Less is more, they are convinced: the twelve women and three men participating in a fasting retreat in Valais. Here they eat practically nothing for a week. There are two soups and a juice every day, plus plenty of exercise in the form of walking or yoga.
What seems like a sacrifice to many is actually a gain for the participants. A downturn. She lacks nothing, says Karin Rohrer. On the second day of the fasting week she had some problems with circulation, but was otherwise fine. It’s a nice feeling to fast here, she says.
Consciously abstaining from food is an ancient thing that is also practiced in many religions. More and more people depend on temporary food breaks. Intermittent fasting, in particular, has become a real buzz on social media.
Types of fasting in comparison
Intermittent fasting: 16:8 or 5:2
Intermittent fasting is probably the most well-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. He normally eats five days a week and swims two days.
week of lent
During a fasting week, fasting is carried out under the professional supervision of a fasting leader or doctor. Foods such as meat, alcohol or coffee are usually reduced before the withdrawal and food intake is limited to soups or juices during the week. Many describe Lent as a time of retreat.
Group fasting can provide support. It’s 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 boosts, while intermittent fasting can be better integrated into everyday life.
In the so-called warrior diet, the period during which food can be consumed is even shorter: it is limited to four hours. Therefore, the fasting time is 20 hours. Supporters are convinced that the Warrior Diet aims to provide even more good things to the body. Nutritionists often advise against this form, especially for beginners, as the risk of nutrient deficiency is high.
Intermittent fasting involves not eating anything for 16 hours (see box). Most people just skip breakfast. Nadja Niggl, head of the Valais Lent Week, also notices the trend. She is glad that more and more people are trying this way of eating and also observes 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.
At the retreat with fasting leader Nadja Niggl, virtually no one is worried about losing weight, but rather doing something good for yourself. Or, as Christoph Meyer says: “Get off the express train, take a break and take a deep breath.”
Some group members also notice physical changes after a few days. Gilberte Stegmüller says that she has fewer problems with rheumatism in her fingers: “I no longer feel itching or pulling, and that’s after just one week.”
Tangible effect on health.
Olaf Kaiser from Germany, who works in the practice of nutritionist Markus Bock, has also experienced improvements in his health thanks to fasting. Kaiser has had type 2 diabetes for four years and has to take insulin every day. However, at some point the medication stopped working.
Therefore, nutritionist Bock prescribed 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 his diabetes.
However, these are all individual case reports and initially only reflect people’s personal experiences. Can fasting really cure diseases?
Fasting has always been part of people’s way of life, says researcher Stephan Herzig from the Helmholtz Diabetes Center in Munich: “All our genes arose 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 show positive effects.
Too much, too unhealthy, too sweet
The current problem is the constant availability of food, says Philipp Gerber, a metabolism expert at Zurich University Hospital. «The refrigerator is always ready and full. We generally eat too many unhealthy things, like too much sugar.” Fasting can be a good counterbalance in this case. It is clear from the studies that fasting has a positive effect, for example on diabetes or metabolic diseases. “That’s why taking a lunch break every once in a while isn’t a bad thing,” says Gerber.
When fasting, our body uses its energy reserves. The metabolism changes approximately twelve hours after the last food intake.
The brain mainly needs sugar, glucose. To maintain the vital level of glucose in the blood, the body first activates its liver reserves.
After about 48 hours, the sugar tanks are empty. Then the body starts burning proteins. This leads to short-term muscle loss. The insulin level drops. The body also begins to burn fat. Converts fat cells into so-called ketones. They provide energy particularly efficiently.
Many questions about fasting still remain unanswered
In addition, an important recycling process begins: autophagy. Cellular debris, which accumulates again and again 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 microfuels.
Basic research provides good evidence for the positive effects of fasting. However, according to the metabolism expert, many questions remain unanswered. That is why it is important to emphasize that much of the data comes from animal research, Gerber emphasizes.
There are hardly any studies that demonstrate its effectiveness in humans.
There are not many human clinical studies on the effects of fasting and the claims are unclear. Researchers’ interest in studying the health effects of fasting is slowly emerging.
According to Gerber, the big question is to what extent positive effects can really be attributed to fasting alone and what contribution it makes to calorie reduction. However, there is definitely evidence that alternating hunger and eating times has a positive effect because the body changes its metabolism.
The current state of science does not affect the Valais fasting group. They experience the positive effects of fasting first-hand, for example when they are allowed to bite into an apple after a week without solid food. “Wonderful,” says one participant: “To feel the juice, to enjoy a slice of apple. Simply beautiful.”
Self-experiment: What is the purpose of fasting eight days?
What happens to the body when it is deprived of food? And can that also be healthy? “Puls” editor Sarah Allemann put it to the test.
Series: The Fasting Diary