Macfadden's Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise/CHAPTER II



The progress of culture often resembles the undulating rise of the tide, rather than the steady advance of a river current; the rippling waves surge in capricious eddies and for a time may even seem to recede. Scientific tenets familiar to the philosophers of pagan antiquity were lost sight of during the night of the Middle Ages, and in the dawn of modern civilization are apt to be viewed with doubt or accepted as novel discoveries.

The true theory of the solar system, for instance, was known to the disciples of Pythagoras; but a thousand years later was forgotten almost as completely as the existence of the lost Atlantis. Centuries before the birth of Ludwig Jahn the Greeks had recognized the truth that in thickly settled countries the lack of wood-sports ought to be compensated by gymnastic training and competitive athletics. There were fresh-air doctors two thousand years before Dio Lewis, and during the zenith period of Grecian and Roman civilzation civilization monogamy was not half as firmly established as the rule that a health-loving man should content himself with one meal a day, and never eat till he had leisure to digest, i. e., not till the day's work was wholly done.

For more than a thousand years the one meal plan was the established rule among the civilized nations inhabiting the coast-lands of the Mediterranean. The evening repast—call it supper or dinner—was a kind of domestic festival, the reward of the day's toil, an enjoyment which rich and poor refrained from marring by premature gratifications of their appetite. Cares were laid aside before the family and their guests assembled in the supper-hall. People of wealth provided reclining couches, and their desserts included a good many things besides Attic figs. They treated their guests to perfumes, to music and dances. Athenæus describes a symposium enlivened by musical contests and juggler shows. All but the poorest had at least a minstrel who bartered comic ditties for a basketful of cold lunch. Amusements of that sort were supposed to aid digestion and keep the revelers awake during the two hours' interval between the termination of the repast and the setting of the sun, though appetite alone generally guaranteed the assimilation of a good-sized meal. Dinner, in the form of a noon-time lunch was unknown, and for breakfast a biscuit or a piece of crust, to counteract the acidity of the stomach, were considered sufficient.

There were exceptions, but they were tolerated merely as we should tolerate a sportsman unable to wait for legal holidays, and enjoying leisure periods in the middle of the week, or vacations before the beginning of summer. "To desecrate one's appetite," the Romans called the habit of eating between meals, and Suetonius mentions among the demerits of the Emperor Vitellius a "penchant for gorging himself in the early morning hours,"—the time of the day that ought to have remained consecrated to labor or study. As a rule, probably nine out of ten well-educated Greeks and six out of ten Romans did not think twenty-two hours too long an interval between meals which, with chat and other pauses, lasted more than an hour and a half.

"They were probably athletes," remarked a critic of a lecture on Roman customs; "but what about women and persons of delicate constitutions? Would they not risk to faint with hunger in trying total abstinence, in that extreme sense of the word, all the day long?"

In reply to such questions the lecturer ought to have added a few words on the subject of Diet and the Influence of Habit. A little child, according to Dr. Page's experiments, can be taught to guzzle day and night, or to content himself with being stilled about once in three hours. Little habitués of a hundred daily guzzles will howl horribly at the first attempt to restrict them to seventy-five, but after a month or two will get so used to ten nursings that it requires coaxing to make them accept a dozen.

And in the course of a few years the tapering-off process can be easily brought to an average of one meal a day. Baker Pasha (Sir Samuel Baker) ascertained that fact in studying the habits of the Abyssinian hunters. Youngsters of twelve years join the hunting expeditions of their tribe and think themselves lucky if the kettle can be set a-boiling to the extent of furnishing a good evening meal. In the repose of the kraal they might yield to the temptation of a noon-time lunch; but when game is scarce, think nothing of rolling themselves up in a blanket at night and trying a nap to forget the disappointment of the day, trusting to the chance of better pot-luck for the morrow. "Qui dort dine," say the French—"he who sleeps feasts." A good night's rest in the bracing night air of the Abyssinian table-lands will sustain strength even on the basis of alternate day meals. A daily feast is so abundantly sufficient that active youngsters would fear to handicap themselves by re-loading their stomachs before the end of the next day. With the prospect of an up-and-down hill race against time and the competition of athletic companions, the offer even of a moderate morning lunch would probably jar upon their sanitary conscience.

The subjects of the two Kaisers, on the other hand, would consider it a grievance to be limited to three daily meals. All over Germany and northern Austria a pause of four hours is thought a distressingly long time between meals, though some brands of wurst are apt to resist the assimilative apparatus of unfeathered bipeds at least half a day.

