Fasting is very fashionable, but it can also be dangerous

Fasting is very fashionable, but it can also be dangerous

Diversity in renunciation: Hindu believers in Dhaka, Bangladesh celebrate the religious fasting festival of Rakher Upobash in a temple.

Photo: Xin Hua, dpa

Less is sometimes more. Even Hippocrates of Kos, the most famous physician of antiquity, was convinced of a practice that still has many followers today: “Cure a small ailment with fasting instead of medicine,” the ancient Greek recommended.

But how do you fast correctly? It suits the affluent society that not only has an unmanageable range of chocolate varieties to offer, but also countless types of fasts, not to mention “diets.”

The decisive difference between fasting and diet (“lifestyle”), apart from the spiritual aspects, was originally that when you fasted, you temporarily ate little or nothing and the diet was intended as a long-term change in diet.

Meanwhile, it’s all about the different motivations: While a diet is usually about losing weight as fast as possible, fasting still has a spiritual component.

Fasting plays a role in all major religions

From Yom Kippur to Ramadan, all major religions practice renunciation to purify the body and mind. In Buddhism and Hinduism there are no uniform fasting periods, but there are a variety of occasions: Many Hindus fast on Krishna’s birthday or Shiva’s day.

Arguably the most famous fasting person of the 20th century was the Indian pacifist and politician Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “Fasting is a part of me. I can’t do without them any more than I can without my eyes.”

Muhammad fasted before the Koran was revealed to him, Moses received the Word of God on Mount Sinai after fasting for 40 days. According to the Bible, Jesus also withdrew into the desert for 40 days. The Christian fast of Easter from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday night still refers to these 40 days. There are 46 days, but Sunday, the “little Easter”, is not a fast day.

Christians once knew many days and times of fasting: Fasting was done on Wednesdays, for example, because Judas is said to have betrayed Jesus on that day. And the fast on Friday referred to the crucifixion of Jesus. The custom of not eating meat on Fridays has remained, although the official church definition of meat has long been “warm-blooded animals that live on land”.

However, hiding the meatloaf in the pasta dough was never a pure lesson. Even if the Maultasche (“Herrgottsbscheißerle”) was supposedly invented in the Maulbronn Monastery by a lay monk named Jakob, who still owned a nice piece of meat at the start of Passiontide. Strong beer is said to have been invented by resourceful monks as a fasting drink, true to the rule “Liquid does not break the fast”.

As the medical historian from Würzburg Gundolf Keil explains in his Medical History Reports, the Greco-Christian practice of fasting that has been handed down since ancient times was divided into three stages: full fast (without eating or drinking), half fast (one meal per day and fluid intake allowed) and abstinence -Fasting (abstaining from certain foods and drinks).

Other fasting methods have been added a long time ago. The offer is opulent: There is the basic fast, the fruit fast, the water fast, the Hildegard fast, the Schroth cure, the Mayr cure or temporary abstinence from individual foods and luxury foods such as sweets, alcohol or meat.

Christian churches are calling for “climate fasting.”

This year, churches are calling for a “climate fast,” as the initiative by 17 regional Protestant churches and Catholic dioceses and the aid organizations Misereor and Bread for the World is called. “Climate justice starts at home. To achieve this, it is important that we eat more mindfully and waste less food”, says Dagmar Pruin, president of Bread for the World.

Intermittent fasting, in which you eat nothing for up to 16 hours a day, is particularly popular. “This stimulates the metabolism and can not only help with healthy weight loss, but also protects against type 2 diabetes,” explains Solveig Haw, health expert at German Health Insurance (DKV).

The quintessential modern classic is “Buchinger’s therapeutic fasting”, which could also be called “Riedlin’s therapeutic fasting”. Because Otto Buchinger came to fasting in 1919 through the Baden doctor and naturopath Gustav Riedlin. Riedlin, who practices in Freiburg im Breisgau, helped Buchinger cure his rheumatism by fasting.

It became Buchinger’s life motto, and to this day you can book supervised fasting courses at Buchinger clinics for good money. However, Eva Lischka, chief physician at the Buchinger-Wilhemi-Klinik in Überlingen on Lake Constance, makes it clear: “Nobody invented fasting.”

This survival strategy is firmly ingrained in our genes.

Eva Lischka, chief physician and fasting expert

Fasting has ensured survival for thousands of years by switching the body into a different metabolic mode during lean times. “This survival strategy is firmly anchored in our genes,” says Lischka, who is also president of the medical association for fasting and therapeutic nutrition (ÄGHE).

Fasting is not suitable for permanent weight loss

Today, the ÄGHE defines fasting as “voluntary abstinence from solid and stimulant foods for a limited time”. Therefore, several new types of games, such as cell phone or car fast, are not included.

In contrast to involuntary starvation, the body also produces fewer stress hormones during mindful fasting. On the contrary: studies show that fasting increases the release of serotonin, the “happiness hormone.”

However, anyone who sees fasting as a miracle cure for being overweight is likely to be sorely disappointed. “We fundamentally reject fasting as a means of losing weight,” says the German Obesity Society (DAG). The reason is the notorious yo-yo effect when the metabolism returns to full power after the crash program.