On general principles working during a long fast is to be severely condemned. It has been done. It can often be done. But it should not be done. Perhaps the first fast of any length in which the faster worked was the twenty-eight days fast undergone by Mr. Milton Rathburn, a wealthy grain dealer, in 1899. Mr. Rathburn, who was a very fat man, took this fast to reduce upon the advice of Dr. Dewey and continued his daily work throughout the entire length thereof. According to the New York Press, of June 6, 1899, "he worked and worked hard. He came down earlier to his office and went away later than usual. He made no effort to save himself. On the contrary, he seemed determined to make his task as hard as possible."
Others have done this same thing and some of them were even more remarkable. In 1925, a weaver in Jersey City, N. J., fasted forty days and worked as a weaver throughout the time. On January 18, 1926, George Hassler Johnston, of New York City, a friend and co-worker of the author, began a fast which lasted thirty days, during which time he was unusually active. Mr. Johnston underwent this fast, under my supervision, purely as a publicity stunt and not because he was in need of a fast. He was an athlete of no mean ability and was in excellent physical condition at the beginning and at the end of the fast.
During the entire period of the fast, Mr. Johnston arose each morning at 5 o'clock and went to a radio broadcasting station, where he broadcasted three classes in exercises, each class lasting fifteen minutes. From here he usually walked a distance of twenty-five blocks to the offices of the Macfadden Publications, where he entered upon his editorial duties. At 11:30 A.M. each day he visited one or the other of the three Physical Culture Restaurants in New York, where he remained until 2 P.M., meeting the people and answering their questions and giving advice upon fasting, diet and exercise. From the restaurant he would return to the office where, at 3 P.M.,
he conducted two classes, composed of Macfadden employees, in calesthenics. After this he resumed his editorial duties, remaining at his desk until 5 P.M. During most of the fast he would walk home in the evening, a distance of 72 blocks, and spent his evenings at Madison Square Garden, watching the boxing and wrestling bouts. It was not until the end of the first week of the fast that he gave up his training at a down-town gymnasium and his track work--running.
This fast ended on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 16, just 30 days after it had begun. On June 2, just three and one-half months thereafter, Mr. Johnston started from Chicago, in an effort to walk from there to New York without food. This stunt, I warned him against, but he made a brave effort and ended it June 20th at Bedford, Pa., having covered a distance of 577.8 miles in the 20 days.
This walk carried him over hills and valleys, through wind, rain, and the summer's heat and through crowds that flocked along the way. Handshaking, interviews, posing for pictures and making short health talks consumed almost as much of his energy as the walking. These often delayed him so that his walking on several days began late in the forenoon, although it often extended far into the night. I warned Mr. Johnston before he left to conserve his energies and predicted that he would go 20 days and no longer. He would have covered more miles in the same time he walked had he done more walking and less of other things, but he would still have ended on the 20th day.
This thing can be done, but it is damaging, even dangerous, and should never be undertaken. Gandhi, the Hindu Nationalist leader, who has probably fasted more than any other man in modern times, learned the necessity of conserving his energies while fasting. A painful mistake, which almost left him an invalid for life, taught him this lesson. It was while in South Africa that he took his second long fast, lasting fourteen days, that he foolishly imagined he could do as much work as while eating. On the second day after breaking the fast he began strenuous walking. This caused excruciating pains in the lower limbs, but he did the same the next day and for several days thereafter. The pains increased. His health was gravely injured by this and he was years in fully recovering from it. Of this he said: "From this very costly experiment I learned that perfect physical rest during the fast and for a time proportionate to the length of the fast, after the breaking of it, is a necessity, and if this simple rule can be observed no evil effects of fasting need be feared. Indeed, it is my conviction that the body gains by a well-regulated fast, for during fasting the body gets rid of many of its impurities."
This warning against working throughout a long fast does not apply to a short fast. I have on several occasions worked both at hard physical labor and at prolonged and exacting mental work for three or four days without food, and I have had hundreds of patients to do the same up to as high as nine days. But I do not think this should be prolonged beyond the tenth day, and where it is possible to absent oneself from work, it is best that all the time be spent in rest.
The practice pursued by many, of spending the whole day in activity, retards recovery from "disease." Conservation of energy should be the guiding principle.
Dr. Eales worked throughout his fast devoting eleven to twelve hours a day to the labors of his profession. He was very energetic during the whole time. Regular and frequent strength tests were made. The tests on the eleventh, sixteenth, twenty-first, twenty-third, twenty-fifth, twenty-ninth and thirty-first days of his fast showed his strength to be as great as at the beginning of the fast. The doctor reports that he could have competed in athletic work on the thirtieth day.