Master Karl Schulze has no springboks to hunt; the stifling atmosphere of his grammar-school room does not promote digestion; yet Karl insists on a Frühstück (breakfast) six A. M.; zweites frühstück ("second breakfast") at nine; mittagsmahl at noon; vesperbrot (vesper lunch) at half past three; and abendessen at 6 P. M. Just before retiring from the scene of their gastronomic exploits Vienna burghers often add a night-cap of beer, pretzels and more wurst, "for the stomach's sake." "In spite of the stomach" might seem more correct, but it isn't. One month's practice would be enough to supplement the horrid load of ingesta with a midnight meal. It might shorten the glutton's life one half; but as sure as the noon and night comes around his stomach, or the ulcerated receptacle retaining that name, would interrupt the nightmare circus to clamor for its perquisites; and disappointment would result in fits of insomnia and yearnings for the picnic grounds of a better hereafter.

It is the same with fluid surfeits. Hoff's Malt Extract was advertised as a cure-all till even ascetics bought a bottle at certain times of the year—say a quart per quarter, and on those terms contrived to compromise with the stimulant habit. After the end of the second month they might now and then experience a vague yearning for the office of the Hoff Agency, but on the whole get along contentedly without half way drinks. In Munich almost identical beverages have votaries that get nervous if business emergencies oblige them to postpone their trip to the Bier-Keller for a few minutes. They call thrice a day, and after supper hurry to a club that furnishes them a pretext for guzzling till midnight. "Say, I feel a vacuum," one of these far-gones used to remark, when the Sunday excursion steamer did not reach its pier strictly on time. Nay, a Wisconsin physician vouches for the fact that some of the Milwaukee brewers allow their employees twenty-five quarts of lager free, every working day in the year, and that many of the veterans begin to fret if they cannot visit the free dispensary at least once in thirty minutes. Habit, in fact, becomes a "second nature," and the limits of its influence, for better or worse, have never been ascertained. It is quite possible that gluttons might learn to hanker for a meal an hour, and that St. Jerome in his Syrian hermitage really got along comfortably with three meals a week; but it must be admitted that the old Roman plan combines advantages not easy to rival.

Like a festival at the end of the week, it sustains the energy of the laborer with the prospect of an adequate reward. The gratification of a well-earned appetite is something very different from the listless compliance with a conventional custom or the attendance at a regulation meal which a sanitary intuition denounces as an aggravation of an already grievous surfeit. A twenty-two hours' fast will make a meal of bread and baked apples more palatable than all the arts of the Freres Provenceaux could make three daily banquets to a dyspeptic.

One great advantage of frequent meals is founded on the fact that repletion does not at once announce itself to the instinct of a gormand, and that the interval preceding a decided consciousness of satiety may have been abused for a congestion of the alimentary system. Upon the one-meal plan that risk is obviated, or at least greatly lessened. After a fast of twenty-two hours it is almost impossible to eat with relish more than the system can utilize in the course of a night and a day.

The Roman custom also obviated an affliction that has turned thousands of plow-boys into tramps and driven more than one dyspeptic to suicide, viz.: the misery of hard work directly after a full meal. "I didn't mind being waked before daybreak to feed the cows," says a rural correspondent of the Chautauquan. "I could stand wood-chopping in a sleet-storm and ditching in an all-day drizzle, but if the old man routed me out of my siesta nap under the canopy of a shade tree to recommence plowing in the blazing sun, I felt things that can be only summarized in the impression that the change from wigwams to modern farms was a mistake, if the attainment of happiness has anything to do with the purposes of civilization."

And those protests of instinct are, indeed, well founded. Not only that the progress of digestion is thus interrupted, not only that the body derives no strength from the inert mass of ingesta, but that mass, by undergoing a putrid instead of peptic decomposition, vitiates the humors of the system it was intended to nourish, irritates the sensitive membranes of the stomach, and gradually impairs the vigor of the whole digestive apparatus.

"Plenns venter non studet libenter," was a Latin proverb—"a filled stomach abhors study," and immediately after dinner mental efforts are certainly quite as ill-timed as hard bodily labor. No other hygienic mistake, not even the stimulant fallacy, has done so much to make ours a generation of dyspeptics. Brain-work interferes with digestion as noise and motion interfere with sleep. Hence, the sallow complexion, the hollow eyes, and the weary gait of thousands of city clerks, scholars, lawyers, newspaper hacks, and even physicians. Hence, the gastric torments of poor, overworked teachers, who (unlike happier servants of the public) cannot shirk their work, and have to snatch their dinner during a brief interval of the hardest kind of mental drudgery.

