At our fasting clinic, we have met many people who are repeat visitors. So far, the record among our acquaintances here was an Egyptian gentleman who was on his 37th time here, attending 3 times per year now for over twelve years.
How could so many people want to submit themselves to long, periodic fasts?
This fasting experience reminded me of the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman describes, in chapter 35, the concept of “Two Selves” — the “experiencing self” and the “remembering self.” In summary:
- Experiencing self. The part of you that comes out when your doctor asks “How are you feeling right now?
- Remembering self. The part of you that comes out when your doctor asks “How have you been over the last two weeks?
It turns out that these two selves play very different roles, and to cut to the chase, it is your remembering self that is actually in charge of future decisions. The specific example Kahneman describes is a person listening to a long symphony on CD (yes, this book was published seven years ago!) that had a scratch at the end. Even though the listener was in bliss for perhaps 40 minutes (the experiencing self), the scratch at the end “ruined the whole experience” (the remembering self.)
Through pure-lab experiments (forcing subjects to hold their hands in cold water) and through observed data of painful procedures (colonoscopies!), Kahneman describes two things learned about how we remember our experiences.
- Peak-end rule. What we remember most is how good or bad things were at their peak, and how our experience ends.
- Duration neglect. The total duration of the experience does not have an effect on ratings of the total experience.
In medical procedures, this observation has actually shown that patients have a better memory of the experience if a procedure is more gentle and ends even more gently, even if takes longer!
It is also the basis of the advice that it is better to take two one-week vacations than one two-week vacation. Even though the experiencing self would view two weeks of total vacation in both situations as equal, the remembering self (who has duration neglect) gets more value out of having two unique sets of memories, even if they are shorter!
How does this apply to fasting? Well, here at Buchinger-Wilhelmi, they have applied these principles to the fasting experiencing, whether they read Kahneman’s work or not! Here’s how they take advantage of it.
- Peaks are smoothed out. Through the routine of morning tea & yogurt, every-other-day enemas, broth at lunch, hot liver compresses, tea in your room, and broth in the evening, they have successfully smoothed out any discomfort in fasting. We’ve done water fasts before, and the peaks are MUCH more uncomfortable.
- Strong ending. They have gourmet chefs on staff that prepare gourmet vegetarian meals for your “refeeding” making your stay end on a high note. We got to preview this food on arrival day before we started fasting, and we know the ending will be strong!
- Duration neglect. They make every day and week very similar, with a pretty strict, stereotypical-German routine to ensure that your mind has no new stories to write. This repetition enables the memory of every day to “blur” together. The benefits of fasting are associated with burning 200g-300g of body fat per day, so the most benefit comes from being able to stick it out the longest. Buchinger has figured out how to allow someone like me to be here for 28 days without going crazy by blurring the memory of it.
I think this combination of factors is why we have met so many repeat visitors here! The program works in large part because of the methodology!
If you’re interested in learning more about Two Selves, Kahneman also did a Ted Talk on this topic.