Fasting Versus Eliminating Diets


   There is today much loose talking and writing about fasting by writers and lecturers and doctors who have never conducted and in the majority of instances, never even so much as observed a single fast. These people almost uniformly decry the long fast and advise, not fasting, but various kinds of diets and programs for "detoxication." Just why they insist on calling these programs and these diets, fasting, is difficult to determine.

   The "detoxicating" program usually lasts from three days to seven days and consists of taking fruit juices or fruits and, sometimes, vegetable juices. With these go repeated enemas, large quantities of drinking water and purges or laxatives of various kinds. Their whole idea of "elimination" is that of emptying the digestive tract. They know nothing of fasting and its effects. How true are the words of Dr. Rabagliati that "the most popular criticisms of fasting are written by people who have never missed a meal in their lives."

   The periods of detoxification are arbitrarily limited and bear no necessary relation to the needs or condition of the patient, are seldom of sufficient duration to produce marked benefit, and are often accompanied with such drastic purging that the patient is weakened and made worse. Often the patients are sold machines to extract the juices from their fruits and vegetables and are urged to drink large quantities of juice to "alkalinize" their bodies. Greatly enervated and in need of rest, these patients spend so much time in their kitchens making juices that they wear themselves out and grow worse.

   Few doctors of any school know enough about fasting to conduct a fast with confidence. They prefer the eliminating diet in all cases because their ignorance of the superior method is so great. A few of these men succeed in camouflaging their ignorance and inexperience behind the pretense that fasting is dangerous; or that the eliminating diet is superior to the fast because it supplies the body with alkaline salts, while the fast depletes the supply of these. Their plausible arguments, based as they are, on half truths, deceive many who are not fully informed about fasting. Then, there are others, who, finding it much easier to get people to go on an eliminating diet than to get them to fast, prefer the eliminating diet.

   Dr. T. L. Nichols, an outstanding Hygienist of the last century, laid great stress on the importance, in some cases, of what he called the "partial fast." He says: "I have known a case of serious organic disease, which I feared might prove speedily fatal, to be entirely cured by a seven-months fast on one very moderate and very pure meal a day." Following his lead, Dr. Rabagliati of England and Dr. Tilden of this country made frequent use of what Tilden often referred to as the "starvation diet." Indeed, Tilden said that the patient should be fed barely enough to sustain life. Macfadden and his staff also made frequent use of various "partial fasting" regimens.

   It will be readily recognized that limited feeding of this type constitutes a marked degree of physiological rest for the sick and enervated organism and constitutes a near approach to a complete fast. The student of the matter also knows that the originators of the "partial fasts" or "eliminating diets" did not regard them as cures. They knew what they were doing and were not fooled by the idea that there are curative foods. I offer the following reasons why the eliminating diet is preferable to the fast in certain cases:

   1. A few patients who know nothing of fasting, or who have been poisoned against it by someone else who knows nothing of fasting, are afraid of the fast. The eliminating diet should be employed in such cases. It frequently happens that after watching others fast and witnessing the results, these fearful ones ask to be permitted to fast but at the outset they refuse to fast.

   2. Some patients are so greatly depleted in body that a fast of more than three or four days, or at most a few days, is inadvisable. Such a fast may profitably be followed with an eliminating diet. In such cases an eliminating diet may even include small quantities of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

   3. In mild, acute and in chronic "disease," in children who demand food and cannot be made to understand the reason for fasting and cannot be induced to cooperate with parent and doctor, the eliminating diet is usually very satisfactory.

   The eliminating diet is of no value in acute "disease" and should not be employed in acute conditions. It proves to be of value in chronic conditions and following periods of indulgence in the healthy state. In the milder forms of acute "disease," such as the common cold, an eliminating diet may be used, although it is not as satisfactory as the fast. An eliminating diet (an orange or grapefruit diet) may also be used in boils and similar disturbances. Such a diet may also be employed in acute diarrhea, although the fast is far superior in such cases.

   It sometimes happens that a patient is placed upon an eliminating diet and upon the second, third or fourth day, a crisis develops, just as occurs in many instances during the fast, and feeding must be discontinued. As in the fast, these crises are seen in toxic individuals. They are cleaning-out processes. In such cases the fast should have been instituted from the beginning.

