The Bizarre Truth About The All-Beer Lent Diet

For Catholics, fasting during the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday) is a way to practice spiritual discipline and penance leading up to their holiest day of the year. Some people observe this literally, limiting their food consumption to the officially ordained one meal plus two smaller portions of food per day; others take a metaphoric approach and give up something else as their penance, such as chocolate or Twitter. In 17th century Bavaria, however, some very clever monks spent their Lent living off of nothing but beer.

The monks in question had recently migrated from Italy to the Cloister Neudeck ob der Au in Bavaria. When Lent came around they took full advantage of their new home by setting to work brewing an extremely rich, bread-like beer that would have enough nutrients and carbs to sustain them, without officially breaking their vows to not eat any solid food while observing Lent. They succeeded, producing an early version of what we now call a doppelbock. The monk’s beer fast was so successful that they founded the Paulaner brewery to sell their concoction, which is still in operation today.

Can you really live on nothing but beer?

Considering these monks lived hundreds of years ago it’s pretty easy to dismiss their 46 day bender as a historic urban legend. And yet, people have attempted a similar feat in the modern age and survived. In 2011 J. Wilson, a Chrisitian writer in Iowa, brewed a hearty doppelbock with the help of a local brewery and, other than water, only consumed four beers a day on weekdays and five on weekends for the entirety of Lent.

In 2014 Canadian Anglican Chris Schryer completed the beer fast and lived to tell Vice the fascinating (and disgusting) details of what nothing but beer does to one’s body. Schryer reported that the first few weeks left him feeling drained of energy, especially when attempting to keep his usual hockey schedule. But after an adjustment period he began feeling better, saying that he “played some of the best hockey I played all season.” 

Although fasting has become a fad, its effectiveness as a weight loss and health management tool is still in doubt and even intermittent fasting can be dangerous for some people. Checking in with a doctor should always be step one, especially if planning a 46 day beer fast. As Schryer put it in an interview, “Consult your doctor. They will tell you it’s a bad idea and they’re right.”

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