The Fasting Cure - Upton Sinclair - ebook

Upton Sinclair Jr. (September 20, 1878 – November 25, 1968) was an American writer who wrote nearly 100 books and other works in several genres. Sinclair's work was well known and popular in the first half of the 20th century, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1943. His most famous book, The Jungle from 1906, was about the American meat-packing industry. Sinclair was keenly interested in health and nutrition. He experimented with various diets, and with fasting. He wrote about this in his book, The Fasting Cure (1911), another bestseller. He believed that periodic fasting was important for health, saying, "I had taken several fasts of ten or twelve days' duration, with the result of a complete making over of my health".Sinclair favored a raw food diet of predominantly vegetables and nuts. For long periods of time, he was a complete vegetarian, but he also experimented with eating meat. His attitude to these matters was fully explained in the chapter, “The Use of Meat”.

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Table of contents




A Letter to the New York Times


Fasting and the Doctors



Death during the Fast

Fasting and the Mind

Diet after the Fast



Some Letters from Fasters

The Fruit and Nut Diet

The Rader Case

Horace Fletcher’s Fast




First published


William Heinemann


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In the Cosmopolitan Magazine for May, 1910, and in the Contemporary Review (London) for April, 19101 published an article dealing with my experiences in fasting. I have written a great many magazine articles, but never one which attracted so much attention as this. The first day the magazine was on the news-stands, I received a telegram from a man in Washington who had begun to fast and wanted some advice; and thereafter I received ten or twenty letters a day from people who had questions to ask or experiences to narrate. At the date of writing eight months have passed, and the flood has not yet stopped. The editors of the Cosmopolitan also tell me that they have never received so many letters about an article in their experience. Still more significant was the number of reports which began to appear in the news columns of papers all over the country, telling of people who were fasting. From various sources I have received about fifty such clippings, and few but reported benefit to the faster.

As a consequence of this interest, I was asked by the Cosmopolitan to write another article, which appeared in the issue of February, 1911. The present volume is made up from these two articles, with the addition of some notes and comments, and some portions of articles contributed to the Physical Culture magazine, of the editorial staff of which I am a member. It was my intention at first to work this matter into a connected whole, but upon rereading the articles I decided that it would be better to publish them as they stood. The journalistic style has its advantages; and repetitions may perhaps be pardoned in the case of a topic which is so new to almost everyone.

There is one other matter to be referred to. Several years ago I published a book entitled “Good Health,” written in collaboration with a friend. I could not express my own views fully in that book, and on certain points where I differed with my collaborator, I have come since to differ still more. The book contains a great deal of useful information; but later experience has convinced me that its views on the all-important subject of diet are erroneous. My present opinions I have given in this book. I am not saying this to apologize for an inconsistency, but to record a growth. In those days I believed something, because other people told me; today I know something else, because I have tried it upon myself.

My object in publishing this book is twofold: first, to have something to which I can refer people, so that I will not have to answer half a dozen “fasting letters” every day for the rest of my life; and second, in the hope of attracting sufficient attention to the subject to interest some scientific men in making a real investigation of it. Today we know certain facts about what is called “autointoxication”; we know them because Metchnikoff, Pawlow and others have made a thorough-going inquiry into the subject. I believe that the subject of fasting is one of just as great importance. I have stated facts in this book about myself; and I have quoted many letters which are genuine and beyond dispute. The cures which they record are altogether without precedent, I think. The reader will find in the course of the book a tabulation of the results of 277 cases of fasting. In this number of desperate cases there were only about half a dozen definite and unexplained failures reported. Surely it cannot be that medical men and scientists will continue for much longer to close their eyes to facts of such vital significance as this.

I do not pretend to be the discoverer of the fasting cure. The subject was discussed by Dr. E. H. Dewey in books which were published thirty or forty years ago. For the reader who cares to investigate further, I mention the following books, which I have read with interest and profit. I recommend them, although, needless to say, I do not agree with everything that is in them: “Fasting for the Cure of Disease,” by Dr. L. B. Hazzard; “Perfect Health,” by C. C. Haskell; “Fasting, Hydrotherapy and Exercise,” by Bemarr Macfadden; “Fasting, Vitality and Nutrition,” by Hereward Carrington. Also I will add that Mr. C. C. Haskell, of Norwich, Conn., conducts a correspondence-school dealing with the subject of fasting, and that fasting patients are taken charge of at Bernarr Macfadden’s Healthatorium, 42nd Street and Grand Boulevard, Chicago, 111., and by Dr. Linda B. Hazzard, of Seattle, Washington.



