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In an age when everybody is demanding a diet that will cure them of their various maladies, it may be idle to say that a fast, rest in bed and giving up enervating habits will enable the body to restore itself. But it must be said that diet cures are as false as drug cures. What Trall said in the Journal, April 1850, concerning the diet prescriptions of the physicians of his day, would apply with equal force to much of the dietary advice handed out at present. He said: "Of all the bungling, blundering, nonsensical, ridiculous, absurd and absurdly unnatural twattle which makes up a large proportion of that 'budget of blunders' which swells out the pages of medical journals, the most exquisitely foolish is that part of it which pertains to diet."
Only when the body has excreted its accumulated impurities and normal nerve energy has been restored and the life of the patient has been corrected can he be said to be restored to health. In saying this we do not wish to be understood as decrying the value of proper diet in recovering health in chronic disease. In acute disease, as we shall show later, no feeding should be considered. It is important for us to understand at this point that no food possesses eliminating properties--medicinal qualities. The body excretes and has organs specially constructed with which to do this work. These organs do their work well when abundantly supplied with nerve impulses and falter in their function when nerve impulses are reduced.
Early Hygienists placed varying emphases upon the different Hygienic factors in their care of the sick. Some stressed exercise; some stressed rest; some stressed diet; others stressed other factors. Writing of serious cases of dyspepsia, Kittredge asserted that they can be restored to health, but that "all the water in Christendom won't cure them, alone, however skillfully applied." As Kittredge was one who placed great emphasis upon the curative power of water, this statement of his is significant in revealing the limitations of hydropathy.
It is important that we recognize that in chronic disease all Hygienic factors are to be employed within the needs of the sick organism and its capacity to make constructive use of them, and not just one or two of them. In all states of impaired health (acute and chronic disease and wounds) the physiological needs of life (air, water, food, sunshine, temperature, activity, rest and sleep, etc.) must be supplied in keeping with the ability of the body to appropriate and use them.
There is more to living than tinkering with diet. People get sick as a consequence of bad habits of body and mind and if they are to recover health, they must correct all of these habits. In this same vein, foods constitute but a part of the subject of diet. There is the eating of foods and this involves many facets that are commonly overlooked by the gum willies who teach that "diet does it." Rapid eating, insufficient mastication, overeating, eating when feeling bad, eating in states of overworked emotions, passions, etc., will impair digestion and wreck the best of diets. All of these things were well recognized by Hygienic practitioners from the beginning.
The great importance placed upon the subject of diet may be well understood by reading portions of an article carried in the Journal of September 1857, from the pen of S. M. Landis, M.D., who said: "It is not sufficiently impressed upon the minds of the people, that physiological food is the principal medicine that should be used in the successful renovation of the system from disease. Proper food is the main agent upon which a true 'healing science' can be founded. If we desire to be successful practitioners, we must make this point the most prominent feature of the 'healing art.' "
Landis advised: "Patients whose appetites are stronger than their reason should never be allowed to choose any quantity of food they may desire--even though it be of the proper quality." He contended that Hygienic practitioners "should prescribe food--as the drug-doctors do their medicinal agents--measuring it, according to circumstances; and they should also know that it is possessed of the right properties, that it may claim a healthful relation to stamina. If our tables are provided with food of improper qualities, and patients are also allowed to partake of as much as they wish, they often eat too much, thus impeding the various functions of the system, and retarding or entirely preventing any curative operation whatever. Physiological food in quantity and quality is the great panacea of a true hygeio-therapeutic or hygienic practice. If this be a fact, then why not have more confidence in its precise administration, especially in chronic complaints, and let bathing, exercising, etc., be of secondary importance? On the contrary, if all the electro-chemical baths, kinesipathic or movement cures, large boots, compressed-air baths, drugs included, if you like, and the various processes in hydropathic use are strictly and skillfully applied, and the dietary is not of the proper quantity and quality, there can be but meager success attending the practice."
He said that, although patients may be temporarily improved under such treatment, "where diet is made of secondary importance no lasting relief and physiological recuperation can take place. If we wish to be truly scientific and successful hygeio-therapeutic practitioners, let us always remember that Nature, the Almighty Author and Ruler of all health and happiness, is the only true physician."
