Living Without Eating
By: Herbert M. Shelton
In March, 1963, newspapers around
the world described the almost
incredible story of the seven weeks
deprivation of food and the survival
of Ralph Flores, a forty-two-year-old
pilot of San Bruno, California, and
twenty-one-year-old Helen Klaben,
a co-ed of Brooklyn, New York,
following a plane crash on a
mountain side in Northern British
The couple was rescued March 25, 1963, after forty-nine days in the
wilderness in the dead of winter, over thirty days of this time without any food
By means of a fire, a lean-to and heavy clothes in which they wrapped
themselves, they managed to withstand the bitter cold. During the first four
days after the crash, Helen Klaben ate four tins of sardines, two tins of fruit,
and some crackers.
Twenty days after the crash, the pair took their last "food"—two tubes of
toothpaste. Melted snow became their diet, for breakfast, lunch, and the
"For the last six weeks" she explained, "we lived on water. We drank it three
ways: hot, cold and boiled." Varying it in this way helped reduce the monotony
of their single item menu of snow.
Miss Klaben who was "pleasing plump" at the time of the plane crash, was
happily surprised, at the ordeal's end, to learn that her weight loss totaled
Flores, who was more active during their enforced fast, had lost forty pounds.
Physicians, who examined them after the rescue, found them to be in
"remarkably good" condition.
Many thousands of men and women have gone without food for much longer
periods, not only without harm, but with positive benefits. Periods of
abstinence under such taxing conditions as the ones these two people
endured and survived are extremely rare.
One of Sweden's distinguished biochemists, Dr. Ragnar Berg, a Nobel Prize
winner and an authority on nutrition, says, "One can fast a long time, we know
of fasts of over a hundred days duration, so we have no need of fearing that we
will die of hunger."
The actual time period of abstinence forced upon Mr. Flores and Miss Klaben
was of relatively moderate duration. The question is not how long man can
fast, but what are the provisions of nature that enable him to do so.
Wear and waste, repair and replenishment, are continuous and almost
simultaneous processes in all living structures, and none of these processes
halt during a fast.
The hibernating animal in the far north must produce sufficient heat to
maintain body warmth. Both man and animal, while fasting, must breathe and
the heart must continue to pulsate.
The blood must continue to flow and the organs of elimination must continue
their work of freeing the tissues of waste. The vital functions of life must be
carried on, even if at a slightly reduced rate.
Cells must be replenished, wounds must be healed. All of this, as I know from
years of observations, goes on during a fast.
All manifestations of life—movement, secretion, digestion, and similar
processes—depend upon the use of the materials of the body. If an organ is to
work, it must be supplied with the materials with which to work.
In the absence of fresh supplies with which to replace those that have been
used up, the organ wastes and weakens. If life is to continue, a basic
irreducible level of activity is imperative. Even the hibernating animal, with
activities reduced to a bare minimum consistent with continued life, must
breathe and the heart must pulsate.
An understanding of the process by which the body nourishes its vital tissues
and sustains its essential functions during prolonged abstinence, and the
sources upon which it draws, will help us understand how the body can
survive periods when outside food is not available or cannot be digested.
The normal body provides itself with a store of nutritive materials that are put
away in the form of fat, bone marrow, glycogen, muscle juices, lacteal fluids,
minerals and vitamins.
Always the healthy body maintains in store adequate nutritive reserves to tide
it over several days, weeks, or even over two or three months of lack of food.
This remains true whether fasting is enforced, as in the case of a plane crash
or of entombed miners, or is brought on by illness where one cannot swallow
or digest food, or by free choice as in voluntary fasting to lose weight.
When food is not taken, the body draws upon its reserves with which to
nourish its functioning tissues. As this reserve is used up, weight is lost.
Basic in the fasting process is the fact that our "built-in pantries" contain
sufficient nutriment to hold out, in most instances, for prolonged periods,
especially if they are conserved and not wasted.
In the blood and lymph, in the bones and especially in the marrow of the
bones, in the fat of the body, in the liver and other glands and even in the
individual cells that make up the body, are stores of protein, fat, sugar,
minerals, and vitamins which may be drawn upon during periods of scarcity or
when food is not usable.
Neither animal nor man can survive prolonged abstinence from food unless he
carries within himself a store of reserve food on which the body can call in
The fasting organism will not be harmed by abstinence so long as the stored
reserves are adequate to meet the nutritive requirements of its functioning
tissues. Even thin individuals carry a reserve of food in their tissues, to tide
them over periods of abstinence. These people too, may safely fast for
By a process known technically as autolysis, achieved by enzymes in the
tissues, these stored reserves are made available for use by the vital tissues to
which they are carried by the blood and lymph as required.