   There are many cases of chronic "disease" in which the eliminating diet proves to be of but little value. These patients make almost no improvement until they are placed upon a fast. I once cared for a lady, who, before coming to me, could not eat any food but meat, without great distress. Fruits and vegetables caused pain and distress and passed out in the stools just as they were swallowed, having undergone no digestion.

   After a fast of eleven days, this patient could eat certain fruits and vegetables and juices, and digest them. Her progress, however, was very slow and at the time she passed from under my care she was able to take but a limited variety of foods. Her troubles had existed for over twenty years and there had been an abdominal operation and a permanent suppression of menstruation by means of the X-ray. We anticipate slow recoveries in such cases.

   I see many cases of "nervous indigestion" of long standing, in which rational feeding and eliminating diets are not possible, until after a fast has prepared the way for these. The doctor who rejects fasting cuts himself off from a method that would spell certain success in many cases in which the eliminating diet means certain failure. The patient who rejects fasting often dooms himself to continued invalidism. I am proving these things every day by employing the fast, with the most happy results, in cases that several doctors have placed upon eliminating diets and failed to bring about even slight improvement.

   John W. Armstrong, of England, after sixteen years of experience with fasting, says that "any attempt to tone down the principles of correct fasting, (by 'the attempts,' often successful, 'to cure disease by fasting' on the juices of fruits and water, or by vegetable juices and water) often disappoints both the faster and his advisers, and, those numerous 'failures,' merely illustrate the folly of raking ground that urgently requires not a stirring-up but a good downright prolonged system of digging."

   He adds that to anyone who has had opportunity to observe numerous cases on a fast and on light diets, it is very apparent that the patient progresses much better on the fast and that the body frequently protests vigorously against even the ingestion of fruit juices. He lists angina pectoris and other forms of heart trouble, most forms of rheumatism, influenza, phlebitis, dropsy, jaundice,eczema, psorasis, and diabetes as among conditions in which this is especially noticeable. "The chronic, so-called incurable, forms of disease," he says, "can--and mostly do--continue to flourish upon even so light a diet as fruit juice, not to mention whole fruits, milk, and fresh meat."

   4. Some patients are compelled to continue with their work. While long fasts have been taken by both mental and physical workers who continued their activities during the fast, this is not advisable, particularly, if there is any strain connected with the mental work, or if the physical work is heavy. A short fast is easily possible for people who must continue their work. This may then be followed by an eliminating diet. Not everyone, however, can take a short fast and continue working. In such cases the eliminating diet is very convenient.

   It is worthy of note that fasting is usually much easier than restricted diets. The fast produces less discomfort and the fasting patient is often the stronger of the two. Sinclair says that again and again he tried light fruit meals, "but with always the same result: the light meals are just enough to keep me ravenously hungry, and inevitably I found myself eating more and more."

   He also says that on the "fruit fasts" he found that he "could live on nothing but fruit for several days, but I would get so weak that I could not stand up--far weaker than I ever have become on an out-and-out fast."

   These experiences of Sinclair agree with my own. The fasting patient soon loses all desire for food--the patient eating an eliminating diet does not lose his appetite but does not eat enough to satisfy it; so, he is always hungry. I do not know how to explain why the patient on an eliminating diet is so often weaker than the fasting patient, but it is a fact I frequently observe.

   During the recent war, the Army Air Force conducted a series of experiments in the Gulf of Mexico, to aid them in solving problems connected with survival at sea. Men were put out in life-rafts and permitted to remain on these for several days under all the weather conditions they were likely to encounter in the event they were forced down at sea. Each day they were taken aboard ship for examinations and tests. One 38-year old officer went without food and water for four days, also refraining from smoking during this period. He is said to have "felt no ill effects," while, the account adds, "Others on short rations, suffered more." The fact that the faster suffered less than those on short rations is no surprise to those of us who are experienced with fasting.

   5. In many cases it is necessary to treat the family and friends more than the patient. In many cases where a fast is plainly needed and would be of the greatest good it is impossible to get the patient to fast, because of the unreasoning and uninformed opposition of the other members of the family and from the patient's immediate friends.

   Even should the patient attempt to fast despite this opposition, those around him keep him so upset and disturbed that he is harmed more than helped. Unless this patient can be cared for away from the influence of family and friends, the eliminating diet will prove more practical, even if inferior.

