An increasing number of people have become interested in fasting as a means to improve their health and lose weight. Estonia’s renowned fasting doctor, Dr. Natalia Trofimova, boasts over 45 years of experience in therapeutic fasting and dietary treatments. In the following interview, she sheds light on her journey into fasting and discusses the benefits of detoxifying the body.
Please tell us a bit about your background.
I was born into a Hungarian family. My father, Tibor, and mother, Margit, named me Natalia, which translates to “nature” in Greek. I’ve always felt deeply connected to nature. My hometown, Mukachevo (Hungarian: Munkács), belonged to Hungary until 1944. Today, it lies in the westernmost part of Ukraine, neighboring Slovakia and Hungary to the west and Romania to the south.
Who in your family has influenced you the most?
I owe much of my inspiration and faith to my grandfather. His philosophies and perspectives deeply shaped me. Not only was he an exemplary role model, but he was also very dear to me. My grandfather completed his studies at a theological seminar. He participated in a choir, mastered the violin, and served as the principal of a local teachers’ seminary for many years.
My grandfather was an extraordinarily gentle and compassionate soul. He exuded a sense of inner tranquility. He approached everything in life with deep contemplation. Even in my childhood, though I may not have grasped every nuance, I could sense that fasting held positive connotations.
He was meticulous about his diet, avoiding canned foods and limiting his egg intake to twice a week at most. He drank alcohol sparingly, often just a glass of wine. In Hungarian families, wine, when consumed judiciously and sometimes diluted, was a regular part of meals. Occasionally, even children would receive a splash of wine with their food.
My grandfather observed fasting more rigorously on Fridays than other family members, often limiting himself just to water. Fasting aided him in remedying several health concerns, notably liver issues. He led an active life up to the age of 87. This showed me that fasting wasn’t an odd practice but rather a natural method with the potential to stave off and treat illnesses. Fasting promotes vitality, sharp cognition, and longevity.
Can you please describe the foods you ate in your childhood home?
Mornings often started with a modest bread roll paired with grain-based coffee and milk. I would frequently be dispatched to the nearby bakery to fetch fresh rolls. Contrary to Estonian habits, we didn’t partake in morning sandwiches. Occasionally, my grandmother prepared semolina pudding in the oven, and we were sometimes treated to soft-boiled eggs.
Our meals were straightforward: vegetable broths, legume dishes, and pumpkin soup. Meat was a rarity, gracing our table about once a week. Sundays were reserved for chicken soup, often prepared with a young rooster my grandmother would purchase from the market. Typically, leftovers stretched into Monday.
I fondly recall a favorite dish of mine: porridge crafted from cornflower. Sometimes, this porridge would be transformed into a casserole, baked with layers of cream cheese. Occasionally, we’d complement it with a sauce that might contain meat.
Why is therapeutic fasting beneficial?
Therapeutic fasting is a unique method to counteract the aging process.
Fasting offers our overwhelmed cells a break.
Fasting stimulates the body’s natural defenses, rejuvenating and purifying cells, enhancing both the immune and nervous systems, and optimizing metabolism.
In Hungarian households, “lecsó” is a popular dish. Contrary to its Estonian counterpart, which is a preserved item, lecsó is also a fresh autumnal preparation. It is concocted from tomatoes, peppers, and onions, with beaten eggs introduced towards the end. Fridays were designated as fasting days, where light meals like simple soups dominated the menu.
For cumin soup, cumin seeds were toasted before adding oil, cornflour, and water, resulting in a light and easily digestible broth, occasionally accompanied by bread chunks.
Tomato soup was enriched with rice or dumplings crafted from a blend of egg and flour (Hungarian “galuska”). In seasons devoid of fresh tomatoes, my grandmother would utilize preserved and warmed (strained) tomato concoctions.
Did the decision to study medicine come easily?
It really came naturally. As a child, I was engrossed in playing doctor, a fascination kindled by my family’s stories. I would earnestly treat my dolls as patients. After completing high school, I pursued medical school and graduated with honors. Subsequently, I furthered my studies at the University of Tartu, opting for internal medicine as my specialty. My university years also sparked a profound interest in natural medicine, especially when I encountered questions that conventional medicine couldn’t address.
In Europe, Germany stands out as the primary destination to specialize in natural medicine. Following six semesters of foundational education, students undergo two semesters of hands-on training—a journey I’m still on.
I shy away from the term “alternative medicine.” To me, medicine encompasses classical practices, traditional healing methods from diverse cultures (like Chinese, Indian, and Mayan medicine), and a holistic approach to natural healing. These elements are not mutually exclusive; they complement one another. It’s crucial to amalgamate these diverse medical approaches. Millennia of knowledge, gleaned from various cultures, shouldn’t be cast aside but should be rejuvenated. This vast repository of wisdom allows doctors to delve deeper than mere symptoms, tracing and treating the root causes of ailments. The sum of a doctor’s lifelong learning profoundly enhances their professional perspective. It’s no wonder that both family practitioners and staff from the Tartu University Clinic frequent BIOSPA for continued education.
