Found on the edge of Lake Constance, Venetia van Kuffeler seeks inspiration at fasting clinic Buchinger Wilhelmi, with surprising results
It was with some trepidation that I had committed to spending 10 days at Buchinger Wilhelmi. Sold as ‘a clinic for therapeutic fasting, integrative medicine and inspiration,’ my life based around two small children, little sleep and 14 hour working days meant I needed all three. But perhaps fasting was a bit extreme? I was about to find out.
Buchinger Wilhelmi is a third-generation family-owned operation, in the process of being passed down to the fourth. Born in 1878, Dr Otto Buchinger was a doctor and philosopher, whose rheumatism during World War I meant his mobility was so restricted that he was forced to retire. Western medicine could not provide respite, so he turned to therapeutic fasting in 1919. A resounding success, his wheelchair was no longer required. Dr Buchinger opened his first clinic the following year, offering fasting under experienced medical supervision. Employing a team of doctors, physiotherapists and artists, he held consultation sessions in which music by Beethoven was played or poems by Goethe and Rilke recited. Dr Buchinger was convinced that “spiritual and cultural nourishment are equally important for human beings as what they eat.”
Indeed, Dr Buchinger went on to live a long, healthy and active life, until he was 88-years-old. To this day, the experience gathered from the 250,000-plus fasting treatments evaluated by Dr Buchinger and his successors forms the foundation for the work carried out in their two clinics in Germany and Spain.
My visit was to the former. Found on the edge of Lake Constance, my simple room had a stunning view of Switzerland’s snow-capped peaks on the other side. Today, Raimund Buchinger runs the clinic with his wife Françoise, founder of the European Society for Natural Medicine. Having worked at the clinic since 1979, they’ve overseen the construction of Villas Bellevue and Belgrano, a beautiful new outdoor pool, and the introduction of Psychotherapy to the clinic.
Was I right to be nervous? Yes. The first 48 hours involved some adjustment. This is a clinic, not a hotel. In my introductory medical consultation, the doctor tells me that my BMI calculates that I need to lose over 20kg. This is a hard pill to swallow, so to speak. Given an iPad with helpful daily tutorials at check-in, a video warns guests of the importance of rules and rituals at Buchinger. Mantras are repeated: “When fasting you’ll come in contact with the infinite potential that slumbers inside you.” The cynic inside me was not convinced. I was irritable and sensitive.
There was good reason for this. On arrival, my diet had been slashed to 800 calories, leaving me ravenous. This was followed by a digestive rest day, in which I ate just vegetables (a paltry 450 calories). The food was good, but again, I found myself hungry just an hour or two after eating. Chef Hubert Hohler’s passion is “to bring table and wellbeing together as equal partners.” The food is 100 per cent organic, and he proudly tells me they are “a model clinic for nutrition.”
Then the fasting began: 250 calories a day. There is one small, simple bowl of soup for lunch and supper. Chef Hohler explains that there are limited foods that can be used to make the soup without upsetting the balance of the stomach. I drink up to six litres of water a day, and top up with herbal teas. It’s bearable. There are daily weigh-ins and blood pressure checks – with my wonderful nurse who worked at Buchinger for 40 years – followed by a daily highlight: hot water with a small pot of honey. It’s an indulgent treat. Sleep is uninterrupted but short, as I don’t need more than six hours.
But interestingly, after a day or two, my energy returns in abundance. There are hikes through stunning countryside each afternoon, led in groups based on fitness levels. I feel strong, level-headed, well rested and an extraordinary level of clarity. It’s no wonder that writers often get their finest work done at Buchinger.
Food is slowly reintroduced, and those first meals are hard to finish. But I felt fantastic, plus physically and mentally stronger than I had in years. As well as 5kg lighter. A success!
In one of many lectures on offer, we are told that in the past, like animals, we used to eat lots of food in summer, and less so in winter. Fat deposits then served us in periods of food scarcity. But today, layers of fat accumulate as we never go without. During fasting, the body switches to using fat reserves as source of nourishment, and detoxification starts. Ailments can disappear. It makes sense. The clinic encourages guests to put work, responsibilities and obligations to one side, and prioritise having time for reading, listening to music, enjoying nature, culture and exercise.
Working at the clinic for over 10 years, Dr Drinda describes Buchinger as a combination of cloister, spa and clinic. “We have a happy union of complementary therapies and established medicine. A mosaic of treatments will be far more effective than only one item. At Buchinger we have the time to explore this holistic approach, which isn’t normally the case in real life.” As well as a few massages, I am recommended to try autogenic training for stress, and prescribed with a whopping dose of Vitamin D. (Blood tests revealed I was severely deficient). He explains that 30-40 per cent of their patients have a medicinal issue. “With serious illness,” he says, “fasting is never an alternative to say surgery and chemo, but at the right time, it can be an addition to these more established methods.”
From Saudi businessmen to sassy female New Yorkers in their 20s, guests at Buchinger hail from all over the globe. Fifty per cent are return clients, which is a remarkable statistic. We meet one gentlemen who has returned for his twelfth visit. Dr Drinda says: “We like to take people out of their toxic environment, so they realise what they must change. For example, people learn how to deal with stress, because you often can’t avoid it.”
Staying at Buchinger is not cheap, but as they say: you can’t put a price on health. There’s a wide range of room categories to suit different budgets, from a basic standard room in the older buildings, to the state-of-the-art two bedroom Mainau Suite with kitchenette, Jacuzzi and sauna in the stunning Villa Belgrano.
The Compact package: 10 day fast starts at 2,440 Euros and includes:
- The Buchinger Wilhelmi Programme (more details below)
- Basic medical treatment comprising two medical consultations for every seven nights
- Basic laboratory examination (at the beginning of a stay)
- Fasting provisions, including four refeeding days
- Accommodation in a room category of choice
- Therapy voucher worth EUR250 for therapies and treatments
The Buchinger Wilhelmi programme encompasses the therapeutic fasting itself, medical care, and a wide variety of sporting, cultural, medical and therapeutic activities. All group activities are included in the prices of all packages and in the daily rates, as is the use of all facilities at Buchinger Wilhelmi.
Individual services not included in the Buchinger Wilhelmi programme, such as individual medical service and treatments, nutritional advice, personal coaching or beauty and hair care are also available at an additional cost.