Gain and Loss of Strength
While Fasting


   "Most men can understand eating to get strong," says Dr. Tilden, "but it takes a long time to educate them to stop eating to get strong." As paradoxical as it may seem to those who have had no experience with fasting, there is a frequent, and perhaps always a gain in strength while fasting. Let me begin with a quotation from a thoroughly "orthodox" and "scientific" source. Prof. Benedict, in his report, details a number of experiments upon, the strength of Prof. Levanzin during his experimental fast. Then referring to similar tests made by others, he says:

   "In the test made by Luciani on Succi in which a dynamometer was used, the strength of the right and left hands showed results seemingly at variance with the popular impression. Thus on the twenty-first day of the fast, Succi was able to register on the dynamometer a stronger grip than when he first began. From the twentieth to the thirtieth day of the fast, however, his strength decreased, being less at the end than in the beginning of the fast. In discussing these results, Luciani points out the fact that Succi believed that he gained strength as the fast progressed. Considering the question of the influence of inanition on the onset of fatigue, Luciani states that the fatigue curve obtained by Succi on the twenty-ninth day was similar to those obtained with an individual under normal conditions."

   "On the last days of his fasts Succi would ride horseback or ascend the Eiffle Tower of Paris, running up the tremendous staircase that tires the average man to merely ascend it."

   Levanzin lost no strength during his thirty-one days' fast as shown by the dynamometric tests. On the last day of the fast, this non-athletic man, used to taking no regular exercise except walking, was able to press up to one hundred and twenty pounds with his left hand.

   It is somewhat amusing to read that at the end of his fast of thirty-one days in the Carnegie Institute, Levanzin wanted to continue it up to forty days and that Prof. Benedict objected because it would be very expensive and fatiguing to his well-fed men.

   Dr. Tanner's strength decreased until after he began to take water, but increased thereafter. He was challenged by a reporter who declared one could not keep up his strength without eating. The Doctor said: "Here have I been for several years a semi-invalid, suffering from all kinds of diseases, and now I have fasted for two weeks. You are young, healthy, strong and vigorous. I will just take a drink of water and then I will run you a race around this hall and see who can endure the longest."

   The reporter confidently accepted the challenge and the race began. To the amusement of the audience, who had expected to see the young man easily win, the doctor easily and speedily outran his competitor, who puffed and blowed in his distress.

   Mr. Macfadden says: "In several cases treated by myself, and also in a number of cases quoted by Dewey and Carrington, the strength increased from day to day, until the patient was enabled to walk several miles a day toward the close of a long fast, whereas at first he was unable to walk at all!"

   Again he says: "It is a fact that has been demonstrated again and again that many individuals instead of losing strength by fasting, gain it. In one case a woman was carried to one of our institutions on a stretcher, so weak from malnutrition that she was unable to walk. Her physician had prescribed all kinds of nourishing diets which she had been unable to digest and in spite of food (or because of it--author's note), drugs and nursing she had rapidly grown weaker. She was at once placed on a fast, and to her amazement, she, day by day, increased in strength."

   In my own practice there is the case of a man who was confined to bed and unable to get out of it, although eating three meals a day. At the end of a week of fasting he was able to get up and walk about the room, although still fasting. There is the case of another man who was so weak he could not walk from one room to another of his home without support. After two weeks of fasting he was able to go downstairs unsupported, go outside and have a sun bath and return upstairs to his bed. After fifty-five days of fasting he was still able to do this. He was much stronger at the end of his fifty-five days without food than when he began the fast.

   In 1925, it was announced, from the University of Chicago, that football coaches have found that if they force their players to go without food a short time and then feed them a hearty meal a few hours before the game they are "raring to go, both mentally and physically." Many athletes have found that short fasts during their training periods aid them considerably. The late Harry Wills, Negro heavyweight pugilist, was an outstanding example of this. As an opposite example, habitual gluttony came very near to permanently retiring Babe Ruth from the baseball diamond. Somebody pointed out to him the causes of his troubles and reduced eating restored him to good physical condition, as well as overcame his irascible temper.

   In his "Why Did Jesus Fast," Rev. H. Arndt tells of an Italian fencing master who prepared for contests with a week of fasting and continuous practice and who had never been vanquished.

   Freddy Welsh, one time light-weight champion of the world, always started his training for important fights with a fast of a week. He found that this shortened considerably the time required to get in condition for the fight. He never had to postpone any fights because of colds, boils, etc., as was often done by Joe Beckett, George Carpentier, and others.

   In December 1903, eight athletes under the supervision of Mr. Macfadden entered a seven days' fast and performed feats of great strength and endurance under the watchful eyes of prominent medical men from different parts of New York. These eight men were entered on the list on Saturday night at the beginning of their fast and the same eight athletes presented themselves in the final contest of endurance on the evening of the seventh day of the fast.