What were your first experiences with Tartu like?
I was drawn to the University of Tartu, influenced in part by a friend who mentioned that Hungarians had historically studied there. At that juncture, procuring train tickets on preferred dates was quite the challenge. Hence, I mailed my application documents ahead of time, traveling to Tartu only when the deadline for submission loomed.
However, upon my arrival in Tartu in August 1975, I was met with an unforeseen revelation: the university did not accept mailed-in applications. When I inquired about my mailed documents, I was told they had been dispatched back to me. This left me flabbergasted. Whether it was the concern evident on my face or sheer goodwill, the lady at the desk took the initiative to rummage through the backroom. To my relief, she returned with my documents, which, as it turned out, hadn’t been sent back after all. This serendipitous turn of events was an early indication that Tartu was my destined place of study. It was only years later that I discovered a familial connection to the place: my great-uncle Vladimir Grabar had been a professor in the Law Department of the University of Tartu in the early 20th century.
When did you first turn to fasting for health reasons?
My move to Estonia for studies presented a myriad of challenges, largely stemming from adjusting to a new environment, cuisine, and language. Amidst this transition, I grappled with a persistent eczema, which seemed resistant to all conventional treatments, even potent steroid creams. Eczema can be attributed to numerous causes, with psychosocial factors (like the stress I experienced in the new setting) and hormonal triggers playing pivotal roles, both orchestrated by the autonomic nervous system.
There was a stretch of months where I couldn’t even wash my hands due to the excruciating pain from cracked blisters. For a 21-year-old medical student, this was particularly distressing and became a major hindrance in daily activities. In desperation, I embarked on a 14-day fasting regimen. To my astonishment, by the end of the first week, there was a noticeable improvement in my skin. While I’ve been practicing fasting for over four decades now, I’ve never fully eradicated the eczema. I’ve noticed that exposure to certain triggers, like preservatives, can cause a flare-up, serving as a reminder of the potential need to take a day off or engage in fasting.
How does your fasting routine look today?
Presently, my fasting routine is largely intuitive, spanning both brief and extended durations. I’ve established a ritual of designating one day a week exclusively for fasting.
For many seasoned fasters, there emerges an innate desire to fast periodically. This is primarily because, upon experiencing certain bodily discomforts, the memory of the post-fasting rejuvenation nudges them to once again embrace the practice.
How did your journey with fasting begin during your medical studies and continue as a doctor?
While pursuing my education at the University of Tartu, I gained hands-on experience working as a nurse in a pulmonary clinic. Later, during my internship, I collaborated with Dr. Toomas Vaprat, who pioneered a unique dietary regimen aimed at alleviating stress for asthma patients in Estonia. His approach stemmed from a partnership with the Leningrad Pulmonology Institute, which had established a novel methodology for treating asthma and allergies. This institute held the distinction of being the sole institution in the Soviet Union where medical practitioners could specialize in stress-free dietary treatment. Upon completing the requisite training, doctors were authorized to implement this approach. Dr. Vaprat was the first in Estonia to obtain this authorization for therapeutic fasting. Subsequently, I too underwent training at this institute and furthered my practical skills there. My doctoral dissertation centered around the treatment of asthma patients using a stress-free diet.
It was in Leningrad (presently St. Petersburg) where I first encountered systematic fasting courses. The medical community there boasted over fifty years of expertise in therapeutic fasting, with extensive scientific research underpinning their methods. Eminent doctors like pulmonologist Prof. A. Kokosov, therapist Prof. I. Buchalovsky, allergist Prof. G. Fedosejev, and pulmonologist F. Osinin had earned their doctoral degrees specifically in the realm of fasting.
And how did you perceive Estonian cuisine when you first tasted it?
My initial introduction to Estonian food involved sandwiches accompanied by a generous pot of coffee. After consuming a sizable mug, I was promptly offered a refill. The preponderance of coffee gave me the impression that it was meant to ease the consumption of the somewhat dry bread. Ideally, breakfast should encompass more than that. While coffee serves as a delightful and energizing beverage, it should not be mistaken for a wholesome breakfast!
How did the vision to establish a fasting center come to fruition?
The seed of the idea was planted during our time at the University of Tartu Pulmonary Clinic. Here, we observed dramatic improvements in asthma patients who underwent fasting treatment after conventional methods and medications failed them. Observing the transformative power of fasting on these patients, I was inspired to explore its potential benefits for other medical conditions. I delved deep into the study of fasting therapy, immersing myself in literature and seeking insights from renowned naturopathic clinics spread across countries like Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Croatia, Hungary, and Austria. This journey fortified my belief in a therapeutic approach that addresses the holistic well-being of the individual.
