Fasting for short periods is physically beneficial and health promoting for those who overeat. Were it not for overeating, fasting would be largely unnecessary, and entire abstinence from food would be harmful. The foods of which people overeat do not contain enough alkaline ash to neutralize and hasten the elimination of their nitrogen and acid wastes. Also, the activities of the body and its chemical changes constantly produce acid wastes, and these require alkaline-ash foods for neutralization and elimination.
Hence, a scanty diet often results in so-called acidosis. Shopper's headache occurring from a late noon meal is an example of this. Headaches in general are often due to overeating of heavy protein, acid-ash foods, and sweet desserts; or, they may be due to a coffeeand-toast breakfast, or no breakfast at all, or a scanty or late noon lunch. Thus, in the latter case, the person lives on his own tissues—a meat diet.
Faddists are frequently encountered who are ardent advocates of long fasts for others. These would-be practitioners make absurd promises of cures or improvement in health, and extravagant claims of marvels performed by fasting. They even undertake to fast clients by mail, fees to be paid in advance. In the practice of medicine, persons are occasionally met who have done themselves irreparable harm by following such spurious advice. The absolute fast for a period of days or weeks is generally inadvisable, and is to be undertaken only under the specific care of a competent physician.
In the book, "Counsels on Diet and Foods," we find a statement on temperance and moderation that has the highest scientific approval of what is known regarding body needs and the proper selection and quantitative balance between foods of various classes: "The true fasting which should be recommended to all, is abstinence from every stimulating kind of food, and the proper use of wholesome, simple food which God has provided in abundance."—Page 188. On the next page; a "fruit diet for a few days" is suggested as a proper fast. Such a diet supplies the needed vitamins and the necessary carbohydrate to maintain tissue metabolism. It adds only an insignificant amount of protein, while it greatly aids and hastens the elimination of accumulated excess protein wastes—nitrogen, sulphur, and phosphorus—by means of its alkaline-ash constituents.
If fruit and low-protein vegetables were freely used a few days by those who have for years overeaten of heavy protein and other rich foods, much benefit would result and no harm would need be feared. That no harm could result was shown in 1928 at the Mayo Foundation when a man was kept for sixty-three days on a diet entirely devoid of nitrogen (protein free), but with all other elements supplied. No noticeable physiologic disturbances resulted.
Certainly if this nutritive procedure, entirely free from protein, could be prolonged over two months without harm, no one need fear "a prompt nutritive debacle" from a few days' fast in which vegetables and fruit were abundantly supplied. Although such fasting is highly beneficial physically and mentally to those who overeat, it need find but little place in the life of those Christians whose daily habit is a well-balanced dietary. When a regular meal is omitted for a religious fast, it is best to use fruit in its place as suggested. By maintaining a physiologic balance, the free use of fruits and vegetables aids mental reactions. On the other hand, overeating of high protein, acid-ash foods, or of sweet desserts, is one of the physical causes of inability to appreciate intellectual and spiritual themes.
What Constitutes the True Fast?
"The true fasting which should be recommended to all, is abstinence from every stimulating kind of food, and the proper use of wholesome, simple food, which God has provided in abundance."—Id., p. 90.
This is a very significant statement, indicating that the daily use of simple wholesome food in proper amount and abstaining from unhealthful and stimulating food, is regarded by God as the true physical fast.
"All the fasting in the world will not take the place of simple trust in the word of God. 'Ask,' He says, 'and ye shall receive' . . . You are not called upon to fast forty days. The Lord bore that fast for you in the wilderness of temptation. There would be no virtue in such a fast; but there is virtue in the blood of Christ."—Id., p. 189.
"The spirit of true fasting and prayer is the spirit which yields mind, heart, and will to God."—Ibid.
A careful reading of Isaiah 58 (addressed to the Jews, to whom a "fast" had come to mean the height of religious ceremony) makes it very clear that God requires no rigorous doing of penance, but enjoins Christian helpwork and medical missionary service to others as His chosen fast.
"The true fast is no mere formal service. The Scripture describes the fast that God has chosen,—'to loosen the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke ;' to 'draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul.' Here is set forth the very spirit and character of the work of Christ. His whole life was a sacrifice of Himself for the saving of the world. Whether fasting in the wilderness of temptation or eating with the publicans at Matthew's feast, He was giving His life for the redemption of the lost. Not in idle mourning, in mere bodily humiliation and multitudinous sacrifices, is the true spirit of devotion manifested, but it is shown in the surrender of self in willing service to God and man."—"The Desire of Ages," p. 278.
*Parallel scientific discussion to be read in connection with Section X, "Fasting," in the book, "Counsels on Diet and Foods." It should be studied in immediate connection with the preceding discussion on "Overeating."
Carrell, M.D., Alexis, "Man, the Unknown." Harper, 1935.
Rose, Mary Swartz, "The Foundations of Nutrition," Macmillan, 1938.
Best and Taylor, "Physiological Basis of Medical Practice," William Wood & Co., 1937.
Starling, E. H., "Fluids of the Body," Keener & Co., Chicago, 1909.