   Joseph H. Waltering, of New York City, won first prize in the races, winning the 50-yard dash in six and two-fifths seconds, the 220-yard run in twenty-seven and four-fifths seconds, and the mile run in six minutes, fourteen and two-fifths seconds. Gilman Low, of New York City, artist, health-director, athlete, won first prize in strength contests; lifting 900 pounds in a straight hand grip lift and throwing the 56-pound weight thirteen feet six inches. On the sixth day of his fast, Mr. Low lifted with hands alone 500 pounds twenty times in fifteen seconds, and 900 pounds twice in twenty seconds. In the back lift he lifted one ton twelve times in twenty seconds.

   Following the Saturday night tests in the presence of doctors, to whom he desired to demonstrate that there was no deterioration of strength after a week of fasting, he lifted one ton twenty-two times in nineteen seconds.

   Mr. Low did not break his fast until the end of the eighth day. Then, at Madison Square Garden, before the astonished gaze of 16,000 people, he established nine world records for strength and endurance, which stood for years before they were broken. These records are:

  1. "Raising 950 pounds three times in four seconds.
  2. Raising 500 pounds twenty times in fifteen seconds.
  3. Throwing 56-pound weight thirteen feet six inches (for height).
  4. Leg-lifting--Raising with legs alone 1,000 pounds fifty times in twenty-five seconds.
  5. Leg-lifting--Raising with legs alone 1,500 pounds thirty-five times in twenty-five seconds.
  6. Raising with legs alone 1,800 pounds eighteen times in eighteen seconds.
  7. Back lifting--bringing all the muscles of the back into action raising 2,500 pounds five times in ten seconds.
  8. Raising 2,200 pounds twelve times in twelve seconds.
  9. Raising 2,200 pounds twenty-nine times in twenty seconds."

   These remarkable records were made after eight days of fasting in competition with other men who had been eating regularly, Mr. Low going out of his class to do it. He has set other world records, after fasting at other times. On one occasion in reply to the claim of physicians that should one go without food for a week, one would be so weak one could scarcely walk and a few more days would endanger life, Mr. Low challenged any two of them to handle him in any way suitable to them after he had fasted for fifteen days. He asserted that after a fifteen days' fast he underwent a few years previously in Boston, he could have whipped his weight in wildcats.

   Prof. Levanzin says: "Those who feel any lack of strength during a fast are to be classed in the same category with those who feel hungry. They are nervous and very impressionable people, and their sufferings are only the baneful effects of their too vivid imagination.

   "If you suggest to yourself that you are strong and that you can walk two miles on the thirtieth day of your fast, believe me, you can do it without great difficulty, but if you fix in your weak mind that you are going to faint, and worry, and persist to worry about it, be sure that not a very long time will elapse before you faint really, a victim of your wrong auto-suggestion."

   Much to his surprise, Sinclair had none of the weakness during his second fast that he experienced during his first fast. Mrs. Sinclair experienced much weakness during her first fast, but no weakness during her second fast.

   Macfadden, Carrington and others, record numerous examples of increase of both mental and physical strength during the fast. Everyone who has had experience with fasting has seen similar results. Mr. Carrington used the phenomenon of the increase of energy during a fast as a basis of criticism of the reigning theory of science that energy is derived from food. He also employed it as a basis of interpretation of life. The very title of his book, Vitality, Fasting and Nutrition, is significant.

   Morgulis says: "Laboratory experience with fasters, as well as long fasting among followers of certain religious sects, prove that no harm can befall the healthy individual who abstains from food." Lacking clinical experience with fasting patients, he says: "Indiscriminate fasting, however, of patients whose strength is already impaired should be discouraged." Prof. Morgulis has never watched a weak patient grow stronger during a fast. He has not seen the day by day improvement in the strength and general condition of such patients. Valuable as his work is, he is not entitled to speak with authority in this field of fasting.

   "Again," says Dr. Dewey, "let it be borne in mind that recovery from acute disease is attended with a revival of strength in every power that makes life worth living, and that every person not acutely sick who has fasted under my care or who has cut down the waste of brain power by less daily food has found the same revival of power. To this there have been no exceptions."--The Fasting Cure, p. 161.

   One patient I helped care for a few years ago grew stronger each day during a fast of eighteen days. This man was so weak at the beginning of the fast that he would get down on his hands and knees and crawl up the steps. He told me afterwards that sometimes he thought he would not be able to make it to the top. Before his eighteen days of fasting were up he was able to run up the steps.

   It should not be thought, however, that one may fast indefinitely with a continuous increase in strength. On the contrary, when the muscles begin to waste there must come a gradual lessening of strength. In the average case strength should begin to lessen slightly after about the twentieth day. This, however, must vary in keeping with the amount of reserves possessed and the rapidity with which these are consumed. In some cases an increase in strength is registered up to and beyond the thirtieth day.

   In the volume on exercise it is pointed out that strength is a combination of muscle (machinery) and nerve force (motive energy). We should add that the purity or impurity of the blood greatly influences both the muscles and the nerves. Fasting brings about the purification of the blood and also conserves nervous energy, so that there is more energy on hand to be used and the condition of nerve and muscle is improved so that they respond more readily to the will. This increase of strength is, therefore, most marked in those who are most toxic and overloaded with excess food. Such an increase cannot continue indefinitely due to the gradual wasting of the muscles. After these have wasted below a certain minimum, while there is no diminution of nervous energy, there will be a decrease in strength.

