According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than two billion people worldwide are considered overweight. That’s nearly one-third of the world’s population. One in ten people on earth is classified as obese to very obese. Even more frightening than the numbers, is the time span in which the number of overweight people has doubled: It’s only been 50 years! Never before has mankind gained as much weight as now. Looking into the future, this is an extremely worrying situation. But overweight has not always been a human problem. The constant increase in the weight of the world’s population is rather a threatening phenomenon of modern times. Because our Stone Age ancestors did not know about extra weight, accumulated fat or diets. They had not yet settled down and did not use any preservation methods for their food, so they lived on regular hunting to fill their stomachs. If once they were unsuccessful in hunting, the whole group had to starve until the next day. There was a struggle for life and death on a daily basis. But how was it possible for Stone Age hunters, despite the lack of food, to achieve enormous accomplishments and capture dangerous animals? The solution is simple: Early Homo sapiens were optimally adapted to short-term starvation. Or rather to intermittent fasting.
Behind this abstract term lies a simple principle: The metabolism of Stone Age people was accustomed to eating only at certain times (usually at night). The rest of the day was lived beside the flames and under the renunciation of food. But that did not weaken the Stone Age people. On the contrary. The temporary, albeit involuntary, fasting, which lasted from half a day to a few days, made them even more agile and fit. You can imagine it like this: If you eat lunch, you will feel saturated afterwards, but mostly tired and unfocused. The reason for this is obvious: Your body spends some of its energy to break down and digest the food you feed. So you are not fully utilizing your powers any more. Every time you eat something, whether it’s a snack or a main meal, you are temporarily depleting your strength.
But that’s not the only problem. Since food is constantly presented to us in modern times, many people tend to fill up almost without interruption. They no longer listen to their instinctive feeling of hunger and completely ignore their feeling of satiety. The result: the metabolism runs in a continuous loop like a car engine that is not turned off – and at some point the metabolism, like the engine, goes completely out of control and breaks down. Diabetes, hypertension, obesity and other cardiovascular diseases will appear sooner or later. Intermittent fasting starts exactly at this point. With the help of this Stone Age fasting concept, you learn to listen to your body and your metabolism again – just as your ancestors did. You can learn how to eat more healthily and consciously – without feeling hungry and without a guilty conscience. Contrary to popular opinion, this type of fasting does not mean that you do not eat any food permanently, nor do you have to starve yourself for days on end. No, hunger definitely does not belong on any menu. You will go saturated throughout the day and at the same time increase your fat burning. Your body awareness, agility and focus will also sustainably improve. This will make you feel stronger and you will be able to gain new benefits from yourself and your body.
What is Behind Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a subspecies of traditional fasting, as it is known from the Christian tradition of the Fortieth (40-day fast). With fasting, it is a dietary drain of several days to several weeks. During the fasting period, humans do not eat any solid food, but feed exclusively on hot tea and unsweetened coffee, freshly brewed broths or mineral water. In some cultures, soft foods are also permitted at certain times of the day, for example after sunset. However, they must have a certain caloric value and be neither too fatty nor too rich in calories. Basically, fasting has two purposes: religious purification and penance or improvement of one’s health.
This intention is also pursued by intermittent fasting, which was named after the Latin term “intermittere”. Translated, “intermittent” means “to interrupt”. Because with this type of fasting, food is not given up for several days or weeks, but only for a period of up to 24 hours. Food intake is interrupted only briefly, so to speak. Simply put: The fasting person undergoes a change in eating and fasting times within 24 to 48 hours. He or she is allowed to eat at strictly regulated times and times of day. Depending on the fasting method chosen, it may be early, midday or evening, every day or two days. As a result, the metabolism breaks down into a fixed rhythm of energy intake and release, similar to a small child slowly getting used to fixed sleep schedules. The metabolism knows, “At 18:00 there is finally food!” or, “After I get up I get nothing!” This is an essential difference from traditional fasting.
