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Intermittent fasting: what's behind the trend?

If you want to lose weight, you have to watch what and how much you eat. At least that was the motto until now. Now a new trend is turning this common dietary recommendation on its head: intermittent fasting (also known as intermittent fasting). The concept is more about when you eat. The media is currently all about intermittent fasting. Read our blog post today to find out whether this hype is justified.

Table of contents
  • The principle behind it
  • Intermittent fasting: more than just weight loss
  • How do I implement intermittent fasting in everyday life
  • ? Is intermittent fasting suitable for everyone
  • Intermittent fasting - expert interview

The principle behind it

Our metabolism is the legacy of our ancestors: In the Stone Age, phases without food intake were completely normal everyday life. Today, on the other hand, there are treats waiting for us on every corner and the fridge is always full. We eat all the time. Unfortunately, the increasing food supply also increases the number of so-called lifestyle diseases (e.g. obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure). Regular periods of fasting are more in line with our genetic heritage and are beneficial for our metabolism and health. In contrast to therapeutic fasting - where you abstain from all calorie intake - intermittent fasting means that you only abstain from eating for a few hours or days at a time (intermittent = temporarily interrupted). This puts less strain on the body and is also much easier to implement and maintain. In addition, the metabolism does not switch to starvation mode during intermittent fasting, which means there is no yo-yo effect.

Intermittent fasting: more than just weight loss

During the time without food intake, the body mobilizes its energy reserves: the glycogen and especially the fat deposits. Regular periods of fasting are therefore noticeable on the scales. Provided you eat a balanced diet during the non-fasting phase and do not consume an excessive amount of calories. The good thing about intermittent fasting is that it is suitable as a long-term dietary change and is not a short-term diet. Studies also suggest that you lose more fat but less muscle mass with intermittent fasting compared to conventional calorie-reduced diets.

But fasting also has other health benefits. In combination with a plant-based diet and exercise, it can prevent or positively influence the course of diseases such as cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. Intermittent fasting is also said to strengthen the immune system and increase stress resistance, mental fitness and creativity. Experimental studies even suggest that intermittent fasting slows down the ageing process.

Two substances in particular are thought to be responsible for these positive effects: Insulin and IGF-1. The hormone insulin is released after a meal containing carbohydrates. It ensures that our body cells can absorb sugar (in the form of glucose) and the blood sugar level drops. At the same time, it inhibits the breakdown of fat, as the body now has enough sugar available to produce energy. During fasting periods, insulin levels are low and the breakdown of fat is in full swing. The same applies to IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) - here too, blood concentrations are low during fasting. The insulin-like growth factor IGF-1 is associated with the development of cancer, for example.

Unfortunately, the scientific background to intermittent fasting comes mainly from animal experiments. Initial studies now show that the health-promoting effect is also produced in humans. In addition, the many positive testimonials speak for themselves.

How do I implement intermittent fasting in everyday life? The great advantage of intermittent fasting is that it is easy to integrate into everyday life and uncomplicated to carry out. Instead of counting calories, you simply count hours. You can generally eat whatever you feel like. Of course, sugary and fatty foods should only be eaten in moderation. Nutrient-rich, plant-based foods such as fruit and vegetables, nuts, pulses, potatoes and wholegrain products are ideal. Meals with a high protein content fill you up for longer and make it easier to keep going. You can find delicious protein-rich recipes here. Water, unsweetened tea and coffee can also be consumed during the fasting phase.

There are different forms of intermittent fasting, depending on whether you want to fast for whole days or just a few hours. The two best known are the 16:8 method and the 5:2 method. The latter is also known as alternate-day fasting. In this form of fasting, you eat very little or nothing (approx. 500 kcal) on two days of the week and eat normally on the remaining days.

With the 16:8 method, on the other hand, you eat according to this pattern seven days a week: 16 hours of fasting are followed by 8 hours of food intake. So if you have breakfast at 10:00 in the morning, you should eat your last meal by 18:00 at the latest. Which method is better is an individual decision. Some people find it easier to integrate the 16:8 method into their daily routine, while others prefer alternate-day fasting. If you find intermittent fasting difficult, you can also start with a shorter fasting period than 16 hours and slowly increase the number of hours.

Is intermittent fasting suitable for everyone?

In principle, intermittent fasting is suitable for everyone. Provided you are healthy. For diabetics, for example, intermittent fasting can lead to life-threatening hypoglycaemia. The following therefore applies to diabetics and other illnesses: Always consult your doctor. In addition, pregnant women, nursing mothers, children and adolescents should avoid intermittent fasting as they have increased nutritional requirements.

Intermittent fasting - interview with experts

We spoke to Dominik Mayer, an expert from www.intervall-fasten.de, the leading portal on intermittent fasting.

What is the advantage of intermittent fasting?

Dominik Mayer: Intermittent fasting has a lot of benefits, which can basically be divided into two categories: 1) Intermittent fasting helps us to lose weight, which is primarily thanks to a lower meal frequency. 2) Intermittent fasting protects our health. Various studies have proven the effectiveness of fasting. Particularly noticeable here is the improvement in blood sugar levels and the increased activity of autophagy, which is also known as the "garbage disposal of the cells".

Can you really eat as you please during intermittent fasting?

Dominik Mayer: Eating on a whim is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration - as intermittent fasting is a long-term form of nutrition, there is no need for tiresome calorie counting. However, this is not a free pass for junk food - a healthy and balanced diet is also recommended for intermittent fasting.


Who is intermittent fasting not suitable for?

Dominik Mayer: Breastfeeding and pregnant women should not do intermittent fasting. Children are also not advised to fast. In some cases, seniors are also advised against intermittent fasting, but this is not the rule. We have accompanied many senior citizens on intermittent fasting who cope very well with this form of nutrition. However, prior consultation with your family doctor is certainly advisable.

How long does it take the body to get used to the new eating rhythm? Dominik Mayer: The adaptation period varies from person to person and, in our experience, averages 7-10 days. Some intermittent fasting users get on well from day one - other breakfast lovers may need 14 days. But humans are creatures of habit and after two weeks at the latest, the body should be in "fasting mode".

Do you have any tips on how to make the changeover easier and trick the feeling of hunger? Dominik Mayer: The most effective way to trick hunger a little: drink a lot! If you get hungry, you should first drink two glasses of water, which will trick your stomach into feeling full. Otherwise, distraction is great - an hour of exercise at the gym, for example, is very effective!

Many people skip a meal during intermittent fasting. Is there a risk of reaching a nutritional deficit here?

Dominik Mayer: No, there is no such risk. A classic way of carrying out intermittent fasting 16/8 is to skip breakfast. This is followed by a full meal for lunch and dinner. Even with just one meal a day, we can provide the body with sufficient vitamins and nutrients; the important thing is that we eat a healthy and balanced diet.

Sources:
Bracht P. Intermittent fasting for a long life - slim and healthy. 2018, GU publishing house www.ndr.de/ratgeber/gesundheit/Gesund-abnehmen-mit-Intervall-Fasten,fasten224.html www.bzfe.de/_data/files/online_spezial_7_2017_intervallfasten.pdf Brandhorst S. et al. A Periodic Diet that Mimics Fasting Promotes Multi-System Regeneration, Enhanced Cognitive Performance, and Healthspan. Cell 2015 22(1):86-99 Photo by i yunmai on Unsplash