No pasta, no chocolate, no pleasurable feasting: constantly having to do without is a bad idea for many. What is easier: intermittent fasting. Hours or days of fasting alternate with times when you can eat normally.
Possible options include a 2:5 rule, i.e. fasting for 2 days and eating normally for 5 days, or a 16:8 variant, i.e. fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8 hours. “People are not originally used to constant meals,” says the Hamburg diabetologist and NDR “nutrition doc” Matthias Riedl. Our ancestors were prepared for periods of fasting due to their living conditions. Only when the hunt was successful or the harvest was ripe could food be eaten. Alternating between periods of fasting and periods of food intake therefore corresponds to a natural way of life, it is, so to speak, “human nutrition appropriate to the species”, explains Riedl.
Since there are no longer any hunger phases in our everyday lives with regular meals and lots of snacks, “the body is constantly in storage mode,” says Riedl, who sits on the board of the Association of Nutritionists. Possible consequences can be obesity and the resulting diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or dementia. However, if hunger phases are built into everyday life, as with intermittent fasting, the organism learns to draw on its own reserves again. Insulin levels drop and fat breakdown is stimulated.
The Konstanz sports scientist, author and health consultant Michael Despeghel also emphasizes that constant snacking has a negative effect on the metabolism. With intermittent fasting, on the other hand, the body is relieved and the metabolism and organs can regenerate. Despeghel advocates the 2:5 method. He recommends reducing calorie intake to 500 calories a day two days a week. Eat as usual for the remaining five days. Simply by reducing the total weekly number of calories, there is a good chance of losing weight sustainably with comparatively little change in everyday life.
The advantage: the fasting days can be chosen according to personal circumstances. If you don’t want to miss out on the big Sunday breakfast with your family, you fast on weekdays. Those who constantly have to attend business meals during the week take the strain off their bodies at the weekend. On the fasting days, it is important to drink a lot, emphasizes Despeghel – preferably water, tea and vegetable broth. Once a day there is a protein-rich meal that provides the body with a minimum amount of energy and thus prevents muscle mass from being broken down.
The Munich fitness trainer and nutritionist Hanjo Fritzsche practices intermittent fasting permanently. He lives according to the 16:8 method and skips breakfast. Since he eats normally for eight hours a day, he only drinks water the rest of the time. “In the first few weeks you think a lot about food,” says Fritzsche. Some people complain about headaches and difficulty concentrating. In Fritzsche’s experience, however, once the body has gotten used to the new rhythm, one feels awake and can concentrate better. Animal experiments also show that temporary periods of fasting have a positive effect on mood and mental performance, says Riedl. In mice and rats, the immune system also benefited, and even life expectancy increased.
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In principle, intermittent fasting is suitable for anyone who manages to keep up the fasting periods and integrate them into their weekly routine, says Riedl. An important experience for many fasting people is that they can easily go without a meal or two. According to Fritzsche, this has a liberating effect. Knowing that you can go without a meal for a while allows you to plan your day much more flexibly. At the start of intermittent fasting, Despeghel recommends a look in the mirror in order to be able to realistically assess the current state. A first goal could be to lose five centimeters of waist circumference. Then it is important to determine the fasting days for the week and to plan what to eat on those days. The expert recommends that you log your initial situation and initial successes – this motivates you.
According to the experts, it is helpful to accompany intermittent fasting with sport and exercise. “Sitting drives blood sugar levels up,” says Despeghel. That’s counterproductive. Exercise, on the other hand, strengthens general well-being in addition to reducing calories and shows the fasting person “I am powerful”. Training on an empty stomach is “one of the best fat burning strategies of all”, agrees fitness trainer Fritzsche. The body is forced to fall back on its reserves, fat burning is optimized and even stubborn fat deposits in problem areas can be melted.