How long should a person fast? In cases where there are serious complaints to remedy but where there are no life threatening disease conditions, a good rule of thumb is to fast on water for one complete day (24 hours) for each year that the person has lived. If you are 30 years old, it will take 30 consecutive days of fasting to restore complete health. However, thirty fasting days, done a few days here and a few there won"t equal a month of steady fasting; the body accomplishes enormously more in 7 or l4 days of consecutive fasting, than 7 or 14 days of fasting accumulated sporadically, such as one day a week. This is not to say that regular short fasts are not useful medicine. Periodic day-long fasts have been incorporated into many religious traditions, and for good reason; it gives the body one day a week to rest, to be free of digestive obligations, and to catch up on garbage disposal. I heartily recommend it. But it takes many years of unfailingly regular brief fasting to equal the benefits of one, intensive experience.

Fasting on water much longer than fifteen consecutive days may be dangerous for the very sick, (unless under experienced supervision) or too intense for those who are not motivated by severe illness to withstand the discomfort and boredom. However, it is possible to finish a healing process initiated by one long water fast by repeating the fast later. My husband"s healing is a good example of this. His health began to noticeably decline about age 38 and he started fasting. He fasted on water 14 to 18 days at a time, once a year, for five consecutive years before most of his complaints and problems entirely vanished.

The longest fast I ever supervised was a 90 day water fast on an extraordinarily obese woman, who at 5" 2" weighed close to 400 pounds. She was a Mormon; generally members of the LDS Church eat a healthier diet than most Americans, but her"s included far too much of what I call "healthfood junkfood," in the form of whole grain cakes and cookies, lots of granola made with lots of honey, oil, and dried fruit, lots of honey heaped atop heavily buttered whole grain bread. (I will explain more about the trap of healthfood junkfood later on.) A whole foods relatively meatless diet is far superior to its refined white flour, white sugar and white grease (lard) counterpart, but it still produced a serious heath problem in just 30 years of life. Like many women, she expressed love-for-family in the kitchen by serving too-much too-tasty food. The Mormons have a very strong family orientation and this lady was no exception, but she was insecure and unhappy in her marriage and sought consolation in food, eaten far in excess of what her body needed.

On her 90 day water fast she lost about 150 pounds, but was still grossly overweight when the fast ended. Toward the end it became clear that it was unrealistic to try to shrink this woman any closer to normal body weight because to her, fat represented an invaluable insulation or buffer that she was not prepared to give up. As the weight melted away on the fast and she was able to actually feel the outline of a hip bone her neurosis became more and more apparent, and the ability to feel a part of her skeleton was so upsetting to her that her choice was between life threatening obesity and pervasive anxiety.

Her weight was still excessive but the solace of eating was even more important. This woman needed intensive counseling not more fasting. Unfortunately, at the end she choose to remain obese. Fat was much less frightening to her than confronting her emotions and fears. The positive side was that after the fast she was able to maintain her weight at 225 instead of 375 which was an enormous relief to her exhausted heart.

Another client I fasted for 90 days was a 6" 1" tall, chronic schizophrenic man who weighed in at 400 pounds. He was so big he could barely get through my front door, and mine was an extraordinarily wide door in what had been an upper-class mansion. This man, now in his mid twenties, had spent his last seven years in a mental institution before his parents decided to give him one last chance by sending to Great Oaks School. The state mental hospitals at that time provided the mentally ill with cigarettes, coffee, and lots of sugary treats, but none of these substances were part of my treatment program so he had a lot of immediate withdrawal to go through. The quickest and easiest way to get him through it was to put him on a water fast after a few days of preparation on raw food.

This was not an easily managed case! He was wildly psychotic, on heavy doses of chloropromazine, with many bizarre behaviors. Besides talking to himself continuously in gibberish, he collected bugs, moss, sticks, piles or dirt, and switched to smoking oak leaves instead of cigarettes. He was such a fire hazard that I had to move him to a downstairs room with concrete floor. Even in the basement he was a fire hazard with his smoking and piles of sticks and other inflammables next to his bed, but all of this debris was his "precious." I knew that I was in for trouble if I disturbed his precious, but the insects and dirt piles seemed to be expanding exponentially.

One day the dirt exceeded my tolerance level. To make a long story short he caught me in the act of cleaning up his precious. Was he furious! All 350 pounds of him! (By this time he had lost 50 pounds.) He barreled into me, fists flying, and knocked me into the pipes next to the furnace and seemed ready to really teach me what was what. I prefer to avoid fights, but if they are inevitable, I can really get into the spirit of the thing. I"d had lots of childhood practice defending myself because I was an incurable tomboy who loved to wrestle; I could usually pin big boys who considered themselves tough. So I began using my fists and what little martial arts training I had to good use. After I hurt him a bit he realized that I was not going to be easily intimidated, and that in fact he was in danger of getting seriously damaged. So he called a truce before either of us were badly beaten up. He had only a few bruises and welts, nothing serious.

After that he refrained from collecting things inside the building (he continued to collect outside). This compromise was fine with me, and the incident allowed me to maintain the authority I needed to bully him into co-operating with the program: taking his vitamins, and sticking to his fast until he finally reached 200 pounds. After 90 days on water he actually looked quite handsome, he no longer smoked, he was off psychotropic medication, and his behaviors were within an acceptable range as long as your expectations were not too high.

He was well enough to live outside a hospital and also clear-headed enough to know that if he let too many people know how well he really was, he might have to give up his mental disability pension and actually become responsible for himself. No way, Jose! This fellow knew a good thing when he saw it. So he continued to pull bizarre stunts just often enough in front of the right audience to keep his disability checks coming in, while managing to act sane enough to be allowed to live comfortably at home instead of in the hospital. By keeping to my program he could stay off mind-numbing psychotropic medication if he kept up his megavitamins and minerals. This compromise was tolerable from his point of view, because there were no side effects like he experienced from his tranquilizers.

It is very rare for a mentally ill person who has spent more than a few months in a mental hospital to ever usefully return to society because they find "mental illness" too rewarding.