As media consumers we all know that fasting is the diet du jour. The 5:2, the 1:7, even now the 5:25 (don’t ask) and of course one can eat the same amount crammed into a shorter time frame as in the 16:8.
But we children of the free abundant Seventies knew about fasting too. Many of us followed the path of Paavo Airola. His book ‘How To Get Well’ expounded the maxim, ‘systematic undereating is the way to a long and healthy life.’ Many a summer I have been to the Victoria Market and loaded up baskets of fruit and gone with a few friends to someone’s parents holiday house by the sea at Portarlington and spent ten days juice-fasting. Often during this fast we might lose ten pounds, which we very quickly put back on when we went off the fast with a bang up meal and a few drinks the day after we returned home. I seem to remember we spent the time lying on the floor engaged in conversations about ‘what I’d like to be eating right now.’ We did look fresh and glowing for a few days after and then late nights would catch up again and we would start planning for our next ‘healthy’ holiday.
I was reminded of this when I saw a little piece in The Guardian by Jeanette Winterson headed, ‘Why I fasted for 11 days,’ where she does her usual recounting of relevant facts, religions where people fast, the high levels of degenerative disease in today’s society and so on. But she didn’t go off with a few friends and a large amount of fruit, she went to the Buchinger Wilhelmi Clinic in Uberlingen, run, of course by doctors. You can read the article where she takes an extensive look at the benefits and effects of fasting here:
I can’t imagine what this must cost or how one justifies it if not suffering from any of the diseases they treat (one of which is anorexia oddly enough.) She does say she was feeling tired and stressed; so let’s hope she got a freebie so she could write an unbiased account of her stay there while taking a little time out.
Gert, as her readers know, has long had an interest in this kind of thing. The effort to become other than the person genetics dictate by means of extreme forms of deprivation and exercise is a sub-theme in several of her works. Characters who take the path of remaking the body, forcing it into a new mould more au courant with modern fashion, do it with the hope of creating a new self.* With varying degrees of success they reject the given self and attempt to rise above it by creating a more vibrant and appealing image and thus a more powerful self. One can but try.
I am reminded of an even earlier proponent of this kind of thing, Uncle Davy in Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate who was a kind uncle to Fanny, but one possessed of rather quirky views on how to maintain health. He believed the body should never be allowed to become complacent, but to be subjected to a series of shocks to keep performing at its peak. Thus he had his days for getting drunk, and his days for eating nothing…
He seemed to regard his body with the affectionate preoccupation of a farmer towards a pig—not a good doer, the small one of the litter, which must somehow be made to be a credit to the farm. He weighed it, sunned it, aired it, exercised it, and gave it special diets…
Eternal vigilance is required.
* see our accompanying post about Frank, the hero of The Art of The Possible.