Gradually, I began to crystallize my unique approach to fasting therapy, which naturally led to the aspiration of founding a dedicated fasting center. In 1998, the vision materialized with the establishment of BIOSPA. For the initial two years, I juggled my responsibilities at the hospital during the daytime, dedicating my evenings to nurturing the fledgling center. It wasn’t long before I recognized the imperative to devote my full attention to BIOSPA to truly bring my vision to life.
Today, I harbor a distinct roadmap for the future of BIOSPA. Our unwavering mission remains: to position ourselves as the premier professional naturopathic center in Estonia. We envision an expansive array of services, encompassing personalized nutrition consultations based on my Baltic Sea Diet, crafting bespoke rehabilitation strategies addressing both physical and psychological well-being, among several other offerings.
What drove the decision to establish BIOSPA in Luunja, the outskirts of the beautiful town of Tartu?
My journey towards establishing BIOSPA was filled with challenges and enlightenments. I initially organized fasting courses in 1993 at the Kubija Hotel in Võru. However, the hotel’s ambiance posed multiple challenges. While the tantalizing food, coffee, and smoking areas tempted and distracted our fasting participants, the hotel management found it challenging to align with the fasting regimen since it wasn’t their primary focus. I recognized that the environment was paramount for the success of fasting, and neither a typical hotel nor a hospital environment would suffice.
This realization sparked a quest for the perfect location, one that was both suitable and carried positive energy. While numerous sites were considered, each had its distinct drawbacks, and financial constraints further complicated the decision-making process. However, in a serendipitous turn of events in 1998, I stumbled upon a location in the village of Muri, within the Luunja municipality close to Tartu. Not only did this site provide the perfect environment to establish Estonia’s first fasting center (and subsequently, the first in the Baltic States as well), but it was also rich in positive energy.
Bioenergetics consultant, Enno Kalde, reaffirmed that the location was energetically potent. The center, once an old cattle barn, is enveloped by a lush park adorned with ancient trees. We’ve enhanced the landscape further by adding two serene lakes, with one spot even possessing curative energetic properties.
When we first beheld the building, it did appear somewhat derelict, both externally and internally. However, the architect, Taisi Kadarik, infused me with the confidence to manifest my vision. Leveraging combined efforts, limited grants from PRIA’s European funds, and sheer determination, we’ve transformed this once somber space into a state-of-the-art fasting center, underpinned by a dedicated and skilled team of professionals.
How has BIOSPA evolved over the years?
BIOSPA’s growth journey commenced in earnest when Otto Stecher from Germany, our curator and consultant, became associated with us in 2002. Otto’s objective outlook, fused with his vast expertise as a business consultant, spotlighted the need to streamline our organization for optimal functioning. Prior to his arrival, BIOSPA’s operations were predominantly centered around me, with me shouldering daily administrative tasks. It became evident that my centralization of responsibilities inadvertently stifled the institution’s growth potential.
2003 marked a pivotal year for us, as the restructuring led to BIOSPA receiving accolades as the premier tourism project in Southern Estonia. This momentum continued with our completion of a quality management program, post which we were awarded the “Sign of Steady Development.” By 2010, the distinctiveness of my Baltic Sea Diet was acknowledged through its patenting across the European Union. Another landmark achievement in 2023 was BIOSPA’s recognition as the inaugural health and competence center in the Nordic region with the prestigious F.X. Mayr health center certification. This underscores our commitment to the transformative F.X. Mayr methodology, which holistically promotes body cleansing, healing, and rejuvenation. Further, that same year, BIOSPA’s commitment to excellence and community was acknowledged when we were listed amongst the Top 10 Family Businesses.
At the heart of BIOSPA’s sustained growth and evolution are our devoted employees. Their steadfast commitment, adaptability, and pursuit of excellence ensure our services remain top-tier. Illustrating this, in 2009, our physiotherapists undertook advanced training at a renowned diet and fasting clinic in Bad Wörishofen, Germany, absorbing cutting-edge naturopathic techniques and hydrotherapy practices. We’ve since integrated this wealth of knowledge into our patient treatments.
BIOSPA‘s dual mission is evident: We offer therapeutic fasting, dietary guidance, and rehabilitation services while simultaneously cultivating a mindset of proactive health management in our patients. Our daily educational sessions, comprising lectures and personalized discussions, aim to impart foundational knowledge about the principles and benefits of fasting. We underscore the harmony between dietary practices and physical activity as vital for holistic well-being. For those seeking a more personalized approach, we also offer food intolerance tests, guiding them towards a more tailored dietary regimen post their stay with us.
Our goal is more than mere symptom management. We endeavor to grant our patients the insights and tools to reconceptualize their health in its entirety. This broader understanding, fortified by the transformative fasting experience, has spurred numerous individuals to recalibrate their lifestyles, preventing potential health challenges down the road.
BIOSPA has a healing garden. What is it?
How did the need for Biokliinik arise?