A girlfriend came for supper a few weeks ago. She had been through a lot in the last years, family bereavements, career challenges , a few health issues and weight gain that had spiralled out of control. She walked in and I stood speechless. Unrecognisable. T had dropped almost 2 stone Her skin was glowing, her energy levels bursting and most important she had never felt so mentally healthy. Her secret... Buchinger Wilhelmi Clinic.
The original Buchinger Wilhelmi spa was founded in Überlingen, Germany in 1953 by Otto Buchinger, the inventor of medical therapeutic fasting. Otto’s daughter Maria opened the Spanish outpost in 1973.
The word fasting conjures up feelings of abstinence, deprivation - almost negative connotations. How on earth could any one go for long periods without food , etc. Well, the truth is that an average person carrying an excess of 10 kg of body fact, can in-fact go for 40 days without food.
Buchinger Wilhelmi therapeutic fasting is a procedure whereby a person voluntarily goes without food for a certain length of time, living mainly on their fat reserves instead. This stimulates autophagy and detox enzymes, resulting in a deep cleansing of the cells and tissue. At the same time, fasting reduces all inflammatory processes, alleviates pain and improves mobility. The success of fasting depends to a large extent on the four-day period at the end of the fast, during which patients at our clinic gradually start to eat normal meals again. During this process, dormant stem cells are activated and new structures built up. It is a period of regeneration (also called rejuvenation) with tremendous therapeutic potential. The most natural anti ageing.
My plan was to immerse myself as wholly as I could in the areas I wanted real improvement. Yes, for sure, we all want to shed a few lbs but in all honesty this was not my focus. I wanted to be almost solitary, anomalous. I wanted these 10 days for me and me only. To be still, to read, to take things very slowly and not feel I had to be anywhere to meet anyone. I immediately noticed the quietness. At any given time there might be 150 guests on property but weirdly you don’t often see other guests. The silence was for me incredible. The only noise I could hear constantly was that of birdsong.
How you spend your days is entirely up to you. You can pack them tight with classes, treatments, seminars or you can literally vegetate - when was the last time that you did not have to be anywhere at any time.
You have an initial consultation with your allocated Doctor who monitors your progress throughout your stay. You have 3 appointment with the Doctor. Mine was Martina who I instantly felt comfortable with. Various measurements were taken and I was asked various questions about my health. I should add a medical questionnaire is completed upon arrival so Dr’s get an insight to your history prior to the meeting.
The program starts immediately, you are broken in gently. Very light foods for 2 days and then it teas and broths. You’re encouraged to drink water all the time. This helps eliminate toxins and in all honesty can sort hunger pangs however, I did not feel hungry at all. Thought I'd miss that afternoon cuppa with a chocolate or maybe my, almost daily, glass of red. Never, not even once.
There is a constant supply of herbal teas in a station near your room. Also constant supplies of water.
On day 2 you are given a strong Epsom salt drink which kicks in very quickly. This eliminates any waste and for the record you are strongly advised not to leave your room for 4 hours.
I asked to have all my meals in my room. My room became my cocoon and I made a decision to stay as solitary as possible for a few days. Nurses come in an out to check on you so you’re not totally alone. I was incredible lethargic for a few days. At first I attempted to fight it but then had very harsh word with myself. This was not a competition. No one was watching me. I spoke to the lovely nurse about this and she fully encouraged me to do as little as wanted. No one is judging you if you stay in bed all day - no one knows!
I made a few rules to start with.
1. No matter how I felt I was swimming in the outdoor (heated) pool every day. Early in the week I snailed up and down the pool (outdoor and heated to a very comfy ) and by day 3 I was back to my usual pace.
2.Sauna every day for 10 mins and then freezing cold shower - this was my only NY resolution - a 30 second cold shower post hot shower every day. It is honestly life changing - you feel so alive . It is brutal but for 30 secs but for how it makes you feel, I can take that!