   It is necessary to distinguish between one's actual strength and one's feeling of strength. The man who is accustomed to eating three square meals a day of rich, highly seasoned foods and taking tea and coffee along with these, and using tobacco between meals, will feel miserably weak, languid and shaky when deprived of these. He will feel too weak to sit up, perhaps. This feeling of weakness is due to the withdrawal of energy from the muscles. As the fast progresses, he will feel stronger and more cheerful. Fainting during the fast usually comes, if at all, during these first three or four days.

   The faster who feels weak will find that he feels much stronger after a few minutes of exercise. The feeling of weakness is due to the withdrawal of energy from the muscles. Exercise causes a great determination of nervous energy to these.

   Whatever may be true of the increase of energy during the fast it is not true that there is a continuous increase of strength throughout the length of a long fast. Strength is the ability to express energy and requires the possession of certain mechanisms for the expression. As the fast progresses and the muscles grow smaller, it is inevitable that a time comes when they are less able to manifest energy--that is when muscular strength will diminish.

   There are numerous fasting patients in whom there is an unmistakable feeling of weakness even of prostration. Some of them are so weak they cannot raise their heads from the pillow. But it is questionable whether or not the weakness so evident in these patients is real or only apparent. For one thing, it is a common occurrence for them to become suddenly strong as soon as they have taken the first half-glass of orange juice, even before the juice has left the stomach. Where does such a sudden rush of strength come from? If this phenomenon is not to be explained as purely mental, then, the explanation seems to me to lie in the "physiological letdown" that fasting occasions.

   The apparent increase in strength that follows immediately upon eating is due to the awakening of the body's dormant powers and is not any actual increase in strength. If condiments are taken with the food, as they sometimes are, there is the excitement that is called stimulation. The "weakness" that follows the withdrawal of food is merely the inevitable "let down" that always follows the withdrawal of stimulants. Most people are in the habit of taking stimulating substances with their foods and between meals. The same phenomena are seen when tobacco, alcohol, coffee, morphine, etc., are withheld from the habitual user of these substances. The fact that the greatest letdown is seen in heavy flesh-eaters and the lightest let-down is seen in vegetarians supports this view.

   When food and stimulants are withdrawn, there is a general let-down of physical and physiological activities and a cessation of the excited activity that is called stimulation. The slowing up of the heart beat, reduced respiratory rate, lowering of metabolism," etc., mean that the body is resting. It is this physiological let-down that gives one the feeling of weakness. A little activity to speed up the heart, increase respiration and step-up metabolism soon remedies the feeling of weakness.

   Long ago Prof. Atwater pointed out that we have neither the means for measuring potential energy as such, nor a unit for expressing such measurements if they were made. We can measure output only. But output is expenditure, whereas quiescence is conservation. Trall says: "All persons know how they feel; but all do not apprehend the true sources of their good or bad feelings, and the majority mistake the sense of mere stimulation for the condition of actual strength; they do not distinguish between the feeling of strength and vital power; they do not consider that strength or power is only shown in its waste or expenditure, not in its accumulation or possession."--Hydropathic Encyclopedia, Vol. I, p. 418.

   Carrington pointed out that the immediate feeling of strength and exhilaration that follows upon the taking of the first food after the fast cannot on any possible theory, be derived from the food itself, for the reason that the exhilaration comes immediately, whereas the food cannot possibly give any strength to the organism before it is digested and assimilated. Carrington suggests that the taking of food occasions the rousing up of dormant or latent energy. During the fast, and this is particularly true, if the patient has been resting, energy becomes latent. He also points out that much of the exhilaration is mental. I have repeatedly seen patients who were so "weak," they could not raise their heads from the pillow. With the first half glass of fruit juice, they were ready to go out and engage in marked activity. In these instances, both the "weakness" and the sudden return of "strength" are so obviously mental that no one who has watched it repeatedly ever doubts it.

   Carrington contends that "the vital energies, so far from being lessened, invariably increase, as the fast progresses (no matter what the feelings of weakness may seem to indicate); that the mind is never affected by the fast in any manner whatever, or in any other way than beneficially. . . ." Note that he makes a clear distinction between the "feeling of weakness" and an actual lessening of energy. Only by keeping this distinction in mind, can his statement be properly understood. I have seen patients who had fasted for prolonged periods, thirty to forty days and more, manifest most astounding strength and energy.

   Carrington points out that the more distinct and uninterrupted gains of energy, while fasting, are seen, and the gain is most marked and steady where the greatest degree of prostration and weakness is observed, and where, if anywhere, we should expect collapse to follow upon the complete withdrawal of food. As he puts it, "In cases which are already weakened by disease, and consequently where the vitality is already at a very low ebb, this increase of energy, consequent upon the withdrawal of food, is always most readily seen and most marked.

   "Theoretically, of course, the complete withdrawal of food in such cases, should have the effect of causing the speedy death of the patient, for the reason that the last source (according to science) of bodily energy has been withdrawn. But in actual practice, we find that the very opposite is the fact in the case, and that the patient's strength and energy return and continue to accumulate during the period of fasting."--Vitality, Fasting and Nutrition, pp. 260-261.