The big business of losing weight, figure control, diet-in-comfort plans and similar programs have
developed into one of the great industries of our age. Everyone considers himself an expert. Fad diets rage for a few months and give away to the next crash wonder. This week it is an ice cream diet. The next it is bananas. The week after that a protein diet, nothing but juicy steaks. Eat yourself thin!
Overweight is becoming an increasingly perplexing problem, not only for adult men and women, but for children also. Several facts are responsible for this, but, in general, we may say that the increased abundance of food, together with the increased income of the American people, on the one hand, and the changes in work resulting from the shortening work day, shortened work week, modern transportation, and the many labor-saving devices that take much of the burden off the shoulders of men and women, have resulted in the increase of weight. Just at a time when our reduced labors have reduced our need for food, increased production, artificially increased palatability, and increased income have served to increase our food consumption.
Hygienists are realists. Nothing can circumvent the fact that the quickest, surest, safest way to lose weight is by fasting, and the surest way of maintaining the proper weight level is by refusing to return to the wrong eating habits.
The disappointingly slow method of losing weight by “going on a diet” is rarely very successful for the reason that it is a long drawn-out process requiring more self-control and a much longer period of control than the average person is capable of. A not uncommon outcome of such programs is that, after a brief period, during which time a few pounds are lost, the obese individual returns to his prior overeating and puts back all the weight lost, and often additional pounds. Only rarely does one see an obese individual stick to a reducing diet for a prolonged period.
To begin with, as I have stated in many lectures, and will continue to remind the reader, do not enter upon a fast on your own without the guidance of an expert in the field of conducting fasts. While fasting is perfectly safe as a health and weight-reducing measure, it does involve the complex human organism, and it should be watched over and directed at all times by a qualified person who knows what he may expect, or what trouble signs to watch for during the fast.
How much can one expect to lose? The loss rate of course varies with the individual, but the average for a protracted fast runs around two-and-one-half pounds a day. Is this heavy weight loss safe? It is a long as it is conducted under proper controls and with proper and continuing rest. Let me cite here briefly the most striking advantages of fasting for weight reduction:
- Safe rapid loss is registered on the fast.
- The fast is far more pleasant than the reducing diet— the nagging desire to eat is missing.
- Weight loss may be secured without resulting in flabbiness or sagging of the skin and tissues. However, this is not true of elderly persons.
When the overweight individual undergoes a marked reduction of weight, several indications of improved health follow immediately:
- Breathing is freer.
- There is greater ease of movement.
- There is loss of “that tired feeling.”
- There is a disappearance of the sense of fullness and discomfort in the abdomen.
- Symptoms of indigestion cease to annoy.
- Other discomforts cease.
- Blood pressure is lowered and the load the heart has to carry is lessened.
All of these evidences of benefit are noticeable, but the improvements are commonly out of all proportion to the weight loss, thus indicating that reduction of the amount of food eaten itself resulted in improved health. There is every reason for thinking that the greatly-reduced intake of sugar, starches, and fats and the overall reduction of the amount of food eaten is beneficial.
In 1962, a woman began to fast to reduce weight under my guidance. At the conclusion she told me: “It has been an amazing experience—the pleasure of seeing those pounds melt away. I never saw fat go so fast.” Another woman remarked after a fast of fifteen days undertaken for reducing: “I was at a well-advertised health spa. They kept me on a diet of seven hundred calories a day. I was hungry all the time. This fast has been a pleasure.”
A third woman said after a week of fasting to lose pounds: “This has been the most remarkable experience of my life. I have enjoyed this fast and rest. I never knew before that people fast, but I have enjoyed it.”
Are these expressions typical? Hardly. Fasting is not always the pleasant experience these women found it to be, but it is rarely disagreeable enough to justify discontinuing it until one’s goal has been attained. And it is frequently a far more pleasurable experience than many people have in their daily eating habits. In many conditions of life, every meal is followed by discomforts and even actual pain. In these states, the fast is often such a relief that it becomes a joy.
There is always great satisfaction in watching the fat melt away at the rate of two to four pounds a day. To lose nineteen pounds in a week is a highly pleasing experience (there are exceptions in which the weight loss is not so great) for the first several days of the fast. The rate of loss is not uniform and there are periods when the scales register no loss for a day or two at a time. The rapid loss registered at the beginning of the fast does not continue through the whole of a long fast.