The evening-dinner plan would obviate all that misery. The noon-recess could be devoted to a bath, a half hour's chat in the shade, and the toiler would return to his work refreshed. That contrast, once known from practical experience, would preclude the temptation of a return to the unsanitary plan. Boys in their early teens can be taught to consider eating between evening meals a transgression against the health-laws of Nature. Dr. J. H. Lincoln of Hamilton County, Tennessee, had trained his youngsters in rational dietetics till he could trust them not to break their noonday fast for the sake of any tidbits. "For shame!" he used to say, "the idea of wanting to eat before your day's work is done! It's just as if a mechanic should claim his wages before he had earned them."

Evening diners also escape the risk of sunstrokes. "Surfeit strokes" would be a far more appropriate name for an affection almost unknown in Spanish America, where rich and poor suspend labor during the heat of the afternoon. The self-regulating tendency of our organism can hold its own against a temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade; it might resist the added grievance of superfluous clothing, but succumbs to a combination of sun-heat, sweltering dry-goods, and superheated, greasy made-dishes. A sunstroke fit is, in fact, caused by what physicians call a "zymotic process of blood-changes"—in plainer words, the humors of the living body begin to ferment. The system has ways of its own to counteract that risk, but may try in vain to apply them when its energies are diverted by the task of compromising a reckless surfeit. Who has not noticed the bodily and mental vigor that facilitates all sorts of work in the early morning hours? It is only partly due to a difference of temperature, for indoor-workers, too, experience its benefits, and it would be a mistake to suppose that the invigorating effects of a good night's rest are limited to the early forenoon. At least half the morning energy is due to the fact that exemption from the task of digestion makes the reserve stores of vital vigor available for other work. The first meal forfeits that advantage, and by the simple plan of postponing breakfast the buoyancy of the early morning hours can be enjoyed all day.

"My body is all forehead," said the naked Indian, when his Caucasian hunting companion wondered that he did not shiver in a snow-storm; and the faster's day is all morning.

If you cannot adopt the one-meal plan at once at least avoid breakfast. Here is how Dr. Dewey describes his first forenoon without breakfast:

"I had a forenoon of such lofty mental cheer, such energy of soul and body, such a sense of physical ease as I had not known since a young man in my later teens. When the dinner-hour came there was an added relish that was a new experience, and I left the table with a stomach so supplied that there was no need of apprehension as to an attack of faintness during the afternoon. There is no natural hunger in the morning after a night of restful sleep, because there has been no such degree of cell destruction as to create a demand for food at the ordinary hour of the American breakfast. Sleep is not a hunger-causing process. To reinforce this statement and the reasons behind it, is the experience of thousands who have abandoned the morning meal, and in a short time lost all hint of a need of it. This could not have been had there been a need, for Nature is imperious, exacting; and it is not in the line of possibility that she will permit any getting used to less food than she requires to preserve her physiological balance. She easily permits you to skip that meal you do not need so soon after the refreshing sleep and which you always eat from habit; but later she will call you to account if you give less than her demands.

"Now you are to abolish your breakfast, and not to presume to eat again without keen hunger; this hunger you may have if you wait for it, even while sitting in an arm chair, or lying in bed, and it will be for food as nourishing as the axman requires. What shall be eaten at each meal will be a law for self to determine. No food is good or healthful, and therefore typical, without a special demand for it. Keen hunger, the most relishing of foods, thoroughly masticated, a recreative state of mind during digestion, these are the easily acquired conditions behind sustained health.

"But how sudden the revelation to me! Go without your breakfast and you will be hungry for your dinner! And so hungry that you will forget to take your cod-liver dose! And the dinner is so well relished, and you feel so much better after it that you conclude to omit the dosing altogether! How simple! Only to fast, no matter if it costs a whole day, a whole week, or a whole month, and with absolute safety; why, do you not recall how energetically the digestive organs will work over the keenly relished food after the long fast due to fevers? How much more, then, may be expected from fasts that are to be no tax on vital power? Safe? Yes, beyond any question. As soon as the stomach and appendages have disposed of the decomposing, unbidden meals that are still a tax on vital power, there will be a positive increase of mental and physical power, so that when Nature's own signal for food is given, there is none of the exhausted feeling that is more or less realized before the needless morning meal.

"Appetite will always come where death is not inevitable, no less in the ordinary conditions of low health than in cases of acute sickness, and fasting is the swiftest, the most effectual and the most unfailing of all devices ever conceived for inviting natural hunger. Keen hunger, hunger only, makes known the individual need."