fast, causing me to have to suddenly lie down and stop my activity for a half an hour.)
I once fasted in jail for three days because I didn't like the idea of the food there, and I had the opportunity to lie around and read. I was there because of a false arrest in a Critical Mass bicycling protest, in 1996 during the ongoing deforestation of ancient redwoods in Humboldt County, California. Subconsciously I must have wanted to see the inside of a cell. The downside was that the water in jail was foul, the fluorescent lights never went off, and the temperature was too cool for comfortable fasting. Guards made sure one did not get under the blanket during daylight hours even to keep warm — no explanation. They did not know or care I was on an apparent hunger strike.
Recent observation on the human body's durability without food has been from hunger strikes ending in death. In Ireland, rebels fasted over 50 days before succumbing to starvation. Irreversible damage to the prisoners' health no doubt preceded the day of death. The person's age and size has everything to do with how long one can fast, so it is important not to assume a young, thin person can go many days. A truly healthy person needs a truly short fast.
Anyone intending to fast or who has started a fast may face interference from a well-intentioned person during a fast if the person is concerned that "starvation" is taking place, or if symptoms (elimination of toxins and listlessness) are misconstrued as a threat to health rather than evidence of a healing crisis. Privacy and calm, therefore, are advisable. There are medical doctors who advocate and can assist in fasting, although they are rare. It is not for me to advocate the disregarding of medical advice, nor to give medical advice or practice medicine. For in the words of Richard Milhous Nixon during Watergate, "That would be wrong, that's for sure."
Happy fasting, happy eating, long and
beautiful life — through being closer to nature. This treatise has been
about healing oneself and about inner peace, but I also believe there is
potential for healing the world and bringing about more peace if many more
people will come to fast.
April 7, 2005, San Francisco, California
Herbert Shelton's books can be bought at
curezone.com practices "educating instead of medicating" and is forum-based for public interchange of ideas and experience, including fasting.
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