Status: 12.03.2024 13:00 | from North German Broadcasting logo

Spring cleaning for body, mind and soul: More and more people are fasting. One of the best-known methods is therapeutic fasting according to Buchinger. How does it work? How does it work? Can you fast alone at home?

Fasting is intended to cleanse the body and soul. One of the best-known methods is the classic therapeutic fasting method according to the Buchinger method, which goes back to the German doctor and naturopath Otto Buchinger (1878-1966). For five days or longer, only vegetable broth and diluted juices are permitted, as well as small amounts of dairy products. This way, the body receives a minimal amount of calories, vitamins and minerals. A wide range of positive effects are attributed to therapeutic fasting.

Fasting causes healing biochemical changes

Since ancient times, the human metabolism has been adapted to periods of fasting: in periods of abundance, our ancestors feasted without restraint, while in periods of scarcity, their stomachs remained empty for several hours or days. Our bodies survive long periods of hunger by storing energy reserves in various organs and tissues (including as fat deposits) and mobilizing them again when needed. After a long period without food, they begin to release substances that activate fat breakdown. This leads to beneficial biochemical changes in the body, such as improved sugar and fat metabolism.

Can you “detox” through fasting?

The “detoxification” described by Buchinger is scientifically dubious: toxins are supposedly waste products of metabolism that can build up in the body and cause illness. Experts point out that end products of metabolism are continually excreted via the kidneys, intestines, lungs and skin. However, fasting apparently stimulates the constantly running subliminal cell cleansing processes (autophagy): “Fasting activates the body’s own garbage disposal, so to speak,” explains nutritionist Anne Fleck.

Fasting doctor Buchinger experienced first-hand that abstaining from food mobilizes the body’s self-healing powers – he used it to relieve his rheumatism. Various studies have since proven the course of health-promoting processes in the body. Fasting therefore has an anti-inflammatory effect: the body releases substances that can dampen inflammatory processes in the body.

Fasting does not lead to permanent weight loss

Teas, water, broth, a photo of Otto Buchinger and his book about therapeutic fasting. © NDR Photo: Moritz Schwarz/Oliver Zydek
Otto Buchinger tried to improve his rheumatism through fasting.

However, the total abstinence from food also causes stress: Since the body does not receive any energy from food, it reduces its energy consumption (basal metabolic rate) and breaks down protein in the muscles to generate energy. Longer fasting can therefore cause unwanted side effects such as Muscle atrophy if not counteracted by physical activity.

While you are fasting, the pounds will drop off rapidly, but once you have broken the fast, the fat will be back on your hips even faster if you do not make a fundamental change to your diet: the yo-yo effect, which is also known and feared from diets, occurs.

Fasting in case of pre-existing medical conditions only under medical supervision

Although therapeutic fasting can promote health, people with severe heart and Kidney disease, cancer, gout or gallbladder problems should not be fasted. Only healthy people can start a fasting cure on their own – people with pre-existing conditions should always speak to their doctor first. It is possible to undergo a fasting cure in special fasting clinics under medical supervision. As part of a rehabilitation measure, statutory health insurance companies will cover the costs for certain illnesses.

Fasting can trigger positive changes

Many people who fast report that the conscious abstinence for several days is good for their bodies. They find inner peace again and experience an improved body feeling. This effect is reinforced by incorporating daily rest periods. A change in attitude to food and nutrition can also have an effect beyond the fasting period and lead to a change in lifestyle – for example, a change in diet, quitting smoking and exercising more.

Instructions: How the Buchinger method works

Vegetables, oat flakes and Glauber's salt on a plate. © NDR
On the relief day, light food such as vegetables and oatmeal is on the menu. The first day of fasting begins with a drink of Glauber’s salt.

The fasting cure begins with a one to two day preparation phase, the so-called Relief daysLight food such as steamed vegetables, vegetable soup or porridge relieves the intestines.

