Therapeutic fasting in a self-experiment – five days of nothing but juice and soup

Therapeutic fasting in a self-experiment – five days of nothing but juice and soup

Preventing disease, prolonging life and feeling really good all at the same time – who wouldn’t want that? A simple method promises all these positive effects: do not eat for a few days. Therapeutic fasting is the name of the practice, which has a centuries-old tradition almost all over the world. The health benefits of fasting have also been scientifically established.

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It fascinates me that so much can be achieved simply by making sacrifices. So I decide to try it myself. And what better time to do it than during Lent? But I don’t want to have to go through the procedure alone. So I book a one-week fasting seminar at Fastenhof Behm in northern Brandenburg. With twelve other people who want to fast, I will dedicate myself to the task of not eating for five days. In some federal states, these courses are even recognized as educational leave.

With my decision, I am absolutely on trend: The “wellness economy”, which also includes therapeutic fasting, is booming. By 2025, the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) expects global sales to reach $7 trillion per year for the entire industry. In Germany, the world’s fourth largest market for the industry, wellness tourism is particularly well represented. Cleanses, seminars and retreats on topics such as nutrition, exercise and stress reduction are very popular in Germany.

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Fasting courses are also part of this and are offered as wellness journeys in a wide variety of locations and with a wide variety of concepts and programs. I opt for a method with a long tradition: therapeutic fasting according to the rules of the German fasting pioneer Otto Buchinger.

Cold turkey: giving up coffee hurts

A week before the start of the seminar, I receive useful advice on how to prepare for fasting. In order to facilitate the transition, it is recommended to use less easily digestible foods and, if possible, vegan ones. Plus, I better give up on coffee now – which is going to be my first big challenge: I drink a cup every morning and don’t consider myself an excessive caffeine addict.

Nevertheless, the renunciation leads to such a nagging headache after a single day that I have to make myself a coffee around 10 am to get through the rest of the day. After that, I buy decaffeinated coffee and slowly lower my caffeine levels for the rest of the week. After five days, I’m clean but still horrified by the physical experience of withdrawal.

Germany is the world's fourth largest market for the wellness industry, and the wellness tourism sector is particularly well represented.

Germany is the world’s fourth largest market for the wellness industry, and the wellness tourism sector is particularly well represented.

Learn more after the announcement

Learn more after the announcement

After successful weaning and preparation, the fasting seminar can begin. From now on, we participants will consume no more than 200 to 400 kilocalories in liquid form per day. In the morning there is a glass of freshly squeezed juice, at noon a fine vegetable soup. In between, drink as much liquid as possible, three to four liters a day is recommended. Daily meditation, morning exercises, yoga and a four-hour hike are also on the program. Alone, almost no weaker soul would accept this program, but group dynamics make it possible.

Even on an empty stomach, every start is difficult

On the first day of fasting, however, there is another less glamorous item on the agenda: defecation. It serves to relieve the digestive tract so that it can completely stop its activity and recover during fasting. Glauber’s salt and mannitol laxatives are available as methods in addition to several consecutive warm water enemas. I opt for the classic Glauber’s salt – and a few hours later I’m particularly happy to have mastered the next challenge after giving up the coffee. It can only get better now, can’t it?

At the start of the therapeutic fast, defecation is on the program.  Its purpose is to allow the digestive tract to recover during fasting.

At the start of the therapeutic fast, defecation is on the program. Its purpose is to allow the digestive tract to recover during fasting.

Not quite: On the second day, I woke up at 6am and felt terrible: my heart was beating fast in my chest, I felt nauseous and my legs and arms were shaking. Must be very low blood pressure. Quick to the others, I think. If I fall, at least someone will notice. My fellow fasters don’t seem to be doing any better either: looking around, you see faces that range from tension to pain. Everything is completely normal, assures the leader of the fast, because the metabolism must change during the fast: instead of burning the energy which is absorbed by the food, the reserves are now used.

Change is a little stressful. This balance sheet reassures me, I am probably not in danger of death after all. Besides, the world looks much better after ten minutes of gym exercises in the fresh air. And the breakfast juice, which we sip as slowly as possible with small spoons for mindfulness purposes, tastes delicious.

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Freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juice is the culinary highlight of a week of fasting.  It is not drunk in one gulp, but is picked with respect.

Freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juice is the culinary highlight of a week of fasting. It is not drunk in one gulp, but is picked with respect.

Hunger shared is hunger halved

From the third day of fasting, the situation is stable. Physically I feel fit, the daily exercise program and getting up early is not a problem. I clearly see that not having to deal with digestion for a long time is a recovery for the body. However, I wait in vain for my feeling of hunger to disappear completely. My stomach growls loudly during meditation and yoga classes, and my thoughts revolve around food a lot. If I eat what I feel like eating after the fast, a yo-yo effect would be inevitable, I’m afraid. Hunger is not particularly unpleasant, but I look forward to the day when there will finally be something to eat. Recipes are exchanged more and more often in the group.

The much-vaunted euphoria of fasting – a state of exceptional well-being that is supposed to set in after a few days of fasting – is also absent for me. I put it down to the fact that I’m generally fine most of the time. So I just feel like I always do it while fasting.

Before I finally think about what I want to cook first after this week, the five-day fast is already over. On the sixth day, an apple waits on the breakfast table. It’s time to slowly return to solid food. Then begins the so-called ramp-up phase: as before the fasting cure, you must eat little, digestible and as little vegetable as possible in the days that follow.

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Learn more after the announcement

Conclusion: the effort pays off

Two weeks after the fasting seminar, I am eating largely as before. Nevertheless, something remains from the experience: the dreaded cravings did not materialize. I have developed a much better awareness of what I am eating and when I am full. Instead of piling stuff on me when I’m stressed, I think about what I really want and take more time to eat. I hope I can maintain this more conscious approach to food for as long as possible.

I would recommend anyone interested in the experience to try therapeutic fasting for themselves. I too would like to fast again in the future – but only as part of a seminar on fasting. Fasting alone at home, possibly during a normal working week, seems impossible to me. Because peak mental performance was out of the question for me during the fasting week. There are challenges you don’t have to face alone.