Therapeutic fasting is particularly popular in spring: the voluntary renunciation of solid foods aims to activate self-healing powers and reduce inflammation in the body. We show you what you need to consider.
Therapeutic fasting is a millennia-old tradition: even in ancient times, Hippocrates praised fasting as a treatment option for a variety of diseases. Today, almost two and a half millennia later, more and more fans of fasting swear by the many positive effects of therapeutic fasting for the body and mind.
Fasting naturally cleanses the body, mind and spirit. Among other things, fasting is said to have beneficial effects on cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, migraines, chronic diseases or pain, to cleanse the intestines and – after initial mood swings – to lift your spirits considerably.
This inner “spring clean” involves abstaining from solid food for a limited time. This affects the metabolism, activates self-healing powers and reduces inflammation in the body.
Of the various forms of therapeutic fasting, the traditional “Buchinger method” is one of the best known. It goes back to the German physician Otto Buchinger. He opened his first fasting clinic in 1920. In addition to two to three litres of water and unsweetened tea per day, Buchinger fasting only allows the consumption of vegetable broth at lunchtime, a glass of fruit or vegetable juice in the morning and in the evening and a little honey. You can’t consume more than 500 kilocalories a day, or the fasting won’t work.
Intermittent fasting is also suitable as an introduction to fasting, or if you don’t have time for a traditional fasting cure. Read more about the different methods and what they can do for you here.
Depending on the method, a fasting cure lasts between five and a maximum of thirty-five days. Fasting cures lasting seven or more days should only be carried out under expert guidance. If you suffer from pre-existing chronic conditions, stress or eating disorders, or have to take medication regularly, you should also always consult a doctor or therapist before starting a fasting cure. The Ärztegesellschaft Heilfasten und Ernährung (ÄGHE) recommends planning six to eight days plus a day of rest beforehand and three recovery days afterwards to normalise your eating behaviour as a reasonable minimum duration for a fasting therapy. If you have never fasted before, it’s best to limit your first fast to five days.
If you decide to fast at home, you should adjust your schedule accordingly and be sure to take time off during the fast. That’s because rest and relaxation are just as much a part of fasting as regular, light exercise in the fresh air. You should schedule one or two days off to prepare for the actual fasting cure: avoid coffee, alcohol and other stimulants on these days, and instead opt for light foods such as steamed vegetables with rice, potatoes or light salads. For many people with long-standing fasting experience, cleansing the intestines with Glauber’s or Epsom salts on the evening before starting a fast is part of the ritual; others prefer to do without it. However, intestinal cleansing is part of the usual routine in specialised fasting clinics, as with Buchinger fasting.
Since the body isn’t getting any solid food, it starts tapping into its reserves. The following happens in the body:
Autophagy also kicks in: the body breaks down old, damaged or superfluous proteins, fats and cell organelles. Autophagy keeps the degradation of old and the production of new cell components in balance, slows down the ageing process, protects against infections and prevents various diseases.
Barcode fasting goes back to the blogger Sophia Reis. In 2014, she had the idea of not eating any food that was already produced, packaged and had a barcode during Lent.
However, the point is not just to eat more healthily, but also to think more about your own consumer behaviour and shopping more sustainably.
You should definitely expect to experience side effects during therapeutic fasting as a result of the changes in the body. The most common side effects include:
You may also experience more severe side effects such as gout, increased uric acid levels, cardiac arrhythmia, stomach problems, reflux or other symptoms, especially with longer fasting cures. In such cases, contact a healthcare professional immediately.
Fasting is not primarily intended as a diet, but as a therapy. Nevertheless, weight loss is a pleasant side effect. This effect benefits in particular those who fast for longer periods: the body breaks down belly fat after about two weeks of fasting.
However, if you fall back into unhealthy eating patterns after a fast, you’ll quickly regain that lost weight. Even those who eat a balanced diet must expect to gain weight. During fasting, the body switches to saving mode: it needs fewer calories to function. Your body doesn’t turn off the saving mode immediately when it receives more energy after fasting, which is why you put on weight again.
We can provide you with expert, personalised answers, whether you’d like advice on nutrition and exercise, on coping with a diagnosis or on a recommended course of treatment. Our health consultation advisors will provide you with helpful information and practical tips.
Breaking your fast means you’re allowed to eat something again for the first time after a fasting cure. It’s important not to return to your usual daily routine immediately, but to slowly get the body used to normal food again. Therapists recommend eating a raw, ripe or cooked apple to break the fast. The apple’s acidity stimulates the formation of gastric juices. The entire digestive system pauses when you stop eating food, and it takes about a week for it to return to full functionality. Give yourself enough time to break the fast: otherwise, you can expect feelings of nausea, vomiting or digestive problems. Breaking the fast is followed by recovery days, during which the body slowly gets used to solid food again. As a rule of thumb, the recovery phase is a third of the fasting period – but it should never be less than three full days. During the recovery days, as on the rest days, make sure to eat light, low-calorie, low-salt foods. Vegetable soups, muesli made with cereal flakes, potatoes or steamed vegetables are ideal.
Kristina Stjepanovic (certified TCM therapist) works as a health consultation advisor at Helsana. She is involved in the area of customer health promotion. Kristina Stjepanovic provided the editorial team with advice and input for this article.