Some say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And whether you eat bacon and eggs, cereal and milk, or fruit and yogurt, you are literally “breaking” your fast from the previous night.
On July 11th, 1966, 27-year-old Scotsman, Angus Barbieri, broke his fast with a boiled egg, a slice of bread with butter, and a cup of black coffee. But instead of a 12-hour fast overnight, it was the first food he had eaten in 382 days. He told a reporter, “I thoroughly enjoyed my egg and I feel very full.”
A year before, Barbieri weighed 456 pounds and was extremely obese. He sought treatment for his excessive weight at a medical facility in Dundee, Scotland. The doctors put him on a short fast to try and drop some of the weight off his 6-foot frame. Most thought he would regain the weight, as what usually happens. But days without food turned into weeks, and eventually into months. Fasts of over 40 days are considered dangerous, but Barbieri wanted to reach his ideal weight of 180 pounds. So he kept going.
Barbieri took vitamin and mineral supplements during the fast, and drank black coffee, tea, and sparkling water along the way. Occasionally he’d have a touch of sugar or milk in his tea, especially towards the end. But for the most part, he survived over a year without eating.
Doctors were astounded. “This is one of the most remarkable cases of voluntary weight reduction I have ever heard of,” said one. At the end, Barbieri successfully tipped the scales at 180 pounds. “I have forgotten what food tastes like,” he said.
Transformation through fasting has been around for ages. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert without food, while Gandhi was known for his 17 hunger strikes. And fasting for Muslims is one of the fundamental principles of Islam. But for Barbieri, his fast – believed to be the longest ever undertaken – was not done for spiritual purposes, but rather for health.
According to Leonard Guarente, a professor of biology at MIT, the ability to fast is an ancient survival adaptation. It was normal for our ancestors to experience a scarcity of food in the winter, having to survive for weeks without much to eat. In addition to losing weight, some experts say that fasting can help slow aging and fight cancer by starving rapidly growing tumor cells.
While a prolonged fast can lead to dangerous consequences like organ failure and death, might the benefits of fasting in moderation outweigh the dangers?