I asked this question: Can any addiction be overcome by fasting?. This time I ensured that the claim can be scientifically investigated, and as such the question is definitely on-topic, yet it has triggered some negative reactions and several downvotes. How can I reword the question in a manner that doesn't trigger people anymore and that hopefully motivates someone to post an answer on time (i.e. before the community mod steps in and deletes it)?


The original question had not one, but three different claims. (It has now grown to more.)

The first is a 20 minute video that we can't expect people to actually watch, but from the YouTube description ascribes his healing through God, fasting and prayer, not fasting alone. It sounds like a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, but I have no interest in spending 20 minutes to follow it up.

The second is a completely different claim. It isn't that fasting will help you. It is the skills needed to fast are the same as the skills needed to overcome addiction. This isn't the same as your title claim at all.

It also raises questions about its usefulness - if you need the same skills, why start with fasting? Why not start with the addiction problem?

Either way, it is rooted in the "Willpower View" of addiction, which I understand to be rather outdated and victim-blamey, which may explain some of the downvotes. If you want to ask about this theory directly, please do so.

The third claim is:

Medically, fasting has been found to rapidly dissipate the craving for nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and other drugs.

If you want to ask that question, then make that the question.

My major concern with the claim is that it is so vague about what "fasting" means, it is ripe for "No True Scotsman" escapes. Indeed, you added a link to a Reddit anecdote that included a counter-anecdote:

FA. Doesn't do much for me. I've done multiple 3 and 4-day water fasts. I'm back to square one after even a light refeeding.

which was rejected as not fasting hard enough. (Compare that to the claim that it rapidly dissipates cravings.)


You can start by not dismissing people's valid objections to your questions as 'triggering', as though it is a weakness on their part rather than a consistent weakness in your questions.

Hint: The term derives from PTSD Triggers which are a very different phenomena that people reading a question and downvoting it.

  • You said "your questions" in plural, so I take it as a reference to my previous questions. In my previous questions the typical critique was the impossibility for people to post "yes" answers without leaving the scope of science. This question is free from that limitation, yet it's still getting downvotes. @JeromeViveiros is the only one who explained his downvote. He said "[...] Honestly I find the question kind of insulting. Maybe read up even a little about addiction before asking such questions" based on his personal bad results, yet other people have had good results with fasting. – Spirit Realm Investigator Dec 21 '20 at 2:53
  • It's like downvoting a question about CBT just because he didn't have good results with it. Seriously, I don't understand what's wrong with this question in particular that is triggering people so much, other than previous hate carrying over to this question. – Spirit Realm Investigator Dec 21 '20 at 2:55
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    It looks very much like you didn't read this answer. – Oddthinking Dec 21 '20 at 3:30
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    You don't like my use of the word 'trigger' here. Fair enough. But that's feedback for this meta-question. What about giving feedback to the original question itself? What's wrong with the addiction & fasting question? – Spirit Realm Investigator Dec 21 '20 at 3:45

Since you tagged me in the comments of the original question...

@OddThinking is correct. Valid objections to your question aren't examples of "triggering" as you're shifting the accountability of your question onto others.

I wasn't triggered when I suggested that you need to read up on addiction, and then someone else commented that you did and that's why you'd asked the question. That passive aggressive response (not yours, I know) put me off the question entirely.

Addiction is a serious problem and there are many facets to it. I'd be lying if I said I understand how it works. Simply being a former addict with seven years of sobriety doesn't mean I understand it much more than anyone else.

But fasting? Exerting "willpower" to refrain from eating food, which is necessary to live, to somehow help refrain from taking substances you are addicted to and dependent upon for other reasons... WHY would there be a connection? It doesn't pass the smell test for me. It's obvious woo and that's enough for me. I know this isn't enough for an answer on the main site, but I feel that if you read enough on addiction itself, you'll come to the same sensible conclusion.

  • "It doesn't pass the smell test for me. It's obvious woo and that's enough for me. ", leaving aside the fact that this couple sentences are not very informative as I cannot read your mind and understand how you come to those conclusions, there is also the fact that for some people fasting has actually worked out well: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. – Spirit Realm Investigator Dec 21 '20 at 7:30
  • 12 step programs "work" for people too, even though they are based on magical thinking and no evidence at all. Just because we assign cause to something doesn't mean the assignment is correct. – Jerome Viveiros Dec 21 '20 at 9:46
  • A question I think is more worthwhile to be asked, is whether or not 12 step programs have any merit beyond placebo. But I haven't asked it because, having read on this, I know what the answers will be. But fasting... It's a fantastical claim. – Jerome Viveiros Dec 21 '20 at 9:47
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    @JeromeViveiros: We do have a question on the effectiveness of AA, the original 12 step program. – Oddthinking Dec 27 '20 at 16:29
  • @OddThinking My apologies then... I didn't know that. My point was meant to show an example of something to be skeptical of. Unfortunately the 12 steps are widely regarded as the best way to do recovery. here in South Africa, many will tell you it's the only way. But the idea that fasting could help someone recover from drugs is just silly and not widely believed. – Jerome Viveiros Dec 27 '20 at 18:13
  • Ooh.... I don't like that accepted answer though. AA or NA is nothing more than magical thinking and the claims that it works are anecdotal. – Jerome Viveiros Dec 27 '20 at 18:15

Personally, I believe the question could produce interesting and useful answers. But not here on Skeptics. As I understand it, a claim needs to be noteworthy. In other words, the claim must be established, and it must not be based on one individual's experience. On the hand, the OP did include a link to an article, written by Benjamin Hardy who is currently studying for a Ph.D in organisational psychology, in which the author states:

But while you’re fasting, you are consciously choosing not to eat — even if you feel hungry — for something else. And there’s nothing more fundamental to survival than food. Consequently, when you learn to control your own eating, you develop the ability to control less fundamental and often destructive addictions.

and further on

Medically, fasting has been found to rapidly dissipate the craving for nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and other drugs.

That, for me, is an interesting idea. It seems logical that if you can control the perfectly normal and healthy urge to eat after even thirty days' fasting, then it should be possible to apply the same principle to drugs and alcohol addiction. But if the “cure” was simply abstinence there would be no addictions in the first place. Humans are not wired all in the same way, the reasons for addictions are multiple and highly complex, and deeply personal, reducing it to lack of willpower is insulting to those who have struggled for years against their illness.

Instead, why not post on Medical sciences? I was going to say there are 500 posts containing the term “fasting” but many of the results are variants on the adjective “fast”, which is quite annoying. In any case, post a question asking if there has been any medical research into the benefits of fasting–which I'm sure there has been–and whether it is a recommended treatment for addicts. Asking whether the previous claim is (as one user said) “magical thinking” or if there is any serious scientific evidence/papers supporting the theory.

UPDATE: Searching “fasting” in quotes pulls up 112 results.


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