In nutritional science, intermittent fasting is also known as interval or short-term fasting. A distinction is made between two basic gross types: You take daily fasting periods (hourly fasting) or fast every week for several days (24-24 method and 2 to 5 method). When you fast hourly, you can choose between different time periods, including the Warrior diet (20-4 method) and the Leangains method (16-4 method). The first number always indicates the duration of the fasting period, the second number indicates the duration of the meal. With the warrior diet you are allowed to eat four hours a day, 20 hours of fasting.
In order not to be hungry during such a long fasting, the window of time for mealtime should ideally be between late breakfast and early dinner. This is especially recommended if you are a beginner in intermittent fasting and have no experience with such nutrition concepts. So you can eat two or three meals and/or snacks a day despite a 20-hour fasting period – depending on your caloric needs and individual hunger. If you wish, you can also skip breakfast completely and start fasting at noon for hours. But especially in the beginning this will be quite difficult. So when fasting intermittently, be sure to pay attention to your body and your body’s feelings. It is best to discuss your plans with your doctor in advance. This is particularly true for people who are very obese and those with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Health risks can play a role that should not be underestimated.
A more extreme form of intermittent fasting is 24-hour fasting. In this case, the fasting person forgoes solid food for a full day. The only allowed beverages allowed are water, black coffee and unsweetened tea. At the end of the fasting period, there is a 24-72 hour meal, during which the fasting person eats as usual. This is followed by the next fasting day. Depending on the method chosen, either the 24-24 method or the 2-5 method, two to four fasting days are taken per week. If you opt for the 2-5 method, it is advisable to select the mandatory fasting days in advance so that your metabolism can adjust to a fixed rhythm. For example, it is possible to fast every Wednesday and Saturday. The rest of the days are mealtimes.
But be careful: Don’t fill up on unhealthy food during meals. This would only place an unnecessary burden on your metabolism and you would not lose a single gram of weight, but possibly suffer a bad yo-yo effect or even gain weight. For this reason, intermittent fasting should only be carried out in conjunction with a well thought-out diet plan tailored to your body to achieve the best possible results. Finally, intermittent fasting is not a nutritional conversion in reality and neither is it a diet in the conventional sense, but only a supplementary nutritional concept. You should never confuse that!
Why Does Intermittent Fasting Make Sense?
Today it is common to eat three to five meals a day. This is one meal every three to four hours with a waking time of about 16 hours. We seem to eat all day long – without a break. But our metabolism is not built for such a constant flood of food. Rather, it works according to the tried and tested principle, as was already common among hunters and gatherers: First energy must be consumed and released (through hunting), then new energy is supplied to the body in the form of food (the game prey). It is very simple. This metabolic balance, however, is out of place in most industrialized countries – for three good reasons: The enormous lack of exercise, the constant availability of food and the empty calories in industrially produced food. Our metabolism works to digest the excess food supplied and separate its important components (vital substances) from the unimportant ones (emulsifiers, flavor enhancers and trans fats). However, the metabolism is almost never saturated and screams for more and more. Often, “modern” and overprocessed foods contain hardly any vital minerals, vitamins and fatty acids, but an abundance of empty calories and trans fats. These do not nourish the body, but make it fat, sluggish and sick.
A return to the concept of primitive nutrition, intermittent fasting, is here the optimal strategy for a healthy being, as it grants the metabolism the superfluous and well-deserved long recovery breaks and, at the same time, cleans it thoroughly. You can imagine it like after a marathon: Before you can walk the next 42 kilometers, you first need a few days of rest, possibly even good physiotherapy, to recover properly. The same applies to the human metabolism, whose function has changed only slightly since the Stone Age. Intermittent fasting is not only recommended from an evolutionary point of view. Your digestive system also benefits from the short period of fasting. If you do not feed your body, your esophagus, stomach, intestine, liver, pancreas, spleen and stomach have nothing to do. After all, there is no food paste that needs to be converted, processed or excreted. Therefore, your digestive organs use this time to thoroughly cleanse themselves, with the help of the body’s own secretions and enzymes. In this way, especially intestinal fungi and other infections can be fought effectively and from the inside out. Some people even report that their food intolerances and allergies have improved or even stopped completely due to intermittent fasting.
