Follow Your Gut: A Liberal Attitude towards Fasting at The Original FX Mayr, Austria

Follow Your Gut: A Liberal Attitude towards Fasting at The Original FX Mayr, Austria

A new-year digestive reboot at the original home of intermittent fasting, Austria’s FX Mayr clinic.

should probably preface what follows by saying that when it
comes to the nebulous concept of “wellness”, my feelings are
decidedly ambiguous. Whatever battle the
warriors are fighting, I’ve historically been on the
other side, nonchalantly tucking into a family bag of crisps and
wryly swirling a glass of pinot gris like a mischievous teenager
smoking a cigarette. However, the older I get, the less this
attitude seems louche and bohemian and instead feels somewhat
reckless. While I absolutely believe in body positivity and don’t
want a jade egg anywhere near my privates (or a candle that smells
like them, for that matter), I also want to get past 3pm without
slumping into a sugar and caffeine spiral and to fit into my jeans
minus the sharp inhale.

The result is that I’m constantly fighting a battle between my
entrenched bad habits and my attempts to claw back some balance,
with corresponding loops of weight loss and gain. Although I’d
consider myself a healthy-ish person in my down time – I do
high-impact cardio classes three times a week, follow a pescatarian
diet and know my kimchi from my kombucha – as soon as a dinner
invitation or plane ticket wafts my way, my intentions disappear
faster than a negroni on a Soho House rooftop. A festive season
consisting of a doughnut-filled trip to the States, back-to-back
roasts and an epic New Year’s Eve feast washed down with champagne
had indulged all my vices and left me bloated, with skin as mottled
as a seal’s and carrying a few extra kilos under my straining

All of this means that as I speed across the Austrian border
from Ljubljana Airport to Lake Wörthersee and the legendary
Original FX Mayr clinic, I’m more than a little nervous. Founded in
1976 and inspired by the Austrian physician Dr Franz Xaver Mayr,
who developed a treatment plan for post-surgery patients based on
resting the digestive system and reversing the process of
“auto-intoxication” that we induce by ingesting the wrong things,
the clinic offers a 21-day “cure” programme based on a combination
of medicine, nutrition, exercise and awareness (guests can complete
all or part of the programme at the clinic – I’m here for a week).
It’s perhaps most famous as the inspiration behind the 5:2 method,
whose followers consume less than 500 calories for two days a week
and eat normally for the remainder.

The “intermittent fasting” principle that underlies both this
and the cure, whereby you have all your meals within an eight-hour
window and fast for the remaining 16, has garnered a bevy of gym
bros, Silicon-Valley CEOs and model-influencers of late – Elon
Musk, Chris Hemsworth, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and, of course,
Kim Kardashian have all endorsed its benefits, which in addition to
weight loss are said to include the slowing down of the ageing
process and the growth and development of brain cells and nerve
tissue. As I sit down for breakfast on my first morning, the
ambience is rather less starry – half of my fellow guests have
already succumbed to the uniform of robes and hotel slippers and
the decor is more 1970s B&B than sleek and sci-fi. That said,
it’s cosy and homely, and I’m happily staring out the window at the
low-hanging clouds that skim the icy lake when my food arrives, at
which point I stare down in horror.

I’m greeted by a miniature milk-bottle filled with sheep’s
yoghurt and a tough buckwheat roll, designed to encourage you to
chew each mouthful at least 25 times (did you know that people who
chew their food properly are on average 15kg lighter?). I pick up a
Borrower-sized teaspoon and tentatively start nibbling while trying
to observe the rule for silent dining. The intention is to enable
slow, mindful eating that allows you to feel full faster (the brain
takes around 20 minutes to get the message that food has arrived)
and reduces the stress that inhibits proper digestion. Lunch
follows the same pattern but swaps the yoghurt for vegetable soup,
whereas dinner is a thin vegetable broth – in total I’ll be
consuming a miserly 400 calories a day.

However, the Mayr cure is “not a weight-loss diet, but a health
diet”, as my brilliantly no-nonsense doctor later tells me. Each
guest gets their own doctor who tailors the cure to their needs and
checks in with them every other day to recommend additional
treatments and monitor progress. After chatting about my goals and
lifestyle, Dr Muntean-Rock massages my abdomen and diagnoses me
with bloating and inflammation in the gut and water retention in
the lower legs before prescribing me a range of treatments to
complement my cure. She explains the core tenets of the Mayr method
– cleansing and detox, resting the mind and digestive system,
training ourselves to eat more mindfully, following a regular
rhythm with our exercise, sleep and mealtimes, and conscious
abstinence – and that the goal is to help reset the overloaded
digestive system, adding that recent scientific breakthroughs
suggest that many of our health issues may stem from imbalances in
the gut.

