This section of the book is from "Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise", by Bernarr MacFadden.
One great aid to the successful accomplishment of a fasting-cure is the rule to keep the mind as much as possible occupied, so as to prevent its brooding over the topic of alimentary deprivations; create some diversion by exciting pastimes or interest-absorbing work. Frederic Gerstaecker, in his "Chronicle of the Forty-niners," remarks that every nugget-bonanza lessened the temptations of intemperance. The miners were too busy to waste the golden chance on rum; they neglected the bar-room because they could find better excitement at the gravel-bar. They would hardly take time to eat their meals. The successful ones, especially, merely nibbled a crust and hurried back to work. After a cat-nap or two, they left their hammocks and opened the window-shutters as if they could hardly await the dawn of the morning. "Get up, boys, here's daylight at last," one of them would call out in the middle of the night; then, after scrutenizing the signs of the sky more closely: "Blame the luck, it's only the moon, after all."
It is, therefore, a good plan to reserve a specially diverting job of work for the term of a fasting-cure, but it should be remembered that severe physical efforts tend to complicate the demands upon the reserve energies of the organism. Tree-felling while fasting would be burning the candle of life at both ends. For similar reasons cold weather is apt to aggravate the ordeal of total abstinence. Winter is not the worst time for a fast, it may even be the best, to judge from the phenomena of hibernation; only it is well to recollect that in remedial effects two fasting-days, combined with exercise in a snow-storm, are equivalent to three fasting-days in midsummer.
The influence of habit tends to make abstinence easyas easy almost as the dietetic restrictions which our gormandizing ancestors used to dignify by the name of fasting. Lenten fare, in the South-German sense of the word, came at last to imply only the shelving of flesh-pots, without excluding eggs, butter, cheese, oysters and fish, in any desired quantities. The greasy made dishes and eel-pies of the Bavarian refectories were perfect burlesques on the bona-fide fasts of the poor, and there is an anecdote about an Austrian granger who had attended a revival, and upon his return was seized with qualms of conscience at the sight of preparation for a feast of gravy dumplings. "Say, Jane, this is Good Friday," he muttered, "a dozen of those things is really too much for creatures who have souls to save. Make only ten, this time; but"after some reflection"you can make them a little larger than last week."
Yet with all their cart blanche of butter-pan dishes some slaves of habit contrived to get spiritual license for meat-rations on traveling-days, "on account of the extra fatigue and exposure to wind and weather."
But in the highlands of Algeria, in a climate almost as rigorous as that of the Alps, the soldiers of General Clausel were unable to procure meat, and after a few weeks' practice found, possibly to their own surprise, that they could get along very comfortably on dates, bread and cheese.
Eating only one meal a day becomes so much of a second nature, in a month or two, that habitues almost pity the slaves of custom who have to handicap their energies by forenoon surfeits. "Breakfast," if its etymology can be trusted, is a misnomer, where there has been no fast to speak of, and the idea of repletion before the day's work is done comes to appear as foolish as an invitation to a Saturday picnic at the beginning of the week. "Don't spoil your supper," whispers an inner monitor when the noonday pause awakens old-time associations, but after a little experience the contrast of present all-day buoyancy and former afternoon life-weariness is quite enough to nip temptations in the bud.
Abstinence from two meals has become natural enough to require no self-denial whatever, and in the course of time a fasting-cure expert can tackle the task of a two-days' term of total abstinence almost without a presentiment of discomfort. "A fishing-trip to-morrow evening will help me over the hill," he reflects, "and the next day I can eat with the assurance of digesting my supper to the last fraction of an ounce."
Even after a short fast the first full meal had better be preceded by a light lunch and a few hours' pause, to initiate the activity of the digestive organs, but the selection of a simple and perfectly digestible breakfast may modify the necessity of that precaution.
About the third week of Dr. Tanner's ordeal a Georgia sympathizer sent him an enormous watermelon that was wrapped up in newspapers and hidden in a corner of the room to mitigate the tantalizing effect of its presence. Visitors had almost forgotten its existence, but the moment his quarantine had been accomplished, the survivor got hold of that melon and proceeded to help himself with the energy of an Afro-American picnicker.
Don't, sir, don't, screeched a Philadelphia dude, "you'll kill yourself in five minutes if you keep on like that."
Hold on there, young man," said the old doctor, grabbing the meddler's arm, "I may be mistaken, but I believe I'm running this circus myself." But there was probably no mistake about it; a ripe watermelon is made up of about 97 per cent, of fluids to three of harmless solids, and the plucky faster's breakfast was almost as unobjectionable as a quart of sugar-water. The same quantum of hash might have killed him, and even the attempt to masticate a big piece of bread would have been baffled by the protest of the sensitive palate.
The question as to the requisite length of a remedial fast depends upon the previous habits of the experimenter. A glutton who has complicated the consequences of three daily surfeits by drastic drugs cannot hope to be restored to anything like a normal condition in less than a quarter of a year, devoted to three fasts of a week each, and with three-weeks' intervals of moderate eating and abundant outdoor exercise.
For an ordinary indigestion three days of total abstinence will generally suffice, and votaries of the one-meal plan can keep disease at bay with a two-days' fast at the end of every month. Provided that they abstain from greasy made-dishes and all abnormal stimulants that precaution will even save them the necessity of regulating the quantity of their meals after the plan of Louis Cornaro, who weighed out his daily rations with half-ounce scales. "Abstinence is easier than temperance," and a combination of the one-meal plan with an occasional fast is far more sensible, because more practicable, than everlasting self-denial.