Not only is there safety in fasting for weight reduction, there is also greater ease than there is in dieting. One reason for this is that unlike, almost all dieters, the faster is not hungry all the time. His taste buds are not constantly tempting him. The flood of gastric juices is not being constantly activated.
The faster may experience some desire for food during the first or second day of the fast or may not desire food at all. Hunger subsides usually by the end of the third day. And unless the fast is broken for some reason, the faster can continue without experiencing either weakness or hunger.
I state these facts out of my own personal experience but they are also verified by investigations. Two series of experiments carried out by regular medical men in accredited hospitals, have developed empirical evidence sufficient to satisfy the experimenter scientifically that fasting is not only a safe and speedy way of reducing weight, but is also the most comfortable way of reducing.
One of these experiments was carried out by Lyon Bloom, M.D., in the Piedmont .Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, where he conducted a lengthy series of experiments on fasting in reducing weight. This was followed up by Garfield Duncan, M.D. of the University of Pennsylvania who is regarded as an authority on weight reduction and whose independent tests include Bloom’s findings and conclusions.
These two medical investigators found that fasting men lose an average of 2.6 pounds a day, while women tasters lose an average of 2.7 pounds a day. Both Bloom and Duncan confirm that the fasters were not hungry. Instead, they reported an amazing absence of hunger with no apparent mental or physical strain. One of the fasters was quoted as saying: “I feel better than ever before in my life.” A woman faster, after forty-eight hours without food, volunteered the information that she was not half so hungry as she used to be after missing a single meal.
Bloom is quoted, from the summary of the experiments: “The present preoccupation with eating at regular intervals leads to the misconception that fasting is unpleasant.” He stated further, that, in his opinion, as the result of the findings of these tests, fasting is well tolerated by the human system provided there is free access to water. In a later series of experiments, Bloom permitted a faster to go four consecutive weeks without food, with no ill effects. In reading his report of experiments to the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Medical Association, Duncan declared: “although short periods of total fasting may seem barbaric, this method of reduction is marvelously well tolerated.”
He added that we have evidence that these obese persons fully enjoyed the total fasting periods, due probably in part to their elation that hunger is not a problem while major reductions in weight are being accomplished.
Both men reported that in longer fasts the weight loss levels off to about a pound a day. Bloom stated fasting has also proved to be an extremely effective method of weight control.
In the healthy individual who is fasting only to lose weight, I do not insist on rest in bed but permit considerable exercise—even at times giving a prescribed course of physical workouts. This does not increase the rate of loss as much as one might expect, but it does assist in retaining the tone of the tissues.
The amount of exercise required to reduce weight by exercise alone is far more than the average person is willing to undertake and more than many of them should undergo. To lose one pound of fat requires playing twenty-three holes of golf, sawing wood for ten-and-one-half hours, riding a horse for approximately forty-three miles.
Exercise always has the added hazard of increasing the appetite. During the fast it should be controlled and used only to the extent that the adviser feels desirable for the individual undergoing the fasting process.
While there are varying rates of metabolism, my experience indicates that most obesity is due, not to glandular disorders, but to habitual overeating. There is little truth in the idea that with some people everything they eat turns to fat. The real truth is that they are eating not only more than they should, but more than they really want.
How much weight loss per day is safe in fasting? The answer here is that since fasting is total abstention, the body itself decides what rate loss is proper. When fat tissue is soft and flabby, weight is usually lost rapidly in the early days of the fast. I have seen losses ranging from four to six pounds a day in fasting. The loss of twenty pounds in a week is not at all difficult in a great many cases.
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With those who have a very low rate of metabolism, the rate of loss from the outset of the fast is slow—at times even disappointingly so. Let me reiterate once more, any fasting of more than a few days should be done only under experienced supervision.
In all cases where there is any organic defect or chronic ailment, such as heart disease or blood deficiency, even the shortest fast should be supervised. Again let me say there is no essential danger in fasting but one must be properly safeguarded against any danger from hidden conditions that might reveal themselves when no food is taken.
I cite the possibility in order to give the rounded picture of fasting. Let me reassure the reader, however, that such dangers are rare. If the reader is in good health, and follows the proper procedures under proper experienced guidance, the fast should be not only a way of losing poundage, but an exhilarating and exciting adventure, the beginning of a new way of thinking about oneself.