Single Style / Fasting program promotes stress-free joy of eating; Facility in Shizuoka Pref. offers reset from everyday life

The Yomiuri Shimbun
photo of a morning yoga session in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, to relieve stiffness was taken during a different program from the one in which I participated.

Concerned about my pandemic-induced weight gain, I decided to stay overnight at a “fasting” facility. There I was served vegetable-based meals and learned healthy eating habits. Most importantly, the experience helped me focus on my body and start to notice a variety of things.

Yoga for a stiff body

After about a 90-minute train ride from Tokyo, I arrived in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, an area famous for its hot spring resorts, at Yasuragi-no-Sato, a facility that specializes in fasting programs. I did a two-day trial program, which cost ¥20,790.

Tsuyoshi Osawa, 58, the head of the facility, said about 70% of participants come alone — even married couples who are in a loving relationship.

After answering questions about my daily eating habits and the like, the program started at 5 p.m. with a yoga session. My body was stiff and wouldn’t let me get into the poses I wanted to get into. In fact, when I stretched my neck, I heard a cracking sound.

I work in the Economic News Department reporting on securities. I spend a lot of time at my desk with the same posture, watching market movements and writing stories. “That’s probably why my body is so stiff,” I thought to myself. On top of that, the facility staff told me to skip breakfast and lunch that day, so my stomach was grumbling with hunger.

The last part of the yoga session was meditation time. I found it very difficult to think about nothing. At work and at home, I’m always thinking about something — even the mundane. Throughout the meditation time, I tried hard to concentrate on emptying my mind. Before I knew it, time was up, and I noticed that I actually felt a little refreshed.

Around 6 p.m., I had my first meal of the day. Joy! Even though it’s a fasting facility, it doesn’t mean you eat and drink nothing. The meal was brown rice porridge with a variety of grains, pickled plums, simmered kuruma-bu (wheel-shaped wheat-gluten bread), tofu, and cabbage stewed with deep-fried tofu — a simple, vegetable-based meal. The portions were small, so I ate slowly and carefully.

Osawa told us, “If you concentrate on eating and savor the flavors, you’ll come to notice a lot of things about the food.” He added that we should try to become aware of the importance of eating and to consider the amount we usually eat. He pointed out that putting our chopsticks down after each bite would enable us to chew more, which would keep us from overeating.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
supper served on the first day of the two-day program. I ate it slowly and carefully to savor the flavors.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been told repeatedly to chew my food well before swallowing, but it’s difficult to stay aware of that. When I’m busy, the only things I have time to eat are side dishes from the convenience store. For some reason, I feel like sitting there and “just eating” is inefficient, so I usually do other things simultaneously, like checking the news on my phone or checking my interview schedules. During the fasting program, I concentrated on eating as instructed. The experience allowed me to taste each flavor and feel deeply satisfied.

After dinner, we had some free time. Misao Arai, 75, from Itabashi Ward, Tokyo, who had just finished a one-week program, told me, “You can meet a lot of people and broaden your horizons here.” The two-day program was too short for the participants get to know each other intimately. Instead, we spent the time how we wanted, doing things like taking baths and reading books.

We went to bed at 10 p.m. I couldn’t remember the last time I went to bed so early. It was so relaxing that I fell asleep right away. The next morning, I woke up naturally, before my alarm went off at 6 a.m.

After another relaxing yoga session, I went for a walk around the facility. It was November; the weather was beautiful, and the sunshine was pleasant. After my walk, I returned to the facility and sipped an enzyme juice on the terrace. The ocean was beautiful. Breakfast was served — vegetable based again — before the program ended.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Top: The landscape I saw during a walk in the morning sun
Bottom: The enzyme juice served in the morning

Information-packed life

Osawa started the facility in 2000 after training at different treatment centers and dietary therapy facilities. Some visitors to his facility want to reconsider their dietary habits and improve their health, while others come to give their minds and bodies, which are exhausted from the stress of hard work and human relationships, some much needed rest.

“People today consume a lot of information every day,” Osawa said. “I think they need a quiet place to rest their hearts and minds.”

I felt like I got his point. We’re connected to too many things on a daily basis — our work, the people around us, our public and private schedules, the news, and the information we receive on our smartphones. It’s only natural to want to separate ourselves from those things and push the reset button every once in a while.

Kiyoko Nakamura, 54, a company owner from Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, said she has come to the facility several times since 2021. She also said that while she’s at the facility, she uses her smartphone as little as possible and doesn’t work. “I feel comfortable in the morning especially. [Staying here] has changed my attitude toward food,” she said with a smile.

Similarly, I didn’t once touch my smartphone while I was at the facility. That was probably one of the reasons I felt so refreshed. Those two days at the facility made me realize that it’s not just the stomach and intestines that need a good rest.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Breakfast on day two was also vegetable-based, similar to supper the day before.

Never overdo it on your own

Looking for advice on fasting for improved health, I talked to Atsushi Aoki, director of a clinic for internal diseases and diabetes in Saitama and author of the book “Kufuku Koso Saikyo no Kusuri” (Emptying your stomach is the best medicine) published by Ascom Inc.

He told me: “People who eat out often tend to eat a lot of high-calorie foods. Overeating those kinds of foods can cause internal organ fatigue, obesity and other health problems. Therefore, fasting [while staying well hydrated] is a way to consciously keep your stomach empty for many hours a day so that your internal organs can rest.”

He continued: “If your stomach is empty for a long time, there’s a risk of muscle loss, so simple muscle training should also be done in conjunction with fasting. You see, when muscle loss occurs, your basal metabolic rate decreases, which in turn makes it easy for you to gain weight. You don’t have to do anything intense; it’s fine if you just walk up and down the stairs or do squats, as long as you’re not overdoing it.”

He added: “Growing children, pregnant women, and elderly people with reduced muscle mass should not fast. People with chronic health problems, such as diabetes, which carries a risk of hypoglycemia, should also check with their doctors before fasting. Fasting for 24 hours or more can be dangerous. You mustn’t overdo it on your own.”