September 18, 2008

Healthy Information Takes a Holiday

Earlier this week, the Chicago Tribune reported on a religious fast by a 17-year-old:

For more than a month, the only thing Eva Mehta put in her body was water, and never after dark.

At times, the 17-year-old was so weak and nauseated that her parents had to use a wheelchair to bring her from their van to their Jain temple in Bartlett. When the hunger pangs hit hard, she would pinch her ears. But she kept up her fast, even when she went to bed hungry and dreamed of food.

“I would just say in my mind, ‘No, it’s not real. I just won’t eat it. I’m not going to eat this until I’m done fasting,’ ” she said.

Her fast ended Sept. 3 after 34 days. By then the 5-foot-4 Evanston teen had lost 33 pounds, her weight dropping to 119.

Jains are a small religious minority in India. The religion teaches a path to enlightenment through a life founded on nonviolence to all creatures.

The story notes that Mehta’s fast was a temple record, “a triumph of discipline and devotion, say Jain leaders, who plan to hold a celebration Saturday at the Bartlett temple for Mehta and others who fasted.”

That may be the case in the eyes of worshippers, but to me the story was a little too congratulatory on the drastic weight loss, without offering any perspective on the health risks.

I wasn’t the only one who thought so. One of the Trib’s health columnists wrote a blog post the same day the story ran that explains the effect a month-long fast can have on your body. Yet it basically adopts a don’t-try-this-at-home tone. More analysis about the media coverage is warrented.


One Response to “Healthy Information Takes a Holiday”

  1. earlgreyrooibos Says:

    “The religion teaches a path to enlightenment through a life founded on nonviolence to all creatures.”

    I would argue that excessive fasting is in fact a form of violence against onself . . . doesn’t that violate the tenent of nonviolence toward all creatures?

    I’m not a fan of fasting myself, but I understand that it can be done safely. However, 34 days of nothing but water? That’s not safe by any stretch of the imagination.

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