Gain and Loss of Weight
During Fasting


   Although we usually say that a faster loses about a pound a day, the loss of weight varies greatly, depending on a number of circumstances. Fat subjects lose more rapidly than lean ones. The more physically active one is, the more rapidly one loses weight. The longer the fast progresses, the less rapid is the loss of weight. Losses of five or six pounds a day for the first two or three days are often recorded. But these losses are not losses of flesh. Most of this apparent loss is due to the emptying of the alimentary canal of several pounds of food and feces which is not replaced by more food.

   George S. Keith, M.D., LL.D., F.R.C.P.E., who successfully employed fasting in his care of the sick for many years, says in his Plea for a Simple Life: "A healthy man, when he takes no food loses in weight at first about a pound a day, which is gradually lessened to half a pound if the abstinence is prolonged." In The Best Thing In the World Mr. Shaw, recording the developments in his own fast, which he carefully watched, says: "The loss of flesh for many days has been less and less, as compared with the earlier days of the fast. The loss of weight grows less and less daily."

   It is the history of all fasts that weight is lost more rapidly during the first few days than during the subsequent period. In one fast of thirty days conducted by myself, the loss during the last five days was one-fourth of a pound a day. The patient was moderately active from 9 A.M. to 7 P.M. During Mr. Johnston's thirty days' fast he lost from one-half a pound to two pounds a day. On the thirtieth day of the fast his loss was one-half pound. On the twenty-second and twenty-third days he weighed the same, apparently losing nothing. This, however, was due to profuse water drinking. I have seen cases gain weight for two and three days at a time from drinking so much water. At the beginning of his 30 days' fast, Mr. Johnston weighed 154½ lbs. At its completion, his weight was 131½ lbs., his total loss being 23 lbs. During the 20 days of walking from Chicago without food, he lost 37½ lbs., more than in the previous fast of thirty days. It goes without saying that the physically active faster loses more rapidly than the faster who rests most or all of the time.

   During the first few days of his fast Sinclair lost fifteen pounds; an indication of the extremely poor state of his tissues. During the next eight days he lost only two pounds, a very unusual thing for this stage of fasting. Levanzin lost 29 pounds during his 31 days' fast in the Carnegie Institute. Major Gotshall says: "For the first eight days of my fast I lost twenty-five pounds." This very unusual loss indicates that his tissues were in very poor condition.

   The weight lost by fat patients in the early days of a fast is astounding. I have seen losses of five and six pounds a day for the first few days. A woman who fasted in the Health School in January and February of 1950 lost twenty-five pounds in the first two weeks. As before indicated, rapid loss of weight in a fast indicates a poor condition of the tissues. It has been repeatedly noticed that fat individuals who are soft and flabby lose more rapidly than those whose fat is firm and solid. As the fast progresses, the rate of loss decreases in fat patients. Skinny patients commonly lose slowly from the beginning, but one whose tissues are in very poor condition may lose very rapidly at the outset.

   Mr. Carrington tabulated and published the losses of weight sustained in ten selected patients. In 253 days of fasting these lost 248 pounds, or approximately a pound a day. Such figures supply us with a fairly accurate index to the amount of actual nutritive substance the average person requires each day. By actual nutritive material is meant water-free and waste-free food. The greater part of our foods, as we consume them, is water and indigestible fiber, or bulk. About a pound a day of actual nutritive substance is sufficient to maintain a healthful balance between income and outgo of food.

   I present Carrington's table of weight losses from his Vitality, Fasting and Nutrition:


Weight at Commencement

Weight at End


Loss of Weight
1. Geo. E. Davis




2. Mrs. I. Matthews Rev.




3. N. H. Lohre




4. Prof. F. W.




5. Mr. J. B.




6. Mrs. J.B.




7. Mr. G. W. Tuthill




8. Mrs. F. J. C.




9. Mrs. T. A.




10. Robert B.









   It will be noted by a careful study of this chart that the rates of loss varied much in these ten cases. Several factors account for this. Fat patients lose much faster than do thin ones, nervous and emotional patients lose more rapidly than calm and poised individuals, patients that are relaxed and resting lose less weight than those that are tense or active. There is also a correlation between the condition of the patient's tissue and his loss of weight. Fat individuals who are soft and flabby fall away very rapidly. Those fat individuals who are hard and firm lose much slower. There is the added fact that much water drinking tends to keep the weight up by water-logging the tissues, without preventing the usual loss of solid substance. It is also true that the most rapid losses occur in the earliest part of the fast so that on the whole, short fasts show greater average daily losses than do long fasts. Losses are not as great in second, third or fourth fasts as in the first.