Glycogen or animal starch stored in the liver is converted to sugar and
distributed, as needed, to the tissues. It is significant that, even in prolonged
fasts, no beriberi, pellagra, rickets, scurvy or other "deficiency disease" ever
develops, thus showing that the reserves of the body are generally well
Fasting has been shown to improve rickets and calcium metabolism. In
anemia, the number of red blood cells are increased during a fast. I have
observed benefits in pellagra during a fast. The biochemical balance may be
maintained and even restored while fasting. It is important to know this, for if it
were not so, the fast would prove to be deleterious.
Numerous animal experiments have shown that underfeeding, as contrasted
with overfeeding, tends to prolong life and to provide for better health.
Other experiments involving fasting rather than underfeeding, have shown
that fasting not only prolongs life, but results in a marked degree of
regeneration and rejuvenation.
Thousands of observations of both man and animals have established the fact
that when the physical organism goes without food, the tissues are called
upon in the inverse order of their importance to the organism.
Thus fat is the first tissue to go. The stored reserves are used up before any of
the functioning tissues of the body are called upon to supply nutrients for the
more vital tissues such as the brain and nerves or the heart and lungs.
As it feels among its supplies for proteins, sugars, fats, minerals, and vitamins,
and redistributes, utilizes, and conserves these stores, the fasting organism
exercises an ingenuity that seems almost superhuman.
The aggregate of tissues of the organism may be regarded as a reservoir of
nutriment, which it may call in any direction or to any part as needed. But
these tissues are not sacrificed indiscriminately. On the contrary, wastage of
those organs that are primarily essential to life is repaired by withdrawal from
less essential organs of materials required by the more important ones.
Many of the necessary nutritive constituents, and this is especially true of
certain minerals, are vigorously retained.
Studies made on men and animals to determine losses of various tissues and
organs in prolonged abstinence from food have almost all been made on
organisms that have died of starvation. Starvation and fasting are two totally
different stages of abstinence.
It should be quite obvious that the extreme losses seen at the starvation stage
of abstinence are far greater than they are in a fast of reasonable length.
Extreme weight losses are not experienced in any normal fast. Where they
occur, the fast should be broken.
One must differentiate between fasting and starving. To fast is to abstain from
food while one possesses adequate reserves to nourish his vital tissues; to
starve is to abstain from food after his reserves have been exhausted so that
vital tissues are sacrificed.
We are not left unwarned as to when the reserves are nearing exhaustion.
Hunger returns with an intensity that drives one to seek food, although during
the fast proper, there is no desire for food. This differentiation between fasting
and starving should help to dispel any notion that starvation sets in with the
omission of the first meal.
Contrary to popular and even professional opinion, the vital tissues of a
fasting organism, those tissues doing the actual work of life, do not begin to
break down the instant a fast is instituted. The fasting body does lose weight,
but this loss, for an extended period, is one of reserves and not of organized
The efficiency of the living organism in regulating the expenditure of its
resources during a fast is one of the marvels of life.
In periods of abstinence, the less important organs of the human being,
although they waste consequent upon the withdrawal of substance from them
with which to nourish the more vital tissues, do not undergo degeneration
until the starvation phase of the period of abstinence is reached.
The atrophy of muscles may be no greater than that seen to occur from a
lengthy period of physical inactivity, while there is no loss of muscle cells. The
cells grow smaller and the fat is removed from the muscles, but the muscle
retains its integrity and a surprising amount of strength.
Loss of weight varies according to the character and quality of the tissues of
the individual, the amount of physical and emotional activity engaged in, and
the temperature surrounding the faster.
Physical activity, emotional stress, and cold and poor tissues all provide for
more rapid loss. Fat is lost faster than any of the other tissues of the body.
Bodily condition is, perhaps, the chief determiner of how long one may safely
fast. In the case of the two who survived the plane crash, and went four weeks
without food, for example, they had snow, which is water, and this kept them
from the danger of dehydration.
They could live without food; the lack of water would have been fatal.
Voluntary or involuntary, the faster must have water.
It is clear then that fasting must be carried out intelligently, with proper
precaution, and with common sense.
Precisely as a novice swimmer would seek expert guidance and advice before
starting on a long swim, so the inexperienced faster must obtain reliable
guidance as a precautionary measure before launching upon a fast of any
By: Herbert M. Shelton
Excerpt From: Fasting Can Save Your Life
Article: Living Without Eating