By Manny Alvarez
Published February 12, 2019
Losing weight is always in vogue in many parts of the world. But in Russia, people take dieting and weight loss to the extreme—with starvation diets. Not only that, those adhering to the starvation diet will often go to a clinic or “fasting spa” for support.
Yep, people pay money so that someone else can help them go without food for an entire week or longer. So how does it work?
According to Russia Beyond, most fasting clinics offer calming exercises, natural scenery and spa features to keep patients’ minds off food.
It also puts them in a calming mood throughout the process. Patients may enjoy a yoga session in the morning, followed by scenic walks or a leisurely swim in the pool later on.
Alexander Barvinsky, who owns the SpaGolod clinic in Moscow, told Russian Beyond that patients need this week-long leisure time to offset the stress of hunger.
Writer Jeannette Winterson describes her fasting experience as “a natural high” to The Telegraph after visiting a Swiss fasting clinic for her fourth time. Winterson also says the experience has “changed the way I live” and that fasting is about finding joy in life.
Many patients who’ve gone to such spas report that they feel better after several days in. Some go on to lose several pounds while they’re at the clinic.
Still, most experts regard this total deprivation of food as a dangerous undertaking.
It’s true that your body can survive without food for several weeks. According to Scientific American, there have been reports of people going without food as long as 21, 36 or even 40 days.
Think Ghandi’s famed 21-day fast or Jesus’ 40-day stretch without food in the Bible.
However, the practice could be potentially dangerous for dieters. According to the National Institute on Aging, researchers are still investigating the benefits and harms of reducing calories for good health. Even then, much of the research involves calorie restriction, such as intermittent fasting, not week-long starvation.
For example, animal studies suggest that reducing calories by 10-40 percent could increase an animal’s lifespan and prevent cancer, states the NIA. However, not all the animals saw this result, and some even showed a shortened lifespan due to calorie restriction.
That fact suggests more research is needed to prove how fasting diets work to provide good health in some scenarios over others. Because the research is unproven, the NIA recommends that people stick to a balanced diet and exercise routine to maintain good health.
Another reason that fasting diets can be harmful is that the blood can become extremely acidic. You see, your body normally uses glucose from sugar and carbohydrates for energy.
However, when the body doesn’t have enough carbs, it turns to stored fats for energy instead. At first, encouraging the fat-burning process sounds like an effective, healthy weight loss method.
But here’s what dieters might not know: according to Medical News Today, the body produces ketones as a byproduct of burning fat, which is an acid. Those ketones are then released into the blood and eventually eliminated.
If the ketones build up too much, though, a person could develop a condition called ketoacidosis. The condition is life-threatening and would need emergency treatment.
Ketoacidosis often occurs in people who have diabetes, especially type 1 since their bodies have difficulty producing any insulin. If people use the starvation diet without knowing about their diabetes, they could be putting their health in jeopardy.
Some people might view “fasting spas” as the answer to their diet and weight loss goals. But the expert consensus is that they just aren’t researched enough and could cause more harm than good in the long run.
For now, stick to traditional ways of maintaining good health, like balanced eating habits, regular exercise, and adequate sleep.