Aerial view of Buchinger Wilhelmi, Überlingen, Lake Constance, Germany

Buchinger Wilhelmi:
Fast to fitness


The phrase ‘you are what you eat’ was coined by French philosopher-Gourmand Jean Brillat-Savarin in 1826. And maybe it’s more relevant than ever, as the planet’s gripped by unhealthy eating habits. Yet, Dr. Otto Buchinger realised the importance of comestibles and how they affect our health over a century ago: thus, he founded Buchinger Wilhelmi, the eponymous clinic and therapeutic fasting method, which recently saw great success when guest Friedrich Klapdor achieved the longest medical, documented food abstinence in history.

Yes, it might be slightly hard to believe, but the sprightly 92-year-old German followed a strict eating regimen for 42 days annually, for four-and-a-half decades (he first went to the Lake Constance-located facility in Überlingen, which is now known as the Buchinger Wilhelmi clinic, in 1969). In essence, it consisted of two parts: he fasted for three weeks under medical supervision each spring, and followed a calorie-restricted, ovo-lacto-vegetarian organic diet (800 kcal) for the same period, every autumn. Nonetheless, the proof is in the pudding (pun intended – we like our desserts, especially apple crumble!) as they say. So what are the results of this nonagenarian’s purposeful, healthy self-restraint? Well, an epigenetic analysis showed Friedrich’s biological age was 5.9 years younger than his chronological one. Numerous tests to evaluate his mental and physical condition furthermore demonstrated that he was able to function by himself and had impressive cognitive capabilities on top of excellent mobility.

Notwithstanding, of course, stats can only ever give a partial glimpse of any picture. How does Friedrich feel within himself? Amazingly, the former entrepreneur returned to the clinic last year and provided a filmed testament of his 96 stays (see below) when he spoke to the facility’s director, Dr Françoise Wilhelmi de Toledo. Still with the majority of his hair, though grey-white now, and striking blue eyes, he enthused about his spells at the retreat and how rewarding it was for his overall state of health. What also came across in the interview was that he needed to have a certain amount of courage to participate in the programme, as there was a common perception in the late sixties that one might die if they did a 21-day fast. Considered if somebody had had the right mentality, they could also have completed Friedrich’s ascetic schedule and relished socialising with the other habitués.

Friedrich’s remarkable endeavours earned his story – he kept all the related official charts – a place in the Journal of Integrative and Complementary Medicine. After his initial fast, mounting evidence from some of the most prestigious health-cum-enterprise bodies (Johns Hopkins Medicine and the National Institute on Aging, inter alia) substantiated such techniques as being extremely beneficial. In our view, although the percentage of people who are overweight and obese has seen a dramatic rise (more than doubling in women and practically tripling in men since 1990, according to a study in The Lancet this February), there’s an increasing number of individuals not in this bracket, who are more determined than ever to keep in shape. And various types of stringent nutrient regimens are one of the ways they’re choosing to follow a philosophy of wellness.

Friedrich Klapdor arguably got lucky when he discovered Buchinger Wilhelmi, only learning about the integrative spa in a random magazine article. The Überlingen practice was established by the eponymous one-time army physician in 1953, because after he’d been discharged from the services for tonsilitis and rheumatism some years earlier, he figured out fasting significantly helped to combat his illnesses. Hence, the Ludwigs-University medical alumni experimented with food abstinence and formulated the titular therapeutic method.

Today, the result of his unique vision is a pair of clinics ensuring his approach has stayed at the forefront of its field: there’s the aforementioned property in Germany, and another in Marbella, Spain, which opened in 1973. Both are sumptuous holistic havens adrift in a smorgasbord of scintillating scenery – envisage azure expanses of tranquil water and abundant foliage. And each has a team of 12-plus doctors and other certified experts, offering 250 distinct treatments encompassing massage and relaxation, fitness, nutrition, physiotherapy and psychotherapy. If you ask us, one reason why such getaways are becoming ever so popular (besides the guaranteed standards of excellence – there are numerous safety protocols in place), is that individuals love exercising total control over their minds and bodies in order to cleanse, reinvigorate and enhance well-being. So let’s raise a glass (of green tea, of course!) to Otto for spearheading a well-being concept with the potential to change peoples’ lives, and to Frederich, given his extraordinary exploits.

Photography courtesy of Buchinger Wilhelmi

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