Have you any conception of what the phrase means? Can you form any image of what would be your feeling if every organ in your body were functioning perfectly? Perhaps you can go back to some day in your youth, when you got up early in the morning and went for a walk, and the spirit of the sunrise got into your blood, and you walked faster, and took deep breaths, and laughed aloud for the sheer happiness of being alive in such a world of beauty. And now you are grown older—and what would you give for the secret of that glorious feeling? What would you say if you were told that you could bring it back and keep it, not only for mornings, but for afternoons and evenings, and not as something accidental and mysterious, but as something which you yourself have created, and of which you are completely master?

This is not an introduction to a new device in patent medicine advertising. I have nothing to sell, and no process patented. It is simply that for ten years I have been studying the ill health of myself and of the men and women around me. And I have found the cause and the remedy. I have not only found good health, but perfect health; I have found a new state of being, a potentiality of life; a sense of lightness and cleanness and joyfulness, such as I did not know could exist in the human body. “I like to meet you on the street,” said a friend the other day. “You walk as if it were such fun!”

I look about me in the world, and nearly everybody I know is sick. I could name one after another a hundred men and women, who are doing vital work for progress and carrying a cruel handicap of physical suffering. For instance, I am working for social justice, and I have comrades whose help is needed every hour, and they are ill! In one single week’s newspapers last spring I read that one was dying of kidney trouble, that another was in hospital from nervous breakdown, and that a third was ill with ptomaine poisoning. And in my correspondence I am told that another of my dearest friends has only a year to live; that another heroic man is a nervous wreck, craving for death; and that a third is tortured by bilious headaches. And there is not one of these people whom I could not cure if I had him alone for a couple of weeks; no one of them who would not in the end be walking down the street “as if it were such fun!”

I propose herein to tell the story of my discovery of health, and I shall not waste much time in apologizing for the intimate nature of the narrative. It is no pleasure for me to tell over the tale of my headaches or to discuss my unruly stomach. I cannot take any case but my own, because there is no case about which I can speak with such authority. To be sure, I might write about it in the abstract, and in veiled terms. But in that case the story would lose most of its convincingness, and some of its usefulness. I might tell it without signing my name to it. But there are a great many people who have read my books and will believe what I tell them, who would not take the trouble to read an article without a name. Mr. Horace Fletcher has set us all an example in this matter. He has written several volumes about his individual digestion, with the result that literally millions of people have been helped. In the same way I propose to put my case on record. The reader will find that it is a typical case, for I made about every mistake that a man could make, and tried every remedy, old and new, that anybody had to offer me.

I spent my boyhood in a well-to-do family, in which good eating was regarded as a social grace and the principal interest in life. We had a colored woman to prepare our food, and another to serve it. It was not considered fitting for children to drink liquor, but they had hot bread three times a day, and they were permitted to revel in fried chicken and rich gravies and pastries, fruit cake and candy and ice-cream. Every Sunday I would see my grandfather’s table with a roast of beef at one end, and a couple of chickens at the other, and a cold ham at one side; at Christmas and Thanksgiving the energies of the whole establishment would be given up to the preparation of delicious foods. And later on, when I came to New York, I considered it necessary to have such food; even when I was a poor student, living on four dollars a week, I spent more than three of it on eatables.

I was an active and fairly healthy boy; at twenty I remember saying that I had not had a day’s serious sickness in fourteen years. Then I wrote my first novel, working sixteen or eighteen hours a day for several months, camping out, and living mostly out of a frying-pan. At the end I found that I was seriously troubled with dyspepsia; and it was worse the next year, after the second book. I went to see a physician, who gave me some red liquid which magically relieved the consequences of doing hard brain-work after eating. So I went on for a year or two more, and then I found that the artificially-digested food was not being eliminated from my system with sufficient regularity. So I went to another physician, who gave my malady another name and gave me another medicine, and put off the time of reckoning a little while longer.

