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.
The principle here presented, that the energy customarily expended in the digestion and assimilation of food may, when no food is eaten, be employed through other channels in the increased work of elimination, is accepted by Mr. Carrington and Mr. Macfadden in this country and Dr. E. Liek and Otto Rosenbach in Germany. Dr. Liek says, "By saving the force required for the process of digestion, the body saves strength and mobilizes forces for other purposes, such as the healing of wounds, combating the microorganisms of disease, etc." Rosenbach has written much in the German language upon fasting.
While fasting bars any direct or measurable income to the system from nourishment, it does not incur any expenditure in digestion. The large sum of energy thus saved is available for use through other channels; that is, in carrying on other, and for the moment, more important functions and processes.
Disease, especially acute disease, is labor, action, struggle--it is often violent action. It uses up energy. It often leaves the patient exhausted at the end of his severe effort. It may so completely exhaust him as to end his life. Disease frequently means a much greater expenditure of energy than the activities of health require, hence the urgent need for conservation of energy in every possible way. Loss of appetite, cessation of digestion, suppression of the digestive secretions, suspension of the muscular contractions of the stomach and of the peristaltic motions of the intestine, inaction of the bowels, skin, liver, kidneys, general debility, prostration, etc., are conservative measures. Energy not expended through these channels is available for more urgent work elsewhere.
The urgent demand for increased effort, which the presence of toxins occasions, is the reason for the increased, even violent effort. But violent effort in one direction means reduced effort in other directions. Fasting by the acutely ill is definitely a compensatory measure and its urgency is in direct proportion to the severity of the symptoms. There is still digestive power in a cold, in pneumonia there is none. By this is meant that the more ill the patient, the greater is the need for fasting. Curious as this may appear at first thought, the return of health and hunger come together.
"Nothing is remedial," said Trall, "except conditions which economize the vital expenditures." Physiological rest (fasting) is the surest way of economizing vital expenditures. Walter pointed out that "the patient often grows stronger through the process of fasting and always better."
Some years ago I laid down the principle that: power cannot be expended with equal and increased intensity in all directions at the same time. I pointed out that increased activities in one part of the body require concomitant and coetaneous diminution of activities in other parts. Power saved through one channel is always available for use through other channels. All forms of power obey this principle. A convenient example is the diminished force with which the water runs in your bath tub, if some one turns on the water in the kitchen. Cut off the water in the kitchen and the force of the flow is immediately increased in the bath tub.
Dr. Jennings understood that the withdrawal of energy from the digestive organs, in "disease," was for the purpose of employing the energy ordinarily expended through these channels, in the work of elimination and repair.
Mr. Macfadden says: "We do not perhaps realize to what extent the processes of metabolism draw upon the body energies. It requires an enormous amount of energy to digest, convert, and push through thirty feet of tubing, several pounds of food material, and to carry the normal and excess assimilated food elements through every blood vessel in the body, over and over again. If this energy is not utilized for that purpose, it is free to be utilized in other directions, and in all cases of disease it is in the main actually used for purposes of cure. Many people keep themselves tired and exhausted by using up the energies of the body in continual digestive processes."
There is another and equally important reason why the gross overeating which is so prevalent causes people to be tired. The intestinal toxemia, resulting from excessive food, poisons the tissues and cells throughout the whole body. Sluggishness, laziness, and chronic fatigue are some of the results of this poisoning. The fagging energies of the body revive to a remarkable extent, when eating is discontinued for a few days, due to the conservation of energy and to the cutting off the source of toxins.
Dr. Walter also recognizes these facts and says in Life's Great Law, p. 209: "No process of treatment ever invented fulfills so many indications for restoration of health as does fasting. It is nature's own primal process, her first requirement in nearly all cases. As a means of prompting circulation, improving nutrition, facilitating excretion, recuperating vital power, and restoring vital vigor, it has no competitor * * * "In chronic diseases fasting is hardly less important than in acute cases. Obstruction of the vital organs, and especially of the process of nutrition, is the rule. Giving rest to the organs is of utmost importance, in order to improve nutrition, and restore vigor. The secondary effect is the exact opposite of the primary.
"Extremes of practice, are, however, to be avoided. Men are always prone to indulge forcing processes. A fast for a few days or at most a week, will often be comforting and valuable; but to compel the organism to live for a month without food is an unnecessary violence. But in acute diseases the fasting may continue for weeks, because nature cannot appropriate the food; we only object to arbitrary fasts for long periods. Fasting is not a cure-all; it may do evil as well as good; but it should always be employed in connection with rest of the general system."
Walter's fear of the long fast, in chronic "disease" need not engage our attention at this place, beyond saying that such a process is not essentially violent and that, while the short fast is preferable in some cases, the long fast is alone productive of results in others.