Fasting Stays: Scam or Not?


What is the principle of a fasting stay?

Today, there are few fasting stays where one drinks only water for one or two weeks, or even more. A few serious incidents have cast a chill on this type of “hygienic” fast.

On the other hand, those who promote a more “gentle” method, such as Buchinger – named after the German doctor who popularized it more than 100 years ago – are booming. They last 6 or 7 days, in groups of around ten people, with an intake of less than 250 calories/dayin the form of fresh fruit and/or vegetable juice, broths, with water and herbal teas at will.

All offer physical activitiesmost often hiking, combined with yoga, tai chi, dancing, etc.

How does a fasting stay work?

Most stays offer more or less the same protocol.

Before the stay

A “ food descent » to do at home is recommended the week before. This basically involves eliminating alcohol and stimulants (coffee, tea) and gradually reducing animal proteins, then starches, cereals and dairy products, until you only eat raw or cooked vegetables and fruits for the last two days.

During the stay

When getting up: we start with a “ body awakening »: stretching, gentle gym, yoga… Then a fresh fruit or vegetable juice. Then 2 to 4 hours of hiking.

  • Free afternoon : nap, reading, swimming or other activities, which vary depending on the center: meditation, stretching, body care, naturopathy consultation, sophrology, etc. Some are included in the package, others at an additional cost;
  • Around 6/7 p.m. : vegetable broth, followed by other activities for those who want them, such as “chats” between fasters, conferences most often focused on fasting and its benefits, and more generally on nutrition and healthy living.

After the stay

A “ food rise » is recommended once at home, for at least a week, on the reverse model of the “descent”.

What inconveniences can be experienced during the stay?

Feelings of hunger, headaches, fatigue, bad breath, sleep disturbances are most often reported, but they usually fade away within 2 to 4 days.

Fasting stay: what are the announced benefits?

The list is long, and although there may be variations from center to center, some benefits often come back:

  • Cellular repair and renewal;
  • Detoxification of the body;
  • Restoration of tired vital functions;
  • Restoration and strengthening of the immune system;
  • Weightloss ;
  • Improvement of joint pain;
  • Rejuvenation;
  • Decreased inflammation;
  • Rebalancing the intestinal flora…

On a psychological level, There is often talk of improved mood, increased mental clarity, newfound inner peace… Some centers venture to say that a fasting stay can soothe depression, break with addictions, improve fertility, asthma, allergies, cholesterol, high blood pressure or even diabetes.

Benefits of Fasting Stays: Are These Promises Kept?

To support their arguments, the centers most often rely on studies carried out on cells or animals.

Even if some results are interesting, it is not possible to extrapolate them to humans whose environment and behaviors are much more complex than a cell or a laboratory animal. Dr. Bruno Raynard, nutritionist.

A few clinical studies have nevertheless been conducted, including one conducted at the Buchinger Wilhelmi Clinic in Germany (published in 2019 in PLOS One). The 659 people who fasted for an average of 5.4 days lost (on average) 3.2 kg and 4.6 cm in waist circumference. Their blood pressure decreased and they reported an improvement in their physical and mental well-being.

Results generally confirmed by a Chinese study including 2,054 participants (ObesityJune 2023). “From the moment we expends more calories than consumed through physical activities, it is obvious that we will losing weightand probably more at the level of fat mass because it has been shown that fasting mobilizes fat reserves,” explains Dr. Raynard.

Fasting Holiday: What About Other Claimed Benefits?

In the absence of rigorous studies, impossible to confirm or deny them.

Medical evaluations are based on placebo-controlled trials, a criterion that cannot be applied in the case of fasting since people know they are fasting, says Dr. Jacques Rouillier, co-founder of the Medical Academy of Fasting.

Can context play a role?

Probably as for improved mood, often reported in testimonies. “The natural setting, the group dynamics, the putting aside of family, professional or domestic over-solicitations, the fact of being more attentive to oneself and one's feelings, of practicing a more regular and sustained physical activity certainly contribute to it”, considers Dr. Rouillier.

Fasting stay: if there are benefits, are they sustainable?

We don't know, sincethere are no follow-up studies to assess the sustainability of any benefits. “We can nevertheless assume that if, at the end of the stay, we adopt or we maintain good hygiene and dietary habits “By limiting sugars, fats, ultra-processed foods, alcohol, salt, and increasing fruits, vegetables and physical activity, we will reduce our risk of developing many metabolic and cardiovascular diseases and even certain cancers,” says Dr. Raynard.

But certainly not if, the rest of the year, we do not pay attention to our lifestyle. What poses a problem, according to Dr. Cécile Bétry, nutritionist, is that possible medium or long term risks are not mentioned on the sites: “in particular that of inducing or accentuating an eating disorder, especially in vulnerable people seeking solutions to health problems”.

Furthermore, we know that THE low calorie diets are not effective.

Weight loss in this context exposes you to a rebound effect, that is to say, a greater weight gain. Dr. Cécile Bétry, nutritionist.

Fasting: is it physiologically sustainable?

“Regardless of weight, height and gender, the body can adapt to modify its metabolism in a situation of caloric restriction,” says Dr. Bétry. “Which does not exclude a potential negative impact, even on a short-term fast. And The longer the fast, the greater the health risk.especially beyond 2-3 weeks, a threat of vitamin deficiencies with risk of irreversible neurological after-effects and death”.

Regarding the combination of fasting and physical activity, remember that these stays offer gentle hikes compatible with fasting. “The first 2 or 3 days, it is normal to feel minor discomforts that caregivers are supposed to be able to handle,” says Dr. Raynard. “But s’ils persistent, or that you feel an increasing loss of muscle strength over the days, it is better break the fast ».

Fasting stay: what are the contraindications?

Among them: thinness, type 1 diabetes, pregnancy and breastfeeding, kidney failure, autoimmune disease, cancer, etc.

Moreover, medication may pose a problem: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antihypertensives, antidiabetics, antiepileptics, anticoagulants, psychotropic drugs. There is no question of stopping your treatment: you must discuss it with your doctor.

What criteria before booking? That the site does not present fasting as being able to prevent or cure an illness! That it does not denigrate conventional medicine. That the center is part of a network because the supervisors have been trained in supporting fasting (Fédération francophone faim et randonnée, Jeûne & Bien-Être, Eco-Jeûne, etc.).

Fasting stay: how much does it cost?

It all depends on the center, the place, the period, the type of accommodation. For France, from €500 to more than €2,000 for 6 days/7 nights. Prices are soaring in some establishments, such as Buchinger centres in Germany or Spain, where you have to pay at least €4,000 per person.

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