Could you tolerate ten days of eating just 250 calories a day? Germany’s Buchinger Wilhelmi claims fasting is the key to a long and healthy life. Erica Jamieson reports
Buchinger Wilhelmi is a pioneer of therapeutic fasting, with clinics overlooking Lake Constance in Germany, and in Marbella, Spain. It is also one of a number of “longevity retreats” around the world that are offering methods to boost immunity and lifespan.
In 2020, Buchinger Wilhelmi celebrated the centennial anniversary of its first patient, in 1920. Clinic founder, Dr Otto Buchinger, developed the practice of medical therapeutic fasting after severe rheumatoid polyarthritis interrupted his career as a naval doctor.
The programme is “designed to preserve, promote and restore your health” and pursues a “holistic approach that sees the body, mind and soul as one in the healing and growth process”.Guests sign up for a fasting regimen of 250 calories per day, a mixture of pressed juices and organic soups, combined with physical exercise, artistic and spiritual activities, and an array of integrative medicine treatments.
Options include naturopathy, traditional chinese medicine, personal coaching, hydrotherapy, and physiotherapy.
According to the world’s largest scientific human study on the effects of the Buchinger therapeutic method, fasting improved serious health conditions including arthritis, type 2 diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, and high blood pressure in 84 per cent of cases.
Participants also experienced weight-loss and a minimised waistline, as fasting encourages the body to break down fatty tissues.“When you fast, all your digestive processes are in rest. Without needing the energy to digest, all stresses are diminished and you actually need less immunity,” says study leader, Dr Wilhelmi de Toledo, scientific director at Buchinger Wilhelmi.
Adding: “During this time, you change your microbiome. You stimulate the lungs, skin, kidneys, liver and the system itself triggers autophagy; an extraordinary capacity of the body to eliminate damaged cellular structures. When you fast, you activate stem cells to rejuvenate immune cells.”
Toledo also believes that therapeutic fasting can impact female hormones, potentially easing the menopause process.
There’s a cost to good health, and stays at Buchinger Wilhelmi start at €2,690 for ten days, the shortest offering for those who want to fast, and €5,649 for the classic 21-day stay, originally developed by Buchinger.A 28-day classic royal package in the Lake Constance Mainau Suite will set you back €56,420, complete with private jacuzzi, sauna, and dressing room.
Each package includes two medical consultations per week, a basic laboratory examination, fasting provisions and support, and a voucher that can be applied to the cost of any in-house therapies.
At the end of each visit, guests are guided through a “refeeding process”, with organic meals building back up to 800 calories per day.
For guests who cannot spare the time, a three night “Relax” and seven night “Time Out” option is available, with organic whole food gourmet meals tailored to individual health requirements.What’s it actually like to experience? Journalist Anna Pasternak described it for The Telegraph: “There was something convict-like about dining on trays in our monastically simple rooms. Thank goodness the clinic do not advise couples share rooms – 80 per cent of guests go alone – so we each had our own room.
“As Andrew was doing the full ten-day fast of 250 liquid calories a day, which I couldn’t stomach (I was on 800 solid calories a day) a shared room would have destroyed our marriage. Not because Andrew had an enema on the bed every other day but because his preternatural joy freaked us out. His pious enthusiasm for the regime initially made us hate it. Until we were fully institutionalised, the stricture wore us out.
She concludes: “On departure, I had lost 2.5 kg, 3cm from my waist and reduced my BMI from 23.5 to 22.7. My husband lost 7kg. It wasn’t exactly a holiday – at varying times we all felt extreme anger, sadness and thankfully, side-splitting hilarity. Emotional detox is real. But we returned home on a health high. My biggest shift is that I no longer fear hunger.”Now in its fourth generation, the family-run clinics are led by managing director Leonard Wilhelmi. In the summer, it also launched an “Immunity+” add-on of supplemental services for the age of Covid.
Offered at a flat rate of €110, it includes Covid-testing upon arrival, an individual risk analysis for severity of Covid-19 infection, supports to strengthen the body and psyche, and all essential and protective equipment.
Additional customisable tests and services are also available, depending on individual client circumstances.
Although both clinics are currently open, social distancing and privacy measures are in place to protect both patients and employees. Prospective visitors from overseas must check the respective country’s entry requirements before arrival, to ensure that travel is possible.