   On the basis of this table and other data which he considered, Mr. Carrington concluded that: "The average loss of weight by fasting patients amounts, ceteris paribus, to one pound per diem." He noted that in some cases there are great variations from this loss and pointed out that the loss is greater at the beginning than at the end of the fast. He says: "A patient loses approximately one and one-half pounds per diem, at the very beginning of every fast for every one-half pound which is lost toward its close."

   As these observations were all made on sick individuals, Mr. Carrington asks the question: How much should the normal man lose? He says "more than a pound a day is obviously too much--denoting obesity; while less than half a pound is too little--denoting emaciation." He says that we cannot accept the average loss of weight of a pound a day as the "normal" loss for the reason that: "All patients who find it necessary to fast absolutely are already in a grossly abnormal condition, and their loss of weight must consequently be considered abnormal also." He says that one pound a day must represent the loss of a diseased body, and is by no means a normal loss.

   Reversing his position that if the normal man fasts, he starves, he takes the position that a loss of a pound a day for a normal man is too great. He mentions a loss of fifteen pounds in a week of fasting by Mr. Macfadden, a loss of nothing at all during a fast of four days by Miss Louise Kops of New York (May 1904) and the gain of three-fourths of a pound by Mr. J. Estapper in a week of fasting. These are exceptional cases and provide no basis for a calculation of the weight a normal person should lose during a fast. From a consideration of various data, however, he reached the conclusion that the fasting normal man should lose an average of twelve ounces a day. This, he thinks, represents the actual nutritive needs of the body daily in order to preserve its weight and to replace worn out tissue. Rabagliati arrived at the same conclusion from different data. The reader will understand that food--that is the raw material--is not all nutriment. This does not mean twelve ounces of food, but twelve ounces of nutritive material that the digestive system may extract from the food.

   Discussing losses of weight during a short fast, Benedict says: "Losses of body weight in experiments of a few days duration are wholly without significance. With regard to the total cumulative loss as the experiment progresses, it appears that in long experiments of Succi the loss bears in general a direct ratio to the length of the experiment." He recites a fast conducted by Nicholson, using a prisoner for the experiment, in which there was an average daily loss of of 1.4 lbs., "the greatest loss appearing during the first part of the experiment."

   Observations show that women lose slightly more than men do when fasting. This is thought to be due to the fact that women usually carry more fatty tissue than men. The rate of metabolism in women is lower than in men and we should expect men to lose more rapidly. But it is a well-established fact that the fatter the individual the greater the comparative loss of weight. This is added confirmation of Carrington's conclusion that healthy subjects lose at a slower rate than the sick.

   What are lost pounds to those who have recovered from their miseries, so that they may eat in comfort and with pleasure? After they have been restored to good health by a period of physical, mental and physiological rest, they may regain the lost pounds. There is this difference, however; after the fast the patient may put on healthy flesh.

   Macleod's Physiology in Modern Medicine says that "All of the fat does not disappear from the tissues during starvation. This has led to the concept that a certain amount of fat in a tissue is an essential part of that tissue while the remainder is present as storage material. The essential portion is constant in amount while the storage fat varies with the amount present in the diet, and with the metabolic activity of the tissues." It is the lowering of the metabolic rate that follows the first part of the fast that accounts for the slowing up of the rate of loss.

   It is said that a man may lose forty per cent of his normal weight before his life is endangered. We know, however, that many fasting patients lose much more than this without danger or harm. Indeed, Dr. Dewey insists that "when death occurs before the skeleton condition is reached it is always due to old age or some other form of disease or injury and not to starvation." Dr. Hazzard and Mr. Carrington hold the same view and, as will be shown later, there are facts which support this view.

   Chossat found that the ultimate proportional losses in different animals experimented on, were almost exactly the same, death occurring when the body had lost two-fifths (40 per cent) of its original weight. Different parts of the body lose weight in different proportions. The chief losses are sustained by the adipose tissues, the muscles and glands. Young organisms are said to die when they have lost twenty per cent of their original weight.