I have never in my life used tea or coffee, alcohol or tobacco; but for seven or eight years I worked under heavy pressure all the time, and ate very irregularly, and ate unwholesome food. So I began to have headaches once in a while, and to notice that I was abnormally sensitive to colds. I considered these maladies natural to mortals, and I would always attribute them to some specific accident. I would say, “I’ve been knocking about down town all day”; or, “I was out in the hot sun”; or, “I lay on the damp ground.” I found that if I sat in a draught for even a minute I was certain to “catch a cold.” I found also that I had sore throat and tonsillitis once or twice every winter; also, now and then, the grippe. There were times when I did not sleep well; and as all this got worse, I would have to drop all my work and try to rest. The first time I did this a week or two was sufficient but later on a month or two was necessary, and then several months.

The year I wrote “The Jungle” I had my first summer cold. It was haying time on a farm, and I thought it was a kind of hay-fever. I would sneeze for hours in perfect torment, and this lasted for a month, until I went away to the sea-shore. This happened again the next summer, and also another very painful experience; a nerve in a tooth died, and I had to wait three days for the pain to “localize,” and then had the tooth drilled out, and staggered home, and was ill in bed for a week with chills and fever, and nausea and terrible headaches. I mention all these unpleasant details so that the reader may understand the state of wretchedness to which I had come. At the same time, also, I had a great deal of distressing illness in my family;’ my wife seldom had a week without suffering, and my little boy had pneumonia one winter, and croup the next, and whooping-cough in the summer, with the inevitable “colds” scattered in between.

After the Helicon Hall fire I realized that I was in a bad way, and for the two years following I gave a good part of my time to trying to trying to find out how to preserve my health. I went to Battle Creek, and to Bermuda and to the Adirondacks; I read the books of all the new investigators of the subject of hygiene, and tried out their theories religiously. I had discovered Horace Fletcher a couple of years before. Mr. Fletcher’s idea is, in brief, to chew your food, and chew it thoroughly; to extract from each particle of food the maximum of nutriment, and to eat only as much as your system actually needs. This was a very wonderful idea to me, and I fell upon it with the greatest enthusiasm. All the physicians I had known were men who tried to cure me when I fell sick, but here was a man who was studying how to stay well. I have to find fault with Mr. Fletcher’s system, and so I must make clear at the outset how much I owe to it. It set me upon the right track—it showed me the goal, even if it did not lead me to it. It made clear to me that all my various ailments were symptoms of one great trouble, the presence in my body of the poisons produced by superfluous and unassimilated food, and that in adjusting the quantity of food to the body’s exact needs lay the secret of perfect health.

It was only in the working out of the theory that I fell down. Mr. Fletcher told me that “Nature” would be my guide, and that if only I masticated thoroughly, instinct would select the foods. I found that, so far as my case was concerned, my “nature” was hopelessly perverted. I invariably preferred unwholesome foods—apple pie, and toast soaked in butter, and stewed fruit with quantities of cream and sugar. Nor did “Nature” kindly tell me when to stop, as she apparently does some other “Fletcherites”; no matter how much I chewed, if I ate all I wanted I ate too much. And when I realized this, and tried to stop it, I went, in my ignorance, to the other extreme, and lost fourteen pounds in as many days. Again, Mr. Fletcher taught me to remove all the “unchewable” parts of the food—the skins of fruit, etc. The result of this is there is nothing to stimulate the intestines, and the waste remains in the body for many days. Mr. Fletcher says this does not matter, and he appears to prove that it has not mattered in his case. But I found that it mattered very seriously in my case; it was not until I became a “Fletcherite” thatmy headaches became hopeless and that sluggish intestines became one of my chronic complaints.

I next read the books of Metchnikoff and Chittenden, who showed me just how my ailments came to be. The unassimilated food lies in the colon, and bacteria swarm in it, and the poisons they produce are absorbed into the system. I had bacteriological examinations made in my own case, and I found that when I was feeling well the number of these toxin-producing germs was about six billions to the ounce of intestinal contents; and when, a few days later, I had a headache, the number was a hundred and twenty billions. Here was my trouble under the microscope, so to speak.