In view of recent research results from the Duke Medical Center this is not surprising. The U.S. research group was able to discover that short-term fasting has an extremely positive effect on the entire human organism. Since the metabolism during fasting is not fully occupied with the utilization of food, it uses this time to engage in dysfunctions and repairs. Among other things, cholesterol and blood fat levels are corrected, inflammation and blood sugar levels are normalized, insulin sensitivity and cholesterol levels are improved and blood pressure is regulated. In short: All common diseases can be sustainably treated by intermittent fasting. All without regular doctor visits, complex therapies.
The mitochondria run at full speed during intermittent fasting. Now they can seamlessly engage in energy production in the cells without being distracted by secondary metabolic work. The mitochondria first use the carbohydrates stored in the cells as a source of energy. When these are completely exhausted, the fat reserves are depleted. In case of glucose withdrawal, the fatty acids are converted into ketone bodies and stored in the liver. Ketone bodies are energy substitutes that are even better for the body than other energy sources, such as simple and multiple sugars. This is because in the metabolic process of ketogenesis (the production of ketone bodies) enormous energy is released, leading to a real energy kick in the body and especially in the brain. This is precisely the reason why many people who fast intermittently feel much fitter and more agile than with carbohydrate-rich foods.
At the same time, intermittent fasting stimulates the release of the growth hormone HGH (“human growth hormone”). Normally, the production of this hormone decreases continuously from the mid-30s onwards. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that fat burning is delayed, brain performance is reduced and bones and muscles are only sporadically and slowly formed. With the help of intermittent fasting you can not only stop this aging process, but you can also reverse it completely and increase your HGH production by 1,300 percent (for women) up to 2,000 percent (for men). The insulin level is responsible for this increased hormone release. As has been shown in several studies, there is a close relationship between HGH production, insulin level and intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting means that sometimes no simple sugars enter the metabolism, which reduces insulin production to zero. This relieves stress on the pancreas and regulates the insulin level in the blood. This also benefits the production of HGH. This hormone is only produced by the pineal gland in the brain when the insulin level is low. The same applies to fat reduction and the production of happiness hormones.
You may now suspect that a low insulin level may be conducive to cravings. That may happen, at least at first. However, after a few days of intermittent fasting, this craving will regulate itself. A fluctuating insulin level is, in fact, much more harmful to health and supports more weight than a low insulin level. For example, if you give your body a small snack every half hour, whether it’s a few nuts, a piece of fruit or a chocolate bar, your pancreas produces insulin almost continuously to keep your blood sugar at normal levels. Over the long term, this eating behavior can fatigue the pancreas and lead to insulin resistance. It is also popularly known as type 2 diabetes. The affected person is no longer able to control his or her blood sugar independently. This results in cravings and organ damage. Some athletes even use the HGH principle as an integral part of their sports program. They consciously place their weight training units during fasting to optimally stimulate their ketogenesis and keep the insulin level to a minimum. At the next meal, they consciously feed themselves protein-rich, low-carbohydrate nutrition, which is almost entirely transported directly into the cells, where it is used for energy production and muscle building. The result: faster and more efficient muscle building with minimal body fat.
In combination with “self-cleansing” (the self-cleansing of the body), which starts automatically after 14 hours of fasting, the increased production of HGH is a real source of rejuvenation for you. Therefore, not only will you feel better and healthier on the inside, but you will look better on the outside. Your complexion becomes more radiant, your skin firmer, your hair fuller and your body more defined. In addition to beauty and physical fitness, your mental health also benefits from intermittent fasting. The reduced insulin level stimulates the production of protective proteins, which have an antioxidant effect and maintain the health of neuronal nerve cells. They detect damage to neurotransmitters, send error analyses to other areas of the brain and implement structural repairs. In this way, age-related nerve damage such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and dementia are optimally prevented. But the best thing about intermittent fasting is that you can lose weight relatively slowly, but sustainably and healthily. Fasting crises, as in traditional fasting, and yo-yo effects, as in crash dieting, are quite unusual.