Food may be regarded, as Landis seems to consider it, as the coordinating factor which, to a great extent, transforms the other elements of living; but we cannot afford to forget that the totality of animal life is made up of manifold functions with their various instruments or structures, each of which has its appropriate external relations which supply the needs of life and which must be supplied in due proportion if life is to continue. Not only must these be supplied in accordance with the purposes of function, but the supply must be in proportion to the body's ability to appropriate and constructively use them. Too much or too little can be equally hurtful. It is not enough to tinker with diet; it is essential that the whole life of the individual be brought into proper relations with the laws of being.
"Let us equally bear in mind," Landis further says, "that the living body is a self-regulating, self-rebuilding and self-restorative apparatus; hence it requires a proper quantity and quality of food to accomplish its end--established health and happiness." As indispensable concomitants to proper food, he said that a judicious combination of "pure water, pure air, proper light, rest, exercise, etc., properly adjusted and administered" will produce sound minds in sound bodies.
"More confidence," said Landis, "should be placed in Nature and its Author, and less in bathing and other curative measures . . .," although he was of the opinion that these measures were serviceable.
Landis says that it was a daily experience of his that many people lost confidence in Hygienic practices simply because many Hygienic practitioners either lack proper knowledge of or neglect the first principles of a true healing science, and that, as a consequence, theirs was but a limited success. He indicates that great numbers of patients came to his institution who had "found only great disappointment at other institutions. Upon inquiry," he says, "we learn that they had received plenty of bathing, plenty of exercise, plenty of proper light, plenty of pure water, plenty of pure air, and last but not least, plenty of food, of any unphysiological quantity and quality.
"Many of these desponding creatures," he continued, "recover health under our treatment in a few weeks, who have spent months, and even years at other cures. Our success does not depend upon our superior skill or learned attainments . . . " He stressed his "precise administration of food," saying that he never makes a hobby of new isms, thereby forgetting or neglecting first principles.
"We plainly teach our patients the importance of proper food," he says, "and we do not place anything upon the table but what every patient is allowed to take his share of. We tell our patients how much to eat, and we are present when they are eating, so no one can eat too much or too fast. We keep a house for the speedy cure of disease, and for well persons to preserve health. We do not keep a promiscuous set of boarders, as do too many similar institutions; in other words, we are strictly physiological in all our doings, and our success attests the fact.
"If patients do not comply with our dietetic habits, as well as in other matters, we decline treating them longer. I have lately visited some of the so-called leading Water-Cures, where I found meats, butter, milk, salt, molasses, etc., on their tables; yet the same physicians are continually protesting against use of these articles. To preach one thing and practice another appears to me absurd. Why not have thoroughly scientific institutions? Is it a wonder that the skeptic has so little faith in our practice when he finds that our leading men are thus slaughtering their principles? Why do they thus? It must be for the sake of a few boarders, who (do) not choose to eat proper food. Oh! what trifling compensation for the sacrifice of such valuable principles!"
The reader may think that Landis was somewhat dictatorial in insisting upon proper eating by his patients. This is especially likely to be so among the undisciplined, who resent restrictions that are placed upon their living habits and among the incorrigible, who refuse to go even a little way in correcting their ways of life. "Who made you God?" is a question that we are frequently asked when we insist upon instructions being carried out. Yet it is true, as Dr. Tilden so often stressed, that the limitations that we place upon these unruly ones are only such as nature herself dictates. They are not for our benefit.
We do not advise rest, for example, for our own profit, but because there is a distinct need for and a natural call for rest. What good does it do the Hygienic practitioner for a man to give up coffee or tobacco? The patient derives all the good out of abandoning these practices. But, in insisting that these poison habits be discontinued, have we done anything more than to demand that the normal rules of life be carried out? Nature herself is the tyrant; she is the dictator. She is the one who does the penalizing when her rules are flouted.
What or who is this nature that penalizes us for our wrongs to ourselves? It is none other than our own body. If you try to live on deficient food, it is the tissues of your own body that fail to renew themselves ideally. If you do not secure adequate rest and sleep, it is the tissues of your own body that fail of ideal renewal. If you smoke or drink, it is your own tissues that are damaged. The limitations you face are your own limitations. They are set by your own constitutional capacities and powers.
Dr. James C. Jackson once advised one of his physician correspondents, P. H. Adams, M.D., of Florence, Texas, to "be autocratic in your determination to have them (the patients) do as you wish to have done." How far Adams carried out this advice the record does not reveal. But if we can judge the past by the present, he was inclined to go easy with his patients and cater to their whims and compromise with their habits of life. He was successful or not to the degree in which he insisted upon strict compliance with his instructions.