The actual first day of fasting then starts with a thorough Bowel evacuationso that you don’t feel hungry while fasting. A common remedy for this for a long time is a laxative drink with Glauber’s salt or Epsom salt (from the pharmacy). Recently there has been discussion about whether laxatives using saline solution can be avoided because Glauber’s salt apparently has a harmful effect on the intestinal flora. An alternative would be an enema.

Drinks and food intake during Buchinger fasting

Water, tea, vegetable juice and fasting broth are on a table, next to the sign "300 calories". © NDR
When fasting, only low-calorie drinks are allowed.

When fasting, a daily Fluid intake of at least 2 to 3 liters – more so if you are exercising. Drinking enough is important to prevent side effects such as headaches, circulatory problems or flatulence: vegetable broth with herbs, teas (in the morning with a little honey), vegetable and fruit juices – preferably freshly prepared.

For the Muscle maintenance it is also allowed to change the diet plan protein to expand: 200 grams of curd, yoghurt or milk per day.

Intestinal care and exercise

Regular drinking of Sauerkraut juice regulates intestinal activity.

Promote excretions: Even when fasting, you should have a bowel movement at least every two days to remove metabolic waste products. Regular exercise stimulates bowel activity. Diluted plum or sauerkraut juice, buttermilk or bread drink have a mild laxative effect. If this doesn’t work on its own, the bowel needs an enema every two days. This requires an enema or an irrigator – and some time to be undisturbed.

It is important to stimulate circulation and metabolism, for example with Kneipp showers and exercise. Regular physical exercise with moderate intensity counteracts the breakdown of protein from the muscles.

A fasting crisis is normal

However, a so-called fasting crisis can occur. Usually after the third or fourth day, headaches and a general feeling of being unwell typically occur. Circulatory problems, dizziness, flatulence, bad breath, depression, vision problems or sleep disorders can also occur. Some people who are fasting need less sleep than usual, others just feel tired. In any case, it is important to listen to your body, exercise moderately and take rest breaks.

Liver wrap increases metabolic activity

Warm, moist liver wraps help you relax and promote regeneration. They are not only supposed to feel good, but also increase blood flow to the liver and gall bladder, thereby promoting detoxification. They are easy to make, you need:

  • a hot water bottle
  • a washcloth or a guest towel
  • a large towel
Fill the hot water bottle halfway with hot (not boiling!) water and moisten the cloth or small towel with pleasantly warm water. Lying comfortably on your back, first place the wrung-out cloth on your right upper abdomen, put the hot water bottle on top and wrap your upper body with a dry towel. The liver wrap should work for 20 to 30 minutes while you rest, wrapped up warm in a cozy blanket.

Breaking the fast: patience when building up your diet

The post-fasting phase is crucial to ensure that the good feeling you have gained in your body lasts as long as possible. After breaking the fast – the first small meal, traditionally an apple, which many people who are fasting find to be a “small explosion of taste” – you have to start eating very slowly. We recommend starting with light, lightly seasoned vegetable soups to gently get your intestines used to their tasks again. You usually allow half the time that the fasting cure lasted for the food to start eating again.

Ideally, the diet should be combined with a change to a conscious, health-promoting diet: lots of vegetables, moderate amounts of protein – from fish, mushrooms or pulses, for example – supplemented with high-quality oils such as olive and linseed oil. The nutritionists have numerous delicious recipes for this.

Further information

A plate with clear broth next to carrots and chives. © picture-alliance/dpa/Stockfood Photo: FoodPhotography Eising

Longer periods of fasting help with weight loss or cell cleansing, but can also have undesirable effects. more

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Detoxify the body and find inner balance: For many, Lent is an opportunity to consciously abstain. more

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The symptoms of fibromyalgia are often non-specific, such as muscle pain, exhaustion and intestinal problems. What provides relief? more

This topic in the program:

NDR Television | The Nutrition Docs | 19.02.2024 21:00