We all have ancestors who passed on their medicinal wisdom over many generations and it’s not surprising that different countries have different approaches to medicine and health. My ancestry is from Austria where I lived until I was 18, when my adventurous nature took me to California. I have now lived in the US for longer than I lived in Austria. On the surface, the US and Austria are very similar, both have a high standard of living with similar items on the shelves of grocery stores and in retail shops. One major difference is health care – Austria is a socialized country and provides medical care to everyone free of charge. When I brought American friends to my hometown and they needed medical attention they were surprised that they didn’t need to show a credit card and the doctor told them “don’t worry about it” after helping them.
Austria is also a country that believes and invests in preventative medicine. Growing up there, my grandparents, mother, aunts and uncles would take turns going on “Kur”, the Austrian word for what amounts to a 3 week medical spa visit during which, depending on doctors orders, you are administered massages, mud baths, infusions, exercises, and so on. Basically, patients were ordered to go on Kur by their doctors to de-stress, re-build their health and learn/take-away healthier ways of living. Free of charge. Mind blowing, I know.
Another aspect of preventive medicine that is common in both Austria and Germany is medicinal fasting. The Austrians and Germans regard the digestive tract as the keeper of good health and fasting is seen as a way to clean things out and get a fresh start. The idea is that over the course of 5 days (or longer for repeat fasters) you clean out and shut down your digestive tract completely. This allows your body to spend its energy elsewhere. Scientists have recently proven that a 4 day fast rebuilds the immune system and are using fasting to prepare cancer patients for chemotherapy so I believe my ancestors have been onto something!
My mother has been doing a yearly 5 day fast for many years, and, after many years of pondering and excuses I started my own yearly fasting regimen 3 years ago. The idea of not eating anything for 5 days was difficult and, more importantly, so was the idea of putting my very full, busy life on hold for 5 days. Living in the US with a young child and her only grandparent in Austria I didn’t have the luxury of taking a fasting vacation or go on “Kur”!
As with so many things in life, starting is the hardest part. So I got the book - the same book my mom used and two generations before her. It’s a simple, tried and true regimen that I knew would work and that I could follow without help from a medical professional as long as I felt strong and healthy, which I did. This regimen is similar to the well-known Master Cleanse, but with less juice and more PH balancing broths.
And then I did it. And it felt great. I had no idea how fogged up my brain was from food. I experienced a mental clarity that was amazing. Of course I was hungry, but the hunger was a deep down constant that didn’t overtake my existence. Instead I felt freer, more able to focus on things that didn’t involve food. I realized how much mindless snacking and eating I do “in passing” barely noticing it happened. I noticed how used I have gotten to finishing my daughters plate. I realized how little food my body needs to be satisfied. And I realized that feeding my soul and feeding my body are different and, for the most part separate (well except for that insane omakase dinner I had on my birthday a couple years ago).
I also realized that I hadn’t been nourishing my body with the right foods. After completing the fast I started back up very slowly with very simple, whole foods. My body felt amazing. I literally felt like a million dollars. I did it! I did it and I was slimmer, my skin was clearer; the white in my eyes was whiter. There was no inflammation in my body. I loved putting on my bikini and my beach volleyball game was improved, I felt lighter and my joints were working better. I was confident! My mind was clear and focused. I evaluated the foods I put into my body, and, started eating healthier and putting healthier foods on the table for my family whenever possible.
This all doesn’t mean that I stopped enjoying food and friends, which is a very big part of my life. I am a foodie and have true foodie friends and many times taste and flavor still wins. There is a reason white processed flour was invented and I feel it has a place in life, that place is just smaller now and my palate is more and more enjoying wholesomeness in it’s place. I also make sweets with my girl because I don’t want her growing up thinking sugar is evil (which it is when consumed in unreasonable quantities). I try for a good balance whenever possible and I use the periodic fast as a reset. Bridget, my good friend and Pepper Swimwear’s other half, my husband, and neighbor joined me on the fast these past couple years ago and we are now considering doing it every 6 months.
So, if you are thinking about a change in your eating, and you are healthy and looking for some preventative health benefits with the potential of loosing some weight (which you can keep off IF you don’t go back to eating big meals right away), then consider doing a fast as they call it in Austria, or a cleanse or detox as we call it here in the United States. Whichever country you come from, I truly believe the benefits outweigh the 5 days of deprivation.