In ancient times, fasting was commonly prescribed to treat a host of mental and physical illnesses. It was widely believed that human beings had an innate healing capacity that could be activated upon ceasing consumption. This behavior is, in fact, quite common in the animal kingdom. When animals like cats and dogs get sick their natural instinct is to abstain from food or drink until they recover. This quote below by the famous Greek physician Hippocrates is illustrative of conventional wisdom on fasting for most of recorded human history.
Everyone has a physician inside him or her; we just have to help it in its work. The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food. But to eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness.Hippocrates
Modern medicine has turned the time-tested ancient wisdom on its head. Instead of abstaining from consumption, mentally and physically sick people are medicated at the very first sign of illness. This would be a welcome paradigm shift if health outcomes were satisfactory. However, reality is that modern medicine has failed by any reasonable metric in its treatment of most chronic illnesses of the mind and body. According to the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, more than 133 million Americans, or 44% of the population, suffers from at least one chronic condition, including arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular (heart) disease, depression and diabetes.
As a result of these inadequacies, an increasing number of people are resurrecting the ancient discipline of fasting. Intermittent fasting, practiced daily for relatively short periods of time, has also come into fashion. Intermittent fasting is praised for its many health benefits and is a common discipline among athletes aiming for peak performance.
I myself have practiced intermittent fasting for over a year. I have also gone on much longer fasts. In the last 3 years, I have completed eight 3-day dry fasts, with each individual fast consisting of 72 hours+ with no food, drink, or showers. One of those eight fasts came just a few hours short of reaching four days. I have also completed dozens of dry fasts lasting 24 hours or longer.
Why would anyone subject themselves to the displeasure of fasting? I embarked on a lifestyle of fasting because I was suffering from debilitating chronic neck and back pain that was holding me back in every area of my life. The cost of not taking drastic action had become greater than the cost of taking drastic action. For years I had gone back and forth to the doctor but the condition persisted and something inside me sensed there was a better way. I was also experiencing emotional challenges that kept me from living my best life. I can say with conviction that emotions, for better or worse, are a major determinant of health outcomes. Through fasting and other healthy lifestyle changes I was completely cured of all back and neck pain. Writing that sentence gives me chills given how long my life was defined solely by limitations. About a year after getting cured I benched a personal record of 270 pounds, no small feat for someone that used to need help carrying luggage and groceries. Overall, I found that the longer dry fasts I completed of at least 24 hours were the quickest, most intense way to achieve healing of the mind and body. Today, when I intermittent fast I do so more for athletic benefits and because I enjoy the lifestyle that it entails.
My goal with fasting was never pride, discipline, or asceticism. It was always healing of the mind and body. Prior to this post I have shared my fasting journey with very few people. Fasting for me has always been a private discipline, but the public benefits of living well are undeniable. Today I am making my fasting journey public to encourage others embarking on the same journey for physical, emotional, or spiritual gain.
If fasting is as effective a healing modality as the ancients believed and as many practitioners of it like myself can attest, then why is it so totally disregarded by modern medicine (but not modern science)? The most charitable explanation involves familiarity. I imagine most Americans haven’t willfully skipped a meal their entire lives. Fasting is something people in the wealthy 21st century simply have no experience with. Fasting is seen as the product of scarcity, a social ill we conquered long ago. A less charitable explanation has to do with money. There is simply no money to be made by teaching people to heal themselves. A less ailing population from a business standpoint means fewer pills to be manufactured and distributed, fewer operations to be performed, and fewer costly doctor appointments.
In my next article on fasting, I elaborate what happened when I went on a three-day dry fast. The post contains fourteen fascinating observations drawn from the eight 3-day fasts that I completed in the last few years.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and do not give medical advice. If you have a health problem, you should get professional help and decide what the best course of treatment is for you in consultation with your doctor.