Everyone has a doctor in him or her; we just have to help it in its work. A wise person should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings.
— Hippocrates, considered the Father of Western medicine
In order to receive the gifts of the Graces, we are making sacred space, exploring the practices of many traditions that encourage personal discipline, sacred renunciation, and the giving up of comforts and luxuries from time to time.
As we’ve been seeing, fasting has been a time-honored spiritual and health tradition for millennia, and in cultures worldwide, especially during the transition time between late Winter and very early Spring. Sometimes fasting at this time is a practical choice, due to the dwindling stores of food. Other fasting practices may be performed as a kind of sympathetic magic, inviting plenty and abundance by sacrificing and doing without.
Fasting can be done for purely physiological reasons, without any direct intentions regarding its spiritual component. But it is hard to ignore the psychological, if not spiritual, effects that fasting has upon us.
I’ll be discussing these aspects later, but first, let’s take a look at some basics about fasting, simply from a physical perspective.
Fasting is a period of abstinence from all or specific food items. When we fast, it is important to continue to drink fluids, in part because during the absence of food, the body will systematically cleanse itself of everything except vital tissue, and extra fluid intake will ensure this is done efficiently.
Worried about starving? You don’t need to. Starvation occurs only when the body is forced to use vital tissue to survive. And Dr. A. J. Carlson, Professor of Physiology at the University of Chicago, writes that a healthy, well-nourished man can live from 50 to 75 days without food, provided he is not exposed to harsh elements or emotional stress.
Here’s why. Human fat is valued at 3,500 calories per pound. So ten pounds of fat are equal to 35,000 calories. Every extra pound of fat we have supplies enough calories for one day of hard physical labor. Most of us have sufficient reserves, capable of sustaining us for many weeks.
That said, however, it is important that some people with special needs should not fast, or should do so only under the supervision of their physician. While starvation is not going to be a problem, many people have other health issues that may flare up when they fast, and they should certainly work with a health practitioner who supports fasting.
However, under the right conditions, fasting can be a powerful therapeutic process that can heal many mild to severe health conditions. Anecdotal results have been documented for a range of maladies, including high blood pressure, asthma, allergies, chronic headaches, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), irritable bowel syndrome, adult onset diabetes, heart disease, degenerative arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, eczema, acne, uterine fibroids, benign tumors, and even systemic lupus erythematosus.
I’ll have lots more to say about this, and as always, I invite you to share your own experiences here!