Less is more: the twelve women and three men taking part in a fasting retreat in Valais are convinced of this. Here for a week they eat practically nothing. There are two soups and one juice every day, plus lots of exercise in the form of hiking or yoga.
What seems like a sacrifice to many is actually a gain for the participants. A descent. She lacks nothing, says Karin Rohrer. On the second day of the fasting week he had some circulation problems, but was otherwise fine. It’s a good feeling to fast here, she says.
Consciously abstaining from food is an ancient thing, also practiced in many religions. More and more people are relying on temporary lunch breaks. Intermittent fasting in particular has become a real hype on social media.
Types of fasting compared
Intermittent fasting: 16:8 or 5:2
Intermittent fasting is probably the best-known form of fasting. For example, you eat normally for eight hours and fast for 16 hours. Intermittent fasting can be easily integrated into everyday life, especially for people who don’t eat breakfast often or skip dinner.
Science assumes that positive processes begin in the body after 12 hours without food. Another form of intermittent fasting is the 5:2 method. You eat normally five days a week and not at all on two days.
During a fasting week, fasting is carried out under the professional supervision of a fasting leader or a doctor. Foods such as meat, alcohol or coffee are often reduced before the retreat, and food intake is limited to soups or juices during the week. Many describe Lent as a time of retreat.
Fasting in a group can provide support. It is not possible to say in general terms whether a week of fasting or intermittent fasting is better, says fasting leader Nadja Niggl. A week of fasting can provide many new impulses, while intermittent fasting can be better integrated into everyday life.
The warrior’s fast
With the so-called warrior diet, the period in which you can consume food is even shorter: it is limited to four hours. The fasting time is therefore 20 hours. Proponents are convinced that the warrior diet is intended to bring even more good things to the body. Nutritionists tend to advise against this form, especially for beginners, as the risk of nutrient deficiency is high.
Intermittent fasting involves eating nothing for 16 hours (see box). Most people simply skip breakfast. Nadja Niggl, head of the Valais Lenten Week, also feels this trend. She is happy that more and more people are trying this form of eating and she also notices that more and more young people and men are interested in fasting.
Fasting helps me get off the express train, take a break, and breathe deeply.
In the retreat with fasting leader Nadja Niggl, practically no one is concerned about losing weight, but rather about doing something good for themselves. Or, as Christoph Meyer says: “Get off the express train, pause and take a deep breath.”
Some group members even notice physical changes after just a few days. Gilberte Stegmüller says she has fewer problems with rheumatism in her fingers: “I no longer feel pinching or stretching and this after only a week.”
Tangible effect on health
Olaf Kaiser from Germany, who works in the practice of nutritionist Markus Bock, has also seen health improvements through fasting. Kaiser has had type 2 diabetes for four years and must inject insulin every day. However, at some point, the drug stopped working.
Nutritionist Bock then prescribed him 14 days of fasting with broth, cottage cheese and coconut oil. Olaf Kaiser lost a total of eight kilograms and the change in metabolism also affected his blood values and diabetes.
However, these are all individual clinical cases and initially only reflect people’s personal experiences. Can fasting really cure diseases?
Fasting has always been part of people’s lifestyle, says researcher Stephan Herzig from the Helmholtz Diabetes Center in Munich: “All our genes emerged at times when it was completely natural not to eat anything.”
Researchers around the world are convinced that temporarily abstaining from food can prevent many diseases and have a positive effect on health and life expectancy. In fact, more and more studies are demonstrating positive effects.
Too much, too unhealthy, too sweet
The problem today is the constant availability of food, says Philipp Gerber, a metabolism expert at the University Hospital of Zurich. «The refrigerator is always ready and full. We generally eat too many unhealthy things, such as too much sugar.” Fasting can be a good counterbalance in this case. Studies clearly show that fasting has a positive effect, for example, on diabetes or metabolic diseases. “So a lunch break every now and then is not a bad thing,” Gerber says.
During fasting our body uses its energy reserves. Your metabolism changes within about twelve hours of your last food intake.
The brain mainly needs sugar, glucose. To maintain a vital blood glucose level, the body first activates its reserves from the liver.
After about 48 hours, the sugar warehouses are empty. Then the body switches to burning proteins. This leads to short-term muscle loss. The insulin level decreases. The body also begins to burn fat. It converts fat cells into so-called ketones. They supply energy particularly efficiently.
Many questions about fasting are still unanswered
It also begins an important recycling process: autophagy. Cellular waste, which repeatedly accumulates in many cells of the body, is initially surrounded by a biomembrane. This “waste bag” merges with small bubbles filled with enzymes. Cellular waste is recycled, for example into microfuel.
Basic research provides good evidence for the positive effects of fasting. However, according to the metabolism expert, many questions remain unanswered. It is therefore important to underline that much of the data comes from animal research, Gerber points out.
Almost no studies with proof of effectiveness on humans
There aren’t many human clinical studies on the effects of fasting, and the claims are unclear. Researchers’ interest in studying the health effects of fasting is only slowly emerging.
According to Gerber, the big question is to what extent positive effects can actually be attributed to fasting alone and what contribution is made to calorie reduction. However, it has been proven that alternating hunger and meal times has a positive effect because the body modifies its metabolism.
The fasting group in Valais is not affected by the current state of science. They experience the positive effects of fasting firsthand, for example when they can bite into an apple after a week without solid foods. “It’s wonderful,” says one participant: “feeling the juice, enjoying a slice of apple. Simply beautiful.”
Personal Experiment: What is the Purpose of Fasting for Eight Days?
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Series: The fasting diary