   It makes a great difference where one commences to figure the 40% loss that results in death. It must be computed from "normal" weight; not "original" weight. The fast of J. Austin Shaw, of New York, recorded by Dr. Dewey, was of forty-five days duration, during which period he lost but 26¾ lbs. At the beginning of the fast he weighed 199¾ lbs., at the end 173 lbs., being still over-weight. Mr. Propheter, New York, fasted 52 days, losing 43 lbs., from 135½ at the start to 92½ at the end, 40% of his original weight would reduce him to 81.3 or allow him to lose 11.2 lbs. more, which would have taken three more weeks at the rate he was losing. Young children have, in more than one case, lost more than twenty per cent of their weight before death occurred--see the two cases recorded by Dewey.

   Discussing a gain of four pounds during an eight days fast, by a Mrs. Martinson of Stapleton, Staten Island, and a case reported by Dr. Rabagliati of a gain of one and one-half pounds in three weeks, by a patient on less than eight ounces of food a day, about ninety per cent of which was water, Carrington says: "The explanation is in all probability this: In all such cases great density of tissue is present--it is obstipated, as it is called--and when such a person fasts, he or she oxidizes off a part of this too solid tissue, and fills in the interstices with water, which the patient is at liberty to drink during the fast. This is, at least, the explanation which I have been driven to adopt--none other seemingly covered the facts."

   J. H. Washburn, of California, was reported to have fasted 43 days in 1870 without losing an ounce of flesh. This, I do not believe.

   One of the athletes who fasted seven days at Madison Square Garden, in Feb. 1904, actually gained three pounds during the 7 days. The eight athletes were watched during the entire time by paid guards.

   Dr. Tanner took no water during the first 16 days of his fast (tissues became dehydrated) and lost weight rapidly. After the sixteenth day he drank considerable amounts of water (tissues re-hydrated) and gained four and one-half pounds during the next four days, after which he again commenced to lose weight.

   Carrington records that "Miss Louise Kops of New York, lost nothing at all during a four days fast (in May 1904), and in the case of Mr. J. Estapper, Jr., a week's fast resulted in an actual gain of three-fourths of a pound."

   The weight of Mr. Estapper was very accurately ascertained, and it is asserted that there was no possible source of error through which a mistake could have been made. The faster was one of the competitors in the seven days' fasting-athletic contest held in Madison Square Garden during the last week in December, 1903. Measurements and weights were taken with the greatest care, the contestants being under the strictest surveillance during the whole period and were frequently observed and examined by physicians in New York City.

   Mr. Macfadden, discussing the case in Physical Culture, March, 1904, attributed the gain in weight to the retention within his body of a large part of the distilled water, which Mr. Estapper "took in large quantities."


   There is much fear on the part of many, that fasting may result in tuberculosis. They have the idea that to get thin is to lay oneself liable to this "disease." This fear is unfounded and is based on a false view. The thinness in tuberculosis is not the cause of the trouble but the result of its cause. Loss of weight seems to be essential to recovery from acute "disease," and nature makes certain that the acute sufferer loses weight no matter how much food is taken. Indeed, a typhoid fever patient will lose weight and strength more rapidly if fed in the usual manner, than if fasting. Due to the fact that the fasting patient recovers more quickly, and even better, during the most prolonged fast, than when fed the accustomed amounts of "good nourishing food," such a patient will lose less weight if he fasts than if he is fed.

   The loss of weight during a fast does not represent a loss of vital tissue, but of surplus nutriment, waste, fat, etc. It is just so many pounds of "disease" that one loses. The muscles, for example, decrease in size. But this is due to a decrease in the amount of fat in them, and to a decrease in the size of their cells. There is no actual lessening of the number of muscle cells during the ordinary fast.

   Tuberculosis quite often develops in the plethoric and "well-fed." Professor Morgulis rightly declares, "as a social phenomenon, malnutrition is not simply a matter of either insufficient or improper nourishment: It is the sinister combination of blighting influences of poverty--overcrowding, under-clothing, unhealthy and unhygienic environment. Here is the fertile soil on which tuberculosis reaps its ghastly harvest."

   The weight lost during a fast is rapidly regained, if it is desirable to do so. There is not the slightest danger from loss of weight.