What Are the Disadvantages of Intermittent Fasting?
Despite all its advantages, intermittent fasting cannot be carried out without hesitation. Women in particular suffer – albeit rarely – from physical and psychological impairments, especially during the transition phase. They experience symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, decreased glucose tolerance, sexual unwillingness, headaches and iron deficiency more frequently than average. Sometimes, menstruation may also delay. The reason for the hypersensitivity of the female gender is obvious: Their hormonal balance is extremely complex and subject to considerably greater fluctuations than the male hormonal balance. Therefore, it can happen, for example, that a short period of food abstinence is immediately classified as a nutrient deficiency and the female metabolism becomes alert. This is especially true for women who have already consumed an unhealthy, high-calorie, high-fat diet.
People with thyroid problems, impaired adrenal function, liver damage, gout and eating disorders of any kind (obesity and anorexia), as well as diabetics, pregnant women and nursing mothers should also enjoy intermittent fasting with caution. Ideally, these at-risk groups should discuss in advance with their treating physician whether they can fast, how long their fasting periods can last, which additional nutrients should be added and what other aspects should be taken into account. Especially pregnant women and diabetics could suffer from acute nutrient deficiency without medical attention, which is reflected in oxidative stress and leads to the symptoms mentioned above. In the worst case, even the fetus and/or the entire metabolism could suffer irreversible damage.
Another problem with intermittent fasting is its feasibility. The fact that the fasting persons are tied to their fixed fasting times makes them inflexible in their food intake. This can also affect interaction with friends, acquaintances and family. A spontaneous dinner or a beer after work during fasting is strictly forbidden. However, you can also postpone these interactions to free fasting days or hours (“mealtime”). Just be creative and come up with an emergency solution in such a case, but do not give up your fasting concept under any circumstances. Because then you have to start all over again, and the change phase is the worst.
And so we come to the last problem: The beginning. Before you can begin intermittent fasting, you must decide on a method. For beginners, the hourly fasting or 2-5 method is probably the most suitable. Only advanced users should try the 24-24 method. Once you have decided on a method, set the fasting hours and days. Then we’re ready to go. It sounds as simple as that, but it’s not. After all, after a few days you will realize that fasting promotes you physically and mentally and shows you your personal limits. Therefore, you should bring with you a good portion of patience, self-improvement and discipline to be able to resist all temptations at the beginning, even ravenous hunger attacks.
Is Intermittent Fasting Suitable for Everyone?
Intermittent fasting is not for everyone, as mentioned above. If you do not belong to any of the risk groups listed there, nothing stands in the way of short-term fasting from a health point of view. However, you should ask yourself beforehand if this nutrition concept is really something for you. Are you ready to change your life and your diet from scratch? Do you want to lose weight permanently or detoxify your body completely? Is there any other method or diet that has similar success with you? It is best to write a pro and con list before you start fasting. This way, you will internally solidify your decision to actually do intermittent fasting. Contrary to the common opinion of many advocates, workers can also fast without problems. With a little preparation and a little planning, both hourly fasting and 24-hour fasting days can be integrated into daily work life. All you have to do is make sure to put your meal time (on hourly fasts) during working hours so that you can enjoy at least one meal at work. The 24-hour fasting days, on the other hand, can be survived with sufficient hydration of at least three liters per day. During the first few days it will be difficult to watch your colleagues eat while you are only allowed to drink liquid. Think of a distraction strategy to avoid being tempted. Take a walk around the block and soak up the sunshine, or continue working during your lunch break. You will quickly realize what is best for you and your body.