   In institutional work, where patients often come long distances and can be away from their work or business for only a limited time, or have but limited funds, they must get results as speedily as possible. They cannot spend months or years at the institution.

   Results may be achieved by fasting that can be achieved in no other way and results may be achieved in less time by fasting than by any other method. If only those who know nothing of fasting would let it alone! Was it not Ingersol who prayed to God to take care of his friends, saying he could take care of his enemies?


   Diet cures are quite popular at this time and are now exploited from the housetops by all and sundry. There are "grape cures," "lemon cures," "orange cures." "onion cures," "garlic cures" and similar cures, galore. Juices of all kinds — vegetable juices and fruit juices--simple, mixed (compounded) in every conceivable manner, are urged upon the sick as cures for almost all the ills flesh is subject to. Food extracts, food concentrates, vitamin preparations, gland extracts, food pills, food powders, and other food-derived imitations of the products of the pharmaceutical houses are sold at big profits to a credulous and cure-deluded people.

   Practically all parts and tissues of the body are bathed in a solution of food and oxygen constantly renewed--the blood and lymph--which yields to functioning organs and growing tissues the elements needed by them to sustain their special actions and support their growth. Every functional act and every process of repair and growth is a local demand on the whole resources of the system. The organ or tissue is local, the supply is general and mobile.

   The blood, if normal, contains ample resources to sustain alike all parts and all functions of the body. Healthy individuals find no difficulty in deriving nutritive support for all the organs and functions of their bodies from the same food. This means that ordinary natural foods contain ample diversity for all needs and that special foods are not required to support special functions or particular organs.

   If these foods are adequate for the healthy, they are equally adequate for the unhealthy and special foods to support weakened powers are of slight value. The present feeding plans seek specific foods for special organs or for "specific diseases" in the same way the old drugging plan sought specific drugs for special organs or for "specific diseases."

   Food cures are based on two half-truths. Some of them are based on the notion that the sick body is full of acids and that alkaline foods must be supplied to neutralize the acids. Foods rich in bases are prescribed for this purpose and it is usual to urge their use in large quantities.

   Two fallacies are involved in this theory and practice. It is not true that the sick body is full of acids. It is true that the cell wastes are all acid and acid fermentation-products do get into the body from the digestive tract. But the body will not tolerate acids for a second. They are immediately "bound" with alkalies and neutralized.

   The other fallacy is the belief that the body utilizes food elements in proportion to the amount ingested. This is not true. Forcing large quantities of alkalies into the body does not assure their utilization. Indeed, one may be positive that the sick body will not be able to utilize them. Only a healthy body, possessed of full nerve force, is capable of properly digesting and assimilating foods. To overfeed the sick body on certain elements does not restore health.


   The other half-truth upon which diet cures are based is that "diseases" are due to nutritive deficiencies, and cure follows an adequate supply of the deficient element or elements. Efforts to meet this requirement may take the form of drinking large quantities of juices or of using food concentrates--substances rich in minerals or vitamins.

   All over America the gum-willies are talking "deficiency" to the people and all over America there are millions of people who are living testimonials to the failure of the theory and the practices built thereon. This is not to deny that deficiencies exist; rather, it is to point out that most deficiencies are due to failure of assimilation and can be corrected only by removing the causes that have impaired the nutritive processes. Enervation and toxemia and the mental and physical habits that are responsible for these are the chief causes of deficiency.

   There are deficiencies, but they are almost never primary. Constitutional impairment--enervation and toxemia--is prior to the appearance of the nutritional imbalance. The toxic state is the large factor and the mineral and vitamin deficiencies are secondary to this.

   The truth of this is strikingly revealed in anemia, where the deficiency theory and the feeding practices based thereon are failures.

   Care that eliminates the toxemia is followed by immediate and marked improvement in the blood without any food at all, except water, being given. Goitre also presents a striking demonstration of this fact. Care based on the "deficiency" theory is a failure. Care based on the toxemia theory is a success.

   The great object to be achieved is the elimination of toxins. Nothing more effectively promotes the elimination of toxins than a fast coupled with rest. No "eliminative" or "curative" diet can equal the fast for this purpose.

   Here is a true story of a woman who was cared for in the Health School. Among her troubles were brittle and corrugated finger nails. She had been assured that this trouble was due to calcium deficiency and for some time before coming to the Health School had been faithfully swallowing the calcium preparations that were prescribed for her. She was also using other food preparations that were prescribed for her. Nonetheless her nail condition grew worse instead of better. At the Health School she underwent a lengthy fast during which her nails completely recovered, so that when she left here all traces of the former difficulty had disappeared.


