Fasting is a ritual as old as civilization. It is a tradition in many religions, from east to west. The Bible says Jesus fasted 40 days in the desert, and Mahatma Gandhi often fasted for weeks at a time as he attempted to free India from British occupation. But one remarkable story of fasting happened in recent times, and it is well documented.
In 1965, a 26-year-old Scotsman named Angus Barbieri walked into the University Department of Medicine at the Royal Infirmary of Dundee, Scotland, seeking treatment for obesity. He weighed 456 pounds, according to the case report published by his doctors in 1973, in the Postgraduate Medical Journal.
The doctors decided to put him on a brief fast to help him drop some weight from his six-foot frame. They expected he would probably lose some fat, but later regain it, as often happens.
Barbieri, however, was highly motivated. As his fast turned from days into weeks, and he saw results, he was eager to continue. Fasts over 40 days were thought to be dangerous, but the young Scotsman was determined to reach his ideal weight of 180 pounds.
As he continued fasting, his doctors monitored him closely. They administered regular blood-sugar tests that confirmed he really was not eating, and showed he was somehow able to keep functioning while hypoglycemic. He stayed in his home, but came into the hospital for regular checkups and occasional overnight visits.
Barbieri took vitamins, including potassium and sodium supplements. He drank coffee, tea, and sparkling water, all of which have no calories. During the final few weeks of his fast, he occasionally added a little sugar or milk to his tea.
Three hundred eighty-two days later, Barbieri weighted his desired 180 pounds. On July 11, 1966, he broke his fast at breakfast with a boiled egg, a slice of bread with butter, and black coffee. “I have forgotten what food tastes like,” he remarked. The next day he told a reporter he felt “quite full.”
Angus Barbieri maintained his success, regaining only a small fraction of the weight he lost. Five years after the fast, he weighed 196 pounds. His doctor said, “This is one of the most remarkable cases of voluntary weight reduction I have ever heard of.”
Barbieri’s fast is thought to be one of the longest ever taken, and it probably saved his life.