Even for overweight people, intermittent fasting is a good way to lose weight and get one step closer to the desired figure. However, it must be decided on a case-by-case basis and depending on the degree of obesity, whether fasting alone is effective enough, whether dietary supplements should be taken, whether a sports workload should be carried or whether calories should be counted. Especially obese people and those who have had an unhealthy diet for years will not be able to avoid an elaborate nutritional plan so as not to fall into the “food trap” and uninhibitedly fill themselves up if they have the opportunity to do so at mealtime. Another target group for intermittent fasting are people of normal weight who wish to keep their bodies healthy, purified and clean. These people do not necessarily need to change their diet, but can continue to eat all foods as long as they do not adversely affect metabolic activity and overall condition. But this will become evident in the course of fasting and eating times.
But don’t forget: Despite sufficient preparations, success, as with all diets and nutrition concepts, is not guaranteed with intermittent fasting. Because everybody, every metabolism and every person reacts differently to the temporary renunciation of food, both physically and psychologically.
What are the Points to be Considered as a Beginner?
Since every human being has a different metabolism, it is difficult to work out a binding fasting plan. But one thing is clear: First you have to get used to fasting. This is especially true for your habits and your psyche. For example those who normally have their first coffee with milk promptly at eight o’clock in the morning now have to drink it without milk and may initially have some problems with this change. This is normal, and individual habits are accompanied by individual challenges that cannot necessarily be anticipated in advance. Therefore, try different methods and strategies before deciding on a final, long-term fasting and nutrition plan. Also, slowly introduce fasting into your body, otherwise you run the risk of being physically and psychologically overloaded and feeling stronger symptoms during the change phase. You can imagine it like a sport: If you are training for a marathon, don’t start with the full distance right away. You run five kilometers for a month, then increase to ten kilometers until at some point you can survive 42 kilometers without any problems.
It is the same with fasting. You need to improve slowly so that your body and mind get used to the new concept of nutrition. It is best to start by fasting by the hour, as a 24-hour fasting period will initially be too strenuous for you. Divide your day into twelve hours of fasting and twelve hours of eating. Put the fasting time into the nightly rest, so that you should do without food in the waking time only about four hours longer. As usual, eat three main meals at mealtime and drink enough – at least two liters – to support the fast efficiently. Depending on your lifestyle, you will most likely have to plan an early dinner or a late breakfast so as not to exceed the window of time, the 12-hour mealtime. But you can also eat late at night and even go out with friends if you shift your fasting time to the evening and morning hours. That’s up to you.
Follow this fasting method (the 12-12 method with three main meals) for a whole week. If you have been successful, you will be able to do without food in the second week. Only two main meals are allowed within 12 hours of mealtime. This should be planned into the nutrition plan. If, for example, you do not eat breakfast, you can already have lunch at 11:30 am. Dinner will be at 17:00 pm. If you prefer not to eat dinner, you can prepare breakfast and lunch at a later date. Snacks are still allowed. If you have mastered this step, you can slowly increase your fasting times. Instead of 12 hours, now fast 13 or 14 hours in the third week. Increase by a maximum of two more hours from week to week until you have reached the warrior diet (20 to 4 method). If the 20-hour fast does not cause you any problems, you can also try other methods such as the 2 to 5 method or the 24-24 method. It is also possible to combine several methods. For example, you can use the 18 to 6 method from Monday to Wednesday. So you fast for 18 hours and are allowed to eat for six hours. From Thursday to Sunday you switch to the 24-24 method. You alternate between one day of fasting and one day of eating.
What sounds so simple in theory is not so easy in practice. Beginners to fasting in particular are very uncertain as to how they are allowed to behave during fasting and meal times and therefore make many mistakes that can be avoided. One of the worst mistakes is nutrient starvation. Even if you only have six hours to eat, you need to provide your metabolism with enough vital substances (amino acids, vitamins and minerals) to stay healthy and fit. If necessary, food supplements can be used.