These tests were made at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, where I went for a long stay. I tried their system of water cure, which I found a wonderful stimulant to the eliminative organs; but I discovered that, like all other stimulants, it leaves you in the end just where you were. My health was improved at the sanitarium, but a week after I left I was down with the grippe again.

I gave the next year of my life to trying to restore my health. I spent the winter in Bermuda and the summer in the Adirondacks, both of them famous health resorts, and during the entire time I lived an absolutely hygienic life. I did not work hard, and I did not worry, and I did not think about my health except when I had to. I live in the open air all the time, and I gave most of the day to vigorous exercise—tennis, walking, boating and swimming. I mention this specifically, so that the reader may perceive that I’ had eliminated all other factors of ill-health, and appreciate to the full my statement that at the end of the year’s time my general health was worse than ever before.

I was all right so long as I played tennis all day or climbed mountains. The trouble came when I settled down to do brain-work. And from this I saw perfectly clearly that I was over-eating; there was surplus food to be burned up, and when it was not burned up it poisoned me. But how was I to stop when I was hungry? I tried giving up all the things I liked and of which I ate most; but that did no good, because I had such a complacent appetite—I would immediately take to liking the other things! I thought that I had an abnormal appetite, the result of my early training; but how was I ever to get rid of it?

I must not give the impression that I was a conspicuously hearty eater. On the contrary, I ate far less than most people eat. But that was no consolation to me. I had wrecked myself by years of overwork, and so I was more sensitive. The other people were going to pieces by slow stages, I could see; but I was already in pieces.

So matters stood when I chanced to meet a lady, whose radiant complexion and extraordinary health were a matter of remark to everyone. I was surprised to hear that for ten or fifteen years, and until quite recently, she had been a bed-ridden invalid. She had lived the lonely existence of a pioneer’s wife, and had raised a family under conditions of shocking ill health. She had suffered from sciatica and acute rheumatism; from a chronic intestinal trouble which the doctors called “intermittent peritonitis”; chronic catarrh, causing deafness. And this was the woman who rode on horseback with me up Mount Hamilton, in California, a distance of twenty-eight miles, in one of the most terrific rain-storms I have ever witnessed! We had two untamed young horses, and only leather bits to control them with, and we were pounded and flung about for six mortal hours, which I shall never forget if I live to be a hundred. And this woman, when shetook the ride, had not eaten a particle of food for four days previously!

That was the clue to her escape: she had cured herself by a fast. She had abstained from food for eight days, and all her trouble had fallen from her. Afterwards she had taken her eldest son, a senior at Stanford, and another friend of his, and fasted twelve days with them, and cured them of nervous dyspepsia. And then she had taken a woman friend, the wife of a Stanford professor, and cured her of rheumatism by a week’s fast. I had heard of the fasting cure, but this was the first time I had met with it. I was too much burdened with work to try it just then, but I began to read up on the subject—the books of Dr. Dewey, Dr. Hazzard and Mr. Carrington. Coming home from California I got a sunstroke on the Gulf of Mexico, and spent a week in hospital at Key West, and that seemed to give the coup de grace to my long-suffering stomach. After another spell of hard work I found myself unable to digest corn-meal mush and milk; suddenly I was ready for a fast.

I began. The fast has become a commonplace to me now; but I will assume that it is as new and as startling to the reader as it was to myself at first, and will describe my sensations at length.

I was very hungry for the first day—the unwholesome, ravening sort of hunger that all dyspeptics know. I had a little hunger the second morning, and thereafter, to my very great astonishment, no hunger whatever—no more interest in food than if I had never known the taste of it. Previous to the fast I had had a headache every day for two or three weeks. It lasted through the first day and then disappeared—never to return. I felt very weak the second day, and a little dizzy on arising. I went out of doors and lay in the sun all day, reading; and the same for the third and fourth days-intense physical lassitude, but with great clearness of mind. After the fifth day I felt stronger, and walked a good deal, and I also began some writing. No phase of the experience surprised me more than the activity of my mind: I read and wrote more than I had dared to do for years before.