This section is from the book "The Hygienic System: Fasting And Sun Bathing", by Herbert M. Shelton. Also available from Amazon: The Hygienic System Vol III Fasting and Sun Bathing.
Shall emaciated persons fast? By all means. Emaciation is rarely due to a lack of food, but almost always is a result of sickness. Dewey, Carrington, Macfadden, Rabagliatti, Sinclair and many others have pointed out that in numerous instances, the first gains in weight some of these emaciated individuals make, despite much effort and many different kinds of weight-gaining diets, comes after a fast. I have seen many such cases in my own experience. It is easily possible to exaggerate the importance of weight in any consideration of fasting. Some extremely emaciated patients surprise us by the length of fasting they can safely and profitably undergo.
Great emaciation is not a bar to fasting. I have fasted numerous very thin people. One man, an asthmatic, who was veritably "skin and bones" when reaching my institution, fasted seventeen days and became practically free of asthma of nine years' standing. A subsequent fast completed his restoration. This man actually grew stronger during the fast.
Indeed, in some cases of wasting "disease," no amount and kind of feeding produces any improvement until a fast, or a greatly reduced diet (a starvation diet), has first been employed. Page, Rabagliati, Kieth, Nichols and others record many such cases. Many deaths in tuberculosis are the result of starvation from overfeeding.
Sinclair records the case of an Episcopal clergyman who, "was so emaciated that he could hardly creep around" and was contemplating suicide. "He fasted eleven days and then gained thirty pounds."
Dr. Eales says: "If you are thin and below normal weight, a fast will help you. Do not think that fasting is beneficial only for fleshy people. Thin people, as well as fleshy people are in an abnormal condition, and will derive great benefit from a fast. Numerous instances are on record of thin people fasting and gaining rapidly in health and weight after a fast."
I had one case to gain thirty pounds in four weeks, after a fast of nine days. This gain was made on a diet that few people would consider sufficient to meet their needs. This patient had suffered with gastric hyperacidity, gastro-enteritis, colitis, gas, constipation, poor circulation, emaciation and mental depression for seven years before consulting me.
The fast, particularly a complete fast, remedies both emaciation and obesity. After a complete fast the body tends to attain and then maintain its ideal weight. Formerly fat patients do not regain their excess weight; whereas, those who were thin often gain a pound or more a day for a month or longer.
Prof. Agostino Levanzin, B.A., Ph. C. says: "It is contended in many quarters that thin people do not need fasting; that what they need is 'building up' and 'nourishing' food. I am convinced, on the contrary, that many thin persons need fasting more than corpulent persons--for their condition shows that they have been under-nourished as a direct result of over-feeding for years. This must be checked at once, and this is best done by a fast, which will allow the nutritive organs to return to a condition in which they are capable of appropriating the food."
If food builds flesh, how do the well-fed become emaciated? How many greatly emaciated people do we meet every day who are eating like harvest hands? Many of them are weak and unable to work. If food gives strength, why are they so weak and skinny? Often these people make their only gains in weight and strength after a fast. Carrington points out that in hundreds of cases of emaciation (cases that are slowly starving while overeating) fasting will enable them to gain weight; thus actually preventing starvation. In this connection it is worthy of note that nature cuts off the desire for food in deficiency diseases--a plain indication that no more food should be taken. The great improvement seen in anemia, when fasting is resorted to, while overfeeding causes these patients to grow worse, should convince even the most skeptical of the superiority of the fast.
Great emaciation is due to impairment of health and the degree of emaciation is commonly proportionate to the degree of impairment. Such cases frequently make no gains in weight until after a fast. "Starvation from overfeeding" is a common, but rarely recognized phenomenon. Large numbers of habitually over-fed individuals have long since lost their power of digesting food at all, or they do it in a very imperfect manner. Oswald said of this: "The overfed organism is under-nourished to a degree that reveals itself in the rapid emaciation of the patient."--Household Remedies, p. 57.
The objection is frequently made in the case of emaciated patients that they are already weak and under-nourished and need "building up," rather than a fast. "Plenty of good, nourishing food" is thought to be the great need in these cases. But "plenty of good, nourishing food" is precisely what these emaciated individuals have been taking in the majority of instances. Instead of fasting being suicidal and criminal, as the average physician contends in such instances, the results of taking "plenty of good, nourishing food" has proved to be suicidal.
The fact is that, we rarely see a man or woman who is emaciated from taking too little food. Most of them are heavy eaters, even eating excessively in an effort to gain weight. Their emaciation is due, not to a lack of food ingested, but to failure to digest, absorb and assimilate the food eaten. In order for these individuals to gain weight, they must be given, not more food, but added capacity to utilize food. This can be acquired only by remedying the functional and structural impairments that have crippled their nutritive powers. Too often this cannot be done while the patient is taking "plenty of good, nourishing food." It is a curious fact that in great numbers of cases of emaciation, we must supply them with less food in order to nourish them more.
Emaciation may be so extreme that only a short fast is possible; but we are often surprised at how well the emaciated person holds up under a fast that goes much beyond the time we think is possible. Dr. Oswald once remarked: "Energy and emaciation seem to go hand in hand."