January 2018 / Travel / by Claire Atherton

A Fast to Remember at The Buchinger Wilhelmi Clinic

A 10-day fast at the Buchinger Wilhelmi clinic in Germany will reboot your system, boost your energy levels and leave you lighter and brighter than before

When you live in a city full of fantastic food, it’s hard to imagine choosing to go hungry. So when I told people I was going to a fasting clinic for 10 days, the overwhelming response was ‘WHY?’

The answer was that since starting the 5:2 diet, I’d noticed that a couple of annoying niggles – like a permanently runny nose and falling into a near coma after lunch – would ease or stop altogether when I was fasting. So I started reading about the benefits. And I found an article about the Buchinger Wilhelmi clinic, on the shores of Lake Constance in southern Germany. Dr. Otto Buchinger founded the clinic in 1920, after curing his own rheumatism by fasting for 19 days. Since then, successive generations of his family have helped guests to lower their cholesterol, insulin and blood pressure levels, treat allergies, ease the pain of arthritis and – of course – lose weight. They’ve done this by running the clinic like a luxury hotel, with comfy beds, attentive staff and every need taken care of. (Apart from the need to eat, of course.) To take your mind off that minor detail, there’s a packed daily program of activities, including meditation, exercises classes, guided walks and film showings. There’s also a fully equipped gym and a heated outdoor pool. If you’re feeling masochistic, you can even go to a cookery demonstration.

Fuel from within

But where does the energy to be active come from if you aren’t eating? During a fast, the body switches to ‘internal nutrition’. Put simply, that means it generates most of its energy from burning fat (hooray!). It also transforms proteins into glucose, to provide the brain with energy and to keep cell renewal going. So you’re still getting fuel – just without involving your digestive tract. But inevitably, the body needs time to adjust to this new mode. My second day in the clinic was a ‘digestive rest day’, which meant I ate three delicious fruit- and vegetable-based meals. I had my first appointment and weigh-in with the nurse, saw a doctor, did a full blood test and booked the therapy sessions that came free with my package (personal training, nutrition and counselling). I felt chipper until about 6pm; then the headache hit.

The challenge is on

The next day, the first of my fast, was a challenge. I washed my 250 calories of thin vegetable broth down with litres of water, tea and a laxative called Glauber’s salt. The latter was so effective that it was soon apparent why they ask you to stay in your room for four hours afterwards. Exhausted, weak and headachy, I tried to remind myself why I was doing this by watching a film on the clinic iPad. I learnt that fasting is an essential animal activity – a way of surviving the winter. And as the average human body has 10kg of fat, we’ve got enough to survive for 40 days. So there really was no immediate danger of starving. I also felt better after my first hot liver compress. This is a hot water bottle that the nurse wraps in a towel around your middle, before tucking you in and telling you to sleep for two hours. At noon. It’s bliss.

Buchinger Wilhelmi clinic

A turn for the better

The next day, I woke after a long, deep sleep to find that I felt okay. Still hungry – which for me never fully went away – but calm, rested and with enough energy to wander around the pretty town of Überlingen. In fact, apart from one morning when I felt weak and dizzy, I stayed in this relaxed state for the rest of the fast. I started to enjoy the daily routine – nurse check-up at 7.30am, a gentle exercise class at 8am, tea with honey in my room at 9.30am, fruit juice in the salon at 11.45am, hot liver compress at noon, a walk, swim or gym visit at 2.30pm, another hot water bottle at 4pm, back to the salon for broth at 6pm and in bed binge-watching Stranger Things by 9pm. I even, by some quirk of the schedule, got away with only having one enema during my stay. (Although they apparently quell hunger pangs, so I might have benefited from having a few more.)

A different kind of normal

After five days of this strangely soothing routine, it was time to break my fast – with apple compote and a single nut (go crazy!), followed by a deliciously thick soup in the evening. It felt like a feast after what I’d got used to. And the two 800-calorie days that ended my stay left me completely sated. So what were the health benefits of putting myself through all that? Well, my runny nose still ran, but a lot less than before. My back still ached, but the personal trainer gave me stretches that really helped. And of course, I lost weight – 7lb overall, with 2cm from my waist. I also found out that I’m very low in vitamin D, so I now take supplements. But three weeks after leaving the clinic, I’m still benefiting from the feeling of wellbeing that comes from rebooting your system. My energy levels and mood are still much more stable than before. I’m drinking far less coffee and eating a lot more vegetables. And because I find fasting much easier than before, I’ve kept the weight off that I lost by doing the 16:8 – where you do all of your day’s eating in one eight-hour window. The one downside? When I reintroduced red wine I came out in a rash on both forearms. I’ve decided to keep drinking it until that stops happening. (

The details

Prices for a 10-day fast start at €2,590. This includes accommodation in a standard room, all activities in the daily programme, two medical consultations, a basic laboratory examination, fasting provisions and three free therapy consultations (for first-time visitors) or €250 worth of therapy vouchers (for everyone else). Shorter stays, featuring organic gourmet meals, are also available. For reservations, call +49 7551 8070 or email