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

Preventing illness, prolonging life and feeling really good at the same time – who wouldn’t want that? A simple method promises all these positive effects: not eating for a few days. Therapeutic fasting is the name of the practice, which has a centuries-old tradition almost everywhere in the world. Health-promoting effects of fasting have also been scientifically determined.

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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 that 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. Along 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 such courses are even recognized as an educational leave.

With my decision, I absolutely agree with the trend: The “charitable economy,” which also includes therapeutic fasting, is exploding. By 2025, the Global Welfare Institute (GWI) expects global sales to reach $ 7 trillion annually for the entire industry. In Germany, the world’s fourth largest market for industry, wellness tourism is particularly well represented. Cures, 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 trips in various places and with various concepts and programs. I choose a method with a long tradition: therapeutic fasting according to the rules of the German fast pioneer Otto Buchinger.

Cold turkey: giving up coffee hurts

A week before the start of the seminar, I receive useful tips on how to prepare for fasting. To facilitate the transition, it is recommended to use fewer, easily digestible and, if possible, vegan foods. Also, it would be best for me to give up coffee now – which will be my first big challenge: I drink a cup every morning and don’t consider myself an excessive caffeine addict.

However, the resignation leads to such a stinging headache after just one day that I have to prepare myself coffee around 10am to get through the rest of the day. After that, I buy decaffeinated coffee and slowly lower my coffee levels for the rest of the week. After five days I am clean but still terrified by the physical withdrawal experience.

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

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

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After successful habituation and preparation, the fasting seminar can begin. From now on, we participants will not consume 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 thin vegetable soup. In between, drink as much liquid as possible, it is recommended three to four liters a day. Daily meditation, early morning exercise, yoga and a four-hour walk are also on the schedule. By itself, hardly a weaker soul would accept this program, but the group dynamics make it possible.

Even during fasting, every start is difficult

On the first day of fasting, however, there is another, less glamorous point in the program: defecation. It serves to lighten the digestive tract so that it can completely stop its activity and heal during fasting. Glauber’s laxative salt and mannitol are available as methods in addition to several successive enemas with hot water. I choose Glauber’s classic salt – and a few hours later I’m particularly glad to have mastered the next challenge after giving up coffee. It can only get better now, right?

At the beginning of the therapeutic fasting, the defecation is in the program.  Its purpose is to allow the digestive tract to heal during fasting.

At the beginning of the therapeutic fasting, the defecation is in the program. Its purpose is to allow the digestive tract to heal during fasting.

Not quite: On the second day I wake up at 6 in the morning and I feel terrible: my heart is beating fast in my chest, I am sick and my legs and arms are shaking. That should be very low blood pressure. Quick to the others, I think. If I fall, at least someone will notice. My fasting comrades also don’t seem to feel any better: looking around, one sees faces that range from tense to suffering. Everything is completely normal, assures the fasting leader, because the metabolism must change during fasting: instead of burning energy that is absorbed by food, the reserves are now used up.

The change is a bit tense. This assessment reassures me, I am probably not in danger of death after all. In addition, the world looks much better after ten minutes of gymnastic exercises in the fresh air. And the breakfast juice we drink as slowly as possible with small spoons for attentive purposes is delicious.

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Freshly squeezed juice from fruits and vegetables is the culinary highlight of a fasting week.  It is not drunk once, but spooned respectfully.

Freshly squeezed juice from fruits and vegetables is the culinary highlight of a fasting week. It is not drunk once, but spooned respectfully.

Shared hunger is halved hunger

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 realize that not having to deal with digestion for a long time is a cure for the body. However, I am waiting in vain for my hunger to go away completely. My stomach growls loudly during meditation and yoga classes, and my thoughts revolve a lot around food. If I ate whatever I tended to eat after fasting, a jojo effect would be inevitable, I’m afraid. The hunger isn’t particularly unpleasant, but I can hardly wait for the day when there will finally be something to eat again. Recipes are now being exchanged more and more often in the group.

I also miss the much-celebrated fasting euphoria – a state of exceptional well-being that is supposed to arise after a few days of fasting. I subject it to the fact that I usually feel good most of the time. So I just feel like I always do during the fast.

Before I finally thought about what I wanted to cook first after this week, the five days of fasting were over. On the sixth day, an apple is waiting on the breakfast table. Time to slowly return to solid food. Now begins the so-called construction phase: Similar to before the fasting cure, you should eat little, digestible and as planted as possible in the following days.

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Conclusion: the effort pays off

Two weeks after the fasting seminar, I eat mostly the same as before. However, something remains of the experience: the dreaded cravings did not materialize. I have developed a much better awareness of what I eat and when I am full. Instead of getting stuck in myself when I’m stressed, I think about what I really want and take more time to eat. I hope I can keep this more conscious approach to food as long as possible.

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

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