3.To read more. I am a real on/off reader. I go through period when I can put books down and then 6 months and year goes by and I have 10 unfinished books. I read 3 books. I loved every single one and made me question why on earth I don’t do it every day — this is undoubtedly one of the things I am desperately going to hang on to.
Daily walks are on offer. 3 groups A,B,C. I did a few early in the week but lagged off. I decided I preferred walks around the local medieval town of Überlingen. I sat on the pier watching the various boats making their voyages across Lake Constance and imagined how different it must be in high summer. It's one of the top tourist destinations in Germany in Summer, very tranquil Winter.
Every morning you go the nurse office and have your blood pressure and weight taken. You’d imagine that weight loss would be constant. It's not. Some days you lose and one day I gained. The nurse laughed when I declared my horror at having gained 10 gms and attributing it to the heavier pj’s I was wearing. Weight loss is not their focus. They truly want to see improvements in your over all wellbeing. Yes, for sure its a massive plus but the focus really should be in improving health. A nurse is on standby 24/7. I woke in the middle of the night with quite major anxiety (a symptom of fasting) I called the nurse and she gave me a few drops, some herbal sleep pills and tucked me in with a hot water bottle.
I should add that I did not get the quality of sleep I get at home however this is totally normal. Your body is not having to work so hard and as a result has excess energy. This would really bother me if I was at home knowing I had a 6 am alarm call and a full days work. Knowing I could rest and have a nap in the day (which I did every day) made it totally fine - I read at 4 am and the odd time logged onto Netflix to watch Modern Family on playback.
The Clinic is totally unglamorous. No pressure to be seen in the newest gym gear. It's like everyone is on their own little journey and this is totally respected. I made a few friends on the last 2 days. I had been under voluntary house arrest don’t forget. I met a lovely lady from Dublin and she introduced me to a few others she had met. Creating friendships in this environment is interesting and very fulfilling.
I had a a treatment every other day. A few massages and a visit to the famous osteopath Dr Kaiser - the man with magic hands. He worked on my very tight jaw, my feet and my knees. Touching them so gently and then writing down numbers . The Beautiful Mind sprung to mind - this man was brilliant. Adding up all ihs numbers and the going to work on me. As he worked on me his eyes were closed and every so often would open and then close again, It was almost like he was an exorcist, ridding me of all my aches and pains.
The under water massage incredible and so relaxing. Highly recommended.
Bed is encouraged at around 9. There is an activity every evening 1930-2030. Cookery demonstrations to aid us in our quest to a healthier diet wen we return to reality. A talk on the limitless qualities of the very under publicised Vitamin D - top tip stock up on Vitamin D, it is the Don of all Vitamins.
Another on dependancy. Basically a little eye opener to the power of habit and the brain. One of my main focuses will have to be not to have a glass of red wine every night - purely habit and should add I had no problem having a glass of wine every night but think I could narrow it down to 4 nights a week.
On day 7 the refeeding process begins. Your body is slowly introduced to the various food groups. Refeeding is just as important as fasting. In order to really benefit from the fasting, refeeding is key. Advise given is to lay off complex carbs totally. The diet du jour The Keto diet was referenced heavily. In it healthiest form it is the way to go.
One of the highlights was having a meeting with Dr Francoise Willhelm Toedo on my second day , the brains behind so much of the medical research proving how transforamtive their therapy really is. Charming, warm, quietly spoken, articulate and beyond approachable.I could have talked to her for hours. My question to her was, what 5 things would she say I and other guests will takes away from the program:
1. A deep calm and serenity
2. Reset of your metabolism
3.Tissue and Cell regeneration
5. Energy boost
The clinic has a sister facility in Marbella established 1997. The whole organisation is totally family run. Leo the youngest son is taking the reins. After an easy and very relaxed meeting with him I realised how wildly passionate they are about what they do. They have seen incredibly results. Not always physical I might add. Heads of large organisations arriving with a head full of troubles and leaving with resolutions they might not ordinarily have had.
In the words of Tom Petty, the hardest part is coming down but today I return and I certainly feel I could learn to fly. I can't wait to return.