Life

Intermittent fasting - Win by losing

from Mag. Margit Weichselbraun
on 06.06.2022

Less is often more, even when you're planning meals. Because, regardless of the underlying motive, voluntarily abstaining from food has amazing effects on our body. Under certain circumstances, systematic abstention can make the pounds or kilos melt away and trigger a number of desirable results. One of the most important current trends in the nutrition sector is probably “intermittent fasting”. We'll take a look behind the scenes to show you how this method works and what else it can do.

Intermittent fasting: Eating by the clock

Intermittent fasting. This is the name of the new weight loss trend that is determined by the clock. In contrast to traditional fasting, when a person fasts continuously for several days to weeks, the most popular variant – 16:8 intermittent fasting – means avoiding food and caloric drinks for only 16 hours per day. You can eat “normally” by having two meals during the remaining eight hours. And that’s what ultimately makes this fasting method so popular, because most of us can easily integrate 16: 8 intermittent fasting into our daily life without constantly starving ourselves or counting calories.

Interval fasting methods: All a question of timing.

16:8

There should be 16 hours between the last meal of the previous day and the first meal of the new day. Then you can have two meals during the eight-hour “eating window”. Usually skipping breakfast or dinner (dinner canceling) is enough.

5:2

Fasting two days per week. Maximum 500 calories are allowed on these two fasting days.

1:1

Alternating fasting and eating days. On fasting days, do not consume any calories in the form of food or drink. 

Intermittent fasting: Hiatus for healing

Self-imposed abstention sets certain levers inside the body in motion. The healing time-out keeps the level of our fat storage hormone insulin low, which is the ideal condition for unimpeded fat loss. In addition, abstaining from a meal increases the activity of special cellular cleaning and waste disposal mechanisms (autophagy); this cleansing process has a regenerative effect. Studies with worms, flies, mice and monkeys also showed that fasting extends the life of animals by reprogramming the body’s internal clock and related metabolic processes. Whether this effect also applies to humans still needs to be clarified in human studies.

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Autophagy: Cellular spring cleaning

Fasting not only melts away pounds or kilos, it also revitalizes our cells. The underlying mechanism is called ”autophagy”. But what is it exactly? Imagine you are living in a dilapidated house. The roof is leaky, the walls are rotten, the plaster is peeling. Autophagy, in that case, would be the construction company that helps you remove the dilapidated parts of the house, and repairs and recycles the materials to rejuvenate the building. On a physical level, autophagy works like a cellular garbage disposal team. This self-cleaning program helps cells to dispose of damaged or incorrectly folded proteins and even whole organelles and recycle them. This is important for maintaining the vitality of the cells, as damaged cell material is a burden on cellular health, and in the worst case can cause health problems. Learn more: Autophagy

Intermittent fasting: Our bacterial zoo fasts with us.

Studies have shown that intermittent fasting appears to have another benefit: Eating by the clock restores the balance of our intestinal flora. Because of the self-imposed break from eating, we not only fast, but also allow the microbial inhabitants of our intestines take a break, which can change the bacterial composition and diversity of our intestinal flora. Bad bacteria are replaced by good bacteria. The exciting thing about these microbial changes is that the newly composed intestinal flora can even help us lose weight.

Intermittent fasting: Playing a yo-yo game?

To clarify the question, let's look back in time: Our metabolism has been accustomed to recurring fasting periods since the dawn of humankind. In times of abundance, people stuffed themselves until they were close to collapsing. In times of scarcity, on the other hand, their stomach could remain empty for days. Either way, our body was well equipped to handle these changes. By building up energy reserves and reducing our energy consumption, we were able to survive extended periods of hunger. In addition, after a few days of no food, our organism still has the ability to produce energy from muscle protein.

Returning to today’s topic: Whether responding to a shortage of food or a voluntary diet, our body reacts nowadays just as it used to in the distant past. If your calorie intake is reduced, your body will eventually dial down your metabolism. This can result in the loss of muscle mass. When we start eating normally again, although our metabolism is still saving energy, we quickly regain weight. And we often gain more weight than we lost. If this happens more than once, we start to suffer from what’s known as the yo-yo effect.

What about intermittent fasting? When used correctly, this method appears to be exempt from the yo-yo effect. The key difference between intermittent fasting and longer, calorie-restricted diets is that short-term fasting does not slow down our metabolism and does not cause any loss of muscle mass.

How long does it take to lose weight with interval fasting?

Unfortunately, it is not possible to say how patient you have to be to lose weight with interval fasting or what amount of weight loss you can expect with this method. After all, every person is different. But what you can definitely say is that people who are very overweight and don’t have crash diet experience (keyword: yo-yo effect) lose weight more quickly than those who are only slightly overweight.

In addition, calorie intake during the “eating window” also plays a role. People who eat natural, healthy, and balanced foods during the meal phases will have better success than those who eat fast food, sweets, and snacks during the eating periods.

Interval fasting: 5 tips for novices

1. Try fasting a bit at a time:

If you have problems fasting for 16 hours right away, you can gradually increase your fasting time up to the maximum of 16 hours.

2. Take it slow with sport:

Exercise supports weight loss and counteracts muscle breakdown – but fasting novices in particular should approach it gently, so that the body has time to come to terms with the reduced energy intake.

3. Don’t starve in the eating phases:

Eat “normally” and do not starve during the meal window. Not only does starvation eat away at your resolution, but it also fuels dissatisfaction and the risk of a yo-yo effect.

4. Beware of binge eating:

Interval fasting should not be an excuse for uninhibited binge eating. Particularly people who want to work on their body weight with this method should not ingest the calories saved by bingeing.

5. Find buddies:

As with so many things in life: Everything works better with a buddy. Whether your partner, colleague or friend, sharing your stomach rumbles and the like makes interval fasting easier.

Which method is best for beginners?

A good entry into interval fasting is the 16/8 method. This method involves fasting for 16 hours and eating normally for eight hours, with bedtime included in the 16 hours. In practice, this simply means cutting out breakfast or dinner.

How long should you interval fast?

From ancient times, our organism has been used to periods of fasting. This makes interval fasting an extremely natural method that can be practiced for as long as it fits into your life.

Are there any other rules to consider?

Anyone who practices interval fasting should be careful not to eat more or more unhealthy foods than usual during the meal windows. Drinking is always allowed during fasting. However, calorie-free beverages such as water, mineral water, unsweetened tea or black, unsweetened coffee (in moderation) should be taken.

Is interval fasting suitable for everyone?

Although interval fasting is usually good for most people, in certain cases you should not start fasting without doing some research. People with metabolic disorders, chronic disorders, cancers, migraines, and hypotension (= low blood pressure) should consult their doctor beforehand. Interval fasting should be avoided in the event of eating disorders, underweight, and during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Why shouldn’t you interval fast during pregnancy?

The creation of new life is a time of huge change for the female body and demands a greater amount of micronutrients and energy. Therefore, in order to ensure the smooth development of the mother and unborn child, regular and balanced nutrition should be ensured during pregnancy and diets and fasting (even interval fasting) of any kind should be avoided.

Is there a difference in interval fasting for women and men?

Women of childbearing age should actually fast at different intervals from men. Longer-term fasting may cause the female hormone balance to be disrupted, which can affect both the menstrual cycle and fertility. Therefore, women of childbearing age should limit their fasting periods to a maximum of 12 to 13 hours and generally refrain from fasting during their monthly period.

Pssst. And last but not least, a practical tip...

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