Having been reassured that the crippling headaches I’ve been
suffering with for two days are not signs of an impending aneurysm
but in fact caffeine withdrawal, I skip off for a series of
screenings. A metabolic analysis during which I breathe into a
plastic tube reveals that I actually have a fairly high metabolism,
but that it’s running in extreme-sugar rather than fat-burning
mode, likely thanks to all that champagne. A body composition
measurement, where I lie on a table with wires attached to my
fingers and toes while electrical currents run through my body,
shows that I contain approximately eight per cent more fat than a
Lindt Lindor ball. This seems apposite given the number I
annihilated over the Christmas break but is not, I learn, a healthy
proportion for a human being. I have an applied kinesiology test
where vials of substances such as lactose, egg and gluten are
rested on my stomach and my muscle reaction is tested to identify
intolerances – I’m sceptical of what seems like sorcery, but the
results line up with a later blood test.

As for the fasting, although going to bed hungry is hard, I
don’t find it as much of a chore as I’d anticipated and start to
appreciate the flavours of everything laid in front of me much more
intensely. One morning I’m served a soft-boiled egg alongside my
buckwheat roll and have a frankly indecent moment tonguing its
velvety folds and making obscene noises – it’s a platonic egg, the
egg to rule all eggs, perfect in its sheer eggyness. I even start
to convince myself that the dreaded Epsom salts I down each morning
taste not too dissimilar to a bitter G&T. However, I’d been
warned about “fasting crisis” – the point where your body runs out
of its usual energy stores and sends out alarm signals before it
begins burning fat – hitting on day three, and sure enough I wake
up feeling as wobbly as if I’ve had five shots of tequila and then
attempted a 10k run. I have to negotiate whether I have enough
energy to walk across the room or dance to Ariana Grande while
brushing my teeth and spend most of the day trying not to collapse
into the nearest wall or cry.

However, the next morning I practically explode out of bed,
riding a crest of pure energy that doesn’t dissipate for the
remainder of the week. Relieved, I start to revel in the luxurious
line-up of treatments that gently unspool the issues of which I’m
aware of, tease out some I’ve ignored and boost my ammunition
against others. Osteopathy and shiatsu sessions unknot the tension
in my shoulders and back brought on by days hunching over a laptop,
while a lymphatic drainage massage visibly reduces the bulk around
my ankles. I sink into an alkaline detox bath, read a book in bed
while a hayflower wrap is pressed to my liver, and nearly fall
asleep during a reflexology head massage. I huff oxygen-depleted
air through a mask to stimulate mitochondria (energy-producing
cells) growth, spend an hour smothered in collagen and being
pummelled by a pair of electronic foam trousers to combat
cellulite, and have pure medical oxygen inserted into my posterior
following colon hydrotherapy, simultaneously the most undignified
and decadent thing I’ve ever done. Meanwhile the afternoons begin
with mellow hikes into the surrounding forest and end with group
guided meditations, punctuated by the snores of those who have
relaxed a little too hard.

At the start of my fifth morning the four-pack of brioche buns
that was masquerading as my waistline has halved to a two-pack and
I’ve lost 2.5kg, as well as most of the bloating and inflammation.
A week and a half later and back on home turf, I’ve continued to
observe the cure principles and lost another 5kg – but more than
that, I feel clear-headed, energetic and surprisingly, more
creative. Although I’m looking forward to phasing back into a more
regular diet plan – indeed, continuing to fast at this level
indefinitely would actually weaken the digestive system and result
in muscle being burned off as well as fat – I’m also hoping to
implement some of what I’ve learned into my daily life: skip dinner
as often as you can, no raw veg past 4pm, take time to savour your
meals, don’t punish yourself for the occasional indulgence. The
whole experience has been non-judgemental and reassured me that my
existing systems are working well, while giving me the tools and
information to make better choices as to what I feed them – and at
the comparatively young age of 31, it’s a privilege to have the
time to make those changes now rather than trying to fix issues at
a later stage. While I wouldn’t say it’s made me a wellness
warrior, I might put the pinot down a little more often from now