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. Sometimes when animals, like cats and dogs, get sick, their natural instinct is to abstain from consumption 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 have resurrected 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 numerous health benefits and is a common discipline practiced by athletes to achieve 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 numerous 3-day fasts (see THIS article where I detail my experiences). I have also completed dozens of fasts lasting 24 hours or longer. My preferred protocol today is some form of alternate-day, calorie restriction, which I highly encourage you to check out at Why I Adopted An Alternate-Day, Calorie-Restricted Diet.
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 have found that fasting or some form of calorie restriction, is the most efficient 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 engage with others embarking on the same journey for physical, emotional, or spiritual gain.
If fasting can be as effective a healing modality as the ancients believed, and as many practitioners of it like myself can attest, then why have so few people been let on? The most charitable explanation involves familiarity. Fasting is something people in the affluent 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.
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.
If you liked this article, check out Why I Adopted An Alternate-Day, Calorie-Restricted Diet | My Powerful 3-Day Dry Fasts (14 Observations) | An Hourly Log of My 3-Day Dry Fast (30 Insightful Journal Entries).