Boy, the lengths people will go to lose weight is sometimes downright scary. I’m sure you’ve heard of those questionable diet pills, teas, and even body creams that supposedly help
you burn fat. But one of the most dangerous ways to slim down is prolonged fasting, and one man took it to the extreme when he stopped eating altogether for over a year!
Now, it goes without saying but I’m gonna say it anyway and probably more than once: the following case should NOT be attempted as a way to lose weight. But it is fascinating
nonetheless, as far as a story about what the human body is capable of… In 1965, 27-year-old Angus Barbieri checked himself into Maryfield Hospital in Dundee,
Scotland. He was just a normal guy, worked at a fish and chip joint with his dad. And perhaps a diet of fried foods was what contributed to his obesity. In any case, his weight at
the time was 456 pounds. He told the doctors that he was ready to refuse food to lose weight, and they hesitantly agreed to monitor his progress. So, mind you, this was all very
carefully medically supervised!
At first, Barbieri wasn’t planning on fasting for too long. And even to this day, most doctors agree that short fasts are more effective than long ones. So the physicians at Maryfield
recommended that he didn’t go more than 40 days without food. But days turned into weeks that turned into months. Barbieri kept on refusing food past the 40-day limit because
he said that he felt okay. He had his goal weight in mind and what seems like unbeatable determination to reach it. Buuut that wasn’t the only thing that kept him going. Again,
that’s where the doctors’ help came in…
For the entire duration of this unconventional weight-loss journey, Barbieri took potassium, sodium, and vitamin supplements since he wasn’t getting any nutrients from food. And he didn’t
refrain from drinks either. But the ones he had were very low-cal. They included mineral water, tea, and black coffee, although toward the end he started adding some sugar and milk.
The vitamin diet seemed to be working alright since Barbieri didn’t experience any problems that would require him to remain in the hospital. He stayed there in the beginning just so doctors
could keep an eye on his health, but he was given the green light to go home since his body was adapting to the hunger so well. One of the physicians said that patients usually
had to stay in the hospital to resist their temptation to eat, but Barbieri had shown amazing will power and spent most of the time at home.
He only had to go to the hospital regularly to get tests done. And the doctors did, in fact, notice a very low level of glucose in his blood. Glucose is basically your body’s
energy source that it gets from food, and the low levels confirmed that his body really was in starvation mode. But, surprisingly, running on an empty tank didn’t interfere
with his daily routine, and he said that he felt fine. The only thing the Scot had to do was leave his job at his dad’s fish and chip shop because, well, that would’ve been
way too tempting!
On July 11, 1966, Angus Barbieri’s headline-making fast finally ended. After 382 days, the now unrecognizable man had lost a whopping 276 pounds. He’d reached his goal weight of
180 pounds. He’d end up with a Guinness World Record for the longest fast known in history: 1 year and 17 days!
By now you must be thinking, “I bet he immediately wolfed down a 5-course meal after starving for over a year!” But, actually, no, he didn’t, and for good reason too! That likely
would’ve overloaded his system, so chances are a heavy meal would’ve simply come right back up. Barbieri just had one boiled egg, a piece of bread with butter, and a cup of
coffee for breakfast. In his words, he really enjoyed his small simple meal, and it filled his tummy right up! He also said that apart from feeling a bit weak, he didn’t have
any major side effects.
At the end of his fast, Barbieri was looking forward to a vacation in Spain and a gradual return to eating with a careful eye on keeping his weight stable. He slowly worked himself
back up to a normal life with ordinary food and portions. The doctors were shocked by not only his unbeatable will power but also the unusual ease with which he lived without
solid food for so long.
But what really stunned everyone was that he was able to keep the weight off! From the very beginning, the doctors were especially doubtful about this factor. You see, most
people who try extreme diets like this usually just end up yo-yoing right back to where they started. That is, the body doesn’t keep the weight off. But once Barbieri went back
to eating normal meals, he only gained 15 pounds.
Angus Barbieri eventually moved to England, where he settled down and started a family.
Although he holds a pretty incredible world record, it’s worth noting that Guinness has since stopped recognizing such extreme fasts so that people don’t try these sorts
of dangerous stunts themselves.
But from a medical perspective, the case is quite astounding. How on Earth was this man’s body able to go so long without food? Well, in 2012 Australian author and science commenter
Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki gave a lecture on the radio where he explained the chemical processes that allowed Barbieri to survive without food for over a year. According to the doc, after
2-3 days of starvation, energy starts coming from the body’s fat stores. Some fat molecules can be transformed into glucose, that “fuel” I mentioned earlier.
In theory, the human body can live on these fat stores until they run out. But after that, you get into really dangerous territory because it’ll start feeding on the muscles. And
although these fat stores can keep the body going, that doesn’t mean the person will be in good health. That’s why Barbieri was given supplements and monitored very carefully.
Still, scientists believe that this “starvation mechanism” has deep biological and evolutionary roots. You see, our ancient ancestors didn’t have the luxury of a fridge chock-full of
food or a grocery store right around the corner. They had to go days without eating when they were hunting or looking for edible plants. These fasts could be even longer during the
winter, probably lasting for weeks.
And the body adapted to these conditions. During long periods of time without food, all internal processes – like breathing and heart rate – become slower so that the
body doesn’t use up and, thus, require as much energy. But winter, no matter how long it was, wouldn’t last for years. Once early humans would start eating regularly again
after the rough periods of little or no food, then all those processes sped right back up. People who start fasting often notice that at the initial stage, they have an unusual
clarity of thought, almost as if their brains are working more efficiently. Scientists have an evolutionary explanation for this too: it was during hunger periods that a malnourished
brain had to think of a way to get something to eat. If the brain shut down when the body stopped getting food, humanity would’ve never survived.
It sounds quite reasonable then that we’re not supposed to have unlimited access to food all year round. There could be a natural scheme of fasting and eating that’s not only safe
but also beneficial for our health. Still, it’s hardly possible that our ancestors could survive without any food for any longer than a few months. And that’s why Angus
Barbieri is such a medical anomaly!
To this day, there’s no scientific proof that fasting for longer than 40 days can do any good. In fact, there’s more proof that it’s extremely harmful. Although those doctors
back in the ‘60s were willing to help this guy on this dangerous path to his goal weight (or perhaps they felt they really didn’t have a choice since Barbieri had told them
he was gonna fast with or without their help), it’s highly unlikely that such a thing would happen today.
And that’s because there are so many safer options when it comes to healthy weight loss.
Doctors nowadays can set patients up with a nutritionist that’ll draw up a diet and exercise plan for safe gradual weight loss over time thanks to long-term lifestyle changes.
That is, starving oneself is certainly NOT the way to do it!
But we can see the case of Angus Barbieri’s record-breaking fast as proof that the human body is a fascinating mechanism to say the least!