“He won’t eat a thing, and I always fix him his favorite foods.” The mother looked anxious as she told the Hygienic practitioner about her young son’s refusal to eat.
“And what does your child like?” the Hygienic doctor asked the woman.
“Oh, you know, the usual things like ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, and lots of peanut butter sandwiches. He won’t touch a fresh piece of fruit or any vegetables. I’d do anything to get him to eat. I always have his special food favorites around, but he just doesn’t have any appetite for good foods. What should I do? I don’t want him to starve.”
“Leave your son with me and my wife for one week. When you return for him, you will not believe he is the same boy.”
Reluctantly the woman left her young son with the Hygienist for six days. When she returned for him on the seventh day, the doctor showed her the boy happily eating a large raw vegetable salad with keen appreciation.
“What did you do? How did you get him to eat like that?” the mother asked.
“Well, when he refused to eat the foods we provided him, we let him go without. After three days of not eating, he discovered that an apple or banana tastes pretty good.”
“You mean you let my son go without food for three days?” The woman looked shocked. “That’s cruel. That’s child abuse.”
“No madam,” the Hygienic doctor replied. “Stuffing your child with junk foods and fretting over him constantly is child abuse. We just let nature take its course, and I might add, your son seems all the better for it.”
Fasting a child or withholding food from an infant does seem like a cruel practice to some people. After all, the primary responsibility of parents is to provide sufficient food for their offspring. Not feeding a child seems like a drastic neglect of parental duty. A careful abstention from food for a limited period of time, however, may not only be beneficial but absolutely necessary for a youngster’s health and well-being.
There are many questions and misconceptions about children and fasting. The purpose of this lesson is to answer these questions and remove the fears that surround the fasting of children.
1.1 Why Children May Need to Fast
Children usually need to fast for the same reasons that adults do. A fast is sometimes needed to give the body a total physiological rest so that it may rebuilt its health quickly. A controlled withdrawal of food for a reasonable period of time can allow the body to revitalize itself and to carry out the healing processes.
It is true that children are in a stage of rapid growth and physical development. During such a time, the demands by the body for high-quality food are great and must be met. But this does not mean that food must be always present or that overfeeding should be practiced.
Fasting is a time-honored method for improving the health of any person, regardless of age. Simply because a child has very definite needs for sustained and optimum nutrition does not mean that a fast for a reasonable length of time cannot be employed. Indeed, many times the child’s body is better able to assimilate and utilize the food given following a fast than it was before the fast.
So, why should a child fast? For basically the same reasons that an adult may wish to fast: to achieve and maintain superior health and development by allowing the body a period of complete physiological rest (which includes a “rest” from the digestion and assimilation of foods).
1.2 When Should Children Fast?
According to Dr. Herbert M. Shelton, the world’s foremost authority on fasting, children should not receive food when:
- They are upset or feel bad.
- They are excited or tired.
- They are overheated or chilled.
- They are in pain or distress.
- They are sick or have a fever.
In other words, if a child is uncomfortable or disturbed in body or mind, then a meal should be postponed or skipped. Usually the simple missing of a single meal will often be enough to correct any temporary problem or passing illness of a child. This could hardly be called fasting, yet missing a meal can give the child’s sensitive and vital body a chance to reestablish its normal balance and well-being.
Unfortunately, many parents become worried, nervous, and distraught if their child refuses to eat a meal. The idea of actually forcing their child to forego a meal seems almost unthinkable. Yet if there are signs of physical discomfort or disease, then abstaining from food for at least one meal is only sensible.
Missing more than one meal or going without food for over a day is the beginning of a fast. A fasting period of a day or more is advisable for most children during the time of illness and disease. In fact, most periods of childhood fasting coincide with the periods of childhood disease and illness.
An illness or sickness is proper enough reason for a child to fast, and the results from such fasting are nothing short of spectacular in rectifying physiological problems. In his book The Hygienic Care of Children, Dr. Shelton devotes many pages to the discussion of various diseases and illnesses suffered by children. This is the proper way to discuss the fasting of children, as it is during sickness that a fast should be employed.