Since calories are saved by beveling time distributed throughout the day, many beginners also make the mistake of cramming in mealtime uncontrollably and reaching for all the food, which they eat with gusto. This is quite counterproductive and could even lead to weight gain in the long run. That is why it is important to extract the calories supplied from the right foods. Avoid products containing sugar and trans fats. Prefer to extract fiber and carbohydrates from whole-grain products, fruits and vegetables. Instead of fatty sausages, you can eat fatty acids from fish, eggs, cold-pressed oils and nuts. Healthy proteins are found in high-quality meat, dairy products, quinoa and amaranth. For vegetarians, legume products such as lentils, beans and tofu are also recommended. If you follow this healthy diet, you will most likely not suffer from nutrient deficiencies during fasting, as long as there are no specific pre-existing conditions. Of course, it is also possible from time to time to have your favorite chocolate or fast food dish. However, this should not become routine!
For many beginners it is also questionable how they should make the transition between fasting and mealtime. Can you start eating or do you need to prepare your body in some way? Should special foods be consumed after fasting or is it important in principle? A little tip on this: Because your body is no longer used to longer periods of fasting, it is confused and may react with acute cravings. Therefore, to avoid bouts of bad eating, you should eat half a liter of water and light foods such as fruits and vegetables before your first main meal. This is how the feeling of hunger is tricked, because the stomach is already a little full, and the desire for greasy and sweet sins will be significantly reduced.
What is Allowed During Fasting and What is Forbidden?
Depending on how strictly you fast, the menu may contain various foods. In principle, however, liquids are allowed if they contain no calorie at all (water and mineral water) or significant calories (tea and coffee without sugar for example). At the top of the list of forbidden foods are alcohol, soft drinks, fruit juices and milk. Also coffee specialties such as cappuccino, latte macchiato and mocha are not allowed during the fasting. But you can drink black coffee. However, not everyone can tolerate caffeine on an empty stomach, so start with less strong coffee and tea. If you want to increase the effect of fasting – and the associated weight loss – you can also use spices. Pepper mineral water, tea and coffee with chili, cinnamon and ginger, preferably fresh from the plant. All three spices stimulate the metabolism, whereby heat production in the body is greatly increased, which can be expressed, among other things, in a strong sweating. Since heat is nothing more than released energy, drinking a cup of tea with ginger will consume significantly more calories than you consume. Sweeteners and sugar substitutes on the other hand are a controversial topic during fasting. Recent research has shown that excessive consumption can adversely affect the breakdown of actual glucose in the blood. This can go so far that the entire glucose metabolism is disturbed. However, it is possible to use sugar substitutes from time to time during intermittent fasting, as long as it is not overdone. Stevia and coconut blossom sugar, which only slightly increase the blood sugar level and keep the insulin level in balance, are most suitable here.
Tips to Lose Weight Faster
It is important to maintain a fluid balance during intermittent fasting. As a rule of thumb, you should drink approximately one liter of fluid for every 20 kilograms of body weight. That is approximately four liter for an adult male weighing 80 kilograms. Do you often suffer from cravings? Then drink a cup of black coffee about two hours after waking up. This is the perfect appetite suppressant and stimulant at the same time. If you add half a teaspoon of coconut oil or butter to your coffee, the effect of the caffeine even increases and you experience no loss of energy. In addition, fat metabolism is stimulated in a faster and more sustainable way. If you do not like coffee, you can also drink green tea as an energy booster. Also try to eat the first main meal as late as possible. Since fat burning is at its peak during and after sleep, you only interrupt this process unnecessarily by eating food. Therefore, it is best to try to integrate fasting into the early waking hours of the day, and schedule lunchtime in the afternoon and evening hours. It is also advisable to commit to fasting. Because if you don’t, you are reminding yourself of your hunger. Also, many people see eating as a habit. You should replace this with a new habit. How about a round of tennis every morning or a painting course at the adult education center? If you are an athlete, you should get your exercise in during fasting.
Finally a little hint: No master has fallen from the sky yet. Don’t be discouraged if you can only fast for 14 hours instead of 16 hours, because the feeling of hunger is too great. This is no big deal and should be recorded as “experience.” After all, fasting should affect your daily routine, but by no means your mood and your whole life.