   Writing in Physical Culture, May, 1915, Dortch Campbell says: "There is nothing that can be found as an actual substitute for fasting, nothing which will give the full benefits of the fast." He is discussing various types of eliminating diets for those who "cannot fast." Among these diets, he mentions the grape diet, the apple diet, the tomato diet, the milk diet, etc. He says: "I am inclined to the opinion, however, that there are better fruits than grapes that may be used. An exclusive apple diet is superior, an exclusive orange diet more so because there is little nourishment in oranges. An exclusive tomato diet answers the same purpose."

   The principle here expressed, that the diet gives better results as it approaches a fast, agrees perfectly with my experience in the matter. Not only is it true that the less "value" the food possesses, the more good the patient derives from its use, but it is also true that the less the patient takes of the food and the more nearly he fasts, the more rapidly he recovers. Tilden fed diluted fruit juices for an extended period and came to the same conclusion.

   Fruit diets, vegetable diets, juice diets, mono-diets, etc., are valuable in the degree to which they reduce the amount of food daily ingested. Their value increases as the total amount of food eaten daily diminishes. The nearer one approaches a complete fast the more good he derives from his "curative" diet.

   . In an article written a short time before his death and published posthumously in the October, 1940 Review and Critique, Dr. Tilden says: "How do fruits prevent clogging of the liver, kidneys, and skin? By not causing clogging of these organs. Certainly not through eliminating properties--medicinal qualities. No! Nature eliminates, when given an opportunity. Clogging comes from ringing the changes on bread, meat, potatoes, puddings, pies, and coffee, until the body is burdened with waste. A fruit diet allows nature to work in an almost unobstructed manner. Every particle of fruit taken when the body is replete hinders elimination. This being true (and I have proved it daily for years in actual practice), then fruit does not assist elimination, except by its absence. When used, it has less influence than the other foods in preventing elimination."

   Consuming large quantities of juice water-logs the tissues and overworks the kidneys. The less juice ingested, the more rapidly the sick person improves.

   A fast is more effective than any form of diet; not because fasting cures, for it does nothing of the kind, but because it affords the body full opportunity for house-cleaning. The sick man is not so much in need of ingestion as he is of excretion. His body is already overloaded. More often than otherwise he is suffering from nutritive redundancy. Abstinence, or partial abstinence, alone, can save him.

   In many cases of chronic illness it is not necessary to undergo a long fast, a short fast, or a series of short fasts to obtain the desired results. However, the most salutary effects of cutting down the food intake are best obtained by fasting. All that is needed in some cases is to cut down the total quantity of food consumed and of the proteins and starches in particular. But, even in these cases, the results obtained are never as far-reaching as those obtained while fasting. The reason for this will be evident to those who have mentally digested and assimilated the chapter on the rejuvenating effects of the fast.

   That many do obtain relief from symptoms by the use of these various diets is not to be questioned. For, at their worst, they are usually better than the diet customarily eaten and their use usually means less gluttony, at least, for a while.

   But the man of experience is well aware that full health is almost never achieved, that the effects of the diets are never as profound and far-reaching as those of fasting and that the diets almost never achieve their results in as short a space of time as does the fast.

   Using foods to cure, instead of removing the causes of disease and using foods to nourish the body, is fundamentally as unsound as using drugs to cure. Foods do not cure. Until we have discarded our faith in cures, there can be no intelligent approach to the problems presented by suffering and no proper use of foods by those who are ill.

   I am not content with half-way measures. I have seen them fail too often, where a subsequent fast brought speedy results, to be fooled by the claims of the inexperienced and poorly informed. In many cases, failure has been so marked that the patient has been permanently soured upon the whole idea of fasting.

   In thus drawing a contrast between fasting and the eliminating diet, and pointing out the many limitations of the latter, I do not wish to appear to minimize its value. The eliminating diet is extremely important and no doctor, who does not fully understand the application of such a diet, is fully equipped to serve all patients who may consult him. He is seriously handicapped just as is the man who does not have a thorough working knowledge of fasting. The reader should refer to Volume II of this series for a full presentation of the eliminating diet.