New York Times: Rest the Tummy, Restore the Soul

Published: August 24, 2003

DIANA KOEN had a really bad day on Tuesday. She put in eight hours as a mortgage broker at a Midtown firm before spending an hour and a half stuck on the subway, and by the time she reached home it was dark. The garbage hadn’t been collected in front of her garden-level apartment, leaving a foul smell, and her daughter didn’t feel like taking the dogs for a long walk.

On top of all that, she hadn’t eaten anything solid for five days.

But as she waited for an apple-chard juice at Quintessence, a raw-food restaurant in the East Village, Ms. Koen, a slender blonde in her early 40’s, seemed blissful. The reason for her serenity, she said, was the fast — her first. For the past 48 hours, this former Zone-bar-gobbling carnivore had subsisted on a diet of fruit juice and vegetable juice, and for three days before that had consumed nothing but a mixture of water, squeezed lemons, Celtic Sea salt and honey. ”Not eating really hasn’t been a problem,” she said. ”I haven’t even been hungry. One time I was. But I ate a pinch of bee pollen, and it went away.”

While millions of high-fat, low-carb devotees are gorging themselves on steak and butter, a small group of the body-conscious have opted to eat nothing at all. In the name of detoxifying their polluted bodies, these new believers — including mortgage brokers like Ms. Koen, fashion designers and Manolo-obsessed socialites — have joined a fasting corps formerly made up of the devoutly religious, raw-foodists and the chronically ill. They say 4 to 30 days or more of a regimen of fruit and vegetable juices, herbal teas, blended soups and laxatives can cure what ails them — whether it’s an excess of weight, a pasty complexion or the vague stresses of everyday life.

Stephanie Paradise, an owner of the New Age Health Spa in Neversink, N.Y., has catered to fasters since the 1980’s. ”It used to be that people who came in to fast talked about weight loss,” she said, ”but these days that’s just not said.” Now it’s about ”detoxing the mind, body and spirit.”

Ms. Paradise said business in the spa’s fasting program has doubled since 1999. The Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Patagonia, Ariz., run by Gabriel Cousens, a fasting guru, has had a similar increase. The We Care Spa in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., frequented by celebrities like Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck and Courtney Love and breathlessly covered in women’s magazines, is booked through October, ”something that never happens in the summer in the desert,” said Rory Legacy, the manager. The cost can run to $3,484 a week — to not eat.

Fashionable fasters have inspired a cottage industry in upbeat literature, including reprints of classic tomes like Arnold Ehret’s ”Rational Fasting” (1914) and ”The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fasting,” published last year. In one early standard, ”The Miracle of Fasting,” Paul and Patricia Bragg said ”fasting is easier than any diet” and called bleached flour the ”staff of death.”

There are also nutritional consultants who coach fasters, appealing to vanity as much as to purity. One of them, Natalia Rose, organizes four-day fasting weekends for women, packing the days with massages and reflexology treatments. For inspiration she might take them to Barneys to remind them what it’s all for. ”We’ll create a whole fall wardrobe with them,” she said, ”so they’re focused on Narciso Rodriguez, not what they’re putting in their stomachs.”