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.
It is usually readily granted that the strong may fast for a certain length of time, perhaps, with impunity, but it is usually objected that the weak should not fast. Here, again, we are met with the contention that these weak individuals need to be nourished. They require to be "built up." The fact that these people have grown weak while overeating on "plenty of good, nourishing food" is completely overlooked. If food builds and maintains strength, how do the well-fed become weak?
Mr. Sinclair says that people would write him and say that they would like to try a fast but that they were "too weak and too far gone to stand it." Everyone who employs fasting meets this objection quite frequently. Mr. Sinclair's answer to this objection, with which I fully concur, will therefore, be interesting. He says: "There is no greater delusion than that a person needs strength to fast. The weaker you are from the disease, the more certain it is that you need to fast, the more certain it is that your body has not strength enough to digest the food you are taking into it. If you fast under these circumstances, you will grow not weaker, but stronger. In fact, my experience seems to indicate that the people who have the least trouble on the fast are the people who are the most in need of it. The system which has been exhausted by the efforts to digest the foods that are piled into it, simply lies down with a sigh of relief and goes to sleep."
There is the foolish notion, fostered by the medical profession and shared all too faithfully by nurses and fond relatives of the sick, that the weak patient must be fed, and that if he cannot eat, he must have some medicine, some digestant or some tonic to "give him an appetite," or else he must be coaxed and cajoled, even forced, to eat. It is argued that if the patient does not eat, his strength can not be sustained; that he must, therefore, inevitably sink from weakness; he must be fed, even if he cannot digest what he consumes.
The patient is so weak in many cases that he is unable to turn over in bed, he can hardly move hand or foot, there is little muscular action, yet it is insisted that he be fed three times a day. His digestive system, though equally prostrated, is expected to go on with its regular work as though there is the regular need for food.
Will such a patient die of starvation? Never. Will he recover if fed? Not so surely as if he is permitted to fast. He may die of intestinal intoxication if he is fed; he may die if not fed, but he cannot be nourished by feeding, no matter what foods are given. He may be so weak that he will die if he gets much weaker, still he should fast. The surest way to make him weaker is to feed him.
It is a fact that has been demonstrated hundreds of times, that many invalids, instead of losing strength while fasting, gain it. Invalids that are growing weaker on the many and varied "nourishing diets" prescribed by physicians will frequently grow stronger as soon as fasting is resorted to.
Paradoxical as it may seem, the weakest persons often derive the greatest benefit from a fast. The weakness of the average person is not due to lack of food but to toxin poisoning. The elimination of these while fasting often registers a great increase in strength while the fast is in progress. This is to say, the patient grows stronger while he is still fasting and completes the fast stronger than when he began it. No matter how strong the man, if he becomes ill, he is weak. A Hercules may be prostrated in pneumonia or typhoid fever. Muscular strength is suspended during such periods.
The notion that the more food we can get a sick person to swallow the better for him is wholly wrong and is the source of much mischief. The very reverse represents the truth. When digestion ceases, nothing but misery and danger can come out of pouring food into the stomach. The fact is that it is in those cases that are the weakest that we often see the most surprising gains in strength.
Eating appears to give an amazing amount of strength to certain chronic invalids. These may feel weak and exhausted. They eat a meal and immediately they are energetic and strong. This is more likely to be the case if they are suffering from disease of the stomach than if the stomach is in near normal condition. This "gain of strength" is undoubtedly mere stimulation. Experimental fasts have shown that after a fast, less food is required to maintain physical energies, physiological activities, weight and nitrogen balance. Fasting produces a more efficient "machine."